Thursday, January 05, 2012

NYTimes: Ripe badness turning purplish-black in the harsh light of the facts

I'll start this post with my customary thanks: thanks, media, for writing mediocre, erroneous, shallow stuff. Thanks for regurgitating the political propaganda of authoritarian parties. Thanks for adopting the Establishment's shibboleths as analytical stances. These ugly habits means that we bloggers will always have an audience hungry to know what is actually going on. Thanks, guys.

Today my gratitude specifically goes out to the NYTimes writing on the election, whose organization, apparently, has de-installed Google from its office machines.

Lots of things caught my eye, starting with this:
Even in some of Ms. Tsai’s party’s traditional bases of support, like the largely ethnic Taiwanese population of southern Pingtung County where she was born, are tilting toward the Nationalists. Since 2008, mainland officials, encouraged by Mr. Ma’s new trade policies, have been offering princely sums for every last mango, banana and orchid the Pingtung farmers grow.
Well, we have had a few well publicized trade missions, but the underlying numbers are quite different from what the NYTimes implies. The US, Japan, and Netherlands take ~ 40%, 30% and 5% of Taiwan's orchid exports, respectively (source). Orchids are interesting because the most cursory search of the internet will immediately turn up John Adams' article from the Global Post on orchids (Taiwan is the world's leading producer). The actual relationship between China and Taiwan in the orchid market is a good example of how the new closeness to China harms the island in the long run while enriching its firms in the short run.
Taiwan firms have also played a key role in the birth of mainland China's mass-produced flower business. Beginning in the early 1990s, Taiwan firms moved across the Strait, especially to the area around Kunming, in southwest Yunnan Province, which has an ideal climate for horticulture.

Taiwan firms typically produce for the Chinese domestic market, and serve as middlemen between Chinese growers and foreign breeders.

Tai-Ling serves the China market from a branch in Shanghai that employs 70 to 80 Chinese workers. Production costs are half what they are in Taiwan, but managing director Liu says Taiwanese workers are far better — one of them can do the job of two typical Chinese workers, he says, erasing the mainland's cost advantage. And Japan remains his most important market by far, he says, because Chinese still don't have regular buying patterns.
Wait...what? Taiwan tech gradually transferred to China and the local market serviced by local production, while exports from China-based Taiwan firms compete with Taiwan-based exports in traditional markets? That's probably too complex for the NYTimes, and doesn't fit the prevailing establishment narrative about the greatness of ECFA (there's another good backgrounder here). The NYTimes could have used this as a teachable moment so its audience could get a better handle on why Tsai and Ma are running neck and neck in the election.....

As I said, pieces like this show how Taiwanese firms are transferring know-how to China -- this flow is so important that China has established agricultural industrial districts whose express purpose is to poach ag tech from Taiwan:
The mainland Chinese authorities have reportedly established 25 "Taiwan Farmers Pioneer Parks", whose sole purpose it is to steal Taiwanese agricultural know-how. Despite Taiwan's farming industry constituting only 1.5% of gross domestic product, or US$11.8 billion, the cross-strait transfer of farming secrets is considered a threat to the 540,000 Taiwanese employed in the sector.   
But never mind that, the NYTimes says everything is simple and peachy-keen and so it is. Orchid exports to China are of course rising, but this is because the orchids and more importantly, the technology for producing them, travels along supplier-distributor networks from Taiwan to China whose establishment and growth long predates ECFA.

Speaking of ag, what about those bananas? For that I just searched my blog:
Sources said six agricultural items from the early harvest list failed to reach NT$1 million in export value and the total shipment was less than 4 tonnes, with squid not being sold at all.

Less than 1 tonne of lemons and less than 2 tonnes of both honeydew melons and dragon fruit were sold, they said.

The export value and volume of oranges and bananas were only 50 and 20 percent respectively, compared with last year, sources said.
What, exports of bananas falling off? Say it ain't so!

Finally, for mangoes, Google will soon reveal that Japan is Taiwan's biggest mango export market and that mangos sell in Japan for several times more than the "princely sum" China puts out... but there's no need for me to tell you. You have Google on your computer.

So what about that awesome agricultural gain from ECFA that's causing all those Pingtung farmers to think Blue? I took a look at the numbers a few months ago:
Ok, in the 18 ag product categories, there was a total gain of US$95.7 million. Now hold still, because a couple of paragraphs later come some numbers.
In the 18 categories, the sale of live groupers surged by a whopping 192 percent year-on-year to an export value of US$79.66 million, she said. Chang attributed the increase mainly to the ECFA “early harvest” tariff concession program and the opening of 15 Chinese seaports for direct shipping links.
So... maybe I am reading this wrong, but of the $95.7 million increase, $79.66 million is groupers. 83% of the increase is from one product! Add the number given by the spokesperson for tea exports, $7.37 million, and 90% of the gain is from just two products.  We're not succeeding in agricultural products, just in raising fish. Subtract that $79.66 million and the agricultural deficit sucks -- which shows how important definitions of what counts as agriculture are -- most people when they hear the word "agriculture" don't think of fish.
Oh yeah, there is no awesome gain even using the COA's own numbers. Are the Pingtung farmers turning blue? Well, perhaps, but its more likely to be from holding their breath waiting for the profits from China to arrive (latest ag figures show no mighty gains or losses).

Always a problem, but never mentioned in neoliberal discourse: agricultural smuggling from China has skyrocketed, meaning that Taiwan's exports are duly counted by the government, but imports from China are duly undercounted. Hence trade gains are overstated.

C'mon folks, all this stuff is on the blog and net and readily accessible. Argh. If I were to speculate, I would bet money that the head of the association Jacob quotes on the bottom of the first page is merely spreading some pro-Ma propaganda. Making sure that associations are headed by pro-Blue types is one of the most important ways the KMT retains control of local institutions and local messaging.

Let's look at some of the other stuff, which I think reproduces so many of the problems we've been seeing in the international media over the years.... first there are the "striking similarities"....
On paper and in person, the two bear striking similarities. Educated abroad — Mr. Ma at Harvard and New York University, and Ms. Tsai at Cornell and the London School of Economics — they spent their early careers in academia. Both are reluctant campaigners, wonkish rather than telegenic. Each promises generous social spending and a city’s worth of low-cost housing.
"...they spent their early careers in academia." Once again, that amazing invention, Google, takes you to another incredible invention, Wiki, whose entry on Ma will rapidly inform you that Ma's early career was spent in politics and government, first in the President's office under the second of the Chiangs, then to the RDEC, then the MAC, and then the post of Justice Minister. Academia was where Ma fled to from politics after Lee removed him from that last post. I'll leave finding Tsai's Wiki page an exercise for the reader, who, unlike the NYTimes, probably has access to Google.

There's another way this equivalency is false, and that is its significant omission: Ma was a scion of the KMT security state, and studied at Harvard in one of those programs aimed at cultivating up and coming talent from security states allied to the US. As I predicted months ago, no foreign publication from a democratic state is ever going to put Ma in the proper context of his long opposition to democracy and support for authoritarianism. Sad. There is no equivalency between Ma and Tsai, except the most superficial one of a foreign education. Trust the NYTimes to reach for that one.

Even Ma's alleged wonkishness is no more than a veneer of brains and the ability to stay on message. The actual policy wonk is Tsai, who spent many years toiling behind the scenes in policymaking positions.

I hope the next media report drops this stereotypical approach to Ma and Tsai and instead shows how completely different they are.

The NYTimes observes in another reach for (false) "balance":
The race has been dominated by parochial concerns and mudslinging. Last week, Ms. Tsai and her surrogates accused the president of using the intelligence authorities to monitor her campaign illegally. The Ma camp has been raising questions about Ms. Tsai’s role in a state-financed biotech company that yielded her handsome profits. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
ROFL. There's so much awesome badness I could spend the whole blog post unpacking it. Quickly...
  1. Of course the issues are parochial from the NYTimes' perspective, it's an election held in another country!
  2. The negative campaigning is only a feature of the last couple of weeks.
  3. The accusation that the government is spying on Tsai was not made initially by the Tsai camp but by NEXT media which is hardly a surrogate of the Tsai campaign. For shame. Whereas the attacks on Tsai come from a government minister and appear to be a violation of neutrality.
  4. The "handsome profits" claim is total KMT propaganda over which the DPP is now suing and from which its original proponents have all quietly backed away. Disgusting that the NYTimes has chosen to give it the imprimatur of a paper of record. Tsai's "investment" was $220 million of which she was paid $10 million for the use of her money for pitiful annualized gains of ~3.5% (here's the pro-KMT China Post on it). But I guess the NYTimes didn't dare look that one up in Google -- might break a fingernail typing or something. Although I suppose to that when you come from the anemic economy whose screwed-up Establishment the NYTimes cheerleads for, 3.5% a year probably does seem like handsome returns.
  5. No mention of the government getting busted engaging in what looks like forgery in attempt to rewrite the history.
Rather than go for a "balance" the NYTimes could have simply printed the truth, which is much more interesting. Imagine:
The election has been dominated by key local concerns. Until a few weeks ago, when the KMT accused Tsai Ing-wen of illegally profiting from an investment in a government-funded biotech firm, the campaign had been going to the DPP, which had run a tight ball-control campaign with few mistakes, while the Ma camp stumbled from one error to another. The Ma camp's poor showing in the campaign, combined with locally important issues such as income stagnation, rising housing prices, and the widespread perception that Ma is too close to China, explain why Tsai has managed to pull even with Ma in the election. 
If you read the article carefully, it does state that the two candidates are neck and neck but does not appear to clearly explain how they got that way.

Interestingly the article headed in that direction at the beginning with its excellent opening emphasizing that Ma faces many of the concerns faced elsewhere in the world, but the quickly turned to the bog-standard outside view that Taiwanese spend their days thinking about the cross-strait relationship.The NYTimes presents a quote from Nathan Batto of the excellent blog Frozen Garlic....
Nathan Batto, a political scientist at the Academia Sinica, a research institute in Taipei, said that the underlying issue for many voters was whether Taiwan could remain autonomous.

“The single question that frames all elections here is who we are and what do we want to be,” he said. “Should Taiwan get closer to China or keep its distance?”
Outsiders look at Taiwan and see only the cross-strait relationship; that is the framing the NYTimes is using (not Batto). But for locals the cross-strait relationship is a thing that they do every day and the "negative" side of which is already settled in their minds: we are not part of China and we don't want to be part of China. The "positive" identity: What is Taiwanese/Taiwan/ROC and how are they related, is still being worked out, and I feel it is likely that at some point the Taiwanese will become a sort of Not-China in the way Canada is a kind of Not-America. In any case it is precisely because Ma violated the negative consensus by moving Taiwan too close to China that he got in trouble.

In Taiwanese minds how China should be handled is simple: no political closeness, plenty of economic interaction -- that is what the locals want, and that is why Ma repeatedly has shushed talk of political negotiations. In other words, for outsiders, Taiwanese identity is seen in the shadow of cross-strait relations, for locals, it is the other way around......

Thus, the question is probably more like "how should our closeness to China be managed so that we don't get swallowed". To the extent that voters are voting on China, that is what they are voting on. But mostly they are voting on a host of far more urgent local concerns, ranging from nuclear power to land prices to incomes to farm subsidies to local identities.

There's so much more I could say (are the businessmen in China as pro-Ma as the NYTimes thinks? What data is that based on?)(the DPP didn't irritate China; China chooses to be irritated). But I have to stop now. My fingernails are all chipped from too much accessing of Google....

PS: Yup. As of Sunday the 8th, The NYTimes does not appear to have taken a single letter on this piece.

REF: Longer article on orchids.
Daily Links:
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

I'm wondering:
Does anyone know the bios of Annie Huang (Associated Press), Peter Enav (Associated Press), Andrew Jacobs (NY Times), Benjamin Yeh (NY Times), and Ralph Jennings (Reuters)? These are the authors that seem to pop up a lot when reading English articles about Taiwan. Unfortunately, I can't find anything about these people (like where they went to school, what experiences do they have about Taiwan). Some articles seem balanced. Others, like the NY Times article by Andrew Jacobs seem so biased.

Michael Turton said...

No, I suppose their orgs have bios on tap.

Jacobs is on Chinapol so no doubt he will hear from some of the people there. I know he did last time when Paul published that thoroughly awful "satire."

Anonymous said...

If I were Tsai

I would rebuke both the KMT AND the DPP for the negative campaigning and smear-mongering. Distance myself from the train wreck and appear to stand above it all.

Then demand that both campaigns refocus on issues.

She needs to show she is the adult in the room.

TE said...

This article is so factually wrong that if the editor found out about i, there would be serious consequences.

Proust said...

Ah, Andrew Jacobs is that sometimes travel writer that is married to a waisheng woman from Taiwan. This is seriously gross that he wrote an article based on the opinions and political preferences of his wife...

D said...

I didn't react so viscerally to that NYT article but it really did make me wonder what I'm getting when I read articles like that one about countries I know nothing about. Maybe I shouldn't have so much faith in NYT.

What about the Next Magazine story. I had a chance to read it today and thought it was pretty questionable. The intelligence agencies said they were monitoring Tsai to prevent another shooting or something like that happening. Ok, so some people will say "I don't believe anything from a KMT government", and given the history I suppose there's reason for that, although as the Ballots and Bullets piece you linked to pointed out, Ma made a big deal in his inauguration speech of avoiding this kind of thing. So what if it's just a simple security matter? Another good point in that Ballots and Bullets essay was that this is like Watergate, in the sense that if it's true it will probably take months if not years to unravel.

The Next Magazine article played up two things. One, that people from intelligence had met with the investigators and when they came back this "lady supervisor named Liu" organized the materials and they were given to the chief and he passed them (somehow) to Ma. No evidence for that at all other than an inside source, and of course the intelligence people said all meetings were regular ones. Their evidence was all for the investigation itself, and the second thing Next got all excited about was a form local investigators were asked to fill out, asking about who Tsai met with. These investigators were asked "how many votes will this person bring if he/she supports Tsai", and to Next this was evidence that it was a political operation. But do you really think the KMT political outfit relies on investigators to tell them how many votes a local (especially pan-Blue) figure could bring Tsai? To me it sounds more like the kind of "risk index" question a pencil-pushing spy would come up with.

Outing the low-level investigators was pathetic and showed that Next's key interest is in embarrassing people.

Who knows. But public interest in this does not seem particularly high?

green sleeeves said...

The timing of the interview is really suspicious.

Michael Turton said...

I suppose there's reason for that, although as the Ballots and Bullets piece you linked to pointed out, Ma made a big deal in his inauguration speech of avoiding this kind of thing.

Well, I don't consider NEXT a credible source, but Tedards is right, it is the nearest thing to a real muckraking rag Taiwan has. But the form is pretty damning. And it is very unlikely, as Tedards pointed out, that NEXT would simply make that shit up.

When Ma makes a big deal of not doing something you can be sure it is exactly what he is doing.

Wu Bang Shui said...

Kuomintang and its allies have a 76% majority in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. A majority vote is required for any laws to be passed.

Even if Tsai were to win Taiwan's presidential election, she would not be able to get her policies passed. All her promises become empty and worthless promises.

Food for thought.

Michal Thim said...

Wu Bang Shui...

I wonder if you are aware that apart from presidential elections next week, there are also legislative elections and although under current electoral system it is very difficult to make predictions, I can assure you that KMT will no longer have 76% majority, it wil be much less...moreover, Tsai is not Chen, she will find a way to get to terms with LY on case by case basis if there will be KMT majority.

Anonymous said...

WBS said: Even if Tsai were to win Taiwan's presidential election, she would not be able to get her policies passed. All her promises become empty and worthless promises.

Well, they hold a majority only because they're re-elected. The obvious solution is not to vote for them. It should be the electorate's responsibility to ensure that government will be effective and representative.

The Taiwan LY is ranked one of the worst parliaments in the world, and there should be a sense of shame among these lawmakers. If the electorate don't demand more from these lawmakers, then it may not matter who's president, since they really don't get anyone's business done unless it requires a rubber stamp.

Finally, many of the best lawmakers (and those who would make good ones) are, I believe, discouraged, isolated or, sometimes threatened and murdered. It will take time to reform government to make it truly a representative of the people, but a good time to start doing that would be now.

Anonymous said...

Published: January 4, 2012''

Sir, it is important to note that the reporter for that NYT article is Andrew Jacobs, who has been stationed in Beijing for the past 4 years, and is obviously in the hands of his Beijing handlers. Why don't you interview Mr Jacobs and ask him who butters his bread sticks?

Mr Jacobs is a veteran NYT reporter from the East Coast of the USA. Ask him if his editors edited his piece or if that was really what he wrote. Sometimes editors back in NYC change things to fit the Times policy "everything that fits" our bottom line....

Anonymous said...

you can reach Jacobs here: send an email here:

click on the SEND AN EMAIL part

Anonymous said...

that is wrong, Jacobs is not married.


''Ah, Andrew Jacobs is that sometimes travel writer that is married to a waisheng woman from Taiwan. This is seriously gross that he wrote an article based on the opinions and political preferences of his wife...''

Anonymous said...

stop the presses: !!!


Will this Chen surprise victory speech help Tsai or hurt her chances? Please comment! RE:

''Taiwan's jailed ex-leader Chen Shui-bian addressed hundreds of supporters in a 20-minute speech at a ceremony for his late dead mother-in-law, 85, Friday, just a week before the nation goes to the poles.

Chen, allowed to leave Taipei Prison under copper escort for the event, made his longest public statement since being jailed over two years ago at a sensitive time when his old party is struggling to regain the nation's presidency.

"I want to thank my mother-in-law for giving me a good wife to encourage me to be brave and insist on Taiwan sovereignty during my eight years," Chen, who was president from 2000 to 2008, said via microphone hacked into a loudspeaker.

The ritual took place at a funeral home in the southern city of Tainan, a centre of support for the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), once chaired by Chen, who now serves a jail term of 17 and a half years.

More than 300 supporters turned up outside the venue, some of them waving campaign flags for Tsai Ing-wen, the current chairwoman of the DPP who is running for president in the January 14 election.

"I'm very moved and very saddened by Chen's talk," said one of the backers, Yang Chao, as she clutched a doll with the former president's likeness.

"I hope Tsai Ing-wen will win the election so she can pardon Chen and release him from prison and also protect Taiwan from China."

Anonymous said...

Taiwan's jailed ex-leader Chen Shui-bian addressed hundreds of supporters in a 20-minute speech

"I want to thank my mother-in-law for giving me a good wife to encourage me to be brave and insist on Taiwan sovereignty during my eight years," Chen, who was president from 2000 to 2008, said via loudspeaker.