Friday, January 27, 2017

Beijing had no role in Terrex seizure, says Hong Kong

JANUARY 26, 2017

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

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


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


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


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

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


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.”