Thursday, January 30, 2014

William Lai goes all presidential

Rice seedlings and an assembly line for packing them for shipment to planters.

And the Chen Shui-bian mantle shifts to Tainan Mayor William Lai (Taipei Times):
Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) said yesterday that his municipality refused to adopt revised high-school curriculum outlines established by the Ministry of Education, adding that all municipal high schools would keep the current outlines.
The new history guidelines appear to be largely pro-China propaganda. Lai is burnishing his local credentials and his pro-Taiwan credentials, but this is a move that will enable him to appear as a standard bearer of the Taiwan identity.... should he feel at all Presidential....
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shorts, links, events

You can watch the monthly pavilion from here.

Dr. Fell at SOAS Taiwan Studies says:
The paperback of Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century has now been published by our Research on Taiwan book series. The book edited by Jens Damm and Gunter Schubert examines the issue of Taiwanese identity from a range of perspectives.

For details see:
It is also available on Amazon (but 博客來 does not yet have paperback)

If your libraries do not yet have a copy, please do lobby your librarians and now we have the paperback it's even affordable for courses and students!

We are approaching a very active time for Taiwan studies events in early-mid February, including a book launch event in London for Taiwanese Identity in the 21st century, our annual Taiwan Studies lecture and Taiwan Film Week (Feb 10-14). For details see

Please do pass on the information to contacts in the EU.

You can also keep up with our activities via our facebook:

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The Strange Discourse of the Left and Right on China

Clearing a traffic jam on a Changhua street.

I emailed a writer of a piece on a lefty website today, asking him how he thought China could be a force for peace. Got this doozy of a fantasy world back:
I have not noticed that China has engaged in any aggressive wars, leaving occupying troops behind.
The two sides are mirror images of each other. Point out that China is an imperialist, expansionist state, and righties will clap their hands and lefties will... remain silent. Or deny it. The vast silence on the Left on China means that the Left is deeply complicit in China's expansion and all the deaths that are certain to follow. Not to worry! When China makes its move, it will of course be Washington's fault.

Meanwhile, point out that the US is an imperialist, militaristic state, and lefties will clap their hands while the Establishment and righties... remain silent. Or deny it. The vast silence... well, you know the drill. Nothing lowers IQ like ideology. Even LSD can't match its hallucinations...

It is hard to find pieces that acknowledge the real dynamic out here in Asia, one hegemonic power struggling to retain its grip, another on the rise, claiming the territories of its neighbors and arming for war, driving a third power, Japan, to re-arm, and playing into the hands of Japan's right. *sigh*

But sometimes analyses are done right. John Feffer of FPIF turned in a very strong piece on Japan's resurgent militarism, but pointing out that China is a belligerent, aggressive state, and the US is an imperial one. Not often you see what China is acknowledged by lefties.
Asked whether, given his analogy, he would consider deescalating tensions with China at the moment, Abe evidently said no, not as long as that country continues to build up its military. (Japan’s chief cabinet secretary quickly insisted that the prime minister was not predicting a new war.) Given a rising anti-Japanese nationalism in China, a growing regional arms race, and increasingly aggressive Chinese claims to islands near energy-rich deposits in regional seas, this might seem to be a moment to calm the waters, so to speak.

But not for the Obama administration, which recently welcomed Abe’s decision to put more money into new weaponry for the Japanese military. To this world of rising tensions Washington has, in recent years, added a much ballyhooed new focus on Asia, a “pivot” or “rebalancing” to the region. Its emphasis has clearly been on heightening tensions by organizing a string of countries against a rising China, triggering old Cold War-era Chinese fears of encirclement (or “containment,” as it was called in those days). Admittedly, as TomDispatch regular John Feffer, co-director of the website Foreign Policy in Focus, so cannily explains, Obama’s pivot is proving remarkably heavy on the rhetoric and light on new military might. Fans of World War I will, however, remember that enough heated rhetoric, combined with unexpected small “incidents,” can be quite effective in ratcheting up tensions to the breaking point. “Retreat” can sound like “charge” in the right mouths.
Thanks, John. It's a long, interesting piece.
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FTV: The banality of Changhua, the Beauty of Wuling Farm

Another trip with FTV, to Changhua and the incomparable Wuling Farm. Shot above is the 7A just above Nanshan. It was fogged over, but at Wuling Farm, the sky was picture perfect... Click the READ MORE to see more and read some interesting information about... Beidou?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taiwan Offshoring

No time for blogging for a couple more days...

Commonwealth strikes again with two great pieces on offshoring Taiwan's wealth here and here.

Oh, and J Michael Cole on the truck driver who crashed into the presidential office
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

China's Offshored Wealth

There is only one story you should be reading today: This ICIJ account of China's offshored wealth. Much too long and no point in excerpting here. Over 10,000 Taiwanese names in the ICIJ's records as well, and they worked with Commonwealth Magazine. Can't wait to see Commonwealth's report on it. They have a survey on Taiwan's widening rich-poor gap here.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yanshui with FTV

Last weekend I was out and about with FTV again in Nantou, Miaoli, and Yanshui in Tainan. Pictured above is the Bridge to Nowhere in Nantou, a suspension bridge across a gorge. You walk across and walk back, and pay for the privilege. There is another one near Jhushan, and they both rake in the cash. Total tourist trap, avoid at all costs.

However, I made my first real trip to Yanshui in Tainan with FTV. I've passed through before, but I never realized what a great little town it is. There are hordes of old buildings lying around, a port, an Old Street, and a beautiful wooden structure from the 19th century, a rarity in Taiwan. Yanshui was a key port in the 19th century, but has long since declined. Well worth a day trip, it is small enough to walk around and offers plenty of camera-friendly moments. I've ignored the famous temple there where everyone goes to be pummeled with fireworks. Our local guide told us that the fireworks activity, while popular with both locals and foreigners, is wrong and disrespectful to the god. Onward to the really interesting stuff below the READ MORE fold!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Contested History, again

A cha hua, camellia blossom.

This week saw two struggles over Taiwan history. The first took place at National Chengkung Universty, where the students voted to name a square after Deng Nan-jung, the pro-democracy and free speech advocate. J Michael Cole had excellent coverage last week. The Taipei Times editorialized the other day:
While the university administrator’s move to dismiss the vote betrayed the spirit of democracy, the arguments of history professor Wang Wen-hsia (王文霞) in expressing her opposition to the naming of the plaza underestimated Deng’s efforts and ignored the importance of the power transition in Taiwan’s democratic development. Wang had described Deng’s self-immolation as a radical way to cope with challenges in life, and compared him to Islamist bombers who “end their lives and put others’ lives in danger when things did not go their way.”
I suspect there's a sly reference here in "putting other's lives in danger" -- it's a claim of KMT propaganda attacks on Deng that he put his young daughter in danger when he burned himself to death, thus showing he had no morals (commenter below). Deng's widow ripped Wang in an interview. Wang spewed the usual denials and backtracking, but the students had uploaded both transcripts and video to the internet. No escape.

The other is more attacks on Taiwan history via textbook changes by the Ma Administration. A DPP legislator criticized them:
According to Cheng, during a public hearing held by the Ministry of Education’s National Academy for Educational Research in Taipei on Friday, Fo Guang University professor Hsieh Ta-ning (謝大寧), who is also a member of the curriculum outlines adjustment task force headed by National Taiwan University professor Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), said that the adjustments mainly focused on changing incorrect words in the curriculum, making information presented by the curriculum more complete, and making sure that the content was in accordance with the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution.
The article points out that Hsieh Ta-ning is also the head of Chinese Integration Association. Heh.
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Scott Simon Rocks the Blog World (and other links)

A sausage vendor in Jiji.

Just to point you to something really great, longtime anthropologist Scott Simon has opened a blog, Anthropology of Taiwan. Dr. Simon is brilliant and insightful. Can't wait! Other links...
Daily Links:
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Clarifying the Cross Strait Situation, Redux: Etzioni in The Diplomat

A Yanshui Street corner.

Amitai Etzioni, longtime international affairs expert, writes on the strategic ambiguity of the US commitment to Taiwan in The Diplomat....
True, even if the restraint both sides imposed on themselves (and on their respective hawks) is made more explicit, either side could violate it. However, the more explicit the agreement the less likely is that it will be subject to misunderstandings and the more likely it is to survive. It may well be impossible at this stage to turn the implicit understanding, such as there is – if there is one – into an explicit one; however, the more than it can be clarified and solidified, the more this important simmering point of conflict can be assuaged.

I am quite aware of the theories of the merits of “creative ambiguities”; they can enable one to squeeze extra leverage out of the relatively small amounts of power. In East Asia, however, they are much more likely to produce miscalculations and conflicts than significant gains.

Finally, reducing the tension on this issue would help to narrow the differences between the U.S. and China, especially if integrated into a more general policy of mutually assured restraint. That would encourage both states to focus on the many issues in which they have shared or complementary interests.
This is a common argument, and if the reader feels like searching the internet, many iterations of the call for clarifying or removing the ambiguity in the US commitment may be found over the years. The reason that such a move has never been made, however, is obvious: it's a really bad idea. Ambiguity serves the needs of all three governments and defuses tension, whereas clarity would lead inevitably to confrontation and increased tension.

To understand what would really happen, one only needs to look at other (bogus) territorial claims of China, such as Arunachal Pradesh, the Senkakus, and the South China Sea. In each of those cases, the sovereignty of the current possessor and the demands of China's manufactured claim are both clear, meeting Etzioni's demand for clarity. The result is that each claim is a zero-sum game which China treats as non-negotiable, meaning that each of these claims is in a state of permanent tension which cannot be resolved. Indeed, in the South China Sea violence has already occurred, most notably in the 1970s when China annexed 24 Vietnamese islands. It seems sometimes that IR theorists like Etzioni are unable to see China for the belligerent, intransigent, expanionist power that it is, and are thus unable to see the consequences of its positions clearly. Instead their theoretical frameworks fog over the grim reality.

In the Senkakus the situation is crystal clear: we have an exact analogy for Taiwan, a foreign territory, Japan, backed by the US with strong and periodically renewed clarity. Everyone knows that the Senkakus are currently Japanese, that China wants to annex them, and that the US will defend them.

Note first that the Senkaku situation is one marked by massive and escalating tension, one which increasingly appears will lead to war within a few years. Clarity has not lead to relaxation of tension; quite the opposite. It has lead to an increase and a polarization of tension.

The Senkakus also make clear another issue with clarity of commitment. Etzioni argues...
So this might be seen as a basis for an implicit agreement. We oppose a declaration of independence; China forgoes the use of force.”
...except that Etzioni doesn't make clear the clearly scary corollary of clear commitment: if China does use force, the US has to respond with force. D'oh. Last year China promulgated an illegal ADIZ over Japanese territory. This compelled the US to take action, to fly B-52s into the airspace to show Beijing that the US commitment remained and that its claims were bogus. Once the US clarifies its position on Taiwan, it no longer has wiggle room. The President's hands are tied. And what President wants that?

Clarity on the Senkakus also raises another issue: once you have clear lines, they are subject to the relentless nibbling that characterizes China's long-term strategy. The ADIZ is a good example of China constantly pushing, little by little, at the edges of the policy, forcing Japan to respond, which in turn enables China to label Tokyo "provocative" (astonishingly, Tokyo's PR campaign is even more inept than Beijing's). In the Taiwan situation Beijing does not have the leverage of clear lines. It has no idea what might happen and nothing to grab onto. This is one factor among many that leads, ironically, to restraint.

Finally, Etzioni fails to see why Beijing would never agree to such a deal, because something is missing from his writing: the people of Taiwan. Like so many in Washington, Etzioni imagines that the Taiwan issue is a Washington-Beijing issue, and can be addressed by joint action among the High and Mighty without paying any attention to the people of Taiwan, who, in the kind of realpolitik calculus that drives Washington thinking, exist, at best, merely to be betrayed. But of course this is rank nonsense. The starting point to any discussion of Whither Taiwan? has to be how the locals will react. Beijing understands this very well, Washington, not at all, as Etzioni's omission shows.

To accept a clear situation in which Beijing agrees not to use force if Washington doesn't back independence is, in essence, to accept an independent Taiwan. Taiwan doesn't want to be part of China; the only thing keeping Beijing in the local discussion is its threat to murder and maim the people of Taiwan if they don't annex themselves to China. Without the threat of war, Taiwan will simply (continue to) go its own way and will never voluntarily annex itself to China. Even Ma's pro-China policies are made possible only by the understanding that Beijing is underpinning Ma's strategies with its own threat of force. Beijing understands this perfectly, and thus, would never accept such a commitment. This whole discussion is pointless.

Further, the US already doesn't support Taiwan independence. What exactly does Beijing gain from a promise for the US to do something it is already doing without any horse trading?

No, the current lack of clarity suits everyone. It gives all three sides space to present to their domestic populations that everything is ok: Beijing can promise its rabid nationalists that annexation of Taiwan is, like fusion power, inevitable and always just around the corner, Taipei can promise its people that big brother in DC is going to watch over them, and the US can promise its people that confrontation is minimized and we haven’t promised to send good US boys to die in Asia again. It also permits both Beijing and Washington to pretend they are not in confrontation over Taiwan, relaxing tensions.

A little.
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Ten Reasons Why Taichung is the Best City

Processing pork.

I saw Ten Reasons Why Taipei is the Best City on Facebook. It lists ten reasons why Taipei is the best city: safety, shopping, food, 7-11s, the people, expenses, the sights, the events, transportation, and culture. To which I reply: Harumph! Taichung is clearly the better city.

1. The people. People in Taipei aren't friendly, people in Taipei are cold -- compared to people in the rest of Taiwan. That includes Taichung, though in fairness, Tainan and Kaohsiung are even better. If you think people in Taipei are friendly, you need to get out of Taipei more often.

2. The weather. Yeah, you'll like Taipei, if you like rain, gray skies, and life-sucking humidity that makes summers unbearable and winter an agony of bone-chilling cold. Living in Taipei and feeling like riding your bike? Better get on the train to somewhere else... meanwhile here in the California of Taiwan, AKA Taichung, one day of blue skies follows another, with the rain falling politely in the mountains to keep our water supplies brimming over. Oh yeah, how's that water rationing treatin' you, Taipei? On Sundays our cyclists are out in force and the routes are endless, with beautiful Nantou and Miaoli right next door, and our cycling routes aren't flooded with packs of supercharged motorcycles because -- let's face it -- no one in Taichung can afford such an expensive toy anyway.

3. The food. The food scene in Taichung is... is... well, let's move on to the next one, shall we?

4. Taichung works, Taipei plunders. Taichung produces marketable goods for export. Our streets and alleys are stuffed with factories making machine tools, sporting goods, and other useful stuff. Taipei produces non-tradeables, like regulations and mind-destroying TV shows. Meanwhile we in Taichung create the tax base that Taipei ruthlessly plunders to support the lifestyle so many praise. The rest of Taiwan is underdeveloped to keep Taipei lookin' good. We protest! Taichung is a working class town with a cocky, anarchic attitude, something like Taipei used to be before "modernization" created an expensive, overly regulated city full of branded stores selling a faux, imported lifestyle ordinary people can't afford.

5. The traffic and parking. In Taipei you need to hire a native guide just to understand the weird array of one-way streets, while in Taichung, we don't even have traffic regulations. In Taipei the law is enforced, creating trouble for everyone. In Taichung we say "Law? What law?" and gaily run red lights and park wherever we want. Ever tried to park your car in Taipei? 'Nuff said!

6. The buildings. Sure, we don't have a hideous phallic symbol that looks like a stack of gigantic Chinese takeout boxes occupying expensive land in our swankiest district. What does Taipei 101 really symbolize? Income inequality: as income inequality rises, so does the height of the buildings. Look around Taichung and what do you see? Low buildings, a symbol of equality and of productive people who work for a living. So what if, as my Taipei friend puts it, the towns around here look like Cambodian truck stops. They're affordable. In Taichung rents remain cheap and the price of homes within the reach of the inhabitants ($10,000 a month for my 150 ping house w/backyard. Eat your hearts out, Taipei'ns). Meanwhile ordinary Taipei residents have to buy homes in... Taoyuan. And how about that cost of living? In Taichung you can raise a family of four on a salary that in Taipei forces you to live at home with your pushy controlling parents as an overworked, undersexed singleton, just to save a little money.

7. Culture. In Taipei you have the Lantern Festival, a faux Chinese festival used by corporations for advertising. In Taichung we have one of the largest religious processions in the world, a faux religious event run by gangsters. Much cooler. Taipei is the corporate capital of Taiwan, Taichung is the gangster capital. I ask you, which is cooler? In Taipei the KMT mayors have ruthlessly destroyed many of the city's authentic cultural sites, while in Taichung, we don't have this problem. Because we don't have any authentic cultural sites.

8. Getting away. Taipei is a little bubble of Not Taiwan completely different from everywhere else in Taiwan, a bubble whose walls often prove to be surprisingly strong. You work and work and work, and one day you wake up and realize it's been months since you've been out of the city, and Taiwan itself remains a land unknown to you. We don't have this problem in Taichung. It's really, really easy to leave Taichung.

9. Events. Yeah, you have some events. You've got Color Runs and He110 Ki@@y runs (no city that hosts a He110 Ki@@y event can ever claim to be the cultural capital of anything). Yawn. We have the world famous Jazz Festival and one of Earth's leading bike shows, Taichung Bike Week. And we have... wait, I'm thinkin'...

10. We're in the real Taiwan. Taichung is the real Taiwan, where people work in factories, drive second-hand scooters, and sit in front of 7-11 drinking beer and chatting. Where the elementary school populations are measured in hundreds. Where the split between Blue and Green is 50-50 and our election campaigns are thus true contests and not pointless rituals of KMT dominance. Where gangsters run their wives for elected positions and gravel digging is a major industry. Where the hands down most awesome KTV in Taiwan, the Golden Jaguar, holds sway. Where herds of pachinko parlors and love hotels dot the landscape, a veritable Serengeti of vice. We're Taiwan, while Taipei... "it's Chinatown."

Why does Taichung kick Taipei's butt? Leave your reasons in the comments below...
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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Some Links

Yan jiao, oversize wontons stuffed with pork and served in soup, a Yanshui specialty. They were excellent.

Still crazy busy, should be back online this weekend. Enjoy some links:

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Freedom House Photo/Art contest

Call for Photos and Art

Today, Freedom House will begin accepting submissions for its third annual photo and art contest, Images of Repression and Freedom. We invite professional and amateur photographers and artists to submit photos and other forms of art (i.e. cartoons, prints, paintings, graphic art) that reflect the themes of freedom, political participation, democracy, human rights, and repression.

Semifinalists chosen by Freedom House will be displayed and auctioned as a fundraiser on April 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. The top three winners will be featured on the Freedom House website, Facebook and Twitter, in our newsletter, and will receive a cash prize:

$300 for First Place
$200 for Second Place
$100 for Third Place

Works from any country or region of the world will be considered, but preference will be given to works from countries where freedom is under threat.

To enter, email your entry form and photo in jpeg format to by Monday, March 10, 2014.

For more information and to see selected photos from last year’s auction, please visit the contest website.

The decision to feature submitted photos is the sole discretion of Freedom House. Chosen artists will be notified through email. Photos must be the sole property of the submitter. All submitters agree that any image they submit to Freedom House may be used by Freedom House for marketing and promotional purposes, including for publication in Freedom House printed materials, advertisements, electronic media, Internet, and on Any image used by Freedom House shall carry a credit line of the artist. Copyright and all other rights remain that of the artist. Submitters acknowledge that any money raised by the auction of their work will be a donation to Freedom House, which is tax deductible for U.S. citizens.

For more information on Freedom House visit

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Early Taipei Mayor Election Prognosticatin'


The Taipei Times ran a short piece on Sean Lien, the son of Lien Chan, the former Presidential candidate of the KMT and Honorary Chairman, etc, who is one of Taiwan's wealthiest human beings. The piece hinted at a couple of important issues that a longtime politics watcher in Taipei explained to me over dinner this week. For the first time in a while a victory for the pro-Taiwan side in Taipei may be within reach. The article observes:
Recent opinion polls have suggested that Sean Lien is the favorite to win the Taipei mayoral race, while showing that support for Ko, an independent, is much higher than for other candidates in the pan-green camp.

For the younger Lien, his wealthy background and complicated political and financial connections are issues to be considered in his candidacy bid, in addition to personal safety concerns.

In an interview with FTV on Tuesday night, Lien Chan said he would support his son’s candidacy bid if he decides to run.

As to the KMT reportedly urging Sean Lien to move out of his residence in The Palace (帝寶), a luxury apartment complex in Taipei, Lien Chan said that he and his wife had purchased the apartment unit and asked Sean Lien to move in for security after he was shot in the cheek in 2010 during a campaign rally in New Taipei City (新北市).

In response to concerns that his wealth would have a negative impact on a campaign, Hsu said the apartment was registered under Lien Chan’s wife’s, Lien Fang-yu (連方瑀), name and that Sean Lien did not own the property.
This sequence neatly captures the problem Lien faces. He's fabulously wealthy and The Palace is Taipei's premier address. He's a classic one-percenter, totally out of touch with the experiences of everyday people, apparently lacking in people skills, and owes everything he has to the influence of Dad. The nepotistic transmission of power in the core of the KMT is illustrated by the two Deep Blue sons of security state politicians Hau Pei-tsun (current Mayor Hau) and Lien Chan (likely future mayor Sean Lien) both becoming mayors of Taipei and thus, almost automatically, potential presidential candidates. The KMT core is replicating itself and the mainlander elite's grip on power in the current generation.

Current KMT Mayor Hau is stiff and unprepossessing, but Sean Lien is probably even less appealing. Sean Lien, as my friend pointed out, is an ideal target for a pro-Taiwan, pro-people campaign, an out of touch one-percenter with no people skills.

Enter Ko Wen-je. The discussion has been over whether Ko should join the DPP if he wants its support (for example), but my friend is among the many arguing that this would be an error. By not joining the DPP Ko can campaign as an independent and angle for the votes of "independents" who are by and large light Blues, my friend points out. My own view is that this demographic can be induced to vote non-KMT because it sees itself as a technically capable and educated elite with an open mind voting for the "best" candidate which it pretends to itself that it views largely in technocratic/capability terms, and thus occasional voting for a non-KMT candidate can validate this self-image in the mind of such voters. It can also collect this vote as a protest vote against the lackluster administrations of Hau and predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, as well as a protest vote against the KMT -- it allows them to vote against the KMT without voting for the DPP. Pro-green voters in Taipei can be reassured of Ko's ultimate loyalty -- he's Chen Shui-bian's doctor, after all.

As a doctor, he has a certain visceral appeal -- the island has a long tradition of doctors being political leaders dating back to the Japanese era. Ko also has another angle -- he's casting himself as the future, and the previous lawyer-led generation of the DPP as the past.
"I do not mean to criticize lawyers, but we have to put an end to Taiwan's 'lawyer era.' A lawyer's mission is to stand against injustice and fight an authoritarian regime. They have their value to history and no one should forget their contributions and sacrifices. But this has to go, and Taiwan should enter a civilized era when people start to deal with issues reasonably," he said.
Of course, he can also play the "I am not a politician" card, which is always useful.

The stars are aligning in other ways as well, I should add. Monday I went to a funeral -- not for a person, but for an agency. The Ma Administration is carrying out reforms of the bureaucracy and two key agencies, the RDEC and the CEPD, are being folded into the revamped Ministry of Economic Affairs as the National Development Commission (NDC). No doubt this will centralize delivery of red envelopes lead to increased efficiencies. However, lots of mid-level manager type bureaucrats are seeing their jobs eliminated, and as the reform program unfolds across the government, uncertainty is being created throughout the bureaucracy, whose managers have always opposed the DPP.

Another factor we might see emerging in the next decade is the arrival at middle- and upper-level bureaucracy positions of individuals appointed after the end of martial law, who are likely to be relatively more pro-DPP than their predecessor generations (which were politically vetted to ensure that they had the right pro-KMT politics). This election may be the first to feel the impact, however slight, of this factor.

It would be wonderful if we could see a non-KMT politician in charge of Taipei, Taiwan's gateway to the outside world. I am cautiously optimistic about Taichung, for reasons I will adduce in a later post.

A victory in Taipei hinges, however, on the ability of the DPP to professionally run a real pro-people campaign and then stick to its promises. The DPP has a sad history of riding to power on social justice movements and organizations and then spurning them once in power. Someone should also make sure that Ko has a professional campaign manager who is not a serving politician and has only one job: win the f@cking election.

This year's elections will provide the opportunity for the DPP to campaign on real bread and butter issues: stagnant incomes, the island's insane conditions for ordinary workers, the government's service to big development companies, and so on. The DPP will have the opportunity to craft a positive policy platform and not run merely negatively as Pepsi to the KMT's Coke. Lets hope the DPP can come with some winning ideas and more importantly, erect the kind of local infrastructure it needs to win Taichung and Taipei. Controlling those cities will benefit the Party enormously for 2016....

UPDATED: A friend observes:
Per the comments on your blog about Ko's income, he mentioned that he is losing NT$200,000/month in income while campaigning because he has had to take leave from his jobs as a resident physician and professor of medicine at NTU. That sounds about right since a resident physician makes around NT$100K and as does a full professor. I suspect he draws both salaries but that is probably about it. No he is not allowed to rake in the big bucks on the side by operating a clinic.

That's a pretty good income for a salaried employee, but it hardly makes him a member of the 1%. He's a working stiff like the rest of us.
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Tuesday, January 07, 2014


Welcome to the God Bene Sesame Museum.

Some links....

Daily Links:

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Freezing independence for the DPP?

Lotus in the mud...

The DPP made the news last week with party whip Ker Chien-ming calling for the party to "freeze" its independence plank if it wants to return to power. This proposal was greeted with unicorns and rainbows by Beijing, and summarily rejected by the DPP.

What a coincidence, eh? That's the same Ker who was the subject of KMT Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's alleged influence peddling. That MaWangMess focused on Ma's bizarre attempt to oust Wang, and Ker was sort of ignored with the media and political junkies riveted by the spectacle of Ma suffering abject defeat. No mud landed on him.

Now Ker is coming out with the weird idea of "freezing" independence. Payback for a favor? I'm sure it is all just a coincidence.
Daily Links:

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Rounding up econ blues

Baking sweet potatoes the traditional way.

President Ma's New Years Address laid it out (President's site). The Bloomberg Businessweek report I felt overfocused on the China stuff. The real meet was the call for joining trade blocs. The President called for trade liberalization, as always, pimped his programs, and pillaged the DPP's longtime push for a drive south into ASEAN, but still said moving toward China can save the economy. We're long past that point... As The Guardian observed in an article this week that got forwarded by everyone I know, China is experiencing the same mess Taiwan is, declining manufacturing with rising housing prices.

A housing bubble is the way the financial industry skims off the wealth from the middle class and transfers it to the small circle of the already wealthy. In Taiwan this reservoir of wealth saved by the middle classes during the Miracle Economy is still vast, it is cushioning the young as they move into an economy where wages haven't moved since 1999 and where good jobs are scarce and long, brutal, unpaid hours are the norm. I got in a taxi this morning and saw that the fee had hiked $15 NT. The driver said that was the first hike they'd had in 14 years..... in China the Bubble is driven by many of the same factors driving the Bubble in Taiwan -- (1) the economy will take a massive hit if the government moves to prick the Bubble ( I predict that the Bubble will persist for several more years and that if the DPP is elected it will do nothing about the Bubble); (2) the housing industry/construction is an important conduit/recipient of government funds and helps form links that support local and central government parties and politicians; (3) Chinese want a "root", a house of their own; (4) in Taiwan the tax situation has turned real estate into a tax shelter (is it the same for China?)...

Meanwhile Taiwan is taking a beating from two directions (FocusTaiwan). The falling yen has made Japanese exports more competitive with Taiwanese exports...
In 2013, the yen fell about 21.5 percent against the U.S. dollar, while the Taiwan dollar only depreciated 2.7 percent against the greenback.
 while South Korean has aggressively moved to ink trade agreements with markets that Taiwan exports to. This represents a shift in S Korea's strategy, according to the article. Originally S Korea attempted to drive the won down and compete on price, but now the Korean government has shifted to pushing for lower tariff barriers.

Gonna be a tough 2014. Be well, my readers.
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Wednesday was a fitting day. My close friend Andrew Kerslake of Taiwan in Cycles had his first ride after recovering from a long period of problems, and what could be better than a flat ride through some local history? Drew took me over to a mansion from the 1930s built for a local landlord (his post from a while back with historical data). The building is now a minor historical site and is in a state of complete ruin. He said you used to be able to go upstairs but it is sealed off now. The site is surrounded by ugly modern cookie cutter buildings, sadly.

Location of mansion on southwest side of Taichung city, not far from the HSR station (Google link).

The courtyard looking towards the gate.

The veranda.

Vintage wallpaper?

The house is old enough that trees have sprouted in one of the outer rooms.

Mud bricks were used to construct it. They were faced with....

...a mixture of rice husks.

Guests once greeted in the finest style.

Perhaps they stayed in a room like this

Strolled about the veranda.

Read the latest calendars...

...and newspapers.

Drew studies a window.

Old wooden ceilings on the second floor.

We rode off to another set of old buildings in southwest Taichung, where I've visited before.

The settlement here dates from the 18th century though the houses are probably younger. It's near where Liming Road and Huanzhong Road intersect. You'll see a large temple to the west, turn onto the alley near there.

There are plenty of older buildings.

And some pretty nice old Sanheyuan houses.

You never know what treasures are out there waiting for you...

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