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 99.co 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’.”