Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stimulus Spending – Hope and Betrayal

By echoing the urge to keep spending wantonly, our politicians act like they are economic experts when talk about stimulus spending, If the recession is  U shaped, stimulus spending might be the answer to ensure a soft landing. As days passed by, more and more economists have become pessimistic over the recession; some even argued that it could end up being L-shaped. If the highly respected senior Minister Mentor of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is right about the economy recovery, then the stimulus spending will not going to make a difference.

Singapore may take up to six years to recover: Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE, March 21 (Reuters) - Singapore's export-dependent economy will take at least three years to recover from the recession triggered by the financial crisis, the Southeast Asian country's most powerful politician was quoted as saying.
The daily Straits Times on Saturday quoted former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as saying that a recovery within two to three years was part of an optimistic scenario that assumed a turnaround in the U.S. economy next year. Under a pessimistic scenario, it could take up to six years for the island-state to bounce back from recession, he said.
He has previously said that Singapore's recovery depends on that of the United States and that the world's biggest economy was "fundamentally sound".
Lee, 85, was modern Singapore's first prime minister and held that office for 31 years. He remains a powerful player in the small country's politics and serves as "minister mentor" in the cabinet of his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Earlier this month, Lee forecast that gross domestic product of the island of 4.8 million people could shrink by 10 percent this year.
He also said he was reassured by U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's remarks in February that the economy of the United States would pick up by 2010, once the government's stimulus package frees up lending to households and businesses. The newspaper separately reported that up to 66,000 Singapore civil servants could face a cut in their salaries this year as a result of the economic slowdown. (Reporting Harry Suhartono; Editing by Jan Dahinten)

Our leaders failed us once, and fail us again and again. It is painful for us to see our leaders roll out all sorts of wishful thinking rather than a proper plan on economy recovery. Penangites in particular and Malaysians in general were shocked by the willful naiveté of Lim Guan Eng to have a tiger park with a controversial twist on eco-tourism. Lim Guan Eng fails to look into job creation, sustainability and the need to have an austerity drive to help us weather through economic hardship. Instead he comes out with a project that would be too expensive to maintain and could lead to illegal wildlife trade. Lim Guan Eng’s big mouth and his penchant for cheap publicity have already eroded his credibility considerably.

The quality of life in Penang has seriously deteriorated over the last few decades under the rule of BN. There has been widespread consensus heretofore that there is a need to replace the BN government. As a result, Lim Guan Eng and his team were elected with landslide victory, totally eliminated the Gerakan and MCA from Penang’s political landscape. As we still indulge in the joy of upsetting the BN state-government, Penangites slowly realized that Lim Guan Eng is ill-prepared in running the state-government.

We expect our leaders to come out with a clear strategic vision to lead the state, and translate the vision to a reality, not wishful thinking without any focus on issues at hand. The new state-government claims to champion competency, accountability and transparency, yet accountability and transparency were apparently not in its lexicon; the state-government opts for a non participatory approach, defeating public consultation and participation to its own detriment.

Without the help from the people, the Penang state government is struggling to come to term with the issues faced by Penangites, and tend to develop solutions that deal with crises in isolation from one another, thereby limiting understanding of the mutually reinforcing and cumulative impact. This conceptual failing contributes to Lim Guan Eng’s heavy reliant on developers and the federal government for development; a trait of political incompetence and lack of political imagination.

For instance, despite protest from concerned Penangites and general consensus that any project on hill slope over 35º gradient should be banned, the Penang state-government still remain indecisive over the project at Solok Tan Jit Seng, where the gradient of the slope is over 60º, without taking account into consideration the safety aspect, the environmental impact and the political repercussion. What concerned the state-government is the deprival of so called development, which only benefits a few but at the detriment of the majority of Penangites.

At a time when the economy downturn has led to lost of job and slower hiring, green economy is booming else where except the Bolehland.

Need a Job? Look to Green Economy
By Tucker, Libby
Publication: Daily Journal of Commerce
Date: Wednesday, June 4 2008

At a time when Oregon's economic downturn has led to slower hiring, the clean energy industry is madly recruiting graduating students and professionals looking to change careers. And workers are flocking to the state's emerging green sector.
More than 300 job seekers and employers in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries packed The Governor Hotel in downtown Portland for the Green Professional's Conference held Monday.
"I'm looking everywhere for work, but energy will be the major industry in the future," said Mathew Ladd, a Portland State University student who attended the conference with an eye out for sales or marketing jobs.
The event - part pep rally for sustainable industries, part job fair - marked Portland's first energy conference focused on networking and job development for a sector that's become the linchpin of Oregon's economic development strategy.
"It's a good time to get into this field," Colin Sears, sustainable industries manager for the Portland Development Commission, told a roomful of students and prospective workers. "In Oregon, it's critical to develop this sector. ... We don't want to import labor."
The emerging renewable-energy and energy-efficiency industries already account for 8.5 million jobs in the U.S., and the sectors will create as many as 40 million new jobs by 2030 in engineering, manufacturing, construction, accounting and management, according to a green-collar job report released in January by the American Solar Energy Society.
Oregon's green economy is also set to explode over the next few years, creating thousands of jobs in the clean energy industry. In the last year alone, three major solar manufacturers have moved to Oregon. They're accompanied by a host of related businesses turning toward the emerging sector, including investment firms, non-profits, marketing consultants, architects and builders.
"Oregon has set a goal to lead the nation in sustainability and we're looking for ways to translate that reputation into a competitive advantage," said John Morris, a director for Fluid Market Strategies, one of four firms that organized the conference. "There's a growing demand for a skilled workforce to deliver conservation, efficiency and renewable power. The energy industry is at a crossroads in its growth."
But the state has much work to do training and recruiting workers for the emerging industry, said Tom Osdoba, an economic development manager for the Portland Office of Sustainable Development.
"We need to much more aggressively move forward on a green objective. The days of incremental change are coming to an end," said Osdoba. "Portland is a leader in so many ways, but we still have a long way to go."
The Green Professional's Conference was a step in the right direction. College students from across the state, as well as workers in all different levels of their professions attending the event, mingled with recruiters from the region's utilities, nonprofits and private firms and attended presentations on the future of the energy industry.
The Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Earth Advantage, The Climate Trust and a handful of other employers presented their own programs and employment opportunities.

One may like to ask, can we create our own green economy that take into consideration sustainability? In my previous 2 write-ups, I have outlined 2 green economies that capable of create thousands of jobs. The first is about sustainable solid waste management and the other is about sustainable public bus transit. The only Penangite get excited about the ideas is Anil Netto, not Lim Guan Eng, as he is more excited with his Tiger Park. (Oop! - Forget LGE is not a Penangite)

The other green economy the state-government should seriously look into is clean water conservation. Since the privatization of our water resources, Malaysians have started drinking from our rivers, which are notorious for its pollution; a silent betrayal that puts our lives and health at stake.

Is it too much to ask Lim Guan Eng, who was once the beacon of hope for disgruntled Malaysians, to look into clean water conservation, our most precious resource?

The emerging of Low Impact Development (LID) ushers in a new era of stewardship and collective responsibility for global vitality and health. Traditionally the environmentalists and developers are always at loggerhead quarrelling or arguing with each other over the impact of economic activities on environmental preservation. As the economic and environmental benefits of Low Impact Development approaches become clear, more and more design and construction firms, developers and businesses in western countries, suddenly found that it is not really hard to work with environmentalists in their effort to build a more livable community.

It is a recognized fact that polluted runoff rivals (or exceeds!) sewage plants and factories as a source of water contamination.

The Problem of Urban Stormwater Pollution
Our drinking water supplies, shellfishing waters and bathing beaches are fouled by uncontrolled pollution when rainwater and snowmelt wash over city streets, parking lots, and suburban lawns and pick up toxic chemicals, disease-causing organisms, and dirt and trash. This problem is called urban stormwater pollution. Recent studies have found that urban stormwater rivals and in some cases exceeds sewage plants and large factories as a source of damaging pollutants.

Two hundred years of unregulated, unmanaged urban stormwater have contributed to many severe public health problems and expensive natural resource losses in the United States. Left unregulated and uncontrolled, urban stormwater:
• pollutes drinking water sources, filling in reservoirs with clogging silt and oxygen-robbing nutrients and contributing to drinking water emergencies;
• fills in navigable waterways with contaminated sediment, leaving us with increased dredging and spoil disposal costs;
• closes or shrinks lucrative rockfish, shad, flounder, crab, oyster, and other commercial fisheries due to chemical contamination, oxygen starvation, and the resulting loss of habitat;
• fouls beaches and other recreational waters, causing losses in revenues from declines in boating, fishing, duck hunting and coastal tourism;
• scours smaller stream channels and dumps huge gravel and silt loads, ruining fish and amphibian habitat;
• obliterates small streams, springs and wetlands during development (these natural waterbodies are sources of clean ground and surface water and serve as habitat for aquatic life); and
• damages homes and businesses during the flash floods common where stormwater is left uncontrolled
Each of these problems carries heavy costs: increased spending on health care, higher insurance and drinking water rates, declining stocks of commercial fish, and loss of coastal tourism revenues. Americans are spending millions on these symptoms of stormwater pollution instead of trying to control the root cause. (Source: http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/fstorm.asp)

Thoughtful community land use planning and development are critical to protecting our community’s water resources. Through LID storm water best practices, our rivers, streams, wetlands, floodplains, and aquifer can be managed to provide safe and plentiful drinking water and livable habitat for wildlife. LID practices are innovative practices that manage stormwater close to its source by mimicing a site's predevelopment hydrology and use design techniques that infiltrate, evapotranspirate, and reuse runoff.

Studies across the U.S. are showing that the short-term construction costs for the LID storm water best practices are actually less than for conventional storm water design. As more engineers, architects, landscape architects and contractors learn how to design and deliver LID storm water management for water resource protection, the cost continue to drop.

This video provides an introduction to the Decatur Street Stormwater Low Impact Development Demonstration Project. This project is a trial of a roadway design which features storage and infiltration of runoff under the pavement section. The project utilitzed three different types of runoff water quality treatment and then routes the runoff into a drainage layer under the pavement for storage and infiltration. The project was jointly funded by the City of Olympia and Washington State Department of Ecology

Neil Weinstein, Director of the the Low Impact Development Center talks to attendees at the Technology Transfer Session about Low Impact Development

Managing storm water is the key to clean water conservation. Flash flood problems not only cause damage to our properties, it also causes pollution to our drinking water sources. When come to flash flood mitigation, Lim Guan Eng still remain indecisive whether to seize the opportunity to promote LID and proper stormwater management.

How do the state government continue to get things done when it don't know what things need doing, when it is unclear about the next step to take?
It can be difficult to move forward without clarity, for clarity of purpose often brings with it enthusiasm and energy. But when clarity is lacking, what is the best response? If clarity is still elusive after giving the issue some thoughtful consideration and doing some good homework, what are our options? Afraid to make the wrong choice, Lim Guan Eng choose to wait and hope for a decision to become obvious, but did he do his homework? That is probably the state of mind of Lim Guan Eng in his day to day running of the state government.

So in the meantime, he still allows river dredging as the ultimate solution for flash flood mitigation. What is the experts’ view on river dredging?

What is dredging?
Dredging is the process of removing silt from the bottom and sides of a river channel.
River dredging is normally done when there is a need to increase the depth of the river and straighten channels. Dredging can also help to improve land drainage by creating artificial channels, and is sometimes done in order to get sand and gravel for construction sites. We carry out lots of work in and around rivers to reduce flood risk and make sure that they are flowing freely. From maintenance of weirs, culverts and sluices, removing rubbish and leaves, and clearing blockages such as shrubs, weeds and even trees, we do everything we can to reduce the risk of flooding. But this doesn’t include dredging.

Why doesn't dredging stop rivers from flooding?
Dredging river channels doesn't make them big enough to contain the huge volumes of water during a flood. When a major flood occurs, water soon fills the river and enters what we call the 'floodplain'. The floodplain is an area of land over which water naturally flows during flooding. Even major dredging will not free up enough space in the river channel to stop this from happening.
Floodplains form naturally as a response to extreme flooding. The idea of dredging to try and tackle extreme flooding is similar to the thought of trying to squeeze all of the water held in a floodplain back into the river. Since the floodplain volume is usually many times bigger than the river channel volume, this would be a major engineering project, and would cause massive environmental change.

Why else don't we dredge?
Dredging is very expensive, and presents a massive cost to the taxpayer with very little return. To make matters worse, dredging would need to be repeated after every major flood. The impact on the environment is another reason that we don't recommend dredging. Removing trees and shrubs from the river bank can actually make the bank less stable, as well as disturbing the natural habitat of river dwellers like otters and voles. Removing gravel also means removing spawning grounds for fish. Dredging around bridges, weirs, culverts and river walls, can also damage their foundations, greatly increasing the risk of flooding. The land levels of floodplains cannot be raised, as they are part of the river's natural storage area. Any silt removed would need to be sent to a tip for disposal, costing more money.

Silt is deposited on the river bed naturally. During major floods, the river cannot be contained within the normal river channel. Dredging can be effective for improving land drainage, but very rarely helps to stop flooding.
(Source: www.environment-agency.gov.uk)

River dredging not only is an ineffective flood mitigation solution, it also a dangerous source of pollution to our waterways.  Economic stimulus and public works projects must get the nation to work building healthy, livable communities for all. It is not about spending public money wantonly without clear cut objective. 

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