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

KATSUJI NAKAZAWA,
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

STEPHEN ROACH

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?

ROBERT ARMSTRONG

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

SHASHI JAYAKUMAR
AND
HO SHU HUANG

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

TODAY

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?

JOHN THORNHILL

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

VALERIE KOH

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.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Warren Buffett says this simple mistake has cost investors more than $100 billion

By Jonnelle Marte
February 27


Billionaire Warren Buffett has some wise words for investors: Stop throwing money away on bad advice.

In his annual letter to shareholders released over the weekend, the Berkshire Hathaway chief executive bashed active fund managers who charge higher fees on the promise that they can do better than the broader market. Buffett said most savers would be better off putting their money in low-cost index funds over the long term, and he estimated that investors wasted roughly $100 billion over the past decade on unnecessary fees.

The “massive fees” charged by active fund managers — who often promise to outperform the broader market — can leave savers worse off than if they had simply used a low-cost index fund that tracks a stock-market index, Buffett warned.

Imagining the future

Two Future Visions. The first is on the Household of Tomorrow. The second considers the security issues of a vertical city.


What would Singapore be like in 2030

What would the Singapore of tomorrow be like for an HDB household, if the recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) bear fruit? Insight takes a leap forward to 2030.

FEB 19, 2017

Royston Sim
Assistant Political Editor

Looking out of the window of his 15-storey HDB flat, businessman and father-of-two Alex Chin marvels at the scene before him.

Thirteen years ago, when he was 20, this flat located at Tengah, a former military training area in Singapore's west and ringed by a 100m-wide, 5km-long forest corridor, did not exist.

But if it did, he would have been looking out over a typical multistorey HDB carpark, full of a mix of sedans, SUVs, motorbikes, vans and pick-up trucks. Gantry bars would be rising and falling as the electronic parking system deducted payment from in-vehicle units.

Elderly residents would be making their way painstakingly across the road to get to the coffee shop for a bite.

Children would be getting off the bus from school.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Address wider questions raised over CFE report

Han Fook Kwang
Editor At Large

FEB 19, 2017

The questions came thick and fast as soon as the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) released its report on Feb 9. It's a good sign - better than if there had been indifference and silence.

So, here are the top three questions culled from what has been reported in both the mainstream media and online.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Future economy needs future-ready social safety net

Chua Mui Hoong
Opinion Editor

FEB 26, 2017

As job insecurity looms in a world of churn, we need to attend to the well-being of citizens too
As a consumer, I love start-ups. Airbnb, Uber and car-sharing apps transformed my vacation experiences, opening up cheaper - and more interesting - accommodation and transport options. You can live in someone's lovely house, get to know them and their family, drive a neighbour's car, order food in when you feel like it, and even make new friends instantly via social meet-ups.

In Singapore, I use Uber, Grab and food-delivery platforms. I order food in restaurants from iPads. (Smartphone QR code ordering should be next.) I console myself that when my job is taken over by a robot one day, I can make extra income from renting out my car and extra room in my apartment.

[For people in her generation, who were able to secure a home and a car under the old economy, she can now leverage on these "assets" to generate income. What about the generation in the new economy who has not been able to afford their home and car? The "new economy" isn't new. It does not create any new value. It does not create wealth. It merely monetises the extraneous assets of the old economy.]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Singapore Budget 2017: 7 things about water price changes

 Water tariffs will be going up for the first time since 2000, but HDB households will be getting help to offset the increases.

FEB 20, 2017

Chew Hui Min

SINGAPORE - Water tariffs will be going up for the first time since 2000.

But Housing & Development Board (HDB) households will be getting help to offset the increases.

Here's what you need to know:

Women's life expectancy on track to hit 90 in some nations

22 Feb 2017

CHANNELNEWSASIA

PARIS: By 2030 life expectancy for South Korean women could top nine decades, an average lifespan long thought to be out of reach, researchers said Wednesday (Feb 22).

South Korea is not only the first country in the world where women may live past 90 on average, it is also the one on track to log the biggest jump in longevity, they reported in The Lancet medical journal.

Other developed countries are not far behind: the longevity of French and Japanese women are more likely than not to stretch past 88 years.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Taxing e-commerce players such as Amazon one way to raise Govt revenue: Experts

VALERIE KOH

FEBRUARY 22, 2017

SINGAPORE — With the Government needing to impose new taxes or raise existing ones to fund growing healthcare and infrastructure expenditure, tax experts have suggested several ways for the country to boost its coffers: Taxing e-commerce operators such as Amazon and Taobao as well as those providing business-to-business (B2B) services, creating a new tax bracket for the ultra-rich, and increasing the goods and services tax (GST) rate.

While Singapore has one of the lowest corporate tax rates globally, the experts noted that raising these rates was not a viable option if the Republic wants to maintain a competitive tax regime at a time when countries around the world are seeking to reduce corporate taxes. Nevertheless, they singled out the burgeoning digital economy as one potential revenue source.

The rise of e-commerce has resulted in a loss of tax revenue, as overseas online retailers are generally not taxed in Singapore on their income generated from consumers here.

China finishing South China Sea buildings that could house missiles: US

22 Feb 2017 09:02

CHANNELNEWSASIA

WASHINGTON: China, in an early test of U.S. President Donald Trump, is nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The development is likely to raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, which carries a third of the world's maritime traffic. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Trump's administration has called China's island building in the South China Sea illegal.

Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the U.S. officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Budget 2017: The main points

Some articles on the Budget.

The first one is a broad overview. It is so broad that it even commented that Minster of Finance is back.

The second article goes into the essential details - water rates to go up, a carbon tax (in two years), differentiated tax for heavy motorcycles, measures for young couples buying their first flat, and help for businesses, and employees/job-seekers.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Is WWIII imminent? Speculations.

China. South China Sea. An unhinged Trump, thin-skinned and impulsive. Recipe for another World War?

The first article with a short clip suggests that there are similarities. Whether those similarities are superficial or essential, remains to be seen. The hope seems to be that while the problems and the situations are the same, how the world now answers the questions posed by those problems are intended to avoid war.

But then again, there is Trump, who seems eager to prove that he does not follow (or know) the rules.

So are we heading for an inevitable World War III?


Debating the real cost of drinking water

ASIT K. BISWAS
AND
CECILIA TORTAJADA

FEBRUARY 20, 2017

Singapore’s decision to raise water prices after 17 years is to be applauded. Studies show that pricing can affect behaviour, and there is strong evidence to suggest that under-priced or free water leads to very inefficient uses of water, including increased wastage.

Take the case of Doha, the capital of Qatar, where water is free. The average daily water consumption of residents is 1,200 litres.

In Singapore, domestic water consumption per capita is 151 litres, which is still relatively on the high side. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, humans need a minimum of two litres of drinking water per day to survive.

Water should be priced accordingly to provide a sustainable financial model for the proper operation, maintenance, updating and construction of new facilities for water and wastewater treatment systems.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Three shifts in education beliefs to become the future economy

Devadas Krishnadas

For The Straits Times

15 Feb 2017

We need to shift from a belief system that a few bright people, identified early and groomed, will lead us to a sunlit future to one where the leaders of tomorrow can emerge at any age and from any path

The economy of the past was organised upon an emphasis on travelling up a predictable ladder of development. To assist the economy to make transitions, the government very ably focused on ensuring the infrastructure and the workforce were well in place to anticipate demands.

Those convenient times are well past. The economy of the future will not be predictable and will also be less predicated on heavy investments in infrastructure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The daring night raid that vindicated Japanese Americans

FEB 12, 2017

In the wake of Pearl Harbour, a secret intelligence report could have stopped the mass internment

Andrea Pitzer

In spring 1941, months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, a team led by US naval intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle broke into the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles.

One man stayed downstairs to guard the elevator while the rest snuck upstairs using skeleton keys to make their way to the back rooms. They brought along a safecracker - a convicted felon sprung for one night to help them - as well as local policemen and FBI agents, who set up patrols outside during the operation. Once the safe was open, Ringle's crew photographed its contents item by item, putting everything back in place before leaving the building.

Though the United States had not yet entered the war, it had launched espionage efforts with an eye towards the possibility. The Navy had chosen Ringle to assess the Japanese threat in 1940 because he had previously lived and worked in Tokyo and was one of only a handful of US sailors who could speak Japanese. He had gone on to build a network of contacts on the West Coast, determining which cultural organisations were harmless and which might be dangerous.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Explaining the CFE (or making excuses?)

The Report of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was ruthlessly critiqued for being "more of the same", not bold enough, lacking in originality, and uninspiring. As a strategy or road map, it leaves the reader wondering, so what should I do?

Well, you can't have a 109-page report with the contribution of over 1200 people after a year of consultation be seen as directionless.

So the government assembled some experts to explain to you why this report is good!


Can Singapore companies be globally competitive?

TODAY ONLINE

Larry Sim
See Wei Hwa

February 9, 2017


The United States has Apple. China has Alibaba. Japan has Toyota. Korea has Samsung.

Why doesn’t Singapore have a company or brand that is equally recognisable, globally?

The current tax regime encourages our business culture to lean towards the acquisition or sale of successful brands, rather than development.

A company that acquires a brand qualifies for tax amortisation, but a company which has developed its own brand does not.

This culture is evident in the list of strong, homegrown brands that are no longer owned by Singapore companies, such as Tiger Beer and Raffles Hotel.

Over the years, Singapore has extended financial benefits, such as tax concessions to attract foreign multinational corporations (MNCs), while the MNCs have brought in fixed capital investments and jobs. There is, however, a limit to the incentives that can be dangled in front of foreign MNCs, which are always on the lookout for lower operating costs in competing economies like China, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. It is in Singapore’s interest to have a strong core of homegrown companies headquartered here. 

[Say I don't disagree from a personal perspective. But why? Would homegrown companies headquartered here resist moving their operations to countries with cheaper operating costs because of "loyalty" to Singapore? And in doing so, would they become less competitive and eventually die? So this "Singapore interest" is to kill off local brands?

Here's another question: Does it matter if you are employed by Tiger Beer (if still owned by Singaporeans) or Heineken (owned by foreigners)?

And another question: Is it better for Tiger beer to continue as a brand, but owned by a foreign company, or better for Tiger to just die then be a brand owned by a foreigner?]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sino-American War - not wanted.


China doesn't want a war.

That is obvious.

China's rise is economic, and that requires peace. War will derail their growth trajectory. And yet, pride demands that they demonstrate their rising influence.

One should always stand on one's own two feet. But in doing so, there is no need to step on others' toes. China seems bent on stomping on others' toes as they rise.

They are either stupid, or conflicted.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Opposition parties criticise Future Economy report

TODAY ONLINE

Siau Ming En
February 11, 2017


SINGAPORE — The report put out by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) on Thursday (Feb 9) has been criticised by members of the Opposition, who called it lacking in bold and aggressive measures to address the problems Singapore faces.

In a media release, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said the CFE report was “long on rhetoric but woefully lacking in bold and aggressive measures to tackle the serious problems that confront Singapore”. It is “rehash of ideas and strategies” that have been tried but failed by predecessors such as the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) report in 2010 and the Economic Review Committee (ERC) report in 2003, he added.

The report, released after a year of work by the committee, highlighted seven key strategies for the Government, Singaporeans and firms to pursue to keep the country plugged into the world, and build the capabilities of its people and organisations.

They are: The need to deepen and diversify international connections; acquire and utilise deep skills; strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up; build strong digital capabilities; develop a vibrant and connected city of opportunity; develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps; and partner each other to enable growth and innovation.

[I agree with Chee that the report is "long on rhetoric". And that is the extent I agree with him. He mentions the serious problems that confront SG, but does not explain what he is referring to. I suspect he does not know what are the serious problems facing Singapore. Other than that SDP, and specifically Chee himself, cannot win an election.]

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Regulations in place to ramp up driverless vehicle trials in Singapore

08 Feb 2017

ChannelNewsAsia

The Land Transport Authority has been given more flexibility with rules and regulations in a bid to keep pace with the rise of autonomous vehicle technology. 


China’s forex reserves fall below S$4.3 trillion, prompts yuan devaluation fears

FEBRUARY 7, 2017

BEIJING — China’s foreign exchange reserves have unexpectedly fallen below US$3 trillion (S$4.3 trillion), the first time they have dipped below the closely watched level in nearly six years, even while authorities tried to curb outflows by tightening capital controls.

Reserves fell by US$12.3 billion last month to US$2.998 trillion, compared with a drop of US$41 billion in December, official data showed on Tuesday (Feb 7). While the US$3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed at which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the yuan and staunch capital outflows.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Don't play, play - Singlish is studied around the globe

FEB 5, 2017


From Italy to Japan, at least seven universities have conducted classes on it over past decade

Yuen Sin

Blogger Wendy Cheng's Web video series Xiaxue's Guide To Life and Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men film franchise are well-known shows among Singaporeans. For one thing, they are filled with colloquial terms, local references and copious doses of Singlish terms such as "lah" and "lor".

But they are not merely for entertainment. In recent years, such shows have found a place in universities around the world, where linguists draw on dialogues used in these local productions to introduce to undergraduates and postgraduate students how Singlish has become a unique variety of the English language.

This comes even as concerns have been raised over how Singlish could impede the use of standard English here.

From Italy and Germany to Japan, at least seven universities around the world have used Singlish as a case study in linguistics courses over the past decade. This is on top of more than 40 academics outside of Singapore - some of whom were previously based here - who have written books or papers on Singlish as part of their research.

PM Lee sends condolences to PAP founding member Fong Swee Suan's wife

FEBRUARY 6, 2017
TODAY ONLINE

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Mdm Chen Poh Cheng, the wife of People's Action Party (PAP) founding member Fong Swee Suan, to express his condolences on Mr Fong's death on Sunday (Feb 5).

Mr Fong died on Saturday aged 85. The former Barisan Sosialis leader and leftist trade unionist left the PAP in 1961 owing to differences in opinion about Singapore's merger with Malaysia.

Mr Lee's letter is reproduced in full below:

Friday, February 3, 2017

A mysterious disappearance leaves HK’s credibility in tatters

JAMIL ANDERLINI

FEBRUARY 3, 2017

It reads like the plot of a bad thriller — a Chinese billionaire sits with his entourage of female bodyguards in his apartment in the Hong Kong Four Seasons in the early hours of Chinese New Year’s Eve. The women are employed not only to protect him but also to wipe the sweat from his brow and back.

Suddenly, half-a-dozen public security agents from mainland China burst in, overpower the bodyguards, bundle the billionaire out of the hotel and take him across the border to face the wrath of the Communist party.

But this is not the script for a kung fu potboiler. The billionaire is Mr Xiao Jianhua, one of China’s most politically connected and wealthy men, and his abduction from the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district last Friday has shaken the city to its core.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Beijing had no role in Terrex seizure, says Hong Kong

JANUARY 26, 2017
TODAY ONLINE

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Customs chief yesterday denied suggestions that Beijing was involved in the investigation into nine armoured personnel carriers belonging to Singapore that were seized in the Chinese-controlled territory.

Commissioner Roy Tang said his department was acting only under Hong Kong law when it impounded the nine SAF Terrex infantry carriers and other equipment.

“Hong Kong Customs is only authorised to enforce the Hong Kong law. We have no role to play in any enforcement or work other than laws applicable to Hong Kong, so there’s no such implication,’’ Mr Tang said when asked whether Beijing had any role in the case and whether there were any political considerations in returning the vehicles.

“We are a Hong Kong law enforcement agency,’’ he added, making the points repeatedly during a news briefing. “The central government is, of course, aware of the issue.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Now could be a good time to buy Singapore property stocks

JANUARY 26, 2017

SINGAPORE — Yes, you heard it right — Singapore’s home prices are set to make a comeback after a three-year losing streak. And analysts think property developer stocks are the best way to play that rebound.

Amid a restructuring push to boost a slowing economy, the government could signal its intention to reconsider property cooling measures as early as the budget speech in February, Ms Carmen Lee, head of research at Oversea-Chinese Banking said in an interview. That promises to boost the city-state’s largest developer stocks, including City Developments, which is one of the top picks for OCBC’s Lee and analysts at CIMB Research, Credit Suisse AG. Other potential winners include CapitaLand, UOL Group and OUE.

[I am leery of any "economic plan" that involves boosting the economy by pushing sale of property. That's what created the the sub-prime mortgage crisis.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

7 'Alternative Facts' from the White House

23 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Ms Kellyanne Conway, counsellor to President Donald Trump, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday (Jan 22) that the White House had put forth "alternative facts" to the ones reported by the news media about the size of the inauguration crowd.

She made this assertion a day after Mr Trump and Mr Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, accused the media of reporting falsehoods about the inauguration and Mr Trump's relationship with the intelligence agencies.

In leveling this attack, the president and Mr Spicer made a series of false statements.

Here are five [updated to seven] of their statements and the facts:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fact-checking President Trump’s inaugural address

By Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Washington Post

January 20, 2017

Generally, inaugural addresses are not designed to be fact-checked. But President Trump’s address was nothing if not unique, presenting a portrait of the United States that often was at variance with reality. Here’s a guide to understanding whether the facts back up his rhetoric.

“Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.”
Trump engages in some sleight of hand here, equating “politicians” with “Washington.” The suburbs around Washington are among the richest in the United States, largely because of the federal government (which attracts people with college or advanced degrees). People either work for or lobby the federal government, and that was especially enhanced by the post-9/11 growth in defense and security contracts.

Among the 25 most populous metropolitan areas, the D.C. metro area has the highest median income in the nation — $93,294 versus a U.S. median of $55,775 — though growth has slowed in recent years, in part because of reductions in defense spending. Indeed, income in the D.C. area has grown essentially at the same rate as the rest of the nation since 2006, including a dip in median income during the Great Recession.

There is no empirical evidence that the D.C. area got rich off the rest of the country, as Trump suggests.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Red-handed: China province admits faking economic data

January 18, 2017

BEIJING — A Chinese official has admitted his province falsified its economic data for years, state media said on Wednesday (Jan 18), as the country prepares to release its national growth estimates for 2016.

The announcement by the governor of the northeastern province of Liaoning partially confirms long-held suspicions among overseas investors that the world’s second largest economy has been cooking the books.

China’s GDP figures are a closely watched measure of economic growth in the country, which affect business and financial decisions around the globe.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing

By Valerie Strauss

January 18 2017

6 head-scratching moments from Betsy DeVos's confirmation hearing .
Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, appeared before senators at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, but some of her responses created more questions than they answered.

At her contentious confirmation hearing as Donald Trump’s nominee to be education secretary on Tuesday, Betsy DeVos was asked a question by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) about an important education debate involving how student progress should be measured. The query essentially rendered her speechless as she appeared not to know how to answer. When Franken told her he was upset she didn’t understand it, she did not protest.

That was just one of several moments during the hearing in which DeVos either displayed a lack of knowledge about education fundamentals or refused to answer questions that Democratic members of the Senate Education Committee believe are critical to her fitness for the job.

Here are some of the notable moments:

Monday, January 16, 2017

No reason for S'pore to stop military training in Taiwan

Chen Wen Ping
16 Jan 2017

Straits Times

A letter bearing the headline "Exercise Starlight should be terminated" and published in Malaysian Chinese-language daily Nanyang Siang Pau on Jan 7 made some points related to Singapore's military training in Taiwan.

[Interesting that a Malaysian Chinese (presumably) would be writing about China-Singapore-Taiwan issues, and to be concerned about SG's military assets being detained in HK. And would presume to tell SG how to conduct itself in international relations. The mouthpieces of the CCP are everywhere, apparently.]

The first point was that with the issue of the seizure of Singapore's nine armoured vehicles in Hong Kong still hanging in the balance, there has again been noise over Starlight troops' use of training grounds in Taiwan.

The second point was a criticism of the Singapore Government's handling of the armoured vehicles issue as being grounded in "groupthink".

According to the forum letter writer, since Australia is providing more land for Singapore troops to train on, it is time to terminate Exercise Starlight as a good way to thaw chilly relations with China.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Democrats can’t win until they recognize how bad Obama’s financial policies were

He had opportunities to help the working class, and he passed them up.


By Matt Stoller
January 12 2017

Matt Stoller is fellow at the Open Markets Program of New America.

During his final news conference of 2016, in mid-December, President Obama criticized Democratic efforts during the election. “Where Democrats are characterized as coastal, liberal, latte-sipping, you know, politically correct, out-of-touch folks,” Obama said, “we have to be in those communities.” In fact, he went on, being in those communities — “going to fish-fries and sitting in VFW halls and talking to farmers” — is how, by his account, he became president. It’s true that Obama is skilled at projecting a populist image; he beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa in 2008, for instance, partly by attacking agriculture monopolies .

But Obama can’t place the blame for Clinton’s poor performance purely on her campaign. On the contrary, the past eight years of policymaking have damaged Democrats at all levels. Recovering Democratic strength will require the party’s leaders to come to terms with what it has become — and the role Obama played in bringing it to this point.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Corporate guff scales new heights

LUCY KELLAWAY
TODAY ONLINE
JANUARY 11, 2017

Every January for the past decade, I have handed out awards for the horrible use of language in business. Usually, the task amuses me. This year, I have found the sheer weight of euphemism, grammatical infelicity, disingenuity and downright ugliness so lowering, I have decided to start the 2016 Golden Flannel Awards with something more uplifting: A prize for clarity.

I am calling this the Wan Long prize, after the Chinese meat magnate who once uttered the clearest sentence ever spoken by a CEO: “What I do is kill pigs and sell meat.”

Mr Wan will surely approve of my winner, a BNSF railway executive who told a conference: “We move stuff from one place to another.”

This elegant, informative and borderline beautiful sentence is a reminder that despite the horrific nature of the following entries, clarity remains attainable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Malacca port expansion will have ‘minimal impact’ on Singapore's status as regional transhipment hub

ANGELA TENG

TODAY ONLINE
JANUARY 10, 2017

SINGAPORE — The expansion of Malacca’s Kuala Linggi International Port (Klip) will likely have a minimal impact on Singapore’s status as a regional transhipment hub, Senior Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday, although she warned against complacency and said the Republic would take the necessary measures to retain its competitive edge.

“The expansion of Malacca’s Klip will reportedly add oil storage and bunkering facilities. The expansion is expected to be completed only within the next decade, so it is still too early to determine the exact impact on Singapore’s economy. Our preliminary assessment, however, is that Klip’s planned oil storage capacity of 1.5 million cubic metres is not big relative to Singapore’s current capacity of 20.5 million cubic metres,” she said.

“In addition, our position as a regional bunkering and oil storage hub is anchored by a strong ecosystem of oil refineries and oil traders, and by the high volume of ships calling at Singapore for various services.

Friday, January 6, 2017

China invests billions in renewable energy in fight against air pollution

Jeremy Koh, Channel NewsAsia

06 Jan 2017


BEIJING: iPhone manufacturer Apple is building a 20-megawatt solar power station in Qiongxi town in China’s Sichuan province. It is the first solar project the company has built outside the United States, and it will be co-owned by Sichuan Shengtian New Energy Development Company and Apple.

At an investment value of US$39 million, the project is located at about 3,500m above sea level - and one of the reasons it is sited there is because the place receives abundant sunshine annually.

Chabuduo! Close enough ...

"To understand how to make things, you have to use them. Ford’s workers in the US drove their own cars, and Western builders dwelt, or hoped to dwell, in homes like the ones they made. But the migrants lining factory belts in Guangdong make knick-knacks for US households thousands of miles away. The men and women who build China’s houses will never live in them."

James Palmer
is a British writer and editor. He is the author of The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China (2012) and The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia (2008). He lives in Beijing.


Your balcony fell off? Chabuduo. Vaccines are overheated? Chabuduo. How China became the land of disastrous corner-cutting

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A bull named Trump in a shop called China

YASHENG HUANG

JANUARY 5, 2017

Some of United States President-elect Donald Trump’s nastiest attacks have been directed at China. He has accused it of “raping” the US with its trade policies, and of creating global warming as a “hoax” to undermine US competitiveness. Why, then, are many Chinese policy advisers and commentators sanguine about future US-China relations?

The reasoning seems to be that Mr Trump is a businessman, and, to paraphrase former US President Calvin Coolidge, the business of China is business. China, the thinking goes, can work with a swashbuckling deal-maker like Mr Trump better than with a supposedly “ideological” Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Many people would be surprised to see Mrs Clinton categorised as an ideologue. And there is scant evidence to support the claim that businesspeople somehow embody pragmatism, given that so many powerful US business leaders are committed ideologues.

The Koch brothers, for example, stubbornly cling to impractical and thoroughly debunked libertarian ideas, and numerous Fortune 500 CEOs instinctively side with Republicans, even though the US economy consistently performs better under Democratic administrations. And one should not forget Andrew William Mellon’s infamous and reckless advice to former US President Herbert Hoover on the eve of the Great Depression: “Liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate.”

The revelation that Mr Trump and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan spoke by telephone has probably now shattered any residual hope that the incoming US administration will be anything but a bull in a China shop. That phone call violated a protocol — avoidance of direct contact between the US and Taiwan at the presidential level — that American presidents from both parties have carefully observed for four decades.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

More economic uncertainty hanging over China

YIPING HUANG

JANUARY 3, 2017

Official and unofficial data confirm that the Chinese economy had stabilised during the middle of 2016. But there is still a lot of disagreement about the country’s growth outlook moving forward.

Three important forces are likely to determine economic trends in 2017: Property development, infrastructure spending and manufacturing investment. These forces are also the source of much uncertainty about the future of China’s economic policy.

GDP growth reached a steady 6.7 per cent over three consecutive quarters in 2016, a performance that fuelled renewed speculation about the reliability of official data. The consensus was that economic activity was bottoming out. Big data analysis and grassroots investigations came to the same conclusion. Activity in many sectors started to pick up again during mid-2016.

This was first due to the beginning of a turnaround in the property market at the end of 2015. Property investment grew modestly from a negative figure to around 5 per cent. The gathering boom in the property market was associated with stronger markets for electronics, furniture, building materials and automobiles.

Swedish six-hour workday trial runs into trouble: Too expensive

JANUARY 4, 2017
TODAY

STOCKHOLM — Swedes looking forward to a six-hour workday just got some bad news: The costs outweigh the benefits.

That’s according to the preliminary results of a two-year experiment carried out in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, the home of Volvo. To reduce the 8-hour days at the 68-nurse Svartedalen old people’s home, the city had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of 12 million kronor (S$1.9 million).

The study showed that employees felt healthier, which reduced sick-leave absence, and that patient care improved, but the city won’t push ahead to make the plan permanent.

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” said Mr Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running the municipality’s elderly care. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Japan resists the populist tide

JOHN PLENDER

JANUARY 3, 2017

After December’s No vote in the Italian referendum, the rise of Mr Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union, it appears that the political landscape of the developed world is being redesigned by the victims of globalisation and technological change.

Anger towards political elites is pervasive. Yet a few rage-free zones remain, of which Japan is the most conspicuous. How come this country, whose economy has been in the doldrums for two decades and where the suicide rate is vastly higher than the global average, is not in the grip of anti-establishment populism?

The docility of the Japanese certainly appears counter-intuitive. This is, after all, a country that has suffered from debilitating deflation since the late 1990s, and where wages have lagged behind productivity growth for years.

Since the bursting of Japan’s notorious bubble in the 1990s, the loss of wealth has been huge. Nomura Research Institute’s chief economist Richard Koo has estimated the cumulative loss of wealth on shares and real estate between 1990 and 2015 at ¥1,500 trillion (S$18.5 billion) — three times America’s loss measured in relation to gross domestic product in the 1930s depression.

California officials say a new plan will make water conservation ‘a way of life’

Darryl Fears
Washington Post, December 31, 2016 

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Here in the land of beauty and make-believe, it’s important to keep up appearances. Tracy Quinn sees it whenever she walks her dog: sprinklers irrigating pretty green lawns and wasted water bleeding across sidewalks during the state’s driest spell in centuries.

“It drives me crazy,” said Quinn, a water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But now California is preparing for a dramatic change in how its residents use water. A water management plan that could be finalized in January is designed to make conservation “a way of life.”