April 29, 2017

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Authors Posts by Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong
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by Ryan Ong

LATE payments are part and parcel of running your own business.

At some point, you’ll come across a customer or client who can’t pay you; at least not on the agreed-upon date. And while you can always drag them to the small claims court, that’s a good way to burn bridges (and waste even more time). That’s why these days, an increasing number of small businesses, and even freelancers, are turning to invoice factoring services:

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by Ryan Ong

CONSIDERING Donald Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, no one expects him to be bandaging wounded rhinos or painting with the colours of the wind.

But while his position is simple, his environmental policy reads like random words off a Scrabble board. It’s not often that history gifts us with something so magnificently ludicrous (besides Trump himself), so it deserves to be studied. Five hundred years after the ice caps melt, I hope our descendants will discover this article in the great sunken city of Sing-ha-P’ore, and learn that humanity didn’t always have radiation sores.

 

America’s Environmental Protection Agency is now led by a man who doesn’t believe the environment needs much protecting

Mr Scott Pruitt, attorney general for Oklahoma, made big news in 2014. He accused America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of overestimating the air pollution from drilling oil wells. His source for this was Devon Energy, which is one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies. Obviously, no one took it seriously, because most people have an IQ above five.

Well, President-elect Trump took one look at that, and decided to appoint Mr. Pruitt to head the EPA, the very agency which he accused.

But because this isn’t weird enough, Mr Pruitt is also involved with a bunch of other players in suing the EPA (this is related to Clean Power Plan, which we explain below). Let that sink in: the agency is now being headed by a man who is involved in suing it. Furthermore, he’s a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda. You know how I found that out?  He wrote it on his LinkedIn profile.

Even if this isn’t the most ridiculous conflict of interest in… well, ever, we have to wonder how exactly Mr Pruitt will lead the EPA. Will he change the office dress code to permanently include blindfolds? Will fines be replaced with making the polluting companies just say they’re really sorry?

Whatever the case, the appointment of Mr Pruitt means America now has one of the most useless government bodies in the world. It’s the equivalent of Mas Selamat being put in charge of our Internal Security Department. You can be sure any achievements are the result of dumb luck.

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The articulate description of the environmental policy

If the Trump environmental policy was just plain evil, it wouldn’t be worthy of attention. We’d at least know what to expect, and can find a good hiding place for the pandas before people start paying to shoot them. What makes the environmental policy so amazing is how confused it is.

Before his election, President-elect Trump was convinced climate change is a Chinese hoax. Today, he’s “open-minded” about it. His stance on climate change, based on that link, is:

I’m very open-minded. I’m still open-minded. Nobody really knows. Look, I’m somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows. It’s not something that’s so hard and fast. 

The only consensus on that quote is that he was probably speaking English.

Also, the first daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump, might want to champion environmental protection from climate change. Yeah, that won’t be a problem; her father can introduce her to the head of the EPA.

 

The plan to restore coal mining is based on bizarre assumptions

Remember the Clean Power Plan (CPP) we mentioned Mr Pruitt was involved in suing? That’s a plan put forward by the Obama administration, which seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions by the United States.

It exists because most of the planet agrees Waterworld was crap enough as a movie, let alone a real scenario. The lawsuit involves some 15 states, which don’t want to follow the carbon restrictions; but they’re not important here.

What matters is that the Trump administration really wants the CPP gone; and a large part of that is due to the President-elect’s promise to revitalise coal mining.

There’s a relation between the two: coal is one of the leading sources of carbon dioxide emissions, and is only really used for power due to energy poverty (quick translation: used by countries that are poor to afford cleaner, more expensive sources of power).

If the CPP is undone, and companies can emit as much carbon as they want, then coal – and coal mining – will be back in business. That’s the rationale of the Trump administration anyway.

The problem with this plan, besides it being the sort of thing a Saturday morning cartoon villain would come up with, is that coal mining won’t come back just because people get to pollute more.

Coal is on the decline because of a range of factors, such as China (once the world’s largest buyer of coal) consuming a lot less of it. Coal prices are also falling due to fracking and the abundance of natural gas, which is a cleaner source of cheap energy. And of course, developments in renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, make these options cheaper all the time.

In effect, lifting carbon pollution restrictions to help coal mining is like lifting restrictions on video rental stores, and believing it will make them popular again. There are few prospects for coal to bounce back, but the Trump administration has decided “hey, whatever will buy a coal executive’s vote!”

 

The chest thumping over the Paris Agreement

The Trump administration has played up the way the President-elect will quit the agreement, in a four-year process. The language used makes it sound like some kind of bold and complex gesture, worthy of a Tom Clancy espionage novel.

But the Paris Agreement was unique, in that it was not legally binding in any way. The highlight of the Paris Agreement was that it would try a new approach, which was free of legal entanglements: rather than make participants sign a bunch of agreements, which had to be passed by their various legislatures, countries would set their own targets and commit to them.

Countries are also free to pursue those goals however they want. You can read the details of how it works here.

What this means is that America – or any of the participants – can freely ignore the agreement anyway. There isn’t a Paris Agreement Strike Force that will invade the country in black helicopters, if they don’t meet targets. Loudly announcing a decision to “leave the agreement” is like standing on your desk, pulling off your shirt, and yelling that you’re going to break your new year’s resolutions. No one cares, and it just makes you look like a loud jerk.

 

There are two ways this will get less funny

The first is if Trump passes total control of environmental policy to the chamber of Batman villains he calls his cabinet. If he does that, American Republicans will make it another drab, pro-business, anti-planet set of policies. The other way is when the ice caps melt, and you’re just happy you caught enough roaches to feed your family.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ryan Ong

PROTECTIONISM has gone from being a pro-business position, to being an anti-business position, to being pro-business again. Back in the 1930s, for example, the Smoot-Hawley Act in the United States raised around 900 tariffs. It was one of the most protectionist moves of all time and it ended up being credited with prolonging the Great Depression. From that point on, “protectionism” and “tariffs” became vulgar. The only people who wanted it were lazy, entitled workers and filthy communists. But in the wake of Brexit and the Trump election, it’s clear that position is becoming reversed; now, ASEAN is faced with the prospect of a more protectionist America:

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by Ryan Ong

I’VE had a driver’s license for 12 years, but the only thing I’m usually allowed to drive is people up the wall. I think that disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, was secretly inspired by watching my attempts to parallel park. To prepare for the risk of meeting people like me on the road, there are No Claim Discount (NCD) protectors. But are they worth the price?

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by Ryan Ong

PRIVATE equity likes to disguise itself as the “boring” part of the finance industry, in much the same way Satan disguises himself as a little girl in those exorcist movies. One minute a company is donating money to Greenpeace, and the next it’s buying unwanted orphans from third world countries to club baby seals to death. That’s when you know a private equity firm got involved.

Still, despite combining the social skills of an accountant’s corpse with the ethics of Joseph Stalin, private equity firms are considered respectable institutions:

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by Ryan Ong

COMMUNISTS espousing free trade is about as likely as Lawrence Khong leading a gay pride parade, but that’s precisely what we’ve seen this year. But were we shocked? Not at all – after Brexit and the Trump election, we have officially run out of shock capacity.

If a chimpanzee assaulted Parliament and declared itself high king in sign language, we’d just sigh and ask if it’s revising the CPF draw down date. So we can be forgiven for overlooking what amounts to be a seismic shift, in which China and America are switching places.

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by Ryan Ong

TIME to talk about what Singaporeans stress about, argue about and in some cases, exist for: the almighty dollar. This week the Singapore dollar fell to a seven year low against the US dollar, which is why my holiday plans in Miami now involve tents and skilled foraging. But what’s actually causing this and what are the implications? It’s always good to know because statistically, some of you reading this will be rich some day. Then, you can remember who got you there and that I only need a very small yacht to be happy:

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by Ryan Ong

MANY of my most memorable experiences overseas come from crime. Because I’m chubby, travel alone, and have the combat prowess of a pregnant yak, criminals tend to pick me out of a herd.

“There,” they say to their friends, “is a man who won’t fight or run, because he knows he’ll just end up tired and broke”. Since my pain provides significant amusement, I’ll now rate the following cities in terms of quality of robbery.

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by Ryan Ong

THERE are two main reasons why Singaporeans buy property abroad. The first is as an escape plan. At the rate our cost of living rises, McDonald’s looks like a five-star restaurant to some retirees.

The other reason is good old Asian values. We have a land ownership / property bias, and we want to own a house somewhere; anywhere. Last year, I could paint a red bullseye on a zinc shack in Syria, and a Singaporean somewhere would still give me his life savings for it. Fortunately, we may have developed more common sense of late.