Monday, September 30, 2013

MaWangMess: Wang wins another round

Jes' restin'.

AFP reports on Ma taking another blow:
Taiwan's parliamentary speaker scored another victory in the battle for his job Monday after the high court upheld a ruling against his party's decision to expel him over claims of influence-peddling.

Earlier this month, the Taipei district court granted Wang Jin-pyng's request for a provisional injunction against the Kuomintang (KMT) party, allowing him to hold his party membership and therefore continue as speaker.

The party, led by President Ma Ying-jeou, appealed the ruling, but the appeal was thrown out by the high court on Monday.
The KMT said it would appeal to the Supreme Court. Apparently a dozen or so KMT legislators have urged Ma not to appeal:
According to KMT legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾), a dozen or so KMT legislators, including Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順), Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井), Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟), Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑), Sun Ta-chien (孫大千) and Chen Ken-te (陳根德), decided to write a letter to President Ma after a gathering held last week to discuss the political situation. “During the gathering, we discussed the recent political turmoil caused by the feud between President Ma and Speaker Wang. A couple of days ago, a taxi driver committed suicide. In a letter he left behind, he wrote that he was disappointed with the government for failing to revive the economy and constantly engaging in political infighting. The death of the taxi driver shocked society. During the gathering, the attendees asked me to take the lead to write a letter to President Ma recommending that the KMT withdraw its interlocutory appeal against Wang in order to put an end to the political infighting so that he could concentrate on reviving the economy.
The latest China Times poll had the President at 19%. Though Speaker Wang has not been charged, the Presidential Office continued to insist that he was guilty:
[Presidential spokesman] Lee stated that President Ma Ying-jeou’s insistence on the independence of the judiciary would never change, nor would the President tolerate the fact that the Legislative Speaker had illegally lobbied the Justice Minister and the chief prosecutor of Taiwan Provincial Prosecutors Office in a court case involving the DPP party whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘).

Lee stated that there was no gray area in the Wang case.
What will President Ma do if the Supremes don't uphold this political assault on the KMT's own Speaker?

Even more deliciously, the Justice Ministry announced a probe of SID chief Huang, a probe which Ma had to make pro forma noises saying he supported. The SID explains all its wiretapping here. Just accidents and mistakes.

I see no way Ma can ever really recover from this train wreck, except by waiting for time to rehabilitate him. But if Ma can do this, what other accidents await? Ma's rigidity and political ineptitude remind me of another President of the ROC, from several decades ago....

MEDIA MOMENT: AFP hilariously reported:
Ma's approval rating had hit a record low of around 9 per cent earlier this year, before rising to more than 21 per cent in a recent poll.
I guess two weeks ago is "earlier this year." Technically.  The protest against Ma was variously reported: "tens of thousands" in Taipei Times, 5500 in WSJ (police estimates).
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Taichung AmCham Walkathon

The website
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ma Confucian Confusion

Tea being picked on the 169 on the flanks of Alishan.

Every year President Ma does this (TT):
Ma, accompanied by Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), Secretary-General of the Executive Yuan Chen Wei-jen (陳威仁) and Minister of the Education Chiang Wei-ning (蔣偉寧), paid his respects to the Chinese philosopher by burning incense and watching a bayi (八佾) dance.

The dance, a ritual traditionally acted out to pay respect to emperors, was performed by 64 students.

The temple also opened the Lingxing Gate, its main entrance which is usually closed during the ceremony, and arranged for the president to enter the temple via the route traditionally taken by emperors.

Addressing the ceremony after the two-hour ritual, Ma cited the Analects to emphasize the importance of politicians taking a righteous path and said the wisdom in the Analects has been a reference when he was making cross-strait policies.

“The Analects discussed how feudal barons interacted with each other and how they handled politics. I’ve taken the wisdom of the Analects as a reference in my cross-strait policies,” he said.
Note how deeply ideological such an appearance is, and how inflated. By mentioning his cross-strait policies, he reinforces his own Chineseness, and locates his political action with Beijing in that context, as if to say we might disagree, but China endures. One must also ask whether it is appropriate for the president of a democratic society to receive the honors of an imperial authoritarian. I can't help feeling that these behaviors are the actions of a man who is deeply and ideologically rigid and further, totally out of touch with the domestic political situation.

There were protests in Taipei today asking Ma to step down. At one point the protesters broke through the police lines in front of the president's residence.... Ketty Chen posted a reminder on Facebook about what Ma had promised during his inaugural address in 2008:
Taiwan's democracy should not be marred by illegal eavesdropping, arbitrary justice, and political interference in the media or electoral institutions.
As I said then, just take that speech as a 180 degree reversed road map about what is actually going to happen.
Daily Links:
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

MaWangMess: Wiretapping Scandal Expands and other goodies

Pigeon cage outside Dongshih.

The papers were reported today that DPP Whip Ker Chien-ming said that the SID was tapping the legislature's switchboard number....
Earlier in the day Legislator Ker Chien-ming, a caucus whip of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told the press he had received notice from the court that the wiretapping of his phones had been discontinued, following his acquittal in a breach of trust case.

The notice listed several numbers that had been under surveillance, including his cell phone number and the Legislative Yuan's switchboard number 0972630235, Ker said.

"Even the parliament was being monitored," Ker said at a press conference at the Legislative Yuan, which was also attended by DPP legislators Wu Ping-jui and Kuan Bi-ling.


Meanwhile, at a separate press conference Saturday morning, acting SID spokesman Yang Jung-chung repeatedly denied Ker's accusation, which was reported in a morning newspaper.

The SID "has never eavesdropped on the switchboard of the Legislative Yuan," Yang said several times. He said 0972630235 is the number of a cell phone used by an individual.

However, Tsai Wei-min, head of the Legislative Yuan's General Affairs Department, told the press the same day that the number has been used by the Legislative Yuan since August 2006 as part of a cost saving system.
Readers may recall that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng had been publicly accused by the President of influence peddling by calling the Minister of Justice and having him tell the prosecutors not to appeal a not guilty verdict against Ker. The DPP politicians also said that the SID had been monitoring the prosecutor in the Ker case, which the SID admitted. They admitted that they monitored her 12 year old daughter, accidentally, since she was using her mom's phone (SCMP). They then switched to the husband's phone which Lin Hsiu-tao was using, musical phones being a common feature of busy families.

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.

The case has produced, at least for this observer, many moments of delicious blinding hypocrisy. FocusTaiwan ran another piece saying that the KMT's lawyers told the Taiwan High Court that the party would not work out a political compromise in the Wang case...
Asking the KMT to consider a settlement is tantamount to advising the party to "compromise its insistence upon resisting influence peddling in judicial cases and upon defending the core values of democracy and rule of law, which is an independent judiciary," the statement said.
Anyone remember when the judge in the Chen Shui-bian case got switched? Media personalities gathered this week to protest the wiretapping mess in Taiwan

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC the diplomatic core got egg on its face...
Representative to the US, King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), and Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) Press Division Director Frank Wang (王億) yesterday apologized over a controversial post on the Washington Post Web site, which describes Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) as “former Legislative Speaker.”

Frank Wang said Wang Jin-pyng was the “former Legislative Speaker” in the Washington Post Web site’s readers’ comments column on Sept. 14 and concluded by saying “I’m very glad the [Chinese Nationalist Party] KMT came to resolutely discipline its heavyweight party member.”
Events like this are reminders of how the KMT continues to imagine the State is an appendage of the KMT Party, using the diplomatic corps to comment on and defend what should be an internal matter of the KMT and a domestic politic issue. Note that if they had merely said nothing, or confined themselves to noting in a pro forma fashion how the open political conflict is an indicator of the strength of Taiwan's democracy, they would not now be having to apologize..... this affair continues to be a needless mess entirely the creation of Ma's KMT.... and judging from the comments on Facebook, tomorrow's news will be even funnier.

ADDITIONAL REFS: Jens Kastner with some sensible quotes from John Copper on the MaWangMess.
Daily Links:
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The 1% Government

Taiwan is getting pummeled by several long-term trends  -- the financial liberalization of the late 1980s that brought in big global financial players, to Taiwan's detriment; the shift of factories and investment to China; and governance by the KMT. The trend is clear, as Commercial Times observed in another hard hitting editorial:
According to government statistics, the disposable annual income of people aged below 30 averaged only NT$366,000 (US$12,388) in 2012, lower than NT$380,000 in 1999.

In 2012, the starting monthly salaries for bachelor's degree holders averaged NT$26,000, down from NT$28,000 in 1999. The average starting salary of master's degree holders was NT$31,000, up only slightly from 13 years ago, when the average salary was NT$30,000.

There is an obvious trend in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of the older generations.

In 2010, 75 percent of residential properties in Taiwan were owned by people aged 45 or older, with homeowners younger than 35 accounting for only 8 percent. Many of these young homeowners are believed to have obtained financial support from their parents. In other words, the situation for young people is even worse than it appears.
This wealth gap between generations, as this Commercial Times points out, is cushioning the blow this brutal economy is giving the young. Meanwhile the KMT continues to serve the big money -- still no real stock tax, no change in the land tax (here), and now the premier wants to chain the minimum wage to the consumer price index (CPI), essentially freezing it at the current low level for the next few years:
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) yesterday decided that beginning next year, the minimum wage will be contingent on growth in the consumer price index (CPI), a policy drawing severe criticism from labor groups.

With a threshold of a cumulative CPI growth of 3 percent or higher needed before the minimum wage will be reviewed, “it is highly likely that the basic wage levels will remain stagnant in the remaining three years of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) tenure,” Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) said.
This means that the government can hold wages down without appearing to, simply by lowballing the CPI. Theoretically, wages will always remain the same relative to prices, which means that laborers will never be able to capture a larger share of the pie, at least while the Ma government is in office. Since 2007 and especially since the Ma Administration came to power, wages have regressed while productivity has boomed. Taiwan's gap between CPI changes and wage changes was the highest in the world in 2010. The Ma government wants to freeze this historically anomalous situation and treat it as the norm. The struggle for control of Taiwan between the pro-China and pro-Taiwan sides really masks the brutal and ongoing defeat of Taiwanese workers economically; it enables both parties to enlist workers on their side via their tribal social identities while screwing them out of their rightful livelihood.
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Links for a Slow Typhoon Day

I know you must be trapped indoors on this ugly typhoon day -- no rain here yet in central Taiwan so far. So enjoy some links....

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Windy, Soggy, Gigantic Usagi to smack Taiwan...

Now upgraded to the year's biggest typhoon. Oh boy. The South is going to get slammed.
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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Globe and Mail, 1982

A friend sent this around, in case you were wondering what the official US stance on Taiwan is....

The Globe and Mail (Canada)
July 19, 1982 Monday
AROUND THE WORLD China warns Shultz
LENGTH: 82 words

PEKING - China told U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz yesterday that the Reagan Administration would sabotage Sino-U.S. relations if it bowed to pressure from Washington's Taiwan lobby. The official People's Daily newspaper accused Mr. Shultz of contradicting himself during his Senate confirmation hearings last week, quoting him as saying that the United States never formally recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, but as acknowledging at the same time that there was only one China.

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Ma-Wang notes -- 2016?

Tea farms on Alishan

Some random thoughts on the Ma-Wang disaster for the KMT. Frozen Garlic wrote....
....The judges have been around a little longer and are less idealistic and more political. This is probably a selection effect, with the politically reliable ones getting promoted. The higher up the court system you go, the more political the court supposedly is. So it isn’t surprising that Ma lost in the lower court. Experience tells us that the higher courts will be more sympathetic to his arguments. Today, right on cue, High Court judges were randomly assigned to the case. Wang had asked for a public lottery, but the court insisted on doing it through a random computer process. Magically, the lead judge is married to a senior KMT figure who actually ran for the legislature under the KMT banner many years ago. The talk shows are abuzz questioning whether the assignment was really random.
Couple of things I'd like to note. First, I think Froze is correct in noting higher court judges are more ideological/political -- a lot of them are older civil servants from the 1980s when entrants into the bureaucracy were vetted to make sure they have properly pro-KMT political views. So the whole system appears biased, and it will take two generations for any such bias to work itself out of the System. I also think the lower court realized its ruling didn't matter, since whatever it said would be appealed. So the Court decided to have a little fun and then kick the case upstairs for its true resolution.

Another issue here is Wang's request for a public lottery for the judge selection. That's pretty much an admission that he strongly suspects the computer system is rigged.

2016 now looms. Wang will be 75 and too old to be a candidate. Wu Den-yi, the Vice President, is not a congenial figure. Hau Long-bin, the mayor of Taipei, got elected in a city where they'd vote for the dead, rotting carcass of a dog on a stick if it were the KMT candidate.

What's interesting is what this case may be saying about the chances of Eric Chu, the younger rising star of the KMT, and Jiang Yi-huah, the current premier. The media started mentioning that Jiang might be a dark horse candidate for 2016 a while back. Chu is half-Taiwanese while Jiang's parents are mainlanders from Fujian. For Deep Blue ideologues like Ma who regard the ROC as "theirs", Taiwanese are inferiors and outsiders. If there really is an ethnic element to this assault on Wang by Ma, it may strengthen Jiang's position among the KMT's mainlander elites as a potential 2016 candidate, who have marginalized powerful Taiwanese like Wu Po-hsiung and Wang Jin-pyng. More practically, Jiang is close to Ma and Ma may further view him as one way Ma can rule Taiwan from beyond the political grave of 2016, if Ma can retain his grip on the KMT. Of course, this is a chain of speculations. I need to find a less potent brand of alcohol....

The letter from THRAC in yesterday's Taipei Times listed out some of the alleged constitutional improprieties:
By reporting to the president and then releasing the transcript at a press conference — without laying any charges — the SID grossly violated laws requiring nondisclosure of its investigations and has confirmed suspicions that it is a political tool of the KMT. There are also questions about the legality and propriety of the wiretap.


These actions constituted (to use his words) “improper influence at the highest level,” abuse of the office of president and violation of the separation of powers fundamental to a democracy. Ma then acted in his capacity as KMT chairman to have Wang’s party membership suspended and remove him as a legislator-at-large.

This confusion of Ma’s two roles as president and party chairman looks like a return to the old party-state practices of the KMT.

Third, contempt of the legislature. By using an internal KMT party process to remove its speaker, Ma has seriously violated the rights of the legislature. The speaker of the legislature is elected by its members. The legislature oversees the president. Now Ma has used his power as party chairman to become the overseer of the legislature. This has serious implications for KMT proportional vote legislators who must worry about a party chairman who can remove them so easily.
A vast crisis, now in suspension while the Court rules on it. All of it triggered by Ma's own actions, which he did not have to take.
Daily Links:
  • WSJ with a strong round up of the MaWangMess.
  • Economist's round up of the MaWangMess: except for the ridiculous remark about reunification, the write up is great improvement over the hilarious Ma the Bumbler bumblement. But the Economist, strangely, continues to support Ma, who seeks to deliver Taiwan into the orbit of a Communist one-party state, rather than the DPP, which supports an independent capitalist democracy. Well, maybe not so strange, considering the Economist's real values....
  • Haha. Suddenly the US can't afford to sell Taiwan F-16s. And so the merry-go-round continues. Nobody wants Taiwan to have F-16s except the DPP government.
  • Taiwan seizes 820 kilograms of dolphin meat. Dolphin meat is always available if you know where to ask. 
  • Dapu: Miaoli County Chief confronted by protesters. The police parted the crowd for him and let him in to pay his respects to Mr. Chang. However, when protest leaders stopped by the home to visit the body, the police would not let them in. 
  • Taiwan dry bulk shipping firms to get boost from China trade.
  • The BBC has an article on Taiwan's problems with innovation. Its identification of Taiwan's mom-n-pop management as an obstacle is spot on, but sadly it sees "innovation" solely in terms of a narrow slice of electronics firms. Taiwan's textile, machine tool, bike, sporting goods, and other industries, the lifeblood of the island's industrial heartland in central Taiwan, are ignored in this piece, as they are in so many others. Also, BBC's longtime institutional pro-China stance is especially irksome in this context -- one reason Taiwan firms moved to China was to avoid the kind of upgrading of tech and innovation and management BBC (correctly) advocates here and instead prolong dependence on the old low-wage manufacturing strategies of the 1960-80s. BBC is thus in the position of someone who shoots your parents and then laments the fact that you are an orphan.....
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Taiwan Communique 143 Out

Found this in my inbox:


We are pleased to let you know that the new issue of Taiwan Communiqué is hot off the press (attached). This issue starts with a summary and analysis of the recent developments under the heading Taiwan’s Watergate, focusing on President Ma’s attempt to oust Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Two busy links:

I am bogged down with a crapload of work that seems unlikely to clear for a couple more days, so you should be reading...

Frozen Garlic: The Courts are Run by the KMT:
When the Taipei District Court handed down its ruling last Friday, Ma’s lawyer made an interesting comment to the press. In his disappointment with the news, he turned to the reporters and said something to the effect of, “I hope no one ever says the courts are run by the KMT again.” This was a reference to an infamous statement from about 20 years ago. Hsu Li-teh 徐立德, who was then Vice-Premier, Hsu Shui-teh 許水德, who was then KMT Secretary-General, told KMT members not to worry about the legal consequences of their actions because, after all, “the courts are run by the KMT 法院是國民黨開的。” The courts have done little to dispel this notion over the past 20 years. Again and again, KMT members seem to acquitted or given very light sentences while DPP members seem to get the harshest treatment possible under the law.
The whole post is excellent, don't miss it.

J Michael relates the sad tale of the death of one of the Dapu 4 whose homes were bulldozed while the protesters were away: In Memorium: Mr. Chang Sen-wen:
I first met Chang Sen-wen (張森文) in front of the Executive Yuan on July 3. It was an excruciatingly hot day. He was in a blue shirt, wearing a straw hat, underneath a tent that had temporarily been erected in front of the EY. Next to him, his wife, Peng Hsiu-chun (彭秀春), was giving interviews to reporters, making her case, as she had done dozens of times over the past three years, against the efforts by the Miaoli County Government to demolish their home and the small pharmacy they operated to widen an intersection on the way to a science park project.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lost in Minquan W Rd Station....

Wow. The bottom map... Yes, in modern maps, north is at the top. In traditional Chinese maps, south is at the top. But Minquan W Rd station is a whole new orientation.

But the top map... Looking at that, I seriously began to wonder if I had Alzheimer's or something...

UPDATE: Great comments below explain what is going on.
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Monday, September 16, 2013

Ma-Wang Tussle Round Up

Apple Daily has had some wonderful front page illustrations during this Ma-Wang disaster.

I need to go away for a vacation (post below) more often if President Ma is going to melt down like this. What fun!  Some observations, in no particular order:

Let's remember -- this affray is entirely the result of Ma's decisions. Nothing called for him to do anything but make his usual noises about resolving things by the law, the KMT is clean, he is against corruption, etc. He didn't have to go after Wang and spark a political and possibly even constitutional. This crisis is entirely of Ma's making.

The Washington Post reports on Taiwan from...Beijing. An island full of talented and perspicacious writers and observers, and their go-to guy is 3000 kms away. Why not just solicit stories from Moonbase Alpha? Think of the broad scope! Longtime Taiwan specialist John Tkacik pointed out the article's subtle pro-PRC spin in a comment below it:
I detect several pro-China spins in this report, including the subtle assumption that Taiwan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, DPP Legislative Whip Ker and Justice Minister Tseng really are guilty of something. These are political figures that Beijing doesn't trust and would gleefully discredit. And when a Taiwan official tells a WPost reporter calling from Beijing "it's unsafe to talk, we're being monitored," he is probably referring to the Chinese security services' routine monitoring of Foreign Correspondents' telephone calls as much as anything else.
The article even terms the feeling of being watched "paranoia" though the piece is about -- what kind of case? Yes, a case in which the government wiretaps were used to discredit the President's perceived political enemies.

Poll plummet: UDN had Ma at 11% approval. As Ma fell to 9% in at least one poll, people were gleefully digging up Ma's words calling for Chen Shui-bian's resignation when Chen hit 18%, or twice as high as where Ma is now. Ma said back in 2006:
and the bolded comment below was widely repeated:
當民意已經不支持你, 你的政治責任沒有辦法再承擔的時候, 你就應該知道自己下台, 不要等人來罷免你。一個人要有羞恥, 人家才會尊重

When the opinion of the people no longer supports you, and when you can no longer shoulder your political responsibilities, you should know that you need to step down. Don't wait until someone impeaches you. A person has to have a sense of shame for the people to respect him. - Ma Ying-jeou, June of 2006
Letters from Taiwan, always good, juxtaposed a poll that said the DPP's Tsai is now more trusted to carry out cross strait policies than Ma, and that Ma was at 9.2%

The news report for more than 30 scholars and law professors signing a document saying Ma has crossed a constitutional red line is here. I've placed the text under the READ MORE divider below. Thanks to Ketty Chen for sending it around Facebook. The Constitutionality of Ma's acts is starting to loom; what looked like Ma simply doing something fantastically stupid is slowly blowing up into a constitutional crisis. Civic groups pointed out that by listening to the prosecutor and removing Wang from his position in the legislature, Ma may have committed a constitutional violation.

The Court's reversal of the order expelling Wang from the KMT certainly makes it seem so. That was huge.... (Taipei Times):

The Taipei District Court yesterday ruled in favor of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) provisional injunction seeking to retain his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) membership and position as head of the legislature.

The court ruled that Wang would be able to retain his membership and rights as a KMT member after submitting a guarantee of about NT$9.38 million (US$314,300), Taipei District Court spokesperson Lai Chien-yi (賴劍毅) told reporters.
The KMT plans to appeal, so stay tuned. FocusTW explains the Court's logic.
The panel of three judges granted Wang's request on the basis of avoiding "irreparable damages" that the plaintiff would suffer due to a loss of eligibility to serve in the Legislature while waiting for a court to rule on his other lawsuit.
Motives? Lots of people are pointing to simple hate. Lee Yuan-tseh, Taiwan's nobel prize-winning physicist, criticized Ma for constantly having his features distorted by hate. Nathan Batto over at the awesome Frozen Garlic has a marvelously informative blog post on the whole affair, well worth reading. He is leery of identifying a motive. All politics may be local in some places, but in East Asian Confucian societies, all politics is personal. I'm with the vendetta believers, though I am sure the politics of the moment, and of the future (particularly Ma's prized cross-strait peace plan) may have played a role. I don't think Ma is playing 11-dimensional chess or is all that impatient with what's going on in the legislature; I think he seized a chance to revenge himself on someone he really just totally hated. Like a sort of inept, out of control Michael Corleone, he's taking revenge on everyone who offended him by opposing him: the jailing of Chen Shui-bian, the investigation of Lee Teng-hui for embezzling (handled by the same prosecutor who went after Wang in this case), the investigation of Su Tseng-chang for his handling of government papers, the attack on Wang, the prosecutions of DPP politicians all over the island, etc etc etc.

The China Times says Ma sacrifices Taiwan's Future by Slaying Wang. The China Times also pointed out that Lin Yi-shih, the Ma associate who was recently given six years for corruption, is still a KMT party member.

Jonathon Manthorpe, longtime observer of things here, has a write-up of events here.

Lighter moment: some delegation went to Washington to complain to people there about Taiwan's Watergate -- illegal wiretapping! Bwahahaha. Don't they read the news? Complaining to Washington about someone engaged in illegal wiretapping is like complaining to the Mafia about what horrors illegal prostitution and gambling are.
Daily Links:

Alishan Take Three

James checks his pics. Not a great day for pics; by the time we got up high, the rain and fog was rolling in. Moral of the story: you can never start too early in the mountains. Yet it was still a surpassingly lovely ride.

Another weekend, another ride. This time I avoided the growing horror of President Ma Ying-jeou's mind-numblingly stupid assault on Wang Jin-pyng by hiding in the mountains for a lovely two day ride over two of my favorite roads, the 169 up Alishan, and the 159A into Chiayi city, which is really the prettiest road on the island. Click on READ MORE to read more....

Friday, September 13, 2013


Other 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!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Ma-Wang Mess Spills its guts over the political scene

Went out this week and hunted bugs with one of my students who also has a nice macro lens.

"I have no choice but to take a stand,” Ma Ying-jeou on Wang.

The news that President Ma Ying-jeou has decided to deep six the Speaker of the Legislature Wang Jin-pyng, a longtime rival within the Party, has reverberated across Taiwan and abroad like the thunder of a landslide in an empty valley. Basically, if I had a nickel for every email in my inbox containing the keywords "Ma Ying-jeou", "Wang Jin-pyng", and "WTF", I'd be a very rich man.

First, the fracas has now reached the international media. AP recovered from its pointless bog-standard hack on Chen Shui-bian (C'mon guys, that is so 2008) the other day to produce a more in-depth view of the issues. However, Wang has not been suspended as the article says. This appears to be an error. His membership has been revoked, but he can apply to re-enter the KMT in two years. A suspension would have permitted him to retain his speakership and position in the legislature, revocation automatically removes him from the at-large legislator position and attendant power and privileges. This FocusTw piece discusses that.

Bloomberg also discusses the case and notes that the Taiwan dollar has plummeted thanks to Ma Ying-jeou's weird obsessive stalker attack on Wang Jin-pyng. Ma was so driven to get Wang that he remained in his office to follow the KMT committee vote and canceled a meeting with the President of El Salvador, sending the Veep instead (TT full report). Ma's talk as Chairman is summarized by the KMT news organ here.

Lawrence Chung at SCMP reported that Wang has 20 days to appeal the revocation. SCMP's reporting is superior and records what all of us have been saying. Highlights:
Ma, who had been calling for Wang's removal since last week, shed tears when asked by committee members why he was insisting that Wang must go.

"Though it is a painful decision, it should still be made," Ma said at a news conference.


[Wang]The veteran politician enjoys broad support in the legislature and throughout southern Taiwan.


Although he had no direct evidence of the alleged irregularity, Ma denounced Wang on Sunday for what he described as the "most serious infringement of Taiwan's judicial independence" and the "most shameful day in the development of Taiwan's democracy".

The way Ma dealt with the case without due process of law and his subjective conclusion has seen Wang gain overwhelming support and sympathy from the public and news media.
It's hard to imagine how Ma could not have known that attacking one of the most well-liked politicians on the island, whom many Taiwanese identify with, would make him even more disliked than he already is. Is the Presidential office really that out of touch? WSJ adds:
Mr. Tseng is among a list of officials that have fallen from grace since Mr. Ma was elected president in 2008. Last month, Taiwan was forced to name its second new defense minister in a week, following the resignation of newly installed ministry head Andrew Yang after he admitted plagiarism. Mr. Ma also lost his finance minister two weeks into his second term last year and watched his cabinet secretary get hauled away in handcuffs in December amid allegations of bribery.
Then there are the local news reports....

In addition to the withdrawal of referendum legislation for the 4th nuclear plant, the DPP also withdrew from the Ma-Su debate on the cross-strait service agreement.

Wang's party status: Here is what the official KMT organ said....
The fierce debate in yesterday’s CEDC meeting lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes. However, in the end, all 11 committee members present were overwhelmingly in favor of revoking Wang’s party membership. Two other members were absent.

Yesterday afternoon, the KMT immediately sent the certification that Wang Jin-pyng had lost his party membership to the Central Election Commission, confirming that Wang had lost his qualification as a KMT legislator-at-large elected on the party list.

The KMT Party Charter stipulates, “An appeal of a party member shall not affect the validity of a decision handed down by the Central Evaluation and Discipline Committee.” In other words, if Wang wanted to keep his party membership, he had to petition a court of justice to grant a preliminary injunction before the KMT notified the Central Election Commission of its decision. However, the Central Election Commission yesterday had already received the notification from the KMT to delete Wang’s name from the list of at-large legislators elected on the party list.

Since the KMT already sent its decision to revoke Wang’s party membership before any court could hand down a ruling, Wang’s petition for a preliminary injunction had no statutory “necessity.” Therefore, his petition would be turned down by the court, and the fact that Wang would lose his seat as a legislator-at-large and consequently the Speakership is a foregone conclusion.
Wang has elected to sue but it is hard to see what the grounds would be. Although in my personal experience of institutional rule making and implementation in Taiwan, the rules are so complicated and contradictory that it is likely there will be problems with almost any serious action taken by an institution in Taiwan.

The pro-Green Taiwan Thinktank has some poll data. Ma's satisfaction hit 10%, dissatisfaction is stable at just over 70%, a number seen in many polls. Wang's scores, respectively, are 60% and 22%. Over half of those polled feel the Special Investigations Division is not impartial. TVBS poll data from earlier in the affair is here. A commentary in the Taipei Times relentlessly criticized the SID for its suspiciously political handling of the case.

Although a small number of low level local politicians resigned from the KMT in protest, Wang has called for party unity and asked members not to withdraw from the KMT. This is a very clever move -- it makes Ma look like he's the one violating party unity.

It's not difficult to see where this is heading. Ma is going to continue to take a pounding in the polls and in the hearts of the public. Disgust with him is widespread. Moreover, because Taiwanese identify with Wang as a southerner and a Taiwanese, this attack is going to have a powerful ethnic resonance -- just another victimization of the Taiwanese by the KMT. Heads will nod all over Taiwan.

Wang now faces a range of choices for revenge. With mayoral and local elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016, Wang could run with the DPP. Or run as an independent and hand Taipei or Taichung to the DPP. The problem is that a year from now he will be old news -- look at Soong's laughable runs for mayor in Taipei and for President. Three years from now, in the 2016 Presidential election, Wang will be ancient history, and ancient as well, at 75.

I think Wang will also see 2014 and 2016 as too far away and will now grope for ways to rejoin the legislature. I suspect that Wang will try to reconcile somehow with the KMT because (1) he is naturally conciliatory and consensus building and (2) if he wants to get back into the legislature as a legislator, he will need to run. His power base is in the south. He will have find an extraordinary way to rejoin the KMT... if he runs as an independent in a southern district he will just split the pro-Blue vote and hand the seat to the DPP. No, he needs to be in a situation where, if he runs, there is no KMT opponent. The only way to do that is to either strike a deal whereby there is no KMT opponent in his district, or run as the KMT candidate himself. In the end, all the fantasies I am hearing about Wang going down in flames splitting the Blue vote and handing some important position to the DPP are just that, fantasies. Soong's sad fate has already made it clear that the voters aren't going to go along with that....
Daily Links:
  • John Copper in The National Interest on the Obama Administration's positively changing Taiwan policy.
  • Taiwan painter keeps up movie poster tradition
  • Fourth Nuclear Plant to get fuel rods. To hell with public opinion, says the government.
  • East-West Institute with "new thinking" on arms sales. Here's the new thinking: "It proposes that the United States cap its annual arms deliveries (as opposed to announced sales) at a level that complies with the key stipulation of the U.S.-China Joint Communique of August 17, 1982, adjusted for inflation. It also calls on China to remove one of its five short-range missile brigades aimed at Taiwan and to dismantle the underlying infrastructure." Lessee -- how many thousand commentators have proposed an arms for missiles agreement or some variation thereof? 
  • Ralph Jennings in Forbes reports that Taiwan has ordered new corruption survey to reassure investors, who'd have to be pretty stupid to believe the Transparency International report in the first place.
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Meanwhile, the UN crap continues....

Walking stick
Any day I see a walking stick is a good day.

A local journalist sent this around. They were applying to attend the ICAO. As another discussant observed, the newspaper this reporter represents is not affiliated with a Taiwanese new agency and thus there are no grounds whatsoever for rejection.


Good afternoon,

With respect to your request for accreditation to attend the 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly, ICAO continues to conduct itself in accordance with the United Nations’ one-China policy and our unit is unfortunately not permitted to accredit media directly affiliated to Taiwanese news agencies while this policy remains in place.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause.


Sue-Ann Rapattoni
Communications Unit
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BREAKING: Wang kicked out of KMT

CNA reports:


Wang booted from KMT. This means he lost his seat in the legislature and his Speaker position, since he is an at-large legislator serving at the party's pleasure.

More later tonight....
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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wang case roundup (formerly Tseng case)

Ma vs. Wang: who will be eaten?

Well...Ma Ying-jeou's hysterical attack on Legislator Wang Jin-pyng, with its condemnation of Wang as guilty of crimes he has not even been charged with, has blown up into an enormous political scandal with huge potential to damage the KMT and Ma Ying-jeou, all of it completely unnecessary, had Ma simply said nothing. It's also made it obvious that from the beginning this whole case was about getting Wang. Tseng's resignation was just the collateral damage.

Wang had been in Malaysia attending his daughter's wedding when the news "broke" that the SID had tapes of him allegedly telling a DPP legislator that he had arranged for the prosecutors to forego an appeal in a not guilty verdict. The reason I use "broke" is because it looks like Wang took off and then as soon as he was out the door, the SID convened a press conference with the sensational claims about Wang and Ker and Justice Minister Tseng. What a coincidence, eh?

Well, Wang has returned. FocusTaiwan reports that he is going to fight tooth and nail....
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng on Tuesday denied having engaged in influence peddling, saying he "would absolutely not accept illegal accusations."


Wang also accused the Special Investigation Division of violating the law and the Constitution by eavesdropping on the speaker of the Legislature and releasing a transcript of the wiretapped conversations.

Flanked by supporters and fellow legislators at the airport, Wang delivered his first response to allegations that he lobbied the minister and the prosecutor in June on behalf of a fellow lawmaker who was the defendant in a breach-of-trust trial.
Wang (here) also criticized the prosecutors for holding the press conference when he was out of the country (at his daughter's wedding, something sure to attract people's sympathy), saying that the Legislature must be respected and it is unacceptable for a small number of unscrupulous prosecutors to behave in such a manner.

Welcome to a certain Asian city-state? Despite the tidal wave of criticism from all quarters (more on that in a moment) the Presidential Office doubled down on its hacks on Wang Jin-pyng....
A day after President Ma Ying-jeou was accused of shaming Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng in an influence peddling case, a presidential aide said Wednesday that it was Wang who showed no respect to the judicial system.

"The moment Wang used his influence to call (Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker) Ker Chien-ming, (Justice Minister) Tseng Yung-fu and Chen Shou-huang (head of the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office), the justice system was shamed," said Lo Chih-chiang, deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office.

"It is not President Ma who has not shown Wang basic respect. It is Wang himself who has not accorded basic respect to the judicial system," Lo said.
Note that the President has openly said that Wang is guilty. No weasel words there, no ambiguity. No presidential behavior either. It's total vindictiveness and hate, trial by media, and of course, it is widely perceived as using the prosecutors to settle political scores. Remind you of anything?

Yeah, Ma's behavior in the Chen Shui-bian case. And also, all the other cases against DPP politicians under the Ma Administration. In fact, as a friend pointed out, in attacking Wang this way, Ma risks making the conviction of Chen Shui-bian look even more obviously political than it already does.

Recall that Ma has many times cited a certain Asian city-state as a political and social model. You know, that Asian city-state where critics say that the one-party government deploys the judicial system against its opponents. Note that I am not saying that. I am just repeating what the critics say. I would never criticize that totally great Asian city-state.

Note also Wang's legislative seat is a KMT party seat, an at-large seat and he was not elected by any district. Hence, his presence and position in the legislature are under the total control of the KMT. Ma as Chairman of the KMT has referred the matter to the disciplinary committee. If its internal disciplinary committee finds against him, he will be stripped of position and power (including, someone reminded me, his position as head of the Taiwan Democracy Foundation). Wang's case goes before the KMT disciplinary committee tomorrow, Wednesday.

Honorary KMT Chairman for Life Lien Chan, the twice-failed Presidential candidate and KMT heavyweight supreme, criticized Ma for conducting the campaign against Wang. "It is inappropriate to criticize Wang Jin-pyng that way." Recall that in 2005 when Wang ran against Ma, Lien backed Wang. The crisis -- stoked entirely by Ma's relentless assault on Wang and referral of the case to the KMT's disciplinary committee -- is falling out along the old political lines of the right-wingers like Ma who are diehard pro-ROC ideologues, and the more flexible, inclusive, Taiwanese-centric KMT associated with Lee Teng-hui. UDN, the rabidly pro-KMT paper, came out for Ma.

Gosh, do you think all the media yammerheads who wrote in 2008 what a pragmatic politician Ma is are going to write retractions? Nope.

Meanwhile the DPP is having a field day because Ma has apparently shot his entire foot off. A former DPP deputy justice minister filed criminal charges against Ma and the SID heads. Wang has extensive connections with DPP legislators and is well liked in and out of the legislature. The DPP has rallied around him. If Wang is forced out, whatever the reason for Ma's animus, it will have negative repercussions for Taiwanese support for the KMT....

It will be fascinating to see what happens tomorrow. Longtime observers were saying that the Speaker position will likely go to Hung Hsiu-chu, who is the deputy speaker and who apparently is far more hawkish than the conciliatory, consensus building Wang, who is a master politician.
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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Tseng Case Round Up

A turn on my favorite cycling route, from the 130 onto the Miaoli 49 to the Lungtung Broken RR Viaduct. Show up with a bike, I'll take you there.

Well, updated articles on the Tseng influence peddling case hitting the news cycle. The Taipei Times reports briefly....
Politicians in the pan-blue camp yesterday expressed concern about the incident and urged the Ma administration to handle it carefully.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said the incident involves administrative, legislative and judicial issues, and such a constitutional matter should be addressed carefully.

Former Taipei EasyCard Corp (悠遊卡公司) chairman Sean Lien (連勝文) expressed concern about the Special Investigation Division’s (SID) eavesdropping on Ker and Wang, but refrained from commenting further on the case.

Lien’s father, former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), also showed up at the Taipei City Council to cast his vote, but declined to comment on the incident.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theories have been fueling the rumor mill, with KMT Legislator Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) saying that he saw the incident as “sheer infighting” in the government’s judiciary system between Tseng and Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), who led the SID, while others said it was an internal struggle in the Ma administration — infighting between Ma and Wang.
Couple of issues. As the media notes, the wiretapping of sitting legislators raised hackles in the legislature. I'd sure like some details on that -- it seems almost too good to be true that SID stumbled upon these conversations while investigating Ker for something else. Another aspect of the case that I have heard dark mutterings about is that the KMT politicians who have recently been knocked out for corruption (Lin Yi-shih, Wang Jin-pyng, Tseng Yung-fu) are all Taiwanese, not mainlanders. Meanwhile the DPP decided to go full-on conspiratorial:
The Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) legislative caucus yesterday said that the Special Investigation Division's (SID) accusations against Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) were designed to instigate infighting within the ruling party and the judicial system.
Meanwhile the DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang came out charging, saying that the wiretapping was illegal and that the whole affair was a dark day for Taiwan's justice system. Su contended that SID chief Huang's reporting of all this Ma Ying-jeou prior to the case breaking -- some media have said that Ma knew a week before it broke -- was an illegal breach of confidentiality in the case, and Ma should not have listened -- that too was illegal, said Su. The whole thing was simply Ma acting as judge in the case. Su was parodying Ma....

...who held a press conference at 4:00 to hack on his rival Wang Jin-pyng. Apple Daily reported:

Ma Ying-jeou said that after three days of consideration, he decided to publish this bitter statement. Ma stressed that Wang Jin-pyng's involvement in influence peddling cases with opposition politicians is a violation of judicial independence, which is a most serious thing, and is the most shameful day for the development of Taiwan's democracy and rule of law! If this is not seriously dealt with, Taiwan will sink into an infinite abyss.
It's hard not to laugh at Ma saying things like this about Taiwan democracy. Essentially, the primary talent of politicians is strenuously denying that salt is salty one day and then indignantly affirming that it is the next. In that respect Ma is greatly skilled.

The case offered another comical moment when the prosecutor in the Ker case, Lin Hsiou-tao, said that she had never said the words attributed to her, it was all the SID's doing, and she would never lie, because she is a Christian. LOL. On the serious side, she specifically said that her superior, Chen Shou-huang, who is supposed to have carried Minister Tseng's order to her not to appeal the not guilty verdict, told her to just do what the law says.

For the conspiratorially minded, one of the FocusTaiwan editorials complains that the SID should not have immediately referred the Tseng case to the Control Yuan for administrative investigation, since the SID handles criminal cases. If you were paranoid, you might conclude that Tseng was getting off with an administrative punishment since he was just collateral damage because the real focus of the case was Wang. Keep in mind that SID has no tapes of Tseng asking anyone to do anything, they only have Ker and Wang talking. Ma said that Wang had told him that he had only been comforting Ker. Tseng basically resigned under protest....

Another Wang issue: stories are circulating that Ma wants to punish Wang Jin-pyng for insisting that the cross-strait services agreement be subjected to a review in the legislature, and because Wang has publicly criticized the Fourth Nuclear Plant, both pet projects of Ma. I seriously doubt this. Wang is always making noises that sound kinda mavericky. On ECFA he positioned himself as if he were resisting the President. Wang has consistently criticized the stupid legislative reform that handed control of the Legislature to the KMT. This is faux maverick behavior: Wang stakes out harmless "opposition" to things that are bound to occur, a favorite trick of "mavericky" politicians, giving them room to look independent while still safely remaining within the System. Wang also has an extensive network of connections to DPP legislators (as the Ker case makes plain) and they are always doing favors for each other. Ma must know that Wang has links in the opposition he must placate. Hence, it is more likely that if it is really true that Ma Ying-jeou is going after Wang Jin-pyng, it is because they are longtime rivals within the KMT and not because of Wang's stand on this or that piece of legislation.

You had to love AP's report, which, in a six paragraph piece on the Tseng case, devoted three paragraphs to "analysis". One paragraph discussed how it would hurt the Ma government, and two paragraphs focused on the DPP -- one on how Ker's involvement would hurt the DPP and the other -- yes! -- recapitulating the really really really important fact that Chen Shui-bian was packed off to jail for corruption, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Tseng case. Wouldn't it have made more sense, if AP wanted to engage in actual reporting, that it would spend a paragraph reporting that local media were speculating that the case is the result of infighting within the KMT? After all these years watching the international media trying to report on affairs here, why am I still asking questions like that?

SUPERPARANOIA: It's all a setup, see, to make Wang look like a victim of Ma to prime him for a presidential run in 2016.
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Saturday, September 07, 2013

Tseng Steps Down, Wang Jin-pyng in the crosshairs

Wedding photos can break out anywhere.

Whoa, the Taipei Times reports on the recent developments.
Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) yesterday accused Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) and Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office Head Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌) of illegally lobbying for a lawsuit involving Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘).

Tseng announced his resignation later yesterday.

A spokesman for the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID), Yang Jung-tsung (楊榮宗), told a press conference earlier yesterday that after Ker on June 18 was found not guilty of embezzling funds from Formosa Telecom, he asked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), to lobby Tseng and Chen to use their influence to stop a prosecutor from appealing the case with the Supreme Court.
The piece goes on to say that Tseng and Chen are unlikely to face criminal charges because they didn't get any tangible rewards like kickbacks. You mean it's not a criminal act to use the power of your office in this way? Say what?

Meanwhile the papers here are having a field day, interpreting events here as a power play within the KMT, a charge made by Ker, who said the whole thing is being orchestrated by President Ma Ying-jeou. Wang Jin-pyng, the KMT Speaker of the Legislature, a Taiwanese politician from Kaohsiung, and longtime Ma rival, was in Malaysia but was ordered to return to Taiwan by Ma (who is KMT Chairman).

The Taipei Times reported on the allegations that the whole thing was a power play.
Wang does not have a position within the KMT, but as legislative speaker and a key figure in the party’s localization factions, he has had great influence over the party.

Wang also represents the KMT’s old power bloc, along with party heavyweights including former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), and has had problematic relations with Ma in the wake of fierce competition over the KMT chairmanship in 2005.
Wang's position is interesting. In the 2005 KMT chairmanship election Ma beat Wang on his strength among the party rank and file, while party elites all supported Wang. The "localization factions" remark points to Wang's position as the unofficial leader of the "southern legislators", a representative term for KMT legislators from south and central Taiwan (Wang is a southerner) who are often at odds with the party's mainlander elites in the bitter struggle over internal power and patronage network resource flows. The KMT has always attempting to suppress the growth of regional and national networks of local leaders, part of its divide-and-rule approach to controlling Taiwan.

Given Wang's longstanding rivalry with Ma, and his position as an informal power broker, he makes a nifty target. No wonder the local papers are alive with speculation that Wang's downfall is the real goal of this investigation. Local reporters were saying that the SID sent around text messages to all the reporters -- not once, but twice -- to invite them to attend the press conference, saying there would be big news. The reporters all said that was rare. At the press conference the SID played the tapes for the reporters. The reader can draw their own conclusions about whether the SID was playing politics.

Another issue deserves highlighting. There is the possibility that someone here may face criminal charges. Yet, as is so often the case in major criminal and political investigations, key evidence is being systematically leaked -- this case, the recordings of the conversations between Ker, Wang, and Tseng -- have been made public. This is trial by media, a feature of other political cases, such as those swirling about Chen Shui-bian. Think anyone in the SID will be reprimanded for this? Ha.
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Friday, September 06, 2013

Awesomeness interlude: my daughter's painting

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BREAKING: Minister of Justice to be indicted after SID investigation

Cutting a key.

Taiwan rocked and rolled to the news today that the Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu is going to be indicted by the SID, the special investigative unit. All day long Taiwan's multitude of news channels spoke as one, breathlessly discussing the case.

The basic claim is this: Kerr Chien-ming, a DPP politico, was on trial for something or other involving someone or something. He was found not guilty. Investigators were tapping his phones in conjunction with another case being built against him, when they allegedly recorded him asking Wang Jin-pyng, the dapper KMT Speaker and man-about-legislature, to ask Tseng to intervene with the prosecutors and have them drop any bid to seek an appeal of the not guilty verdict. If you're interested, UDN has some details in Chinese.

Tseng is already getting pressure to resign -- and is refusing (UPDATED: now has resigned) -- and is claiming that the head of the SID is pursuing a vendetta against him and making up charges. The two apparently dislike each other. There's just so much to savor about the awesomeness of the spectacle of the Minister of Justice claiming his own investigators are making up charges (cue Captain Renault) and the Ma Administration suffering another blow. President Ma even added bonus fun, intoning that "justice must never be politicized"

Stay tuned. This one will be endless fun.

In case you needed a score card, United Daily News has provided one:

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Wild East: Who Killed Shida?

Trista over at The Wild East has a great piece on the destruction of the Shi Da night market area, one of the city's great shopping and eating spaces. She interviews a restaurant owner who describes how the alleged complaints about the night market appear to be from ringers...
As it turns out –- and this information comes from long-time ShiDa residents – most of these ‘neighbors’, the newly outraged residents of a once-bustling night market area, only moved to ShiDa “within the last 2 or 3 years.”
The campaign has been ongoing (here). This China Post tale from last year says local residents had organized a "self-help association" which made trouble for the local restaurants (here). Many of us had suspected the attack on the famed and beloved food and shopping mecca was orchestrated by land developers in cahoots with local government. Note again the pious yet selective application of the law which has become a common feature of so many of these cases.
According to a city ordinance, restaurants are not allowed within a radius of 8 meters from residential buildings.

“There are probably more than 10,000 restaurants located within a radius of 8 meters from residential buildings in the city,” a restaurateur, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained.
The city could be going after thousands upon thousands of restaurants in Taipei, but it chose these in the market. The area is on prime land for development, near two major universities and key metro stops. The government's cooperation with the "self-help association" was pointed out by the redoubtable Oz in a post last year, in which he noted that the ShiDa Night Market signs had been removed from metro stops in the area. That post has plenty more information, including the fact that the markets there generate US$400 million in revenues each year....

The move also seems to be a part of the "upgrading" that has swept away so many of Taipei's traditional markets and landmarks.
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Monday, September 02, 2013

Electricity price woes continue

In case you forgot what lovely blue skies looked like...

One of the many ways state subsidies shape Taiwan is the island's low prices for electricity, in the news at the end of August.... (China Post):
Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch yesterday said Taiwan has the highest average electricity consumption per person in Asia and electricity prices are among the cheapest in the world.

Household electricity prices are the second lowest in the world, while industrial electricity is the second cheapest in Asia and fourth in the world, Chang said.

Such a price structure is hindering the government's efforts to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, but at the same time encouraging waste, he said during a radio interview, as he defended the economics ministry's decision to raise electricity prices in October.
The Minister is half-right. The low price of electricity certainly encourages waste. It also helps make possible the incredibly stupid housing in Taiwan, the uninsulated concrete boxes that the construction industry puts up all over the island driven by subsidized concrete, subsidized labor, and land subsidy/quota systems that encourage overbuilding and illegal construction. The entire system is one vast Amazonian-style delta of short-sighted planning, short-term profit, and private plunder of the public treasury. Taipower's finances are both a casualty and a cause of the mess. The article notes that rising fuel costs are hurting the company:
A breakdown of the fuel cost shows that over the past 10 years, oil costs have soared 29 percent, coal 168 percent and natural gas 100 percent, Chang said.
The smart and obvious thing to do would be to vastly expand wind power and to solarize every roof like Germany, along with requiring that future construction be environmentally sound, and implementing conservation programs. But with the legislature being an appendage of the construction-industrial state, that is hardly likely. Moreover, there is another problem with solarizing/upgrading housing infrastructure. Consider this panorama of Puli city in Nantou I took this summer:

Recall that the height of buildings is determined not by the value of the land and the land-owner's desires, but rather, by bureaucratic fiat. This means that in Taiwan, houses are smaller than they would otherwise be, since the bureaucracy is tightly linked to the construction-industrial state. The land thus has, essentially, a quota on the number of floors that can be built on it, and on the size of the building. Hence, the construction companies make profits larger than they otherwise would, even before consideration of all the corner cutting and misrepresenting ("but you told us there would be eight outlets in the living room").

Because of the buildings are too small, everyone has houses that are too small, and so building owners build them out (illegally expanded balconies) and up illegally. See all those metal roofs? They represent additional floors added by building owners. I would bet money that each and every one is illegal.* Now imagine if the government came through and tried to solarize this town. What would happen to all those rooftop apartments that are being rented out? What would happen to all those top floor altars? Top floor storage areas? Many of these top floors also have illegal electricity and water connections as well. Solarizing would mean formalizing all that informality and illegality, something many, many building owners would rather avoid. This is not a problem created by the selfishness or lawlessness of Taiwanese; Taiwanese are rational decision-makers, attempting to create desperately needed space denied them by a government policy that appears to exist solely to subsidize the concrete and construction industries. Such construction should really be seen as subversive, in its way...

If you want a view of how the opinion leaders think about this, check out this United Daily News editorial that the KMT news organ passed around. Clearly somebody must have thought it was good. To its credit, it kinda sorta realizes that Taipower is subsidizing industry, though it focuses on small businesses.....
Taipower finds itself trapped and immobilized. The Nuclear Power Plant No. 4 remains a hot potato. The liberalization of the energy industry and the promotion of green energy have fiascoes, like the proverbial blind men struggling to discern the shape of an elephant. Taiwan's political and business environment is deformed. Well-intentioned policies invariably attract unscrupulous politicians. State-owned enterprises have long transformed benefits into exclusive slush funds. As a result, Taipower losses have skyrocketed. Realistic constraints are vital. The cure must fit the disease. Rate hikes are better than nothing, but that is about all they are.
If you read it carefully, it focuses on the revenue issue. How high do rate hikes have to go? It rightly recognizes that rate hikes aren't the answer. But the piece is still shot through with developmentalist-state mentality: not a word about conservation. This means that readers don't read about conservation, and don't think about it as a valid form of public policy.

*reflect on this whenever you hear bureaucrats piously intoning how the government obeys the law. Indeed, whenever I hear officials say they are acting in accordance with the law, it is almost always the case that someone is getting the shaft.
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