Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday night Short Shorts

She's classic.

Deputy MAC minister Chang is out this week:
The Presidential Office confirmed yesterday that the president received a letter from former Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) deputy minister Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) defending himself against an accusation that he had leaked national secrets, before Chang issued a statement on Sunday last week that suggested he had been forced to resign.
The removal caused the People's First Party (PFP), little more than the faction of former KMT heavyweight and former important politician James Soong, to make furious noises, since Chang was a PFPer. The local media is claiming that he was actually forced out is not spying but because he is a Soong man and not a Ma man, and he was removed at the behest of King Pu-tsun, Ma's "Little Dagger" and the man to whom such moves are always attributed. It seems there is always someone accused of playing Rasputin to Ma's Tsar Nicholas. Yet another example of the way underlings are said to convey the real message while the Big Man remains aloof and exudes beneficence, to deflect criticism from the Big Man (in many cases the wife often fills this role of criticism magnet -- "Oh, X did all those negative things because he was misled by his scheming wife...)?

Two Mormon missionaries were found dead in a local apartment. Word has it that they had a water heater indoors which killed them via carbon monoxide poisoning. This type of tragedy happens with depressing frequently. Please make sure your house is ventilated -- remember that concrete houses don't "breathe" like wooden houses.

Bad news: the KMT government is considering putting the banking sector outside the agreements and moving on it before any other cross-strait agreements with China are signed. Argh. How much public oversight do you think that will have?
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A few links

This macro shot with my Sony DSC RX100 II turned out to be really nice.

I've begun work on a book on biking here with a couple of well known local expat riders. So expect blogging to take a hit. Exhausted today, enjoy some links....
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Alishan by Scooter

The point on the 159 where it becomes stunning.

Another ride on one of my favorite routes in Taiwan, the Ten Thousand Year Gorge and Caoling via the 149 and the 149, Alishan via the 149and the 169, and back to Chiayi via the 159. Only this time, my wife and I did it on our sturdy 125cc scooter.

Scootering presented certain problems. The last gas station is in Zhushan 60 kms from Laiji where we planned to overnight, while the next one on the other side is in Shijhuo. It is certainly possible to purchase gas in the mountains, but such trade is illegal and sellers are subject to heavy fines. Rather than risk getting someone in trouble for providing desperately needed services the government-owned service station system is too lazy to provide (isn't that what we pay tax subsidies for?), we took along a three liter gas can of gas on day one, and refilled with that in Laiji. That got us to Shijhuo without worry, where we filled with the last liter and a half from the gas can, which we left by a garbage can on the route, since we figured someone else could use it.

If you've seen my other Alishan ride photos (here and here, for example), it's the same route. Same gorgeous scenery. Same enjoyable time. I took rather more pictures on the 159 than I usually do, since it is more of a pain to stop on a bike than on a scooter. We also returned via a different route, very enjoyable.

Click on READ MORE as always...

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Cole-Sullivan TwoFer + links

Out walking the dog, found this beautiful walking stick.

Taiwan expert Jon Sullivan with an excellent piece on the DPP, Taiwan identity, social class issues, and politics at The National Interest. He scribes:
Notwithstanding underlying trends in public opinion, a spate of recent academic publications suggests that this may indeed be happening. They suggest that a new economic cleavage based on class has not just mitigated national identity, but has replaced it. Because of the unusual equality of growth during Taiwan’s “economic miracle,” combined with the dominance of national identity during the democratization process, class has not been particularly salient in Taiwan. But since the global financial crisis, exacerbated by ECFA, Taiwan has seen the emergence of inequalities that it hasn’t witnessed in generations. The reality for many Taiwanese is stagnant or declining wages, unaffordable houses, unemployment, poor social mobility and feelings of relative deprivation and economic insecurity. Reflecting on these developments, Tsinghua University scholar Zheng Zhenqing says that “under the influence of the global financial crisis, a new axis of class politics has emerged.” Wu Yushan at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica agrees that “class politics based on wealth gap has become new driving force of party politics [. . .] the dominant social cleavage [has shifted] away from identity towards distribution.” Qi Dongtao at the National University of Singapore similarly argues that class divisions and class awareness have increased dramatically since ECFA. When the global financial crisis decimated Taiwanese exports, President Ma and the KMT promoted growth by opening up to the Chinese economy via the vehicle of ECFA.
This is a really excellent piece. But there's a connection missing. The Taiwanese identity is still driving politics, and the emerging class politics we see in Taiwan is just the other side of the Taiwanese identity coin: it was always driven in part by economic injustice. Taiwanese have always resented how the mainlander-run political order extracted the surpluses they generated and handed them out among the mainlander population, most of whom were left out of the economic miracle since they lacked the kind of sophisticated production and financial skills and resources that the Taiwanese possessed. This economic cleavage produced two privileged classes: mainlander bureaucrats and soldiers who lived on the surplus produced by the Taiwanese, and the extremely wealthy capitalist class which had intimate connections to the top of the KMT and exploited those connections to make money off upstream industrial development (like plastics), finance, and land development. The Taiwanese identity is in large part a response to the colonial processes that underlie KMT control of Taiwan's economic flows.

Thus, the economic justice issue is a Taiwan identity issue, one bleeds into the other. The driver of both is of course China. Taiwan expert Ketty Chen observed this in her extensive and excellent piece on the SOAS conference this summer:
Lastly, the SOAS conference also brought to the forefront an issue that cannot be ignored – the influence of China, as the China factor was one of the reasons for the student occupation of the Legislative Yuan and the Sunflower Movement. Moreover, the movement against media monopoly, the demolition of Mainlander communities in Taipei, land expropriation in Miaoli County and elsewhere in Taiwan, all in the name of progress, development and investment, all bear the influence of China.
Sullivan knows this, of course; few understand Taiwan politics better than he does. That is probably why he confidently expects the Taiwan identity to become a huge driver of politics in the future -- especially as the current young generation matures (talking about my generational issues). But he could hardly talk about economic justice in the relatively conservative National Interest.

Meanwhile over at Sullivan's wonderful China Policy Institute blog, J Michael Cole has a piece arguing that it is Time to Bring the Orphan In From the Cold:
Although Washington might operate under the assumption that limiting the DPP’s room to maneuver—or killing its chances of being re-elected—is to the U.S.’ advantage, such a strategy is terribly short sighted. Independence, the “status quo,” and anything short of “one China,” is a trump card not only for the DPP, but also for the many KMT voters who would never agree to seeing their country absorbed by authoritarian China. Pan-blue voters might not be as vocal as their “green” counterparts on the subject, but that notion is very clear in their minds (less than 10 percent of blue voters support unification). The last thing Washington wants to do, therefore, is to deny those voters that safe zone. In fact, knowing what we know about the composition of the Sunflower Movement, it is clear that any move by the U.S. to constrain the choices of the Taiwanese (e.g., freezing the DPP’s independence clause) would only fuel anti-American sentiment on the island, which certainly isn’t to Washington’s advantage. The more the U.S. forces Taiwanese in a direction that they don’t want to go, the greater the risks of instability on the island. Repeats of the Sunflower occupation, which will certainly occur if the government makes any concessions on Taiwan’s sovereignty, can only further weaken Taiwanese society and invite Chinese intervention (on this aspect, recent developments in Crimea should dispel any notion that authoritarian governments such as those in Moscow or Beijing will be deterred by fears of retaliation or sanctions when acting within what they regard as their immediate neighborhood). Washington officials should realize that a strong, confident, and united Taiwan, one that doesn’t feel isolated or forced to make choices it would rather not make is in the U.S.’ interest.
Cole is largely right, but I would go further to contend that letting the KMT run Taiwan is against US interests, because the KMT is a pro-China party and because it will be less likely to cooperate with the US when China finally moves on the Senkakus or something big in the South China Sea. This is evident in how the Ma Administration constantly moves to irritate Washington (here and here, but especially here and here), to contravene its policies and stir up trouble with Japan. Anyone seriously think a DPP president will call in the Japanese ambassador to upbraid him about the Senkakus?

The other point that I constantly make is that the everywhere else around the periphery of China, the US is taking steps in concert with local governments to resist Chinese expansionism. But with Taiwan the US is encouraging Chinese expansionism. How's that again? Does the US really want to give up 23 million people, an army and an air force, and a forward position with a fellow democracy, and then fight a war with China over the uninhabited Senkakus or Spratlys? The truth is that Taiwan is an asset that US thinkers can't seem to imagine how to use.

Sad, that.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Polls and Politics in Taipei

Another Lanyu pic, because I miss it so much.

Over on Twitter the very useful FormosaNation has tweeted round the lastest WantWant poll. Independent and former DPPer Shen Fu-hsiung has withdrawn from the Taipei mayor race, leaving independent Ko Wen-je and KMT scion Sean Lien facing off. WantWant has a new poll out which looks a lot like most of the other polls, giving Ko 39.5% to Lien's 30.1% among those likely to vote. Undecideds are at 25%. When asked who they thought would win, voters had Ko over Lien, 32.5% to 30.1%. Interestingly, these are almost the same numbers for Ko/Lien as the Apple poll from exactly a month ago.

Looking at the numbers as they currently are, less than 90 days from the election, Ko need only pick up another 8% of the voters to exceed the DPP's/pan-Green's highest total of 45% in 1998. That leaves 17% for Lien, all of which he will have to pick up to win a narrow victory in that case. But if Ko only gains 1 or 2%, Lien will only have to pick up half of the remaining undecideds (23% left!) to win. It's early, and money still hasn't been showered on the precinct captains, nor has the harrowing last election month with its hit pieces and mounting character attacks arrived. Nor has Ko ever broken the 40% mark in the last few months. Is 38-39% his ceiling? Could well be. I see no reason why Lien won't win at the moment.

Ominously, as if reflecting Ko's flat numbers, this recent poll on the elections shows that the KMT is slowly gaining on the DPP in local surveys, while DPP numbers, still high, remain flat. Neither party is well-liked and both have high dissatisfaction ratings. As is conventional in media explanations, this is attributed on the DPP part to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen's lack of announcement of new policies.

I would bet that most of the undecideds in Taipei are light blues, because Ko's numbers are just a few points off the limit of DPP votes in Taipei. Light blue voters, as I've noted before, flatter themselves that they vote on merit and what a coincidence, KMT candidates are the most competent. This is an important self-perception in this election, because the candidacy of Sean Lien spits in its face.

The classic justificatory regime for colonial governance is racism -- the "racial inferiority" of subject peoples was justification for white European colonialism. In authoritarian regimes the parallel justification is meritocracy -- they deserve to rule because their people are better trained, more competent, etc. Colonial regimes also justified themselves this way, as exporting "rational" and "scientific" methods to the "irrational" and "traditional" regions they ruled. As an authoritarian, colonialist state the KMT has deployed both the ethnic superiority (Han/Mainlander chauvinism) and the "competence" claim in justifying its control (recall Ma's election claim of "clean, capable" governance. LOL). My experience with light blues is that they dip into the well of both these claims -- feeling themselves superior as Han/Mainlanders and also feeling that they merit the privileges of their existence, since they are so competent and hardworking. One feeds the other.

Sean Lien in one stroke cuts the feet out from under both these claims. Instead of providing an outstanding example of the superiority of education and breeding, Lien actually reveals that the light blues are all dupes, their self-justifications hollow, since the only reason Lien is in the running is that he is the son of Lien Chan. Indeed, all that he has, he has because he is Lien Chan's son. He shows with total clarity that the KMT isn't about the self-serving delusions of the light blues, but that in fact, the KMT and its justificatory ideologies are merely vehicles to ensure that certain powerful families maintain their grip on the flow of resources and power to the center, and the function of the light blues and their tribal identity is to provide the support for that control.

Will the light blues vote Lien? Vote Ko? Stay home? It's on them that this election will swing. Wish I could see some poll numbers on them....
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It's not the politicians, guys II

From Don DeGlopper's Lukang: Commerce and Community in a Chinese City. It's old, but still relevant. Re the post two below this one It's not the politicians, guys: what kind of politicians do you think these people will elect? What kind of politics will we have in this world? The attack on Chen Chu over the Kaoshiung gas explosion is no different than any other attack on any other politician at any level -- this kind of thing goes on at the local level all the time, it just doesn't get reported because it's "local". All politics is local, as it was famous said, but in Taiwan, even the national-level politics is just local level political behavior blown up to galactic scale....
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MaWangMess Postscript: Wang cleared of influence peddling

Green Island road.

Well well well. It appears that Speaker of the Legislature Wang Jin-pyng has won a complete victory over President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou in the Affair of Influence peddling. The Taipei Times reports:
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has been cleared of allegations of influence peddling, the Taipei Prosecutors’ Office announced yesterday, after its investigative unit last month concluded that there was no evidence backing claims that Wang spoke with retired judge Yang Ping-chen (楊炳禎) to request that he influence an embezzlement case involving Formosa Telecom Investment Co (全民電通).
The case exposed the fact that the SID was wiretapping the legislature's phones. In a long post at the time I observed:
It is striking that no transcript of the alleged phone calls telling the prosecutor to lay off Ker has been produced by the SID, since it has leaked transcripts of Wang Jin-pyng's phone calls. Indeed, the lack of such leaks suggests that no such transcripts exist. This tends to support Wang's claims that he was just comforting Ker and hadn't done anything.
No evidence was ever produced that Wang had acted on Ker's behalf. It will be interesting now to see the fallout. The pro-Blue media faithfully followed the Ma camp line, taking it as a fact that Wang had engaged in influence peddling (example, example), as did Ma himself (Taipei Times). There may be lawsuits, though I expect Wang to simply relish his complete victory and not stoop to suing the President and the newspapers.

Interestingly, the Prosecutor who illegally leaked the information that Wang had committed influence peddling to Ma received a 14 month sentence, which was commuted to a small fine. Does this mean that Ma had done something illegal as well?
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's not the politicians, guys

An old coral house on Green island.

Back from vacation. So much to catch up on...

J Michael Cole and a blogger (don't miss the witty exchange between politicians via election signs) both had pieces out recently that bemoaned the island's terrible politicians... Cole described at Thinking Taiwan:
No sooner had the dust settled on the city than the political parties went on the offensive — not to ensure the survival of the victims or mitigate the effects of the disaster, but to undermine their opponents. That isn’t to say that good deeds were not done, but they often were a secondary consideration. The main object was political. Early on, rather than work with officials from the DPP administration, the KMT sent its own separate delegation, while the DPP, fearing accusations that it was politicizing the crisis, had to secretly fund groups that provided assistance to devastated areas. For its part, the KMT-dominated central government quickly reminded residents of the southern city that they would not receive any “special favors.” And judging from the premier’s remarks at the weekend, officials in Taipei saw no need to hurry with reconstruction, as if Kaohsiung were somehow trying to cut in line.

Meanwhile, opponents of Chen Chu (陳菊), the popular Kaohsiung mayor who is running for re-election in November, saw in the catastrophe an unexpected opportunity to attack her. Many from the blue camp have tried to pin the explosions on her, even though evidence has come to light suggesting that critical information — the missing Polypropylene that caused the explosions — was kept from Chen, who is of the DPP. Others in the KMT camp, including officials in the central government, who technically should be above party politics but rarely are, have called for Chen’s resignation on charges of negligence.


The victims of Kaohsiung and their families, along with the future victims of preventable accidents that nevertheless occurred because lawmakers and cabinet officials were too busy sniping at each other, deserve better representation — more responsible representation — from those we entrust with power.
Similarly, Outreach for Taiwan argues:
Fighting during politicals is one thing, but fighting during a time of trouble is another. Michael J. Cole outlines that even in misery, the house is divided. Recess is over, let’s join hands together and get back in the classroom. For this country to thrive and prosper, Taiwanese politicians must stand together in times of need, not across the aisle screaming at each other.
A couple of election cycles ago, the Hualien election featured Fu Kun-chi, an "independent" booted from the KMT for corruption. Because Fu was under indictment, etc, for involvement in crimes others were already doing time for, he decided to follow a tactic common among local politicians: divorce his wife and have her stand for election in his stead, with voters understanding who would really be running things. Despite this cynical device, and the alleged corruption, etc, Fu won the post in a landslide and is one of the most popular county chiefs in Taiwan.

Things like this are common. In 2005 in a legal move too complicated to explain, the Taitung County chief appointed his wife as vice-chief since he was likely to lose the post due to being indicted. Hsu Tai-li, the KMT mayor of Keelung, is another egregious case. He died after a corruption conviction after heading for years one of the least developed and most poorly run cities on the island. The pan-Blues then promptly selected a convicted vote buyer to follow him. In a recent election in a large central Taiwan city, a major gangster ran his wife for office. She lost, but gained thousands of votes. In the old days gangsters in jail would run their wives for office....

One could go on and on. In the 2000 election two prominent figures from the martial law era gained 60% of the presidential vote. The son of one is now running for mayor of Taipei city and I believe is likely to win. In one central Taiwan district the island's most prominent gangster used to hold the legislative office, until his son took it up. He wins elections by 2-1 margins. All over the island voters routinely return to office local faction politicians whose factions are heavily intertwined with local construction and local organized crime.

Taiwan is an island of nepotism, organized crime, and local factionalism, floating on a sea of government construction money. There is nothing unusual about KMT heavyweight Lien Chan running his son for Mayor of Taipei like a local faction politician ensuring his relatives are elected to local administrative positions. It is just more blatant.

I don't understand why on an island where voters routinely return corrupt, incompetent, grandstanding party-minded hack politicians to office, why anyone would bother to write some variation on "politicians must care about..." because any sentence beginning with that or similar phrases is obviously inane. The problem with Taiwan's politicians is not that they are corrupt party-minded hacks. It is that Taiwan's voters support them because they are corrupt party-minded hacks.

The politicians aren't the problem, just its most outward manifestation, like a sore spot on the surface of the skin indicating the presence of a vast and voraciously metastasizing tumor underneath.
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With FTV on Green Island

Last week Lanyu, this week Green Island to do some shooting with FTV. Snorkeling, conservation, and other activities with Michella and Charles! Click READ MORE as always.

Adoga News: Ethnocentric Garbage from ACER

There's several of these "Adoga News" videos, links are on the sidebar for this one. Professionally done, with the speaker, whose Chinese is obviously excellent, pretending to speak in a choppy, lame accent. Basically the equivalent of foreigner blackface. Sad. Won't be buying any Acer products anytime soon.
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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Biking Lanyu

This week I went to Lanyu for the first time, to enjoy one of the best experiences Taiwan has to offer with one of my closest friends, Drew Kerslake, and his lovely family. I have long wanted to go. Traveling with Drew was special because he's been on the island many times and first started coming in the 1990s, meaning that people there know him, and he knows many things about Lanyu that few outsiders know. What a wonderful introduction! Already planning my next trip.... (Andrew's beautiful and informative post) Click on READ MORE (image intensive, may be a few minutes loading up).

The Pingtung 172

On Monday the 4th of Aug I went down from Fangliao to Kenting in the morning to wait for Drew (post above this one). We were heading to Lanyu from Houbihu port in Kenting the next day, but in the meantime I wondered what could be done with the afternoon? Drew had the perfect answer: the Pingtung 172. Click on READ MORE....

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Links and Break Time

A damselfly hides in the darkness

I'm taking an extended break from the blog for a couple of weeks. Enjoy yourselves.
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Friday, August 01, 2014

BREAKING: Kaohsiung horror, gas main explosion kills 25, 292 injured UPDATE X 10

Death toll now at 25, expected to rise as more missing are found.

FocusTaiwan now saying it is petrochemical piping. Ben from Letters from Taiwan and I are jointly wondering how long before Chen Chu gets blamed by KMT. Politics has no bottom when it comes to cynical exploitation.

Apple Daily report in Chinese 22 dead, 270 injured.

Apple Daily images with dashcam video

UPDATES (most recent first):
10. Apple Daily Drone video

9. A really good picture collection on FB from Danny Chu.

8. [removed]

7. ETTV Via CNN.

6. FocusTaiwan with CNA report: 22 dead (incl 4 firefighters) 292 injured. Many missing, including senior fire official who went in at 9 pm to check out leak reports. Now saying it is petrochemical plant piping.

5. Stills, videos, maps on BBS

4. Wreckage, post-fire

4. Fire, people recording

4. Strangely angled video of explosions

3. Explosions recorded. Unbelieveable

2. CCTV cam capture of moment of explosion

2. FTV report

1. Aftermath video

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

KMT Splits?

Yep, there was still one larva on the leaf where I had first seen them. They had turned into this.

BREAKING: DPP Sec-Gen again summonsed by Special Prosecutors. Still named as "related person/ 關係人" not defendant or suspect. Thus technically no right to lawyer.

KMT Caucus Whip resigns over Control Yuan vote, scribes the Taipei Times. An interesting signal of what's going on inside the KMT...
Lin and the KMT caucus blamed outgoing Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien (王建煊) for the “surprising outcome” on Tuesday night, after it became clear that KMT lawmakers had failed to vote in line with the party’s wishes.

Not only was incoming Control Yuan president Chang Po-ya’s (張博雅) nomination confirmed by only a hair’s breadth, 11 of the 27 candidates for Control Yuan members were voted down by the legislature, despite Ma’s insistence on a “complete passage that leaves no one behind.”
The President, who is the Party Chairman, had insisted to his legislators that everyone pass. The KMT rejected the bulk of Control Yuan nominees. The President's clout in his own party does not appear great enough to get everyone to hold their nose and vote his way on Control Yuan officials. Ma is a lame duck in his own party.

Recall that the trigger for the occupation of the legislature was the KMT's decision to cut off the debate before it began, declare it completed, and then declare that the Services Pact had passed review and was now law -- without a vote in the legislature. It seems clear that the KMT lacks the power to compel its legislators to line up behind that dog of a service pact, if it can't even get them to vote for a routine bit of favor-swapping corruption like the Control Yuan nominees.

Hence the real problem with the delay in the Services Pact isn't the Sunflowers. They just make a convenient whipping boy. The real problem is that the KMT legislators don't want to pass it, and can't be made to.

I suspect they will just have to wait until after the election in November to move on the Services Pact.
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