Saturday, January 21, 2017

Best foot forward for Trump?

Taken at face value this is a gracious act by Trump towards Hillary Clinton.

As I had blogged before, I think Trump is unfit for this job but now that he is already taken the job we will learn to make the best of it in a world which he is about to diminish.

Well they say "God bless America" but we in South East Asia and in particular Singapore that would be "May God help us"

The message sent to by Pope Francis via an official Telegram (so cannot be faked eh?) is relevant and to the point.

The Honorable Donald Trump
President of the United States of America
The White House
Upon your inauguration as the forty-fifth President of the United States of America, I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.  At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding far-sighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.  Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.  With these sentiments, I ask the Lord to grant you and your family, and all the beloved American people, his blessings of peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.
                                                                       FRANCISCUS PP.

As a matter of degree depending where you live what Pope Francis said about America is true but I am afraid is disappearing beginning with the rapid decline of America's soft power.

I see America as always struggling for faith to have the courage to live by its values in a mix of triumphs and failures, idealism versus cynicism in constant conflict. With Trump as president that will change unless he is stopped not by anyone by rank and file Americans.

Because an America first approach consigns this exceptional power to the unexceptional. America will become like the hated imperial powers of history, and in this paradigm the Chinese would be the least bad power which was the most enlightened power until America was invented.

Yes, when every country is looking after themselves first it can easily over a long time be seen that Americans are suckers and taken for a ride by others. That is easy for the average voter to understand. On the other hand America enjoys huge surpluses and benefits which are often not easily seen in the numbers. Take for example the dominance of the US dollar. It is an exorbitant privilege, expensive to us and a privilege for America which she freely spends and the rest of the world pay. If the world faith and confidence in the USD is weakened because America though still big is unexceptional, those unseen good numbers will become true pain for America.

The global system underwritten by America is unfortunately also akin to riding a hungry dragon. You are safe as long as you ride it, if you get off you will get eaten. Then that frightened dragon would run around eating others as well not because it wants to but it has no choice. That dragon is China and without plugging into the US led system it could not maintain internal stability. So China will be forced to destabilize others in order to maintain its own stability.

Eight years ago the world was fed unrealistic hope and change in Barack Obama. Now we are probably fearing more than necessary since people are filling their imagination with worst case scenarios. My wish is that the stupid things Trump is going to do receive their backlash pretty swiftly. That is the way to learn lessons quickly. Smart people rehearse the potential bad results in their minds and avoid making those decisions. Dumb fools, prejudiced and irrational learn the hard way. The sooner it happens the safer we are.

What I am most afraid of is stubborn ideology. Ideologues never give up and keep wasting and destroying lives and wealth until they succeed which is never. Fortunately that is a GOP and not a Trump weakness.

Update: Jan 22 11:25 pm

None too soon!

Dismiss or accept Trump's call?

Got an early morning call from Trump! Actually it was just my friend silly Whatsapp message with a photo of Trump and the phone ringing in the background.

Will you take his call? Of course! But I can't because he will never call me.

My friend wished Trump would be a failed president but I told him that is not a good idea because we would all suffer big time. Neither is it an attractive prospect if Trump succeeds then all the dishonest, narcissistic demagogues everywhere will stand and might win many elections. If such types also come to power here, I think SG is finished.

Remember character is destiny but unfortunately it is not always true unless taken over infinite time. This con artist might yet succeed.

So what is best is a mediocre president Trump and how likely is that?

My worst fear is massive destructive failure accompanied by wars everywhere which will come after Trump succeeded because in this scenario the many demagogues that will follow after him will bring this world to an end. Want to have an idea what such a world would be like? Just look at human history when the rulers were monarchs, the global dystopia. Fortunately for civilization these kings and emperors only had for weapons whatever that could be made with iron and steel. Imagine if they had nuclear weapons like we do.

For our children's future a mediocre Trump presidency is the least worst outcome. For Singapore that is not good enough unless Trump succeeded at giving China so much problems she fails to implement her version of  the Monroe Doctrine in our neighborhood.

Not likely to do well and only looking to survive the next four years, but the hardship might be mitigated if the Chinese export their factories to our region, taking our commodities as well and we somehow in embracing them economically are still able to resist them in security matters. We will need a lot of luck to get this outcome because overwhelmingly we are price takers and ASEAN have never been as divided as now.

A card from a Trump supporter

Came in last night and I guessed it must be about the inauguration of Trump as the 45th US President.  I was right and a card I had received before usually for their Independence Day appeared.

After fifty cards with their state flowers playing to their national anthem and then

God Bless America & President Donald Trump, but not before

America First appeared on the display.

I have not spoken to many of them for a very long time. Those I have kept in touch with, and this was unplanned turned out to be Obama supporters. These are usually better read, more thoughtful and less religious although not necessarily less spiritual.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Two more Xiaomi Mi Band 1S Pulse

After a successful first purchase, we added two more for ($10.90 and $9.90). For a brief moment I caught the price went down to $8,80. Then I saw a local seller offering the Mi Band 2 for $29.90.

I often wrote about being too busy to blog and this Mi Band is helping to say that eloquently.

Fortunately this is not typical. Unfortunately the difference is only 30 mins or about five hours. This is insufficient without breaks of longer hours every week or so.

Would be very interesting what the sleep record would look like on atypical nights, say having a bad dream.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Over invested in rental cars and taxis

This happen because these businesses were overly optimistic in the future and over invested. It could not be avoided because it was impossible to get timely data plus investing in vehicles involved some lead time. Where is the regulator who is tasked with seeing the big picture and guiding this? LTA regularly get blamed and they must be very sick and tired of it.

Regulators are scared stiff about getting this wrong and guess what? They are likely to get it wrong. You cannot bring your academic models and theories to understand road transport issues which are complex and constantly changing. In the end the least evil approach from the perspective of protecting their careers is to react to problems than the terribly difficult task of avoiding problems and never getting credit for it, the same "mistake" Obama made in foreign policy which actually showed him to be more patriotic and courageous than most presidents. Of course Kissinger is unhappy with him for that: a foreign policy of avoiding problems and "don’t do stupid things" which his detractors took advantage to ridicule him. He inherited the stupid things Cheney-Bush and the neo-cons got America into in Iraq.....but the Iran deal and TPP were bold moves, which is being undone by the feckless Trump. 

LTA must be motivated even more to work to avoid problems. They will be praised for upgrading the intelligence of the transport system but nobody feels motivated to overly invest themselves in the thankless task of avoiding problems. 

Creator of Hanyu Pinyin dies

As the creator of the now ubiquitous hanyu pinyin his contribution was phenomenal. I would think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Without his contribution I wonder the Chinese could even enter the modern age because it would be too hard to achieve high levels of literacy. What is the use of Deng's opening up then? As a counterfactual, may be the lots more Chinese would have picked up English without the aid of hanyu pinyin to learn their own tongue. The world would have been a completely different place. 

Zhou Yougang would probably had remained on Wall Street if he knew the suffering he was destined under Mao. He is a believer in democracy and after living to a ripe old age of 111, democracy is not even a distant goal for China. 

"Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party anymore," Zhou said in the interview. "The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy."

The biggest takeaway from him to survive in a unpredictable and may be brutal world is to always remain optimistic. The NYT article concluded with this line from him:

“When you encounter difficulties, you need to be optimistic,” he said. “The pessimists tend to die.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

SG crisis of foresight?

Even as Kerry visits Vietnam, their party chief is having a brotherly conversation of a fellow communist in China.

Vietnam is shrewd to strengthen its ties with all key parties. Unlike us they do not need to re-calibrate but they show us that it is possible to stay as friends with both the US and China for now.

I think every medium and small Asian states would want to keep as many options as possible. The Philippines and Malaysians have re-calibrated but we have not and may even be wondering if we need to.

Our edge and survival strategy cannot change because as a tiny island state we have no choice. We just have to understand what is happening much better than every other player. Big powers act to defend and promote their interests, tiny states like us do not have that option but park ourselves at the right spots ahead of time. What I do not know is without LKY and Raja are we able to pull this off. The capture of our Terrexes by Hong Kong suggest that our early warning radar failed. The Chinese national now Singaporean William Zheng Wei, suggested we ought to have imitated LKY was spot on. We better buck up.

Without securing our external space every good thing we have domestically cannot be sustained or protected.

In that red box, Ng Eng Hen identified three antagonistic pairs of forces at work today. They are Globalisation versus nationalism, global rules versus the regional order, and collective good governance versus individual rights.

To me they appear remarkably like those scenarios I used to work on and they are probably from PMO scenario planning outfit. The problem with that approach is that they are only good at describing what is going on in a limited way and quite useless at suggesting appropriate course of action. For example, it is tantamount to saying we need to find a way into the future but is incapable of suggesting that you need a compass and a map or even those aren't good enough and a GPS is required. They are impressive for those who can't do better but useless when we need to go above and beyond that. We need to rearrange the facts to form pictures beyond what such scenario planning methodology can produce. They do not offer enough insight to support foresight because to paint the big picture in neat concepts is had to leave behind what was ill fitting to building their models. What was rejected would often proved to be absolutely critical. 

Shell invented scenario planning and it failed to help them stay on top. ExxonMobil with Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson had done much better than Shell. 

I fear we might have a deficiency of foresight among our present generation of leaders because they could not make sense of the present situation as well as LKY could, which was alluded to by William Zheng Wei. Foresight as my daughter pointed out in an essay a few years back is founded on superior understanding of the present. In the Terrex case, our leaders failed to understand better what it meant for the KMT to lose to DPP in Taiwan's presidential elections. In other words had the KMT controlled the presidency and stuck with the 1992 consensus, the Chinese would not have detained our Terrex vehicles.