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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

South Korea's Brutal Work Culture

SOUTH KOREA

Hard Day’s Night

Last year, the Singapore newspaper, the Straits Times, followed a few young professionals in South Korea whose accounts of the nation’s backbreaking work culture are enough to fatigue even the most tireless of Western workaholics.
Corporate culture in South Korea values obedience over productivity. That means that low-level workers clock 17-hour shifts since employees are discouraged from leaving before the boss – even if they’ve already finished their work, the newspaper reported.
Others said that dinner meetings with superiors followed by late-night drinking sessions are anything but optional, leaving workers no time for family and with monstrous headaches the following day.
It’s part of the reason why South Koreans work the third-longesthours of all countries in the OECD, yet remain one of the least productive societies in the bloc, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But all that’s about to change thanks to a new work law spearheaded by President Moon Jae-in that took effect July 1.
According to the law, which will roll out gradually over the next six months, work hours per week plus overtime cannot exceed 52 hours, down from 68 hours previously, CNN reported.
More than simply providing employees a reprieve from burning the midnight oil, the law is supposed to encourage companies to hire more employees and improve their working conditions, all while allowing families to have more children, wrote the Washington Post.
South Korea may be one of the globe’s most successful economies in one of the most hypercompetitive regions in the world. But it comes with the cost of a dwindling population. South Korea’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, with only 1.2 children born to every woman on average, according to OECD statistics.
Without a fresh labor pool, companies are more prone to hold on to veteran employees. That contributes to a “labor shock” in which working conditions worsen and job growth stagnates, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
That’s led to an exodus of new entrants into the labor market to Japan and elsewhere, putting even more pressure on existing workers to perform – especially since South Korea, a largely homogenous society, is unwilling to accept immigrant labor, NPR reported.
Most would applaud a cut to working hours, especially given the nexus of problems that South Korea faces.
But not everyone is so optimistic about the new regulations. While some fear that the regulations could mean less pay, others see the rigid Korean work culture as impossible to change.
“Impossible. Fifty-two hours?” Hyun-Soo, a 26-year-old accounts assistant at a major telecommunications company, told the Washington Post.
“A law on work hours is just a piece of paper,” he said. “The reality in Korea is that we will work and work and work.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

Russia Friends And Foes

RUSSIA

Friends and Foes

Before he left for Europe, President Donald Trump reflected on his busy agenda for the upcoming week: meeting British politicians amid the Brexit crisis, NATO leaders whom he berated for paying too little for their defense and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Frankly, Putin might be the easiest of them all – who would think,” said Trump, according to Radio Free Europe. Notably, the US president also described the European Union as a trade “foe” on the eve of meeting his Russian counterpart, the New York Times reported.
The Financial Times, however, disagreed Putin won’t pose a challenge, saying Trump’s meeting with the Kremlin’s head honcho on Monday was by far his most perilous rendezvous on the continent.
The British newspaper wrote that American policy toward Russia under Trump has been “contradictory and at times incoherent” because Trump appears to like Putin personally, while many administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress are suspicious of the Russian leader.
The tension between the two perspectives prompted many publications to issue Cassandra-like predictions for Trump’s sit-down with Putin.
“Putin is about to con Trump in Helsinki,” read the headline of a Washington Post opinion piece by David Kramer, a senior fellow in diplomacy at Florida International University and a former assistant secretary of state under ex-President George W. Bush.
Kramer argued that Putin, a former KGB agent, will flatter and manipulate Trump into doing his bidding: dismantling NATO, giving the Russian military free reign in Syria and easing sanctions imposed on Moscow after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Trump appears to be undercutting NATO regardless of Russian desires. “How Trump and Putin could kill NATO,” wrote Politico Europe, noting how Trump has said for decades that America’s foreign alliances are a burden rather than a strength.
Because of the special investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election that resulted in Trump’s victory, the American president is somewhat constrained in changing American policy except in the case of Syria, wrote Middle East expert Joe Macaron in Al Jazeera.
“Trump will give up Syria to Putin the way Gorbachev left Iraq to Bush in 1990,” Macaron forecast, in return for Putin’s help in isolating Iran – a concession Putin could make and then ignore because he has little influence over the mullahs of Tehran.
That scenario led Russian maven Anna Arutunyan to declare that “Putin has already won” even before the summit took place. Putin is interested in optics, wrote Arutunyan. Sitting down with Trump makes him look good, especially if Trump badmouths NATO or suggests Crimea belongs to Russia.
That’s a lot of speculation, for sure. But for now, it’s the best the world can do.

"When It rains It Pours" My Trials Over The Last Three Months

There is an old saying: "When it rains it pours." For the last three months I have been inundated with problems that had to be solved. Let us go down the list as follows:
1) Our Samsung 4-door refrigerator failed. The compressor stopped work and the freezing compartment was a mess. After spending $500 in technicians and getting no support from Samsung Electronics, I went out and bought a new LG Refrigerator that cost us almost $3,000.
2) The guest bathroom suffered a major plumbing failure with the tub not draining and water oozing out from the base of the toilet. Dan B. Underhill got the assignment to fix the plumbing. It turned out that the plumbing had been installed wrong 40-50 years ago. The drain pipe was the tub had fallen apart. Dan had to tear up part of the bathroom floor. A second crew had to dig a deep hole to get access to the pipes. This took three days of work. Dan then had a really rough job to fix the piping. He truly earned his salary. We then had to fill in the big hole in the bathroom and pour concrete over it. Today new tiles are delivered by Loew's and need to be installed. Dan can then do the final plumbing work. The hole int he wall can be patched by our handy man.
3) Elena became the victim of a frivolous lawsuit over a tenant/landlord issue in Buenos Aires. Some broke and desperate person is demanding a large sum of money. We finally got an excellent lawyer working on this case. A solution is in sight.
4) My Leica camera fell on a bathroom floor and would not work. Leica could not get the parts needed to fix it. They gave me a new camera free of charge.
5) My Omega wristwatch suffered mechanical problems and had to have a complete overhaul.
6) Elena's Shinola watch was not waterproof and got water damage. Shinola fixed it free of charge.
7) As one ages, the body deteriorates. My gums have started to decline and lose a good grip on my teeth. I have to have expensive laser surgeries to repair them. Dental insurance will pay half the bill.
8) Elena suffered a fall on the stairs leading up to our deck. Repairs had to be made. Barry Nadell Concrete did an excellent job.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Samsung Sold Me A Lemon refrigerator And Failed To Honor Their Warranty

Dear Geoff and Alan:

    In September of 2016, Elena and I paid over $2,500 for a Samsung fridge (4 doors, icemaker, etc. In June of 2018 after the one-year warranty had expired, it started to make a loud noise. The freezing compartment partially failed.

   A very reliable appliance repair company came out to look and spent 5 hours tearing it apart and examining it in detail. As a matter of interest, the tech was a Russian man who had once taught engineering in Russia. The conclusion was that the compressor motor in the back of the fridge had failed. The estimated repair bill was $2,000-$3,000. The good news was that it was covered under a five-year warranty.

   What happened next was a nightmare of 800-number calls (some lasting 1.5 hours), obstructions, lying and game playing. A Samsung-approved tech came out. He told me reassuringly that the compressor motor was only short of freon. He told me to contact a freon company to get it charged up. I was charged $240.00 for this consultation. I contacted another company. A technician came out and charged up the freon. The compressor in the back of the fridge failed. It partially came back to life later. This tech agreed with the first company that the compressor had failed and needed to be repaired or replaced.

    A decent company would have honored their warranty. They would have decided that the repair was too expensive and sent us a new fridge. Instead I knew that I was facing another round of 800-number calls, obstructions,and lies. I sent a report to Samsung about this on a customer satisfaction  survey. I never got a response.

   I had to buy a new fridge from LG. It cost Elena and I close to $3,000. I feel that legal action in California Superior Court or US District Court is warranted. You are the experts.

With kindest regards,

Friday, July 6, 2018

Singapore Emerges As A Key Player On The World Stage

SINGAPORE

Cutting the Strings

The small yet wealthy city-state of Singapore was in the international spotlight last month for hosting the historic summitbetween American President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
It was the perfect venue for such an event, commented the Council on Foreign Relations.
Singapore has long served as a neutral arbiter of interests between East and West, and its security and intelligence apparatuses are highly regarded in both the United States and North Korea.
By some measures, Singapore is leaps and bounds ahead of other Asian countries in terms of societal and economic development as well.
Gallup ranked Singapore as the safest country in the world for the fifth year in a row last month, and its economic model, which prioritizes foreign investment over protectionist policies, has catapulted its GDP per capita to one of the highest rates in the world, according to World Bank data.
Meanwhile, the city-state of almost six million people now has the most sophisticated digital economy in Asia, and Reuters recently reported that, despite ongoing issues with trash exports, Singapore is a world leader in waste sustainability.
Still, Singapore’s impressive achievements since it declared independence from Malaysia in 1965 don’t mean it won’t face steep political and societal challenges in the coming years.
For one, the political philosophy of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, to tightly control and micromanage society has earned the country the moniker of a “soft authoritarian state,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations. Lee was known to jail dissenters and prioritize communal and economic prosperity ahead of civil liberties.
While that led to de jure affirmative-action policies that reach into the highest ranks of government, it also means that free speech is highly constrained and corporal punishment a common occurrence. The 2018 World Press Freedom Index, for example, ranks Singapore at 151 out of 180 countries.
Lee also established a political dynasty. His People’s Action Party has never lost an election and retains 83 of 89 seats in parliament. His eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, has served as prime minister since 2004.
The elder Lee’s puppet-master tactics may have been enough to launch Singapore into orbit with the rest of the industrialized world, but reforms are needed to keep up the progress, given an increased “appetite for greater democracy,” Al Jazeera reported in a telling documentary about the Lee dynasty.
There’s been movement on that front from the nation’s only two viable political parties, writes the South China Morning Post. Both parties are gearing up for general elections in 2021 by putting forward new, young successors who may shift the status quo built by the nation’s founding father.
After all, if Singapore is to take real strides into the future, it has to cut the strings of the puppet master sooner or later.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

How China Is Muscling In On Lithium Ion Battery Production

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/how-china-muscling-lithium-ion-batteries