Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Google Says Taiwan is a province

Google is appending "Taiwan Province" to its map products. Drop them a polite line to say this is wrong. It is US policy that Taiwan's status is undecided and Taiwan is not a province of anything.

UPDATE: The Report a problem page for MAPS. You'll probably have to use the box.

UPDATE: To explain why sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't, recall that in the ROC, municipalities are the equal of provinces. Hence you won't see it for Taichung, Taipei, Tainan, K-town, and New Taipei City. Google's usage is inconsistent and silly, because there could never be a "Taiwan Province, Taiwan" but only a Taiwan Province of the ROC or PRC. Stupid and unnecessary, they should just go with "Taiwan."

UPDATE: Haha. They identify Kinmen as "Fujian Province, Taiwan". T'aint no such animal.
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Various Announcements

AmCham Taichung is hosting DPP Taichung mayoral candidate Lin Jia-lung, Tues, Sept 30, 6:30, Tempus Hotel. That's tonight.

The American Institute in Taiwan sent this around, click on READ MORE at bottom to see more:

Absentee Voting Week is September 29-October 6

Be an Active Voter by taking the necessary steps to vote in the 2014 U.S. elections and participating in Absentee Voting Week!

In many states, the voter registration deadline for the November 2014 elections is October 6. For some voters, this might mean their paper voter registration and absentee ballot request must reach their local election officials by October 6. In order to vote in the November 2014 elections, all overseas U.S. citizens need to have completed a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA)in 2014. Whether you are a first-time voter or have already received ballots and voted absentee in past elections, you must complete an FPCA each year to ensure you are able to participate in elections as an overseas absentee voter.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ten Things That Taiwan Does Right

Breakfast on the road

The well known expat blogger Carrie Kellenberger recently posted a list of Ten Things That Taiwan Does Right. My personal ten:

1. No guns and no gun cult.
We have a few gun loons, but guns are thankfully strictly verboten in Taiwan. That means that in Taiwan, road rage almost never turns one person into a corpse and another into a killer. Nor do we have the open carry insanity, or mass killings, or guns in schools (WTF?), or the US' vast gun-related suicide death toll. In Taiwan, only gangsters have guns and for them they function largely as status symbols. For me, from a nation where guns cause 30,000 deaths annually, living in a country where the toxicity of guns is held to very low levels is a kind of security that I never knew in America.

2. Universal health insurance.
Taiwan has one of the best national health insurance programs in the world, and its health care is excellent. I often feel a deep compassion for Americans with their clinically insane health policies which are merely a form of disguised transfers of ever more wealth to the already wealthy.

3. Widespread English.
This has slipped under many a radar, but the Taiwan government's steady promotion of English has meant that Taiwan is far more English-accessible than many of its neighbors. And no matter how isolated the community, it has English speakers. Virtually all important signs are available in English, and most government websites have an English mirror. This is a far cry from when I first arrived in 1989.

4. The Rail System.
I ride it three or four times a week. It's marvelous: reliable, safe, fast, easy to use, and offers many payment methods. I love the rail system here and use it several times a week.

5.  The internet.
This country is wired: the internet in Taiwan is relatively cheap, fast, and reliable. One of the most common complaints I hear from my friends who go to the US is the spotty internet there.

6. Rents are cheap relative to income.
Outside of urban Taipei and a couple of other hotspots Taiwan's rents are very affordable. This, coupled with the inexpensive health insurance and relatively low cost of food, means that you can enjoy a good lifestyle on what appears to be a lower income than the US.

7. Local and national government services are often quick and easy
Lose your driver's license? Renewal takes 5 minutes and costs $200 NT. Need a copy of your Hukou minbu? Two minutes, a small fee. Car inspection? 20 minutes. Permanent ARC? Follow the process and there it is. When I hear the horror stories coming out of the US...

8. Low street crime
It is very unlikely that a foreigner in Taiwan will ever be the subject of random violence, mugging, or a kidnapping. In the wee hours you can walk around in the streets or major cities without fear.

9.  Asia is right next door. 
I dreamed of Asia when I was a lad. Now I live it, with inexpensive flights available to every country in Asia. And I am still a lad.

10. Changes are for the better
Taiwan has changed immensely over the two decades I have lived here and followed events. The island is constantly evolving, and for us foreigners, most things are getting better, easier, and more convenient. That is likely to continue for some time to come.

What are your ten?
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Ma-Xi Meet Up and Other Xit

A curve on the Hsinchu 60. There used to be a giant statue of an aboriginal warrior on that platform above the road, but it toppled off.

By pounding on Hong Kong, Xi is losing Taiwan says a piece at The American Interest today.
But their stance on Hong Kong has already had a significant knock-on effect in another area of concern for China: Taiwan. Though Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, was seen as gingerly steering his country towards gradual and eventual unification with the mainland, recent events in Hong Kong have created a political consensus that reunification is just not going to work.
Recent events did not create this consensus. Taiwanese have been anti-annexation for as long as there have been credible polls (preference for status quo always meant that, and now polls routinely show majority support for independence). Ma is just making noise -- everyone knows he wants to annex the island to China. Nevertheless, the main point is correct: the crackdown on Hong Kong is further strengthening Taiwan's desire to avoid annexation to China. Indeed, there were solidarity protests in Taiwan yesterday.

No, the real signal China is sending in its crackdown on Hong Kong is that it has given up any pretense that "one country, two systems" is meaningful. That is why China's president Xi reiterated it to Taiwan even as Beijing was preparing its response to its betrayal of its promises for Hong Kong: that reiteration in that context demonstrated its emptiness. It springs from the same well of sociopathology under which Beijing makes the families of executed individuals pay for their own bullets, or commits border infractions with a country it is negotiating with. Beijing knows perfectly well that 1C2S is unacceptable to Taiwan.

No, what we should be reading from this is that Xi is no longer trying to seriously put forth this policy. In that case, what will the real policy be? What else can it be but war....?

In a Le Figaro interview this week Ma said that he hopes to meet Xi of China in November. If so, it will be pure political theater, a distraction from all the pro-annexation moves he's made over the last seven years: ECFA, the tourism increases, the attempts to get Chinese labor over here, the indifference to Chinese overstaying visas in Taiwan, the tolerance for pro-annexation gang activity and gangsters, the drive to integrate Taiwan with China financially, and others. The international media will of course go apexit over it, ignoring all the really important stuff. But at present there's no hint that Ma will ever pay his respects to the Dragon Throne while President of the ROC.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Election Collection

A candidate in Yunlin county hangs a sign at a junction of minor roads.

Well, the November local elections are coming up in less than two months. Once again, a view of some of the election posters I've seen in my travels in the last few weeks. No sign of President Ma on any KMT signs! A sure sign of his (un)popularity. Click on READ MORE to see more.

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Rode the Hsinchu 60 this weekend. Had to quit partway up, insomnia once again killing a ride for me. But it's really lovely up there.

With exquisite timing, President Xi of China once again proposed one country, two systems for Taiwan, even as Hong Kong students and their supporters are involved in mass protests over the failure of that program. It's fascinating to watch as the world media have their eyes on Hong Kong, while similar and much larger protests in Taiwan were largely ignored or covered pro forma. Enjoy some links as the protests in Hong Kong continue...
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Brian Benedictus and Me: The Coming Taiwan Independence Surge at Ketagalan Media =UPDATE=

Alishan Tea Farms

UPDATE: Chinese version

Ketagalan Media was kind enough to host our piece on The Coming Taiwan Independence Surge. A taste:
The fact that the occupation of the Taiwan legislature by student activists earlier this spring was woefully under-reported, is disappointing for a number of reasons. Primarily, the world missed an opportunity to see the changes in social and political identities sweeping across the island nation. These generational changes that are taking place in Taiwan, along with external factors such as China’s treatment of Hong Kong and its increasing bellicosity in its littoral areas, are going to reshape local politics in a way that suggests in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be a powerful new impetus for independence in Taiwan.
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They Hate Us for Our Freedom

The view from the lovely Chiayi 149.

My friend Faye writes up her story on Facebook of trying to get US citizenship for her child. Most of this is not due to AIT, but rather to Congress. Note how the law punishes you if you're a single mother...


How I proved that Zephyr had the right to US Citizenship -- Or How the West Wind was (Not?) Won -- Or Why Being an American is Nothing But Stress

The American Institute in Taiwan is the organization that acts as an "embassy" in Taiwan, since Taiwan has no status as a nation in the world. They force me to make an appointment on the website, but the first time I go to the website, it is broken. I have to take a US$50 40 minute taxi ride to get there with the baby. When I get there, I have to go through security checks that I have never seen visiting any public office in Taiwan, but which are all too familiar to Americans. Metal detectors, leave your phone and your laptop downstairs in their custody. I get inside and there are no elevators, but the office where I have to get papers for Zephyr is on the third floor. I proceed to carry Zephyr up and down these stairs in his stroller at least four times, as I try to collect all the things I need to get this done.

They have no one to take a photo for you in the building, so you have to go across the street to a private vendor. The Taiwanese photographer was so nice, he made extra copies for me and gave me the originals on a flash drive. When he heard that I don't get many photos with the baby, he took some extras just so I could have more happy photos with Zephyr, no charge.

First, I was told over email that I would need to have his birth certificate translated, and that I can do it myself, so I did. When I got there, they didn't like it. They wanted me to write on it that I had translated it myself, like they didn't trust me. Later, they insisted that I needed to get a special English version of the birth certificate from the Taiwanese government... pushing their paperwork onto the Taiwanese government. I didn't see what the point was, since everything on the form was then provided by me and translated by me anyway. But I did it, I went back to the clinic where I got my original birth certificate, and I wrote down on the form exactly the same information I had written in my own translation... Paid someone else to type it up. Took extra time.

Second, their website said that they could accept cash or credit card, but it turned out that their credit card machine was down that day, so it was back to only cash. I only find this out at the end of the process, so I have to carry the stroller up and down again to find an ATM to pay the exorbitant US$100 fee for Consular Report of Birth Abroad and US$105 fee for passport (US$205 total). Taiwanese birth certificate costs negative money, in fact, they gave me a gift of US$300 for having a baby, and a Taiwanese 10-year passport costs US$45 and has a turnaround time of FOUR DAYS, standard, not rushed!

Third, they informed me only after I got to the office that according to the US government, if the mother of the child is presenting her identification as an American citizen when a child is born out of wedlock in another country, I have to prove that I was ever in the United States without leaving the country for an entire year. Ever, in my entire lifetime. This would seem like a simple thing, since I have been in the United States since I was six years old and now I am 40. There are thousands of such year stints that I could point to. However, if you look into this, there is actually no way to prove this. This law really needs to be scrubbed from the books, because it is meaningless and a total stupid run around, but there's no one who will ever accomplish this task. Anyone who runs into this law will be too busy being a single mom to ever get this changed, and no one else cares about us.

In order to prove this strange requirement, I am told the only thing that would work is a transcript from either high school or college, plus summer school, or prove that I was working during the summer between semesters, or pay stubs from a year of work, or IRS records showing that I was working for a full year. I found all of these things to have no relevance to whether I was in the country without leaving, since I lived in lots of places where I could easily take a day trip to Mexico or Canada, and it wouldn't leave any trace anywhere or matter if I was in school or at work. However, that is what the AIT wanted, so I went off to find these things.

The high school was very kind about transcript, but they had to go dig up microfiche from some basement for me, I'm THAT old. UC Berkeley transcript office cost money to send transcripts, AND if you ask for one online, there's no way to get it sent to Taiwan because there was an error in the website form. The AIT agent kept insisting that it was easy to do, just click the link, but after she took the time to click it herself, it turned out that I was right, of course. I didn't have any paystubs with me... who travels with a year of paystubs, are you kidding me??

I called the IRS for my full tax transcript, and they could offer me some, but none were available for the years when I was in college, because I was a student worker, and it was too long ago. Besides, it wouldn't say "what month" or days I worked, only that I filed a form and paid some taxes. There was a whole series of calls to the IRS. The first one, I waited for an hour while listening to hold music, then they told me I would have to be standing next to a fax machine when they fax me the transcript. The second one, I went down to the 7-11 where I could receive faxes, and I waited for an hour, only to find out after all the explaining that their computer system was down. The third one, I went down to the 7-11 and waited for an hour, where my phone gradually ran out of batteries down to the last second, when they said, we hit send, but sometimes it takes the system 20 minutes to actually send it... and I kept having to keep the fax machine turned on by pushing buttons to prevent it from auto-shut down every few minutes. AND I never got the fax. Mind you, I did all this with baby Zephyr in tow, when he was only about 5 months old.

I explained the problems trying to get information to the people at the AIT, and after much discussion they said... we know what you have to do to meet the burden of proof. You have to go to the Taiwanese government and get a full record of all the times you entered and exited Taiwan. Good grief, so they push their own paperwork onto the Taiwanese government, and then what exactly does that prove? It proves when I was in Taiwan, but it says nothing about all the times I went to Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark?!? What the hell are they really getting at? It's just a huge stress for no benefit to anyone. How is it protecting or serving anybody in the US to give Zephyr and I a hard time?

I went to the Taiwanese government office and got this record in fifteen minutes, US$3, using both of my passports (Taiwanese and US), and I made one more trip to AIT to submit my papers. I asked the Taiwanese agents, do you get a lot of people from AIT? and he growled and said, yes, ever since 9/11, the Americans have lost their minds and treat everyone like terrorists. Phew! And that's how Zephyr got his US Citizenship papers, and the start of completely irrational, unreasonable control and danger to him. No terrorists are out to get Taiwanese people.
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Sean Lien: another slick ad

KMT silverspooner Sean Lien's latest Taipei mayor election ad, which opens: "just as a flower cannot live without sunlight, so people cannot live without hope." Bringing the hope, is our Sean.

The "God Pig", as he's been nicknamed, after the pigs fattened and then ritually killed for local religious festivals, is going for the younger set with this ad again. Like many local ads, it uses the theme of hope, and says nothing about specific policies -- even in the abstract, nothing like "I'll attack high housing prices" or "I'll clean up the Keelung River". Just sheer vagueness. No wonder all polls show him ten points down.

The final image shows Lien (who's lost a lot of weight, or else some really expensive software has been used) standing among a crowd of young people, lily-white. The KMT vision of Taiwan.....

Other news: KMT radio host threatened with party discipline for criticizing the party's candidate in the Taipei mayoral election. Also looks like Lien's campaign is starting to fray under stress. What an awful candidate he is, and yet, he's gonna collect a lot of votes.
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Why Taiwan Nationalism Exists

Heron now.

The Taipei Times reports on the regional disparities in the central government development budget:
According to the Ministry of Finance, Taipei is to receive NT$36.3 billion (US$1.2 billion), averaging NT$10 billion more than the New Taipei City and Greater Kaohsiung, which have larger populations than Taipei.

Taipei would receive an average of NT$13,500 per resident, almost double the amount per resident in New Taipei City, Yilan, Changhua and Hsinchu counties.

According to Ministry of Finance, fund distribution next year — not including a special overall planning fund — is estimated at NT$225 billion, a NT$17.3 billion increase from last year.

A total of NT$205 billion is to be distributed among 22 local governments, with NT$19.4 billion to be shared among townships, the ministry data said.

The five special municipalities and Taoyuan County, which is due to become the nation’s sixth special municipality on Dec. 25, are to receive more than NT$145.6 billion of the fund, the data showed.
The essence of colonialism is that it is extractive. The colonizer extracts resources from the colonized population and transfers them back to its own people. In the Taiwan case, that is Taipei sucking resources out of the south and spending them on the heavily pro-KMT city. This arrangement is one reason why Taipei people vote for the KMT year after year -- it results in concrete lifestyle benefits. The amazing metro system in Taipei is possible only because people in Pingtung and Chiayi are starved for development funds they need.

Why do the South and Center feel colonized? Simple: resources go out, but they don't come back. In recent years several cities have upgraded to the municipality level to gain a greater share of the nation's development resources. Currently the Act Governing the Allocation of revenues calls for 43% of revenue to go to special municipalities (Taipei, New Taipei, K-town, Taichung, and Tainan) and 57% to everywhere else. One reason the north gets away with more is that when Tainan and Taichung upgraded, they merged the city proper with the surrounding county, meaning that they got only modest total increases in funds, since the county and city had separate funding. New Taipei City, however, was not required to merge with anything, meaning that New Taipei City saw real increases in development funding, and the north continues to dominate in development funding.

As you can see, Taipei continues to retain more than its share, and yet as a center of headquarters, government, and finance, it produces nothing tradeable, just services (nearly half the nation's services are produced in Taipei). The real work of Taiwan takes place elsewhere, with Kaohsiung and Taoyuan (due to be upgraded to a municipality this year) producing nearly a third of the nation's industrial production. The independence sentiment so strong in central and southern Taiwan is the direct result of this transfer of resources out of the productive regions of Taiwan into Taipei. Note that Greater Kaohsiung's population is larger than Taipei's but it gets a smaller amount of development funding than Taipei.

This is why the DPP has consistently attempted to move government functions, and the government itself, out of Taipei and elsewhere. Just this year the Ma Administration recalled the Fisheries Agency to Taipei...
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Typhoon day links

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

Batten down the hatches -- a tropical storm is hitting us tomorrow and Sunday.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Well Organized Crime

Damselflies, always a treat.

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

American Citizens for Taiwan Voter Guide

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Toilets. Necessary when you're discussing politicians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juicy Stuff from LSE Comparing Hong Kong and Taiwan

Mountain of stimulants

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

Book Reviews
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

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

This dog is not to happy about it either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVENT: First Taiwan International Queer Film Festival

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

UPDATE: Good article here.

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

Industrial storage?

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

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

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

Oil Theatre, Act II, Scene 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tsengwen Reservoir

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

Washington Wants You

Not even she can save the ordinary Americans overseas.

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

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

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

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

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

Oil Theatre

Tea farms outside Shijhuo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, I don't even know why I am writing this post.
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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Does anyone know... UPDATED!

...what kind of bug this is? This is the second time I've photographed one. Strangest bug I've ever seen.

Yay! Someone at Reddit identified it as a debris carrying lacewing larva (images).
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Links and comments

This little guy has been hanging round our screen door for the last couple of days. I've been trying to get a shot of him. What a pleasure to finally get a good shot.

No time to blog....
  • Hanjie's Blog: Matsu -- trip + pics
  • Thinking Taiwan: when surveys become propaganda instruments: the recent survey parading around FocusTaiwan and other pro-KMT sites is an example of the ugliness to which the dark side will stoop.
  • Shocked, just shocked to hear the Taiwanese investors are superstitious and irrational, according to the Economist. Sometimes I get tired of the Othering that lies behind this sort of thing: "they" are different from "us". Actually, Americans are worse. Gregg Easterbrook at ESPN's TMQ, who sometimes is right, observed this week about the way hedge fund managers abuse those who are dumb enough to imagine that they are making super secret deals, but in reality could just buy an index fund and make more money.:
    Making super-secretive deals -- even if they turn out to be super-secretive bad deals -- is used by money managers to justify their outsized pay. Last week some Harvard alums released numbers the university's money managers have been trying to keep quiet. (The alums are unhappy with the university's self-indulgent use of money. Harvard's endowment is sufficient that every undergraduate could attend free, but instead university insiders live in luxury while alums are dunned for more donations, a topic this column will return to later this autumn with my annual endowment-abuse item.) The alums found that Harvard's endowment has a 324-person staff with an average annual income of $410,000, captained by the recently departed Jane Mendillo, who paid herself $5 million a year. For doing a terrible job! Harvard would have ended up ahead by laying off 323 of its money managers and instructing the remaining one to call the 800 number of Vanguard. But then there would have been no mysticism about secret investment formulas and no excuse to divert huge paydays to unproductive white-collar cronies of Harvard's administration.
    Read the whole section on TMQ, it's superb. I just finished Grey Wolf, Grey Sea, the story of the U-124, one of Germany's most successful U-boats, and in it there's a blurb about a U-boat captain who was so superstitious that he would only set courses divisible by the number 7. On the U-124 itself chocolate pudding was banned after allied vessels attacked the boat three different times after it was served. Such superstitious and irrational behavior is a staple in every society.... it's not just "they" who are irrational. It's everyone... Ok, I admit fan death is in a class by itself.
  • The Economist scribes on Chang An-lo and his pro-unification politics.
  • And so it begins: Ko Wen-je, the non-KMT candidate for mayor of Taipei, starts with the stupidity with just a few weeks to go in the election. This last month promises to be very entertaining, if comments as stupid as this are any indication: “I’ve always believed that during Chiang Ching-kuo’s era, there were strict regulations on government officials’ ethics, as well as on relationships between government and business — this should become a model in politics for all those in power to learn from.” This is a common trope among individuals in Ko's generation, despite the fact that they all lived through the era and knew how completely corrupt it was. Loose lips are going to sink the Ko ship if he is not careful. And I don't think he will be...
  • Article asks what China thinks about the Ukraine crisis. The article says: "Put simply, does Beijing see the Ukraine Crisis as demonstrating the West’s weakness when confronted by a determined and capable challenger?" Umm no. What China thinks is simple -- the brain trust in Beijing is ROFLMAO at the US investing all this time and energy and social capital in sideshows like the Middle East and the Ukraine when the main event is coming soon out here. 
  • Speaking of shenanigangs shenanigans before the election, gangsters shot up the police here in Taichung this week. That will go down well with the public just before the election... Taichung Amcham has a whole page on Taichung area news, maintained by the totally hot, awe-inspiring Courtney Donovan Smith.
  • China's land reclamation in the Spratlys is going to screw everything up. But Japan has already set this precedent.
  • Chinese scholar says democracy would be bad for Hong Kong because, well, democracy is too communist.
  • NOTE: Drew and I were just predicting a crime boom if Lin beats Hu for Taichung. Can ya think why?
  • We're in the grip of another food scandal here this week as an oil producer who sold to several major brands, including Wei Chuan, probably the most trusted food brand in Taiwan, and 85C (bread products) admitted to re-using scrap oil in its products. Clearly the problem is too much regulation....
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!