Friday, September 19, 2014

Typhoon day links

A strongpoint built above Keelung, probably in the Sino-French War when the French occupied the port.

Batten down the hatches -- a tropical storm is hitting us tomorrow and Sunday.
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AIT warns on Typhoon Fung-Wang this weekend

h/t to James Lick for the image. Lick says it is falling in intensity at the moment but has moved to a course that will take it directly over Taiwan.

Tropical Storm Fung-Wong
This Emergency Message is being issued to alert U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Taiwan that the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau are tracking the development of Tropical Storm Fung-Wong. The tropical storm is expected to strengthen as it moves north and west toward Taiwan. It is increasingly likely the storm will pass over Taiwan on Saturday, September 20 and Sunday, September 21 with wind speeds of 60 mph and gusts of up to 75 mph. Heavy rain and strong winds can be expected across the entire island....

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Well Organized Crime

Damselflies, always a treat.

Courtney Donovan Smith posted to Taichung AmCham Central Taiwan News.....
In the aftermath of a cop and a suspect both injuring in a shooting battle and the inevitable blame game to follow, Mayor Jason Hu commented that of the 'big 6' metropolises, Taichung so far this year has had the lowest number of shootings, tied with Taipei at only 3. Taoyuan has had 4 this year, New Taipei has had 8 cases, Kaohsiung 12 and Tainan 17 shootings.
Hmmmm.... hmmm.... lessee... what parties are the mayors of those cities from?
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

American Citizens for Taiwan Voter Guide

American Citizens for Taiwan has come out with a very useful voter guide. Enter your home address on the main screen (link) and it will take you to a page with both your incumbent representative and any challenger. ACT says:
Using a street address and zipcode or a state and district the tool reveals the Taiwan-related voting record of the incumbent Senators and member of Congress and includes links to their websites and various social media platforms. In addition challengers to the various positions are listed along with their contact details.

Most importantly it puts you in the election process with the ability to send a Congressional Candidate Questionnaire to incumbents or challengers via email or Twitter with a few clicks or taps. We encourage you to send the questionnaire to all members of Congress even those that are not up for re-election this year as candidate responses will be linked to their profile as they arrive.
Go thou and browse!
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Comic Moment: Ma Ying-jeou wins a Peace Prize

FormosaNation passed these around Twitter today, pointing out in successive tweets that not only is maverick pan-Green candidate Ko Wen-je destroying Sean Lien in the polls, but that the public believes he is clean, 44-17, and that he is more popular than Sean Lien among both males and females.

Today's comic moment came when the local media announced that longtime democracy opponent and party-state politician Ma Ying-jeou was being awarded the Eisenhower Medal for contributions to peace....
The award, presented by the organization founded in 1956 by then-US president Dwight D. Eisenhower, recognizes Ma’s East China Sea peace initiative that seeks to resolve territorial disputes in the area through peaceful
Yes, Ma won this award for a policy which has had no effect on the region and which no one pays attention to. It reminded me of that hallucinatory moment from last year when Jason Hu's Taichung, then 17th in islandwide polls of competent governorship among the 21 cities and counties, won the intelligent city award. Obviously these award givers make no effort to gather any data on what is actually going on. Sheer laziness, since it is obviously not difficult to gather critical data on the President of Taiwan (D'oh!). But it is sad and sick that longtime stalwarts of the authoritarian KMT win awards, while the people who fought them get so little. A Chen Ding-nan or a Chen Chu is a hundred times the human being that Ma Ying-jeou is.

Who is Ma really? An excellent critique of Ma the One Percent president appeared in the TT today, with data on things this blog has been talking about for several years, including dramatic changes in the wealth structure under Ma:
The income gap between the nation’s richest 5 percent and the nation’s poorest 5 percent has increased from 60.4 times to 85.2 times since the Ma administration came to power. At its highest, it reached as high as 96.8 times. The income gap shrunk for the first time in 2012, probably because about 300,000 military personnel and public school teachers once again were required to pay taxes, while the income of the middle class increased. That means that the narrowing income gap was in fact a statistical illusion.


Moreover, the richest 5 percent own more than a quarter of the nation’s wealth, while the lower 50 percent of the public own less than one-fifth of the nation’s wealth. According to Ministry of Finance tax data from 2011, many households with an annual income of more than NT$2 million — some of almost NT$10 million — did not have to pay any tax at all, showing that the nation’s tax system is seriously flawed.
The Ma Administration's economic actions are just making the rich richer and the poor poorer; that's what Ma was elected to do. A piece from a while back observed:
In Taiwan, not only are capital gains from securities transaction exempt from taxes, there are also a series of tax exemptions for high-tech businesses. What is worse is the integrated income tax system — especially now that the income tax on profit-seeking enterprises exists in name only — which means that 80 percent of the NT$100 billion in annual tax deductions that is set off against aggregate income goes into the pockets of the stock owners who earn more than NT$1 million (US$3.4 billion) a year.

Add to this the amendments to the Income Tax Act (所得稅法), with the interest on stocks provided for the purpose of formation of, contribution to, or participation in public trusts, which used to be taxed at 40 percent, being halved to 20 percent. These factors have turned Taiwan into a tax haven for the wealthy.

For instance, in 2010, Taiwan’s tax burden was a low 11.9 percent — even lower than Singapore’s 13.4 percent, a country known for its low tax rates. However, 71 percent of the national aggregate income tax came from households that derive about 50 percent of their income from salaries. As such, there is no way the hardworking middle class will ever enjoy the benefits of Taiwan’s so-called “light taxes.”
We're heading for many years of social unrest, out-migration, and increased independence activism, because of these policies that are creating two Taiwans, of have and have-nots.

And that will not be very peaceful.
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Short Shorts: Richard Bush (UPDATED), Gangs, and Burning Bunnies

Toilets. Necessary when you're discussing politicians.

Gotta love Taiwan. Check out the KMT candidate for Miaoli:
The Taipei District Court in July last year sentenced Hsu to nine years in prison for illegal profiteering for accepting up to NT$10 million (US$332,000) in bribes in the first ruling on the case. He also lost his citizenship privileges for six years.

Hsu has appealed the verdict and continued to proclaim his innocence.

He said he would continue to fight to clear his name and to win in November.
He's been kicked out of the KMT but is still running as its candidate anyway. I said a few weeks ago that it wasn't the politicians, it's the voters. So it is predictable that according to Frozen Garlic, who has been tracking the polls, Hsu is up over the DPP's Wu by 35 points and leads another contender by 10 as of 31 July. It's axiomatic that in any election in Taiwan, the most corrupt candidate is the likely winner.

A stupid brawl in a Taipei night club led to the killing of an off-duty police detective when the infuriated minor gangster involved summoned 50 of his pals. Today the main suspect turned himself in. The lesson here is that manliness in Taiwan is collective -- you're a man when you respond all out for a friend's call for help, and you're a man when you can summon many friends to help. The mano-a-mano thing that westerners do doesn't register here. Hence, picking fights in Taiwan is really stupid, since even if you take the guy in the first round, he'll just summon ten dozen of his friends. There was some worry that this incident was one with two shooting incidents in Changhua and Taichung recently, but there doesn't appear to be a relationship.

The latest creation of that Dutch stunt purveyor who calls himself an "artist", Floretijn Hofman, a thoroughly stupid giant rabbit on an airbase in Taoyuan, has thankfully burnt. A service to humanity that was.

UPDATE: Bush has a statement clarifying:
As can be seen from the text of my remarks, the U.S. government clearly understands the tension between not stating support for a particular candidate and expressing itself on the U.S. interests at stake, when there are interests at stake (I have felt that tension myself). I provided the examples where we have expressed views in the past on the implications of the election for U.S. interests, by way of predicting that it would happen again. It was up to Taiwan voters in the past to decide what those statements meant and how to weight them in their voting decisions. It will be up to Taiwan voters to do so in the future, which is as it should be. But I don’t see any basis for extrapolating from my actual remarks to conclude that I was predicting that the U.S. government would side with one party over another.
But it's important to note, at the same time, that the US was not expressing an interest in stability or some such when Obama Administration officials attacked Tsai Ing-wen. They attacked her by name, (here/here) not in the abstract. So this is not a case of "tension between not stating support for a particular candidate and expressing itself on the U.S. interests at stake". That's Bush desperately wriggling to avoid the clear implications of his speaking: that the US Obama Administration would intervene on behalf of a particular candidate who served whatever parochial interests the Obama Administration views as the "US interest."

Finally, a longtime observer of Taiwan affairs offered another interpretation of longtime Taiwan expert Richard Bush's words that the US would definitely stick a hand in the upcoming presidential election (post). He pointed out that certain figures in the Obama Administration believe that -- brace yourself -- they are the ones who are going to achieve the historic "breakthrough" with China, whatever that means (imagine, it is 2014 and people still think that you can have a "breakthrough" with Beijing). This individual(s) view Taiwan as a nuisance and detest the DPP. Hence Bush was making a move to blunt the effect of any attempt by this crowd to affect the election as they did in 2012 with the anonymous attack on Tsai Ing-wen.
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Juicy Stuff from LSE Comparing Hong Kong and Taiwan

Mountain of stimulants

Taiwan in Comparative Perspective has an issue comparing Hong Kong and Taiwan. Everything is available. Thanks, guys.

Book Reviews
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Richard Bush: US will stick hand in 2016 presidential election in Taiwan UPDATE X 2

This dog is not to happy about it either.

UPDATE: Taipei Times report
UPDATE: AIT distances US from Richard Bushs' remarks. Expecting State Department to make similar comment soon.

Media reports about longtime Taiwan expert Richard Bush's insistence that the US will have a voice in the Taiwan election have sparked a controversy here in Taiwan. FocusTaiwan notes:
Speaking at a conference on "Relations across the Taiwan Strait" at the Brookings Institution on Friday, Bush said he was confident that the United States will express its views some time or in some way on how American interests "will be affected by Taiwan's elections."

He said the U.S. faces a dilemma. On one hand, it believes that voters of a friendly and democratic country have the right to decide their leader, and Washington should not express a preference for specific candidates to sway the outcome of the election.
The article then refers to the infamous US attack on Tsai Ing-wen during the 2011-2012 presidential campaign. This stupid, shortsighted move materially hurt both Taiwan and the United States, though I have no doubt the people who delivered that blow felt mighty for doing it, felt like realpolitik gods, since everyone knows that the greatness of a realpolitik policy is measured by the number of one's friends it betrays.

Reality: no US interest is served by having a pro-China government installed in Taipei. Ma's policies have not served "peace and security" but have merely enabled China to raise tensions elsewhere, while reducing Taiwan's ability to resist Chinese aggression and partner with the US in doing so. Nothing exhibits the mind-numbing contradictions of US Taiwan policy more starkly than US policymakers' support for the KMT, a desperate expedient that involves trading concrete harm for avoidance of vapor, and one that links the US to a pro-China government -- whereas everywhere else around China's littoral, the US is supporting anti-Beijing policies. Time for a graphic illustration, oldie but goodie:

In truth, Bush's remarks beautifully illustrate well-worn themes of this blog: the way Beijing uses "tension" to gain leverage over US policymakers, and the way it works to transfer tension in the Beijing-US relationship to the Taipei-Washington relationship. Because of fear of "tension" (note: not concrete actions) -- caused entirely by Beijing as a deliberate policy, and used by Beijing to influence US policy towards Taiwan, US policymakers are going to stick their hand into the Taiwan election. Again.

Congratulations, guys, every time you stick your hand into a local election in Taiwan to support the KMT, you're not serving US interests.

You're serving Beijing's.
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Friday, September 12, 2014

EVENT: First Taiwan International Queer Film Festival

The First Taiwan International Queer Film Festival with over 60 films is happening soon (Website and Facebook). Their press release is just a click on READ MORE away...

UPDATE: Good article here.

Read it: FEPZs = Suicide Pact for Taiwan's Farmers

Industrial storage?

If you read one thing today, you need to read this piece by Dennis Engbarth at IPS on the effect of the FEPZs on Taiwan's agriculture and agricultural processing industries: utter destruction.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.
Smuggling is going to skyrocket. Importing firms will be able to set up an office in an FEPZ, import raw materials, and then ship them out of the FEPZ for processing or sale elsewhere. The obvious function of this program is to help out Chinese producers with value-added sales to Taiwan, help out big processers in Taiwan, gut Taiwan's agriculture and increase dependency on China, and destroy the authenticity of the Made in Taiwan label.
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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Oil Theatre, Act II, Scene 1

A couple of pontoon rafts and a circular corral full of wood on the Tsengwen Reservoir.

I leave for a few days on a bike ride and look what happens! The oil scandal widens. I should have left for a week, probably the entire food processing industry would have been implicated...

On Tuesday I was hardly surprised to see that the bad oil sales had been going on for 13 years, according to reports on the front page of the Liberty Times. Apple Daily, always quality, that same morning had the nude photo club taking nude pictures on the metro on its front page.

A Hong Kong firm has now been busted selling oil for animal consumption as oil for human consumption to Chng Guann, the firm that had been caught buying oil from underground oil factory and sending it up the food chain. The underground factory owner won't be a big enough scapegoat for this, I'm afraid the head of Chang Guann will have to go. No worries, some family member will take over the firm and life will go on for all. Leaders after all exist solely to be scapegoated.

News reports revealed that small vendors are not required to report their waste oil volumes. Since waste oil can be re-used, this represents a profit that has no traceable origin, a situation tailor-made for abuse. The legislature is now being urged to draft a bill and get it passed quickly, before this affects the Chinese tourism industry as some fear. Once the bill is in place and the public reassured, then things can go on as before.

The government is even implementing batch by batch oil inspection of oil coming in from Hong Kong. For a while, anyway.

There's a context that someone on the pan-Green side needs to draw out and scream and yell about, and the government likely wants to suppress, which is why they moved so fast on the oil from Hong Kong, I suppose. Recall that the Ma government's proposed Free Economic Pilot Zones will be letting Taiwan firms import raw materials and ingredients from China duty free, processing them, and then selling them as "Made in Taiwan". This is an obvious move by the Ma government to destroy the brand value of the Made in Taiwan label and increase dependency on China. But the faked oil from Hong Kong serves as a reminder that what comes out China is untrustworthy crap. It wouldn't surprise me if the authorities moved with extra speed to put this to rest before someone makes the connection...
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Pure Entertainment: the Taipei Mayor's Race

O the pain, the comedy is too much. Lien Sheng-wen (Sean Lien), son of Honorary KMT Chairman for Life Lien Chan, and KMT mayor candidate in Taipei, has put out this wonderful commercial above, asking people to tell what they would do if they had his kind of money. I think the idea is to show what a noble, self-sacrificing lad is our hero Sean Lien, running for mayor of Taipei when he could be out having a good time... Hey, I've got an idea -- let's remind everyone that I am totally rich and have never worked a day in my life. A completely empty ad, it says nothing about what Sean Lien can do for Taipei.

More interesting than the ad's amusing premise is its choice of presenters -- all young people and notice that all are brightly white-skinned and freckle free. No dark skinned people in KMT Taiwan. Its construction of "Taiwanese" is quite stereotypical. I wish someone out there would point that out.

Meanwhile Ko Wen-je, the non-KMT candidate, has been sticking his foot in his mouth with relentless regularity. This week it was totally sexist remarks about a female candidate down south. Needless, stupid remarks. Ko's handler's need to teach him never to criticize anyone except Sean Lien, in the tradition of coaches talking about the opposing team... "Well, they have some good players, and we're going to face a tough battle. But we'll prevail." With Ko and Lien both insensitive and gaffe prone, these last seven weeks before the election will be fun.

Less amusingly, the KMT has started its inevitable attack on Ko, which I've been expecting for some time. A KMT legislator accused him of corruption, etc. This is only the tip of the spear, the attacks are going to get worse. As an administrator for many years, there's probably some receipt issues (here in the land of fake receipts) and other minor stuff that someone could blow up into a scandal.
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Nathan rides South

The Tsengwen Reservoir

Three days. 240 kilometers. 4500 meters of climbing. Nathan Miller and I rode across the mountains of southern Taiwan, in search of a flat area. Found none. Three days of climbing later, I was sore but still alive. Good ride, great company. Click on READ more to see the pics....

Washington Wants You

Not even she can save the ordinary Americans overseas.

Washington Post reports on how the US government has swung into action by revising the laws that are making people give up their citizenship in record numbers. No, hahaha. What earth do we live on? Now it will cost you $70,000 NT to give up your US citizenship -- I suppose we should be thankful they aren't simply drone bombing US citizens who want to revoke their citizenship:
"Beginning Sept. 12, the State Department is increasing fivefold the fee it charges Americans to cut ties with the (overtaxed?) land of the free. It used to cost $450 to go through the lengthy process of permanently leaving the United States. It will now cost $2,350 to officially hand over your U.S. passport.

In announcing the fee change last week, State described the process as “extremely costly,” including two “intensive interviews” where the consular officer ensures that the American “fully understands the consequences of renunciation.” (No more apple pie and baseball games.)

There’s been a surge in expatriations in recent years. “Through the first half of this year 1,577 Americans worldwide renounced their citizenship or gave up their green cards. In 2013, a record 3,000 of Americans renounced, up from just a few hundred a year in the mid-1990s and early 2000s...”"
My friend Drew at the awesome blog Taiwan in Cycles wrote to remind me that as a result of the agreement on Visa Free Entry into the US for Taiwanese citizens, Taiwan banks have to ask US citizen customers to provide written declarations that they are US citizens. Anyone encountered that yet? Recall that FATCA provides that the US can seize up to one-third of the assets of foreign banks in the US if they are in violation of this, which is why in many countries US citizens are having difficulty doing their banking as banks refuse to do business with them.

Now recall how many Taiwanese really are dual citizens, so many who are and never thought about it because parents had them in US while in grad school, and returned to Taiwan.... are the banks chasing them down and waving those forms at them? Or is it only the non-Taiwanese who actually get asked this? I think we all know the answer to that question.

I think everyone should respond to this law by incorporating as a corporate person. Then the US government would treat us really really well.....
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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Oil Theatre

Tea farms outside Shijhuo.

One of the things you get used to when you live in Taiwan is periodic hand-wringing about the state of the food supply after the periodic discovery that Someone Is Cheating. In this case the Big News is that a supplier to a major firm was using totally tainted oil....
Police and prosecutors also said two underground factories were busted on suspicion of selling processed waste oils - collected from cookers, fryers and grease traps - including to one that supplied leading food oil manufacturer Chang Guann Co. Another factory allegedly recycled grease from leather processing plants for oils used in animal feeds.

Officials said that Chang Guann then sold the oils on to at least 235 companies, including a number of leading brands, as lard-based cooking oils. They include food giants Wei Chuan, Chi Mei and Taiwan Sugar.
The Taipei Times added:
Aside from Wei Chuan Foods Corp (味全食品工業) — which immediately pulled 12 pork floss and meat paste products from stores on Thursday night after the food scare came to light — a number of household names are on the list of affected products, including state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp (台糖); food and seasonings manufacturer Ve Wong Corp (味王); Chi Mei Frozen Food Co (奇美食品); Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co (盛香珍食品); Gourmet Master Co (美食達人) — which owns the bakery and coffee chain 85oC (85度C); and Haw-Di-I Foods Co (好帝一食品) — which operates the popular barbecue sauce brand Bull Head (牛頭牌).

Also on the list is breakfast store Good Morning (早安美芝城); restaurant chain Wu Wha Ma Dumpling Home (五花馬); Magie du Levain (樂金食品) — which serves as the bakery for Hi-Life convenience stores (萊爾富); 137-year-old pastry chain Yu Jen Jai (玉珍齋); Lee Hu Cake Store (李鵠餅店) — a Keelung-based bakery store founded in 1882; and Tzu Wei Chen Food Co (滋味珍食品) — the former name of Black Bridge Foods (黑橋牌食品).

“The 235 firms combined bought a total of 51,981 cartons of fragrant lard oil manufactured by Chang Guann between March 1 and Sunday. Fifty-five of the companies are based in Greater Kaohsiung, 30 in Greater Tainan and 21 in New Taipei City,” FDA Director-General Yeh Ming-kung (葉明功) told a press conference in Taipei.
The best part of this is the prosecution. How much bail would you set for this serial poisoner? Well, I'm sure whatever number you picked, it was higher than the local prosecutors:
Kuo Lieh-cheng (郭烈成), 32, [underground oil company owner] was arrested after the scandal broke and was released on bail of NT$50,000 (US$1,672) on Thursday. Prosecutors filed a request with the court on Friday to detain him again, since it was discovered that he had withdrawn his total savings of NT$860,000 after he was released on bail on Thursday.
How about that? Bail equals one month's salary for a high school teacher. It's like they are begging him to flee. If he flees, he can't testify that everyone in the supply chain knew what was going on, and he can then be scapegoated by everyone. And the big brands can keep their brand images intact. Which is the most important thing, of course.

They don't teach you in B-school that one of the most important functions of supply chains is laundering. By the time that toxic oil climbed up out of the underground factory and into cans of Wei Chuan meat or croissants at 85C, it had been laundered by being turned over through four or five companies and had become good oil. Yet down at the bottom of the supply chain everyone had to know what was going on. The people who bought from the underground factory had to know what they were getting, because that is the nature of the System -- everyone knows what is going on, but no one talks about it or does anything. But because the underground factory owner will be blamed, everyone else will escape blame and the System will continue, intact. Periodic jail terms for underground factory personnel are just the cost of doing business for the System, and anyway it won't affect shareholders and CEOs who (it goes without saying) buy all their food imported.

Langdon Winner noted decades ago in Autonomous Technology that this laundering effect of distance is inherent in big technosystems (like supply chains) -- the people at top have deniability since they are too distant from the front lines ("we don't know what's going on down there") while the people at the bottom are only following orders. The System just moves forward, autonomously, leaving its bewildered, unknowing victims in its wake.

The whole thing should be shut down, from the grease factory to the CEOs of the big firms who were too lazy to properly test their oils, and everyone carted off to jail. But one of the ways our criminal justice system protects criminals is that only the people at the bottom will be held responsible -- individuals are held responsible, but structures? Never.

There's not much else to say. I'd like to say this will trigger change, but it won't. This kind of problem is fundamental to the System, accentuated by the fact that Taiwan must import almost all of its edible oils and fats. The oil company will shut down, move to a new location and re-open to do the same thing. Or some other underground oil company doing the same thing will take the business. In a few months everything will be back to normal, and the public and media will be haring off after the next big thing....

Really, I don't even know why I am writing this post.
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