Monday, October 9, 2017

Regional defence investments in large amphibious vessels driven by geography and ships’ versatility

Ben Ho

October 8, 2017

SINGAPORE — Talk of naval modernisation in South-east Asia usually revolves around the acquisition of traditional naval platforms such as submarines and frigates. What has slipped under the radar in recent years is the increased interest in large amphibious warfare vessels, such as that of Singapore’s Endurance-class landing ships tank, that enable the deployment of forces in the air and sea as well as on land.

Over the past year, the Philippines has acquired two 11,000-ton Tarlac-class landing ships, the first of such size and capability to be acquired by Manila. Malaysia is also mulling a large amphibious warfare vessel in the Multi-Role Support Ship, while Myanmar has reportedly expressed interest in a landing ship based on Indonesia’s 11,000-ton Makassar-class platform.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

On the Record: Liu Thai Ker, architect and former master planner of Singapore


SINGAPORE: Award-winning architect, Liu Thai Ker, created controversy a few years ago when he said that Singapore’s urban planners need to design the city for a population of 10 million. At a time when some were voicing concerns about the pressures being put on infrastructure from a growing population - largely from overseas - many scoffed when he made that statement.

Today, he stands by it, saying it’s not too late to start planning infrastructure to accommodate a possibly larger population in the future. His motto is: if the economy grows and population grows, we need to be prepared for it.

Liu is the eldest son of artist Liu Kang and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps but circumstances railroaded his plans and he ended up studying architecture instead.

He doesn’t regret it one bit.

His career has seen him influence Singapore’s urban landscape as CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) between 1979 and 1989 and as CEO and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) between 1989 and 1992. He’s also noted for being a proponent of heritage and nature conservation.

Today, he is the founding chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities and Senior Director of RSP Architects, leading master-planning and urban design efforts in more than 30 cities.

He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about why his own efforts to plan for a larger population failed, why having more people in Singapore won’t compromise liveability and why Singapore needs more intellectual thinkers.

They first talked about the factors that have influenced him the most over the years.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Singaporean mother’s letter to her daughter on her 21st birthday

Mariam Aljunied

October 3, 2017

This is a letter from chartered psychologist Mariam Aljunied to her daughter Sara when she turned 21 this year, in which Dr Mariam Aljunied spoke about their family history dating back to the year Singapore was founded in 1819 and what it means to be a Singaporean growing up today.

Dr Mariam Aljunied’s great-great-great-grandfather, Syed Omar Ali Aljunied, built Singapore’s first mosque - Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka - in 1820 and also donated the land on which St Andrew’s Cathedral now stands to Sir Stamford Raffles.

Dear Sara,

You’ve been a blessing and a gift to both me and your dad. Your late Habib (granddad) once reminded me that the two things we must bequeath to our children are “roots to stay anchored, and wings to fly”. I’ve never forgotten this message. So in this significant year, your 21st, I want to share with you some things that I hope you too will never forget. These are messages that I’ve learnt in my lifetime: messages from the past, present and future; and messages that are forever.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Commentary: 99-year HDB flats a chance to review homeownership and retirement policies

With the impending lease expiry of private residences along Lorong 3 Geylang, Ng Kok Hoe explores the challenges of framing homeownership as an appreciating asset that provides a source of retirement income.

By Ng Kok Hoe

01 Oct 2017

SINGAPORE: In March, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong reminded the public that Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats must be returned to the state when their 99-year leases expire.

Therefore, flat buyers should not fork out large sums for old resale flats on the chance that they may profit from the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, he emphasised.

There has been no test case for this policy position so far, as major construction of HDB flats began only in the 1960s, which means that the earliest leases will only expire after 2060.

But in June, the owners of private residences along Lorong 3 Geylang were given notice that when their land leases expire in 2020, their properties must be surrendered to the Singapore Land Authority with no compensation.

Although these were private residences on 60-year leases, and most have been rented out to foreign workers and temple operators instead of being owner-occupied, the episode served as a reality check for many HDB flat owners.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin retires, receives rare valedictory reference

27 Sept 2017

SINGAPORE: Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin was given a rare honour on Wednesday (Sep 27) to mark his retirement after more than 50 years of public service.

A valedictory reference was conducted to pay tribute to his contributions to Singapore. It’s a formal sitting of a full bench of Supreme Court judges to mark events of special significance.

Justice Chao, 75, is the only judge who served under all four Chief Justices in post-independent Singapore.

Opening the valedictory reference, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon hailed Justice Chao as a role model for lawyers, saying he “personified the very essence of what it means to be an excellent judge, and to do so with the right temperament”.

The Chief Justice recalled a conversation he had with Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah in which the latter said: “The entirety of my self-education as a judge was to ask myself every time I had a difficult situation, ‘What would Hick Tin do?’”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tuas Power-ST Marine consortium to build 5th desalination plant


27 Sept 2017

SINGAPORE: Singapore's fifth desalination plant will be built on Jurong Island by Tuas Power-Singapore Technologies Marine (TP-STM) consortium, national water agency PUB said on Wednesday (Sep 27).

The consortium will form a concession company to enter into a Water Purchase Agreement with PUB by October, the agency said.

The new desalination plant, expected to be operational by 2020, will add 30 million gallons or about 137,000 cubic metres of water a day to Singapore's water supply."The seawater reverse-osmosis desalination plant will be co-located with Tuas Power’s existing Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex to derive synergies in resources such as seawater intake and outfall structures, and energy from the in-plant generation facilities," PUB said.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Commentary on Cherian George's "Monumental Miscalculation" opinion piece.

Mothership published Cherian George's opinion piece on The Singapore presidential (s)election: A monumental miscalculation.

In it, George asserts,  
Shutting out potential candidates from the Chinese majority and engaging in crude tokenism tainted Halimah’s entry into the Istana. Worse, it unleashed a social media flurry of racist remarks in the guise of political comment, injuring the very harmony that the government claimed it was trying to promote. I can think of few political events that reveal so starkly the tendencies that prevent Singapore from maturing as a polity: the government’s distrust of the people, its insistence on getting its way, and its lack of finesse in dealing with contentious issues.
I agree that that was an unintended effect of this reserved election. One might even suggest that if unintended, it was not unanticipated. But that would be explained by the "lack of finesse" that is the hallmark of the PAP.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Commentary: The growing importance of China studies with Singapore characteristics

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s official visit to China and its many positive outcomes are a welcomed assurance that Singapore-China bilateral ties are again making headway.

Singapore, which will take over as ASEAN chair next year, will promote stronger cooperation between the association and China. The leaders of both countries also discussed the potential of new and existing collaborations, including Singapore’s multiple roles in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The numerous possibilities for mutual cooperation between the two countries reaffirm the importance of nurturing Singaporeans who can, in their respective fields, tap into these opportunities and serve as bridges between Singapore and China.

It is in this spirit that the Singapore Government has long recognised the value of an education in China studies.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Lim Siong Guan’s lecture on the Rise and Fall of Empires sounds like a complaint about today’s youth

[A cheeky poke at Lim Siong Guan's lecture.]

What can a British general teach us about Singapore's future?

By Sulaiman Daud

September 14, 2017

Born in 1897, Lt. General Sir John Bagot Glubb is most famous for serving as the commanding officer of the Arab Legion – another name for the army of the Kingdom of Jordan in the 1940s. Having fought in World War 1, he also saw action in World War 2 and the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Aside from commanding armies, Glubb also dabbled in writing. One of his essays, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, caught the eye of former top civil servant Lim Siong Guan.

Lim is best known for serving as the former head of the Civil Service, and Group President of the GIC.

Lim chose to speak about the lessons one could learn from that essay for a Singaporean context, during a lecture he gave at the Institute of Policy Studies’ Nathan Lecture, quoting Glubb’s analysis on the seven stages of the rise and fall of great nations, which we summarised below:

Our dangerous, idiotic national conversation


By George F. Will
Opinion writer

September 20, 2017

At this shank end of a summer that a calmer America someday will remember with embarrassment, you must remember this: In the population of 325 million, a small sliver crouches on the wilder shores of politics, another sliver lives in the dark forest of mental disorder, and there is a substantial overlap between these slivers. At most moments, 312 million are not listening to excitable broadcasters making mountains of significance out of molehills of political effluvia.

Still, after a season of dangerous talk about responding to idiotic talk by abridging First Amendment protections, Americans should consider how, if at all, to respond to “cheap speech.” That phrase was coined 22 years ago by Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law School. Writing in the Yale Law Journal (“Cheap Speech and What It Will Do”) at the dawn of the Internet, he said that new information technologies were about to “dramatically reduce the costs of distributing speech,” and that this would produce a “much more democratic and diverse” social environment. Power would drain from “intermediaries” (publishers, book and music store owners, etc.) but this might take a toll on “social and cultural cohesion.”

Monday, September 11, 2017

Growing old, but no letting go of healthier pursuits

Toh Ee Ming AND
Valerie Koh

September 9, 2017

SINGAPORE — Retiring from her high-powered job as a senior vice-president at Citibank after more than 20 years in the sector, Madam Betty Teo suddenly found herself at standstill.

There was no email to clear, no problem to solve, no report to submit, no performance target to hit, she said. Gone, too, was time spent socialising with colleagues over lunch.

“Every morning, I saw the women in their heels, dressed nicely, taking the train to work, and I started to envy them… I felt (like I had lost) my identity,” the 58-year-old said.

Her husband, a civil servant, still works, so in the first six months of her retirement in 2011, she tried to keep herself engaged by taking up cooking and baking classes, or exercising at community centres, but there was “no real sense of belonging”.

A chance meeting with a member from the Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings) one day led her to sign up for various courses at the non-profit organisation. It was only then that she started to pay heed to the things she used to neglect while working: Eating “mindfully”, learning to build positive relationships, and to enjoy time to herself.

This was very different from the past — when everything was done in a rush, from scarfing down lunches at the office desk to exercising at the gym, and when all she had were “work goals”, never personal ones. It was “just work and family”, with barely enough time for rest, let alone pursue hobbies, she said.

“I had many achievements in my career, but there was no meaning.”

Friday, September 8, 2017

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal threatens China’s path to power

Jane Perlez

September 6, 2017

BEIJING — The two men stood together on the reviewing stand in the North Korean capital: a top official in China’s communist leadership wearing a tailored business suit and a young dictator in a blue jacket buttoned to his chin.

Mr Liu Yunshan, the visiting Chinese dignitary, and Mr Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, tried to put on a show of friendship, chatting amiably as the cameras rolled, but just as often they stood silent, staring ahead as a military parade passed before them.

Nearly two years have elapsed since that encounter, the last high-level visit between China and North Korea. The stretch of time is a sign of the distance between two nations with a torturous history: one a rising power seeking regional dominance, the other an unpredictable neighbor with its own ambitions.

China has made little secret of its long-term goal to replace the United States as the major power in Asia and assume what it considers its rightful position at the center of the fastest-growing, most dynamic region in the world.

But North Korea, which defied Beijing by testing a sixth nuclear bomb on Sunday (Sept 3), has emerged as an unexpected and persistent obstacle.

News commentary: US accepts offer of RSAF helicopters for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief

My main reaction when SG offered help to the US, and the US accepted that help was... the US would accept help from a little red dot? That's... humility? Self-assuredness? Confidence?

Then a question: Would a rising Great Power with aspirations to Super Power status act in the same way?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

China questions its morals over bad bike-sharing behaviour

September 4, 2017

BEIJING — Mr Liu Lijing, a mechanic in Beijing, does not usually pay much attention to manners. He does not mind when people blast loud music, and he strolls the alleyways near his home in a top stained with grease. But when a stranger recently ditched a bicycle in the bushes outside his door, Mr Liu was irate.

Start-ups have flooded the city with shared bikes, he complained, and people have been leaving them all over the place without thinking about other residents. “There’s no sense of decency anymore,” he muttered, picking up the discarded bike and heaving it into the air in anger. “We treat each other like enemies.”

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cost, political considerations underpin growing Chinese weapon sales to South-east Asia

Ho Wan Beng Ben

September 2, 2017


SINGAPORE — Chinese arms deals with South-east Asian nations have been making the headlines recently.

Last month, it was reported that China had offered Malaysia rocket launchers and a radar system – a claim which Putrajaya subsequently denied. This came after Malaysia purchased four Littoral Mission Ships from China last year – the first major defence contract inked between the two nations.

And earlier this year, Thailand confirmed that it had bought three made-in-China submarines after having not operated such a platform since the 1950s.

These are just some of the deals that South-east Asian countries have concluded with Chinese defence companies in recent years, and experts say that political, rather than actual military necessity, are largely behind these deals.

Defence analyst Bernard Loo told TODAY that the need to keep up with the Jones, or in other words, prestige, would be one key consideration behind the recent transfer of Chinese arms to South-east Asia. He said their relatively lower cost make them attractive to potential buyers.

“Chinese weapon systems are cheap and yet look good,” said Associate Professor Loo, who is with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Perils of owning ageing leasehold properties

By Cecilia Chow
The Edge Property
April 21, 2017

A week ago, Singapore permanent resident Ms Lew was just calculating the remaining lease on her 700 sq ft, three-room HDB flat in Marine Parade and wondering how much it could fetch in the resale market. “I’m just a couple of years from retirement,” she says. Lew’s flat, like the more than 7,000 in Marine Parade, was completed in 1975. According to HDB’s website, Marine Parade was the first housing estate to be built on reclaimed land. This means that the flats in Marine Parade have 57 years remaining on their 99-year leases.

Singaporean Ms Aw, who bought her 1,128 sq ft, five-room HDB flat in Marine Parade 17 years ago, says she now feels “a little unsettled”. Even though her flat is already fully paid for, the 56-year-old says, “My retirement is locked in this flat. If I want to make money from it, I will have to sell it and downgrade to a smaller BTO [built-to-order] flat so I won’t be saddled with a big home loan”.

The two HDB owners are representative of many others staying in ageing leasehold properties who became worried, following National Development Minister Lawrence Wong’s blog post on March 24. It was intended to caution buyers against paying high prices for older HDB flats on the assumption that their flats would automatically be eligible for the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

Wong wrote, “In fact, for the vast majority of HDB flats, the leases will eventually run out, and the flats will be returned to HDB, which will in turn have to surrender the land to the State.” He added, “As the leases run down, especially towards the tail-end, the flat prices will come down correspondingly.”

The write way to remember and honour dead colleagues

We spend as much time with colleagues as we do with our families, often more. Work takes up so much of our lives. It needs full remembrance when we die.

Michael Skapinker

June 29, 2017

Whenever a partner or retired partner of Cravath, Swaine & Moore dies, the 198-year-old United States law firm offers the bereaved family a “Cravath walk”.

This involves the retired and active partners marching at the funeral, two-by-two, in age order — oldest lawyer to youngest. I heard about the “Cravath walk” last week.

Mr Mark Greene, head of the firm’s corporate department and of its international practice, told me that the most recent walk had taken place at a memorial service about a month ago for a lawyer who had died at the age of 43.

The “walk” sounds slightly macabre, but it makes sense.

Naval vessels, shadowy by intent, are hard for commercial ships to spot

August 25, 2017

HONG KONG — The tropical sky off Singapore was utterly dark when an oil tanker plowed into the side of the American destroyer John S. McCain before dawn on Monday (Aug 21) — but the moonless night may have been only one of the reasons that the tanker’s crew may have had trouble seeing a warship in their path.

Hard to see and hard to track electronically, naval vessels have long posed special perils to night-time navigation. That has proved deadly this summer in crowded waters like those near Singapore and Tokyo, where another American warship, the Fitzgerald, was struck by a cargo freighter under a waning crescent moon on June 17.

The issue has prompted growing alarm in the commercial shipping industry — which has started warning merchant vessels to be extra careful around warships — and in the United States Navy, which began pausing its worldwide operations this week for a day or two to allow time for safety reviews.

Monday, August 21, 2017

News Commentary: USS John S McCain collides with oil tanker off coast of Singapore.

Throwing shade (I think I'm using "shade" correctly in this case):
From eyeballing the map, the location seems to be quite a bit north of Pedra Branca and in Malaysian waters, possibly. From reports, 4 ships from SGN and SG Coast Guard are attending to the incident and the damaged vessels since 0532hrs. Malaysia has also sent one ship (likely Navy) to render assistance. Maybe from their new maritime base at Middle Rocks, just south of Pedra Branca. No confirmation of the time the MY ships were deployed, but the earliest tweet with info on MY ship deployment was at 0909hrs. Quite sure it was not deployed so late. I believe their working day starts at 0800hrs.

Also from SG: Two Super Pumas and one Chinook (helicopters) assisting (transporting injured sailors for medical attention). No info on MY helicopters deployed.

From another news report: "Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry said it stands ready to help in the search and rescue operation if needed. This will need to be coordinated with the Indonesian military, ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said."

My rough translation of the Indonesian statement is: "do you require wayang kulit?"

Friday, August 18, 2017

China’s fear of becoming Japan is said to drive deal crackdown

August 3, 2017

SINGAPORE — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser commissioned a study earlier this year to see how China could avoid the fate of Japan’s epic bust in the 1990s and decades of stagnation that followed.

The report covered a wide range of topics, from the Plaza Accord on currency to a real-estate bubble to demographics that made Japan the oldest population in Asia, according to a person familiar with the matter who has seen the report. While details are scarce, the person revealed one key recommendation that policy makers have since implemented: The need to curtail a global buying spree by some of the nation’s biggest private companies.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

At the heart of every restaurant

Tom Sietsema

August 7, 2017

Our food critic works a shift to understand why top chefs are starting to give dishwashers their due.

My dish hose has a mind of its own.

Every time I use it to spray a geyser of water onto a dirty plate, it splashes clean whatever it touches — and shoots much of the detritus back into my face. By the end of my shift, I’ve ingested specks of just about every dish at this restaurant: rice, seafood, salsa, black beans, you name it. And each time I set the wriggling rubber snake down between tasks, it repositions itself, obliging me to apologize to colleagues for soaking more than just myself.

Until recently, the most dishes I’ve ever washed were at home, following a dinner party for 10. So why would I sign up to do it at a 250-seat restaurant? Because I wanted to experience firsthand the job that CNN star Anthony Bourdain says taught him “every important lesson of my life,” the one New York chef Daniel Boulud calls “the best way to enter the business.”

Plenty of bandwidth has been lavished on the men and women who cook the food, pour the wine and otherwise pamper us in restaurants. Scant attention has been paid to some of the lowest-paid workers with the most responsibility, the ones chefs say are the linchpins of the restaurant kitchen. “You can’t have a successful service in a restaurant without a great dishwasher,” says Emeril Lagasse, the New Orleans-based chef and cookbook author with 14 restaurants across the country. “Bad ones will bring the ship down.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Debunking the myth of Chinese centrality to Asia

Shyam Saran

August 1, 2017

India is in a prolonged standoff with Chinese forces on the Doklam plateau. China may have been caught off guard after Indian armed forces confronted a Chinese road-building team in the Bhutanese territory.

Peaceful resolution requires awareness of the context for the unfolding events. China has engaged in incremental nibbling advances in this area, with Bhutanese protests followed by solemn commitments not to disturb the status quo. The intrusions continued.

This time, the Chinese signalled their intention to establish a permanent presence, expecting the Bhutanese to acquiesce while underestimating India’s response.

Managing the China challenge requires understanding the background of Chinese civilisation and the worldview of its people formed over 5,000 years of tumultuous history.

Caution is required before mechanistically applying historical patterns to the present, as these are overlaid with concepts borrowed from other traditions and behaviour patterns arising from deep transformations within China and the world at large.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In Beijing, 20 Million People Pretend to Live :: 在北京,有2000万人假装在生活 (full translation)

By Megan Pan 

July 27, 2017 
Editor’s note: On July 23, the writer Zhang Wumao published an essay called “In Beijing, 20 Million People Pretend to Live” to his public WeChat account. As of the following morning, it had accumulated more than 5 million views and nearly 20,000 comments. 
Of course, the article was removed that very afternoon.
But by then, the essay had attracted thousands of responses. As our correspondent Megan Pan wrote for Radii:
Though the hubbub online has died down, the essay, a meditation on varying facets of life in Beijing, has since spawned over a hundred thousand countering essays in response. Titles include plays on the original essay’s title, such as “In Beijing, 20 Million People and “In Beijing, 20 Million People are Bravely Living,” and even direct digs at the author, such as “Mr. Zhang, You Aren’t Even a Beijing Kid So Why Are You Acting Like a Know-it-all.” The original essay has been lambasted as “making a fuss over nothing.”
But “In Beijing, 20 Million People Pretend to Live” resists easy summarization – it’s framed as a series of Zhang’s loosely related reflections on living in Beijing, heavily supported by anecdotes. He touches on a variety of topics that hit close to home: the everyday absurdities of urban sprawl, the never-ending struggle to buy a house, and alienation from home. As a nonlocal from Shaanxi who has been living in Beijing for the past eleven years, he also attempts to negotiate the tensions and differences between locals and nonlocals.
What follows is Megan Pan’s translation of that now-censored essay.

在北京,有2000万人假装在生活In Beijing, 20 Million People Pretend to Live

Monday, July 31, 2017

Behold the Trump boomerang effect

Fred Hiatt
Editorial Page Editor
The Washington Post

July 30 2017

Did your head spin when Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a true conservative and the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, emerged last week as the most eloquent spokesman for transgender rights? Credit the Trump boomerang effect.

Much has been said about White House dysfunction and how little President Trump has accomplished in his first six months. But that’s not the whole story: In Washington and around the world, in some surprising ways, things are happening — but they are precisely the opposite of what Trump wanted and predicted when he was sworn in.

The story of how a worm turned... into a bringer of medical miracles

July 31, 2017

PLOEMEUR (France) — For centuries, the only use humans found for the lugworm — dark pink, slimy and inedible — was on the end of a fish hook.

But the invertebrates’ unappreciated status is about to change.

Their blood, say French researchers, has an extraordinary ability to load up with life-giving oxygen.

Harnessing it for human needs could transform medicine, providing a blood substitute that could save lives, speed recovery after surgery and help transplant patients, they say.

“The haemoglobin of the lugworm can transport 40 times more oxygen from the lungs to tissues than human haemoglobin,” says Dr Gregory Raymond, a biologist at Aquastream, a fish-farming facility on the Brittany coastline.

“It also has the advantage of being compatible with all blood types.”

Trump is something the nation did not know it needed

George F. Will
Opinion writer
July 28 2017

Looking, as prudent people are disinclined to do, on the bright side, there are a few vagrant reasons for cheerfulness, beginning with this: Summer love is sprouting like dandelions. To the list of history’s sublime romances — Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy — add the torrid affair between Anthony Scaramucci and President Trump. The former’s sizzling swoon for the latter is the most remarkable public display of hormonal heat since — here a melancholy thought intrudes — Jeff Sessions tumbled into love with Trump. Long ago. Last year.

Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president, who does not seem pleased. Still, sympathy for Sessions is in order: What is he to do? If dignity concerned him, he would resign; but if it did, he would not occupy a Trump-bestowed office from which to resign. Such are the conundrums of current politics. Concerning which, there is excessive gloom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trump is killing the Republican Party

By Joe Scarborough

Washington Post

July 16, 2017

I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses. The political movement that once stood athwart history resisting bloated government and military adventurism has been reduced to an amalgam of talk-radio resentments. President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.

America’s first Republican president reportedly said , “Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The current Republican president and the party he controls were granted monopoly power over Washington in November and already find themselves spectacularly failing Abraham Lincoln’s character exam.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This is what foreign spies see when they read President Trump’s tweets

Nada Bakos

June 23

Nada Bakos was formerly a CIA analyst and targeting officer. She is the author of the forthcoming book “The Targeter: My Life in the CIA.”

The Washington Post

Every time President Trump tweets, journalists and Twitter followers attempt to analyze what he means. Intelligence agencies around the world do, too: They’re trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States may have. And he’s giving them a lot to work with.

Trump’s Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency. Usually, intelligence officers’ efforts to collect information on world leaders are methodical, painstaking and often covert. CIA operatives have risked their lives to learn about foreign leaders so the United States could devise strategies to counter our adversaries. With Trump, though, secret operations are not necessary to understand what’s on his mind: The president’s unfiltered thoughts are available night and day, broadcast to his 32.7 million Twitter followers immediately and without much obvious mediation by diplomats, strategists or handlers.

Intelligence agencies try to answer these main questions when looking at a rival head of state: Who is he as a person? What type of leader is he? How does that compare to what he strives to be or presents himself as? What can we expect from him? And how can we use this insight to our advantage?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Is it inequality of income we care about — or inequality of opportunity?

By Steven Pearlstein

July 1

The Washington Post

Inequality may well be the issue of our time. But is it inequality of income we care about, or inequality of opportunity? And what is opportunity — the opportunity to do better than our parents, or better than ourselves at an earlier age, or does it mean doing better relative to everyone else? Can some of us get wealthier without making others poorer? Would inequality recede if we just had more economic growth?

These questions animate two new books. One is “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem and What To do About It,” by Richard Reeves, a British-born philosopher by training, politician by instinct and a Brookings Institution social scientist by trade. (Richard is also a friend). The other, “The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die,” is by Keith Payne, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. Both books are authoritative, thought provoking, accessible and well worth a spot on your summer reading list.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Once a model city, Hong Kong is in trouble

Keith Bradsher

June 30, 2017

HONG KONG — When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule two decades ago, the city was seen as a model of what China might one day become: prosperous, modern, international, with the broad protections of the rule of law.

There was anxiety about how such a place could survive in authoritarian China. But even after Beijing began encroaching on this former British colony’s freedoms, its reputation as one of the best-managed cities in Asia endured.

The trains ran on time. Crime and taxes were low. The skyline dazzled with ever taller buildings.

Those are still true. Yet as the 20th anniversary of the handover approaches this weekend, that perception of Hong Kong as something special — a vibrant crossroads of East and West that China might want to emulate — is fading fast.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Economic model that Asia has used for decades is now broken

Kevin Hamlin AND
Dexter Roberts

June 28, 2017

Thirty minutes by car into the scrubby desert outside Korla, in China’s remote Xinjiang region, a textile manufacturer owned by the Jinsheng Group is building its latest factory complex.

Inside the 16 billion-yuan facility—a collection of stark white warehouses surrounded by an enormous expanse of pristine artificial grass — are rows of huge cotton spools, more than a million bright red and blue spindles, and almost no people.

A few German engineers wander around, making sure the equipment runs at peak efficiency.

This is the depopulated future of an industry that has lifted millions of Asians out of poverty.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Capital controls, high-speed rail behind collapse of Bandar Malaysia deal?

A US$1.7 billion property deal that was expected to ease the debt burden of Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fell through on Wednesday (May 3). A Malaysian minister says the government needs time to find a new partner.

KUALA LUMPUR: China's capital controls, bidding for the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project and Bandar Malaysia's increased worth may have contributed to the collapse of a US$1.7 billion deal to offset a Malaysian state fund's debts, according to analysts and people familiar with the matter.

TRX City, owned by Malaysia's finance ministry, on Wednesday (May 3) announced it had terminated an agreement for a China Railway consortium to be the master developer of Bandar Malaysia - a major residential and commercial real estate project, set to house a terminal for the high-speed rail (HSR) line connecting KL to Singapore on the basis it "failed to meet payment obligations outlined in the Conditions Precedent”.

The S$139 billion city next to Singapore has a big China problem

June 23, 2017

SINGAPORE — The US$100 billion (S$139 billion) city rising from the sea next to Singapore has hit a roadblock: China’s capital controls.

The dream of a Malaysian version of Shenzhen — largely funded by Chinese developers and buyers — with hotels, offices, golf courses, tech parks and thousands of ritzy new apartments, is having to adapt after China’s government clamped down on an exodus of money for investment in overseas property.

Developers’ sales offices in China that once brought in buyers by the hundreds are now pushing developments in Chinese cities. Subsidised junkets that flew in prospective buyers to development sites in the southern Malaysian state of Johor have dwindled. And some buyers who paid deposits for yet-to-be-built homes are considering cancelling their purchases.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SLA to take over land at Lorong 3 Geylang when lease expires in 2020

Every owner of the affected 191 terrace houses will be assigned a SLA officer, who will guide them through the lease expiry process.

SINGAPORE: The land currently occupied by 191 private terrace houses at Lorong 3 Geylang will return to the state when its current lease expires on Dec 31, 2020, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) confirmed for the first time on Tuesday (Jun 20).

The land is slated for future public housing, the authority said in a news release.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Driverless buses to be rolled out on Singapore's roads by 2020

By Loke Kok Fai

10 Apr 2017 12:21

SINGAPORE: Driverless buses could arrive on Singapore roads by 2020, following the signing of a partnership agreement between the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and ST Kinetics to develop and trial these buses on Monday (Apr 10).

Two 40-seater electric buses are likely to be tested in locations such the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus and Jurong Island. The buses will gradually be introduced to other trial sites, and eventually extended to public roads within and between towns.

The buses will use a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) and sensors to scan and determine their location and immediate surroundings. They will also have radars and sonars that are able to detect other vehicles and pedestrians up to 200m ahead.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump could spur the rise of a new, not-so-liberal world order

By Fareed Zakaria

Opinion writer

June 1 2017

Washington Post

We now have a Trump Doctrine, and it is, at least in its conception and initial execution, the most radical departure from a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy since 1945. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster say that President Trump has “a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” The senior officials add: “Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” That embrace has now led the United States to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, signed by 194 other parties.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Why China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ plan is doomed to fail

Eerie similarities with Japanese scheme 20 years ago suggests a future of white elephants, wasted money and corruption on a scale never seen before

By Tom Holland

6 Aug 2016
South China Morning Post

Facing a deep slowdown after years of investment-fuelled growth that culminated in a huge property and stock market bubble, the leaders of Asia’s largest economy come up with a cunning plan. By launching an initiative to fund and construct infrastructure projects across Asia, they will kill four birds with one stone.

They will generate enough demand abroad to keep their excess steel mills, cement plants and construction companies in business, so preserving jobs at home. They will tie neighbouring countries more closely into their own economic orbit, so enhancing both their hard and soft power around the region. They will further their long term plan to promote their own currency as an international alternative to the US dollar. And to finance it all, they will set up a new multi-lateral infrastructure bank, which will undermine the influence of the existing Washington-based institutions, with all their tedious insistence on transparency and best practice, by making more “culturally sensitive” soft loans. [i.e. bribes] The result will be the regional hegemony they regard as their right as Asia’s leading economic and political power.

How the free-lunch fallacy is hurting our government, health care and retirement

This is no free lunch. And our belief that there is holds the country back.

By Allan Sloan 
Columnist, Washington Post
May 20 2017

One of the biggest problems our country has is the growing idea that there really is such a thing as a free lunch: that we can get magic money to pay for things we don’t want to pay for out of our own pockets.

I think the free-lunch fallacy helps explain why three of our nation’s biggest problems seem so intractable: having a rational health-care system; producing a reasonable federal budget; and dealing with the “retirement crisis.”

Let me explain how I came up with this linkage.

As a born contrarian — okay, as a stubborn old guy — I tend to do the opposite of what’s popular. So instead of rushing to opine about the newest excesses enveloping Our Nation’s Capital, I decided recently to spend quantity time reading two books that interested me, taking some deep breaths and doing some thinking.

Both of the books — “An American Sickness” by Elisabeth Rosenthal (Penguin Press, 2017), and “Dead Men Ruling” by Gene Steuerle (Century Foundation Press, 2014) — offer amazingly helpful history and insight into how our health care and federal budget systems, respectively, have turned into such messes.

In addition, I got a bonus. Because I read both books at the same time, I saw the “free lunch” link between them. That, in turn, led me to get some stock and bond numbers that help explain why we as a nation haven’t set aside enough money to pay for baby boomers’ retirement.

China’s ratings downgrade, explained

Keith Bradsher

May 26, 2017

BEIJING — Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its rating of China’s sovereign debt one notch on Wednesday (May 24), citing concerns over growing debt in the country, which has the world’s second-largest economy. In recent years, as China’s stunning economic performance of past decades has become difficult to sustain, the country has used debt to fuel growth.

Now, Moody’s says that China will have to borrow more and more to maintain the levels of economic growth the government wants. The concerns Moody’s raises will sound familiar to those who follow the Chinese economy closely. Expressed by one of the world’s top credit ratings agencies, however, the misgivings will be harder to ignore.


In short: China has a lot, and has accumulated it very fast.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hot dog issue has made Malaysia famous for the wrong reason: The Star columnist

May 18, 2017

Wong Chun Wai

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Looks like the monsoon season is starting soon. That is when it starts to rain cats and dogs. No, these animals will not fall from the skies, but it is best that Malaysians are well-prepared for the floods.

The authorities, we are very sure, will not let anyone be confused. Personnel from the Civil Defence Force and Fire Department are already on standby to face the wettest month of the year.

According to one report, tourists will almost certainly experience thunderstorms and floods - they have been predicted to take place on 83 per cent of the 25 days with rainfall. Light rain may also occur but is rare, being observed on only 11 per cent of those days.

This means our rescue teams can be expected to work really hard and as one will say - work like a dog.

Understanding the UK’s strange Singapore envy

Justin Fox

April 12, 2017

A pro-Brexit argument that always makes me giggle a little is that leaving the European Union will allow the United Kingdom to become the new Singapore. That’s right — the land of hope and glory, home to the world’s fifth-largest economy, wants to emulate its steamy little former colony, population 5.4 million.

When you look at the per-capita income data, though, you can kind of understand it. Once-poor Singapore passed the UK in 2006, and the income gap has grown to almost US$3,000 (S$4,214) a year since then.

How to figure out if an old HDB flat is worth its asking price

Chua Mui Hoong

Opinion Editor

APR 8, 2017

Those looking to buy old resale Housing Board (HDB) flats would have cause for hesitation following comments by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong last month.

Perturbed by reports that Singaporeans were forking out big sums to buy old HDB flats, he said buyers should not assume that all old HDB flats will be eligible for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

Under this hugely popular programme, the Government compensates HDB flat owners for their old flats and acquires the blocks for redevelopment. Home owners can buy flats in the new developments.

Some savvy owner-investors are known to peruse maps of HDB towns to identify potential Sers hot spots and buy into them in anticipation of Sers. Precincts near MRT stations, built to low-density (think low-rise blocks with large surface carparks) that are 40 years and above, are possible candidates.

Chinese deals in Malaysia under scrutiny

May 7, 2017

China's growing involvement in Malaysia has been praised and panned in recent years. The Sunday Times looks at how its widening presence is drawing increasing attention in the first of a two-part series. Tomorrow, why the promise of new ports in Malaysia with help from China may not materialise.

Shannon Teoh Malaysia Bureau Chief and
Trinna Leong Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur

The slew of projects and investments by China's state-owned enterprises and their soft loans have been a major talking point in Malaysia since 2015, when they helped prop up state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which was burdened by huge debts.

China's deep financial involvement in Malaysia came under fresh scrutiny last week with the collapse of the Bandar Malaysia township deal.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Comey firing reminds us of a bigger danger

By Fareed Zakaria 
Opinion writer 
May 11 2017
Washington Post

I have tried to evaluate Donald Trump’s presidency fairly. I’ve praised him when he has appointed competent people to high office and expressed support for his policies when they seemed serious and sensible (even though this has drawn criticism from some quarters). But there has always been another aspect to this presidency lurking beneath the surface, sometimes erupting into full view as it did this week. President Trump, in much of his rhetoric and many of his actions, poses a danger to American democracy.

The United States has the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, one that has survived the test of time and given birth to perhaps the most successful society in human history. What sets the nation apart is not how democratic it is, but rather the opposite. U.S. democracy has a series of checks intended to prevent the accumulation and abuse of power by any one person or group. But there is one gaping hole in the system: the president.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Love, marriage, kids — life doesn’t follow a set timeline. So don’t expect it to.

By Lisa Bonos 

April 26 2017
Washington Post

When I was 24, my great-aunt and -uncle asked about my life goals. At the time, I was working nights as a copy editor and dreamed of someday shifting into a full-time writing job. (One where I got to write more than headlines and didn’t have to work until midnight!) I also remember telling them that I wanted to write a memoir someday, get married and have kids — with a move out West somewhere in there. Your standard American dream, journalist’s edition.

I remember my great-aunt telling me that I hadn’t lived enough to write a memoir yet. (She was right!) And my great-uncle asking about the marriage thing: “When do you want to get married … in 10 years?”

Ten years?! By then I would be 34, which seemed ancient.

“Nah, more like somewhere in between,” I said. After all, my mother had married at 27 — and my parents were and still are incredibly happy — so I assumed my life would take a similar trajectory. (My summation was also in line with norms for my generation; as of 2016, the median age for first marriage is 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women.)

Freedom of speech doesn’t include the right to be bigots

Chirag Agarwal

May 11, 2017

The recent death of Singapore’s first Minister for Social Affairs, Mr Othman Wok — who went against the grain to champion a multiracial Singapore at the time of independence, when racial tensions were at a fever pitch — reminds us that a thriving plural society is not built by accident.

It takes a concerted effort by leaders to unite the populace, and for the different communities to communicate in a bid to understand and integrate with one another.

Commentary: When it comes to politics, celebrities should put up or shut up

We should stop falling into the trap of thinking that celebrity bestows wisdom on people, especially on issues where they have limited expertise or authority, argues Channel NewsAsia's David Bottomley.

By David Bottomley

12 May 2017

SINGAPORE: Robert de Niro has been channelling Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull this week, landing verbal punches on President Donald Trump for his attitude towards the arts, his immigration policies and perceived political shortcomings in a number of other areas.

In a speech made in acceptance of the Film Society of Lincoln Centre’s Chaplin award, de Niro lambasted President Trump’s “hostility” towards the arts, suggesting that there were political reasons behind the proposed cuts to some arts funding.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

HDB and the 99-year lease - How much?

[A series of articles arising out of a comment by a Minister on people buying older flats, and expecting the govt to bail them out when the lease expires and the flats (and the land) reverts to the govt.]

Will you still love your HDB flat when it's over 64?

Wong Siew Ying

APR 12, 2017

Data shows that buyers don't mind old HDB flats, paying similar prices for flats whether they are 25 years old or 50. But beware a potential sharp fall when flats cross 64, with less than 35 years of lease remaining. That's when financing restrictions kick in.

Home ownership may not always be the best option

April 15, 2017

SINGAPORE — Even if you have enough money for a down payment on a flat, deciding whether to buy can be difficult. Property prices have been sliding and may continue to decline, so renting may be better. On the other hand, you’ll pay money to a landlord if you rent and end up with nothing to show for it.


From a purely financial perspective, it may be better to rent than to buy. While the decision might be different if property prices start to rise rapidly, anecdotal analyses here and more detailed research abroad show that renting can be less expensive.

Writer for Singapore property portal Lynette Tan found, for example, that a buyer who purchased a condominium for S$1.5 million would have a total cost of ownership of at least $217,168 over four years, which is about S$55,000 more than renting. The price would need to increase to $1.63 million just to cover costs, so the homeowner might be better off renting unless prices rise more than 2 per cent per year.

Century 21’s Ku Swee Yong similarly wrote in The Edge that a buyer would spend S$220,461 over the four-year period from 2015 to 2019, while renting could cost just S$178,000. Unless demand for properties start to exceed the pace of construction, Mr Ku concluded, it is better to rent than to buy.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why hackers failed to sway the French vote for president

Rachel Donadio

May 9, 2017

PARIS — French readers awoke Monday to headlines about its young president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, and his decisive defeat of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

What they did not find were details of the “massive” hacking attack on the Macron campaign that was announced late Friday night.

The hacking occurred just before the start of a 44-hour ban on campaigning and broadcast media coverage of the election, lifted only when the final polling stations closed Sunday night, and some Macron supporters initially feared that his inability to respond could be devastating on the eve of voting.

News of the hacking lit up social media, especially in the United States, where the attack echoed one on the Democratic National Committee last year, and where far-right activists have joined together to spread extremist messages in Europe.

But in France, the leak did not get much traction. It certainly did not appear to give an edge to Le Pen, who won 33.9 per cent to Macron’s 66.1 per cent on Sunday. The hacking operation was met, instead, with silence, disdain and even scorn. Why?

'Encouraging' response to WP proposal for redundancy insurance: Daniel Goh

Singapore Parliament
Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, however, warned of "serious downsides" to a redundancy insurance scheme.
By Jalelah Abu Baker

8 May 2017

SINGAPORE: During an adjournment motion in Parliament on Monday (May 8), the Workers’ Party (WP) refloated its proposal for an insurance scheme aimed at helping retrenched workers while they look for another job, saying a “modest” public consultation on the scheme was encouraging.

Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Daniel Goh said that the Redundancy Insurance scheme would reduce financial pressure, especially on older workers above the age of 40 who find it harder to get re-employed, and also reduce insecurity for younger workers, who are being increasingly laid off. Older workers face a “triple whammy", with higher risk of getting laid off, having to support their children, and their elderly parents, and paying more bills, he said.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ploughing on: The faces and insecurities of Singapore’s elderly working poor

CNA Insider
The poverty rate has been rising among the working elderly, one study shows. Why do seniors here feel the need to work for long hours and low pay, despite the help schemes available for the needy?

SINGAPORE: They get taken for beggars sometimes as they poke through the trash, by people who exclaim “eiyuh!” in disgust. Impatient drivers honk as the duo push their laden trolleys along the road.

“My brother cannot hear the cars horn,” said the man who asked to be known as ‘Eddie’. “When I tell them he cannot speak or hear, most say sorry. Others curse and say, ‘****, lah, I don’t care’.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

The unexpected ways our lives will change when cars drive themselves

Steven Overly
April 5
Washington Post

The expected shift to battery-powered vehicles that drive themselves will have repercussions that extend far beyond U.S. roadways — altering industries as varied as real estate, oil, auto repair and retail.

At least that’s the view of Benedict Evans, a longtime tech observer and partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. In a recent blog post titled, “Cars and second-order consequences,” Evans speculates on the many ways the technology will change the lives of motorists and the economy at large

“Something will happen, and probably something big,” he writes.

Here are seven of his boldest and most interesting predictions.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

This is what the beginning of the end of democracy looks like

Across the world, our form of government may have already reached its zenith.

By Joshua Muravchik and Jeffrey Gedmin

April 19, 2017
Washington Post

Freedom diminished around the world in 2016 for the 11th consecutive year, according to Freedom House. These years saw the devastating failure of the “Arab Spring” and the sad turn of Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union back to dictatorship. Russia, China and Iran are increasingly assertive in their regions. And illiberal populist parties — nearly four dozen of various stripes — are on the rise in Europe in parallel with a new angry nationalism in the United States. Taken together, it’s hard not to at least contemplate whether democracy might be an endangered species.

To Americans, democracy is a given. But to the rest of the world, it’s a fairly recent invention — a creature of the past two centuries. This is a relatively narrow slice of recorded history, briefer than the Ming or Song dynasties in China or various other dynasties elsewhere that appear as mere blips in historical memory. Maybe this democratic moment is just another phase.

Singapore would have turned out differently if Othman Wok had wavered on multi-culturalism: PM Lee

April 19, 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led the eulogies for the late Othman Wok at a memorial service on Wednesday night (April 19). He paid tribute to "one of Singapore’s greatest sons", and thanked the former Old Guard Cabinet minister for the pivotal role he played in helping to forge a multi-racial, multi-cultural Singapore.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Solving the problem of overbooked flights

Mohamed A El-Erian

April 18, 2017

Given the deep mess that United Airlines created for itself after a passenger was dragged off a full flight last week, Delta said it could increase the incentives for “voluntary denied boarding”.

Agents will now be allowed to offer up to US$2,000 (S$2,800) to entice passengers to give up their seats, significantly more than the previous limit of US$800.

If that does not work, the agents’ supervisors can authorise payments of almost US$10,000.

Steel, stimulus drive China's strongest economic growth since 2015

April 17, 2017

BEIJING - China's economy grew faster than expected in the first quarter as higher government infrastructure spending and a gravity-defying property boom helped boost industrial output by the most in over two years.

Growth of 6.9 percent was the fastest in six quarters, with forecast-beating March investment, retail sales and exports all suggesting the economy may carry solid momentum into spring. 

But most analysts say the first quarter may be as good as it gets for China, and worry Beijing is still relying too heavily on stimulus and "old economy" growth drivers, primarily the steel industry and a property market that is overheating.

"The Chinese government has a tendency to rely on infrastructure development to sustain growth in the long term,"
economists at ANZ said in a note.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Knives out for party power struggle in Beijing

March 7, 2017
Asian Review

Parliamentary session to provide a glimpse into party infighting

Nikkei senior staff writer

BEIJING -- The annual session of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, kicked off in Beijing on March 5 amid rising political tensions ahead of a party leadership reshuffle later this year.

The Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top decision-making body, is to be shaken up at the national congress this autumn. Most of the seven committee members are getting on in years and expected to retire, while President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will almost certainly stay on.

The congress, a five-yearly affair, will make 2017 a politically sensitive year for China.

The annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, also got under way at the Great Hall of the People on March 3.

Why China’s bid to sell high-speed rail technology overseas is losing steam

April 2, 2017

HONG KONG — China’s ambitious strategy to export its high-speed railway technology is facing various obstacles, making its aim of boosting connectivity with nations across continents difficult to achieve, industry insiders said.

Construction of high-speed railways abroad is part of Beijing’s massive “One Belt, One Road” initiative to increase trade and infrastructure links with countries from Asia to Africa, but most of the current rail projects have stalled.

“There is no case of China exporting high-speed rail that can be described as very successful. The situation is very undesirable,” said Ms Dou Xin, a spokesman for CRRC Qingdao Sifang.

Sifang is one of China’s biggest locomotive and rolling stock manufacturers had planned to build a bullet train for a high-speed rail project in Mexico. The plan was aborted after Mexico cancelled the 210-km rail link in 2015 in budget cuts.

“The biggest obstacle for countries that have signed deals with China is the lack of financial strength. High-speed railways and bullet trains are unimaginable expensive,” said Ms Dou.

“Even though Chinese technology is highly cost effective when compared to other countries, it’s still too costly for many.”

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The temptations facing a resilient China


MARCH 29, 2017

Another growth scare has come and gone for the Chinese economy. This, of course, is very much at odds with Western conventional wisdom, which has long expected a hard landing in China.

Once again, the Western perspective missed the Chinese context — a resilient system that places a high premium on stability.

Premier Li Keqiang said it all in his final comments at the recent China Development Forum. I have attended this gathering for 17 consecutive years and have learnt to read between the lines of premier-speak. Most of the time, senior Chinese leaders stay on message with rather boring statements about accomplishments, targets and reforms, toeing the official line of the annual “Work Report” on the economy that is delivered to the National People’s Congress two weeks earlier.

This year was different. Initially, Mr Li seemed subdued in his ponderous responses to questions from an audience of global luminaries that focused on weighty issues such as trade frictions, globalisation, digitisation and automation. But he came alive in his closing remarks — offering an unprompted declaration about the Chinese economy’s underlying strength: “There will be no hard landing,” he exclaimed.

The all-clear sign from Mr Li was in sync with official data in the first two months of 2017: Solid strength in retail sales, industrial output, electricity consumption, steel production, fixed investment and service sector activity (the latter signalled by a new monthly indicator developed by China’s National Bureau of Statistics). Meanwhile, foreign exchange reserves rebounded in February for the first time in eight months, pointing to an easing of capital outflows.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why is everyone mean and stupid — and getting worse?


MARCH 28, 2017

The most pressing question of our age is not what will happen when the computers outsmart us. Nor is it the future of globalisation, or how to stop climate change.

It is much more fundamental than these: Why is everyone so mean and stupid, and why is it getting worse?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump won’t allow you to use iPads or laptops on certain airlines. Here’s why.

By Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman

March 21

Britain joined the U.S. in creating new restrictions for passengers traveling on flights from airports in several Muslim-majority countries. Here's what you need to know. (Monica Akhtar, Dani Player/The Washington Post)

From Tuesday on, passengers traveling to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries will not be allowed to have iPads, laptops or any communications device larger than a smartphone in the cabin of the plane. If you are traveling from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or the UAE on Egypt Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, or Turkish Airlines, and you want to use your laptop on the flight, you are probably out of luck.

US Politics: The balance of power between POTUS, SCOTUS, and Congress

["Check and Balance" is a philosophy of US Democracy. Their inherent and historic ambivalence and distrust of government led to the separation of powers and the ability of each branch of government to check on the other so that there can never be a dictator. Hence, the President of the United States (POTUS) may make executive orders, but the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) can check that, and stay the order. Congress can make the laws, but POTUS need to assent, and SCOTUS needs to uphold or rule on cases brought before them.

All well and good and it seems to be fine. Every 4 years, POTUS faces an election, and need the mandate of the people. Every 2 years, 1/3 of the Senators and some Representatives face elections to be affirmed, re-affirmed, or rejected by the people.

But appointment to SCOTUS is for life. And in that "longevity" lies the means to influence the lives of US citizens.

Gorsuch’s big fat lie

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Opinion writer

March 22 2017

With a shrewdly calculated innocence, Judge Neil Gorsuch told a big fat lie at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Because it was a lie everyone expected, nobody called it that.

“There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge,” Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch, the amiable veteran of many Republican campaigns, is well-placed to know how serious a fib that was. As Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) noted, President Trump’s nominee for Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat actually received a citation for helping win confirmation for Republican-appointed judges.

We now have an ideological judiciary. To pretend otherwise is naive and also recklessly irresponsible because it tries to wish away the real stakes in confirmation battles.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Creating an ecosystem to win a non-conventional war


MARCH 22, 2017

The concept of battle is changing. The recent announcements by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen during the Committee of Supply debates represent important acknowledgements that the Ministry of Defence’s (Mindef) thinking on cyber issues and information warfare, as well as the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) doctrine, are moving in step with global developments.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

World War II started in 1937 in Asia, not 1939 in Europe, says Oxford historian

Professor Rana Mitter tells Conversation With why the war began with Japan’s conflict with China, not when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the date most history books use. 
By Lin Xueling

16 Mar 2017

OXFORD - Many history texts use 1939 as the date marking the start of the Second World War. More America-centric accounts use 1941, the year Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

However, using recently-released documentation, Oxford University professor of history Rana Mitter argues that the real start of the global conflict was 1937 - when Japan attacked China in what has been called the Marco Polo Bridge incident, outside of Beijing.

Prof Mitter’s book, The Forgotten Ally, points out that the terrible eight-year-long conflict took a massive toll on China, with more than 14 million Chinese dead.

By comparison, military and civilian casualties for the US and United Kingdom combined totaled around 900,000.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kim Jong-nam killing spawns intriguing conspiracy theories

MARCH 2, 2017

BEIJING — The sensational assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother in a Kuala Lumpur airport two weeks ago is incomprehensible to most people.

To begin to understand this apparent act of fratricide, one needs to recognise that North Korea is essentially a medieval absolute monarchy ruled by an insecure and tyrannical 33-year-old.

For all its modern twists — the use of VX nerve agent, the suspected assassins’ professed belief they were part of a reality TV show, the “LOL” (“laugh out loud”) acronym across a T-shirt worn by one of the accused women — this was murder in the mode of a Plantagenet or Ottoman Sultan.

The “young marshal”, as Kim Jong-un insists on being called, was fearful that his 46-year-old half-brother Jong-nam had a better claim to the throne and that he might one day usurp him with the help of China or the West.

Time for Singapore to embrace a freelance, contract workforce


Miranda Lee

February 15, 2017

Contingent labour is on the rise. According to the Manpower Ministry’s 2015 Labour Force Report, there were 202,400 contract employees in Singapore, forming 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce.

The rising numbers of contract workers and self-employed persons are forcing employers and regulators to refocus their efforts on work reorganisation.

In 2016, a total of 19,000 people were retrenched or had their contracts terminated, up from 15,580 the year before.

Last week, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced that annual job growth had stabilised, and is expected to range between 25,000 and 40,000, down from 100,000 to 120,000 in times of robust economic growth.

Why paying people for not having jobs is a bad idea

Jonathan Eyal
Europe Correspondent

Mar 13 2017

Support for a universal basic income is growing but the idea is as ill-conceived as communism

LONDON • Would you like to live in a country where the government pays you a salary from the moment you're born and continues to transfer into your bank account each month a sum of money sufficient to cover all your necessary expenses for the rest of your life, regardless of whether you work or not?

Some would no doubt view such an arrangement as the nearest thing to paradise, while others would recoil with horror, dismissing such a vision as a classic example of the welfare state gone mad. But the idea of providing everyone with a "universal basic income" (or UBI as it is now known) has already gone beyond utopia, and is now all the rage among politicians.

It is touted by Mr Benoit Hamon, the Socialist candidate in France's presidential elections. It is also a central plank in the electoral campaign of Mr Lee Jae Myung, one of South Korea's three leading presidential candidates.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Singapore SMEs are very fortunate: Helene Raudaschl, EY Entrepreneur of the Year

In our Hong Kong business, we had to drastically retrench because we couldn't afford the expenses. In Singapore, we retrenched zero. Because the Government said, “I'm going to help you with your payroll.” We were able to go through those bad times and look forward to the good ones. The Government’s message was don’t retrench people because if you retrench people, these people will have nothing for the next whatever number of months or however long the crisis lasts. If people don't have a job, they don't spend money, they don't take the bus, they don't have lunch and the economy stops. 

By Bharati Jagdish 

26 Nov 2016

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shale billionaire Harold Hamm says US production binge can 'kill' oil market

Mar 9 2017

Straits Times

HOUSTON (BLOOMBERG) - Harold Hamm, the billionaire shale oilman, said the US industry could "kill" the oil market if it embarks into another spending binge, a rare warning in a business focused on fast growth to compete with Opec.

The statement, at an energy conference in Houston on Wednesday (March 9), comes as top shale companies announce large increases in spending for this year, and the US government says domestic oil output next year will surpass the record high set in 1970. Opec ministers have said they are keeping a close watch on shale production to decide in late May whether to extend their oil-supply cuts into the second half of the year.

Oil prices plunged 5 per cent on Wednesday to their lowest level this year, falling just above US$50 a barrel, on investor concerns about unbridled growth in America's shale basins swelling US inventories.

$90m fund lined up to boost hawker trade

Mar 9 2017
Straits Times

Money to support suggestions by Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee

Samantha Boh

A $90 million kitty will be set up to breathe new life into the hawker sector, which is dogged by an ageing workforce and a shortage of fresh blood.

The money will help pay for initiatives such as centralised dishwashing services and cashless payment systems, which will be rolled out at existing hawker centres.

A productivity grant will also be introduced in the third quarter of this year to spur hawkers to adopt kitchen automation equipment by co-funding such purchases.

These are some ways the $90 million fund will be used to support recommendations put forth by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee last month.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday said her ministry has accepted the suggestions of the committee, which she chaired.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Are we becoming slaves to computer algorithms?


MARCH 8, 2017

As an experiment, Mr Tunde Olanrewaju messed around one day with the Wikipedia entry of his employer, McKinsey. He edited the page to say that he had founded the consultancy firm.

A friend took a screenshot to preserve the revised record. Within minutes, Mr Olanrewaju received an email from Wikipedia saying that his edit had been rejected and that the true founder’s name had been restored.

Almost certainly, one of Wikipedia’s computer bots that police the site’s 40 million articles had spotted, checked and corrected his entry. It is reassuring to know that an army of such clever algorithms is patrolling the frontline of truthfulness — and can outsmart a senior partner in McKinsey’s digital practice.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Salary threshold for local workers to be raised


MARCH 7, 2017

SINGAPORE — The threshold of the full-time equivalent (FTE) salary — used to determine the number of local workers a company has, and to calculate their foreign worker quota — will be raised by S$200 to S$1,200 in two phases from July 1.

This is to ensure that local workers are employed meaningfully, instead of being hired on token salaries to allow the employer access to foreign workers.

“We review this salary threshold regularly to stay in line with income trends. If not, it means that we are gradually loosening our foreign worker controls simply due to rising nominal wages,” said Minister of State (Manpower) Sam Tan in Parliament yesterday.

[Although the govt has always rejected nominally the idea of minimum wage, we do have de facto minimum wages (such as this), that gives "incentives" to Employers to meet these "minimum wages". These may work better in practice. Of course because it is not nominally "minimum wage", it is not compulsory, and so not universal.]

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Global Megacities - the 7 types

Megacity Economy: How Seven Types of Global Cities Stack Up

[Click on the link above for the visual presentation.]

Back in 1950, close to 30% of the global population lived in cities.
That since has shifted dramatically. By 2050, a whopping 70% of people will live in urban areas – some of which will be megacities housing tens of millions of people.
This trend of urbanization has been a boon to global growth and the economy. In fact, it is estimated today by McKinsey that the 600 top urban centers contribute a whopping 60% to the world’s total GDP.

Seven Types of Global Cities

With so many people moving to urban metropolitan areas, the complexion of cities and their economies change each day.

The Brookings Institute has a new way of classifying these megacities, using various economic indicators.

According to their analysis, here’s what differentiates the seven types of global cities:

Important note: This isn’t intended to be a “ranking” of cities. However, on the infographic, cities are sorted by GDP per capita within each typology, and given a number based on where they stand in terms of this metric. This is just intended to show how wealthy the average citizen is per city, and is not a broader indicator relating to the success or overall ranking of a city.

1. Global Giants
These six cities are the world’s leading economic and financial centers. They are hubs for financial markets and are characterized by large populations and a high concentration of wealth and talent.
Examples: New York City, Tokyo, London

2. Asian Anchors
The six Asian Anchor cities are not as wealthy as the Global Giants, however they leverage attributes such as infrastructure connectivity and talented workforces to attract the most Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) out of any other metro grouping.
Examples: Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore

3. Emerging Gateways
These 28 cities are large business and transportation hubs for major national and regional markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. While they have grown to reach middle-income status, they fall behind other global cities on many key competitiveness factors such as GDP and FDI.
Examples: Mumbai, Cape Town, Mexico City, Hangzhou

4. Factory China
There are 22 second and third-tier Chinese cities reliant on export manufacturing to power economic growth and international engagement. Although Factory China displays a GDP growth rate that is well above average, it fails to reach average levels of innovation, talent, and connectivity.
Examples: Shenyang, Changchun, Chengdu

5. Knowledge Capitals
These are 19 mid-sized cities in the U.S. and Europe that are considered centers of innovation, with elite research universities producing talented workforces.
Examples: San Francisco, Boston, Zurich

6. American Middleweights
These 16 mid-sized U.S. metro areas are relatively wealthy and house strong universities, as well as other anchor institutions.
Examples: Orlando, Sacramento, Phoenix

7. International Middleweights
These 26 cities span across several continents, internationally connected by human and investment capital flow. Like their American middleweight counterparts, growth has slowed for these cities since the 2008 recession.

Examples: Vancouver, Melbourne, Brussels, Tel Aviv

The question of policing or defending a Megacity.

At 2:57, the scenario is in a city of 10 million, with 99% support of the government, the remaining 1% represents 100,000 potential aggressors, rebels or terrorists.

Throwing more money at the military won’t make it stronger

By Fareed Zakaria 
Opinion writer 
March 2, 2017

The first time I met Gen. David Petraeus, he said something that surprised me. It was the early days of the Iraq War and, although things were not going well, he had directed his region in the north skillfully and effectively. I asked him whether he wished he had more troops. Petraeus was too politically savvy to criticize the Donald Rumsfeld “light footprint” strategy, so he deflected the question, answering it a different way. “I wish we had more Foreign Service officers, aid professionals and other kinds of non-military specialists,” he said. The heart of the problem the United States was facing in Iraq, he noted presciently, was a deep sectarian divide between Shiite and Sunni, Arab and Kurd. “We need help on those issues. Otherwise, we’re relying on 22-year-old sergeants to handle them. Now, they are great kids, but they really don’t know the history, the language, the politics.”

I thought of that exchange when reading reports that President Trump is proposing a $54 billion increase for the Defense Department, which would be offset by large cuts in the State Department, foreign aid and other civilian agencies. Trump says he wants to do this so that “nobody will dare question our military might again.” But no one does. The U.S. military remains in a league of its own. The U.S. defense budget in 2015 was nine times the size of Russia’s and three times that of China’s.

None of the difficulties the United States has faced over the past 25 years has been in any way because its military was too small or weak. As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in a 2007 lecture, “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win.” To achieve “long-term success,” he explained, requires “economic development, institution-building . . . [and] good governance.” Therefore, he called for “a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security,” including “diplomacy” and “foreign assistance.”

Consider the strategy that brought Iran to the negotiating table in 2013. It required intense diplomatic work to get Russia and China to agree to U.N. measures and to isolate Iran from neighbors such as Turkey. It took clever and tough sanctions devised by the Treasury Department that leveraged U.S. financial power. This is how power works in the modern world.

“We must do a lot more with less,” Trump said recently, adding that government needs to reform its ways. But the obvious target for this effort should be the Pentagon, which is the poster child for waste in government. The Pentagon is now the world’s largest bureaucracy, running a cradle-to-grave quasi-socialist system of employment, housing, health care and pensions for its 3 million employees. A recent report from its Defense Business Board concluded that it could easily save $125 billion over five years by removing operational inefficiencies. (Senior officials quickly buried the report .) Those savings would fund the entire State Department plus all foreign aid programs for two and a half years. Gates used to quip, “We have more people in military bands than we have Foreign Service officers.” The total numbers are worth noting. There are only 13,000 employees in the whole Foreign Service, compared with 742,000 civilians in the Defense Department.

Trump railed in his address to Congress, as he has in the past, about the $6 trillion that the United States has spent in the Middle East. That figure is exaggerated, but he’s right that when the Pentagon goes to war, costs go through the stratosphere. In just one example, ProPublica tallied up the audits of the special inspector general for Afghanistan and found that the military had wasted at least $17 billion on a variety of projects.

Rosa Brooks, who served as a civilian adviser at the Pentagon under President Barack Obama, has written a fascinating book, “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything,” that describes how U.S. policy has been contorted by a military that keeps expanding while all other agencies wither. One of the blurbs on the back of the book says, “One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. It’s as if we have been sleepwalking into this new world and Rosa has turned on a flashlight.” The commendation comes from Jim Mattis, now the secretary of defense. Perhaps he should give the book to his boss.

March 1

Michèle Flournoy, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, was undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012.

In his address Tuesday to Congress, President Trump promised to make sure that the U.S. military gets what it needs to carry out its mission by securing “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” More funding would surely be a good thing, although the issues of how much and what for are complicated. No one should be under any illusions that a higher Defense Department top line guarantees a more capable armed forces.

Trump is reportedly seeking $54 billion over the sequester caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would bring 2018 defense spending to $603 billion. While Trump may view this proposal as historic, it’s only 3 percent more than President Barack Obama’s final budget request. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has called for a much larger increase — to nearly $640 billion.

And as the post-9/11 defense buildup taught us, throwing more money at the Pentagon is not a panacea. What matters is how the money is spent. So what should we look for in the president’s budget request?

First, how is spending allocated across readiness, force structure and modernization?

There is broad consensus in the Pentagon and Congress that the most urgent priority is addressing readiness shortfalls that affect the military’s ability to respond quickly to crises and other near-term demands. Every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has highlighted readiness problems — such as inadequate training time and maintenance and replacement of equipment — as a source of accumulating risk. While Congress’s willingness to provide war funding — “overseas contingency operations” funds — above baseline defense spending has helped, it has not solved the problem.

The larger challenge will be striking the right balance between building a bigger force and building a better one. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has rightly defined his priority as building a “larger, more capable, and more lethal joint force” to contend with a more challenging international security environment and increasingly capable adversaries. But there are tradeoffs between paying for additional personnel and force structure vs. investing in the technology and capabilities necessary to prevail in more contested air, land, maritime, cyber and space domains. Although some increases in force size may be warranted, such as a larger Navy fleet and modest increases elsewhere, the dramatic across-the-board hikes in force structure that Trump proposed during his campaign are both unaffordable and unwise.

The bulk of any additional defense investment must focus on maintaining and extending our technological and warfighting edge, including in cyber, electronic and anti-submarine arenas, unmanned systems, automation, long-range striking and protected communications. U.S. military leaders should moderate their appetite for a bigger force today to protect critical investments in cutting-edge capabilities that will determine whether we succeed on the battlefield tomorrow.

Second, are deterrence and alliance capabilities being strengthened?

Critical to the United States’ ability to deter aggression and prevent conflict in regions where we have vital interests is deploying U.S. military forces forward and helping allies and partners build their own defense capacity. Some of these costs, such as those associated with routinely deploying naval forces around the world, reside in the base defense budget. Others, such as the European Reassurance Initiative, will be covered by annual overseas contingency funding. Still others, such as helping Israel field more robust missile defense systems, are enabled by the State Department’s foreign military financing. These investments, although relatively small in dollars, are disproportionately important to reducing the risk of more costly U.S. military engagements.

Third, does the budget keep faith with the men and women who serve? Any budget that claims to strengthen the U.S. military must put people first. Doing so requires reform. For example, does the budget adopt sensible reforms to military health care to improve quality while reining in costs? Does it improve education and professional development? Does it enable more flexible career paths to retain the best and brightest? Does it include a round of Base Realignment and Closure to shed the 30 percent of infrastructure the service chiefs say they no longer need, enabling savings to be reinvested in better training and equipment for those we send into harm’s way?

Fourth, how will we pay for the increased defense spending? The Trump administration has promised dollar-for-dollar cuts in non-defense programs, reportedly targeting the State Department and USAID for cuts of 30percent or more. This would create an even more imbalanced national security toolkit, limiting our ability to prevent crises through diplomacy and development and result in an overreliance on the military. As Mattis said while head of the U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” This approach also is unlikely to fly in Congress. Absent a larger budget deal that includes tax reform and reins in non-discretionary spending on Social Security and Medicare, the most likely result is a larger deficit.

Finally, if this defense spending increase isn’t part of a larger budget deal providing predictable spending levels for the next several years, it won’t have the desired impact. If the Pentagon is forced to operate under the threat of sequestration, it will not have the predictability necessary to make smart multiyear investments in the capabilities on which our security will hinge.

Trump is right to raise the need for more defense dollars, but Congress should scrub his request carefully to ensure that the money is spent wisely and not at the expense of non-defense programs that are critical to U.S. national security.