Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Political Theatricals: The Awful Legislature: the Sequel and Procrastination II: F-35s

A mudskipper at Gaomei Wetlands. 在高美濕地. 彈塗魚.

O how beautifully staged! Finance Minister Christian Liu offers to resign because -- in a move no one could have predicted -- the legislature has gutted the proposed capital gains tax....
Minister of Finance Christina Liu (劉憶如) offered to resign yesterday after a capital gains tax she enthusiastically proposed was rejected by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers at a meeting on Monday.


The KMT caucus proposal was far from meeting her expectations of the ability-to-pay principle, because major earners in the stock market would not be required to pay a capital gains tax under this version, she said.
Readers will recall that Christina Liu was one of the front people for the smear of Tsai Ing-wen over the TaiMed case before the election. I thought she might resign then, but she didn't. Perhaps they were preserving her for this moment... she resigns to show that the Administration is Serious About Capital Gains Tax and the legislature then does what the KMT really wants to do -- remember that the legislature is controlled by the KMT and President Ma is Chairman of the KMT Party. All of this is just political theater for the masses: when the smoke clears, capital gains of major earners will still not be taxed, but the Administration can say it tried but alas, couldn't get the perfidious legislature to do what it wanted.

The WSJ has a very detailed discussion from the redoutable Jenny Hsu.  It observes:
"The KMT's proposal apparently favors stock investors and conglomerates which have big positions in the market," said Kevin Wang, an economist at Taishin Securities, who added, "It would be embarrassing to Liu if she stays on."
Naturally, the stock market spiked nearly 3% on the news that KMT legislators were making law on behalf of the 1%.

To complete the cycle, another round of polls will show that the public believes the legislature is the worst public institution in Taiwan, watchdog bodies will publish stern reports, and in the next election, the legislators will all be returned to their seats. Us observers of Taiwan politics will then shake our heads and retire to commiserate with our friend Jack Daniels.

This political theater has another function: with all the focus on the capital gains tax, people have stopped discussing another driver of income inequality -- the assessment of land value, which has not changed since 1987.

Speaking of theatre, how about those F-35s? Last week J Michael Cole in The Diplomat argued that discussion of F-35s was there to take the focus off F-16s and enable the KMT to procrastinate about getting fighter jets as it has now for a decade. By shifting the demand to F-35s, which Taiwan can't afford and which it will never get, the KMT can plausibly claim that it is looking out for the defense of Taiwan. Sure enough, just today the TT reported:
F-35 stealth fighters are the new-generation combat aircraft that best serve the nation’s air defense needs, a military official said yesterday, the latest hint that the government might not be as keen to acquire the F-16C/Ds it has been requesting for years.
It was the DPP government that requested the 66 F-16s, which the US doesn't want to sell, and which the KMT government doesn't want. Keep your eye on the ball -- if at the end of another four years, we have no new fighters, the function of talking about F-35s should become clear.

The only positive interpretation is that the talk of F-35s is for China's benefit, to enable the US to sell Taiwan F-16s as a "consolation prize." Well, we couldn't get F-35s but at least we got something. But I really don't believe that...
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Daily Links, May 28, 2012

Enjoy the view....

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

DPP Chairmanship Vote Results

Enjoy some links since I am too tired to blog today. The new DPP Chairman is Su Tseng-chang. Here are the results of the election, just flipped to me:

Total votes 163,808
turnout rate 68.62%

Su Tseng-chang 55,894 50.47%
Su Huan-chih 23,281 21.02%
Chai Trong-rong 12,497 11.28%
Wu Rong-i 16,315 14.73%
Hsu Hsin-liang 2,763 2.49%

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jamestown Brief: Organized crime follows China trade

On numerous occasions on this blog I've identified cross-strait organized crime as a major beneficiary of increased Taiwan-China trade (see, for example Art Theft in Taiwan and China). These links are now being forged internationally, reports the Jamestown Brief.
In April 2012, authorities in the prosperous and generally peaceful Caribbean nation of Belize intercepted a shipment of precursor chemicals sent from China and apparently bound for representatives of the Mexican cartel “Los Zetas.” The shipment—sufficient to produce an estimated $10 billion in methamphetamines—highlights growing criminal ties between China and Latin America that have accompanied, but, to date, have lagged behind the exponential growth of trade and investment between the two regions (7 Belize News, April 11).

The limited amount of publicly available evidence suggests that criminal activity spanning the two regions is concentrated in five current or emerging domains: (1) extortion of Chinese communities in Latin America by groups with ties to China; (2) trafficking in persons from China, through Latin America, to ultimately smuggle Chinese into the United States or Canada; (3) trafficking in narcotics and precursor chemicals; (4) trafficking in contraband goods; and (5) money laundering.
Doesn't bode well for the future....
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Yushan to have higher price for foreigners. Sign the petition

The bad news and petition are online here:
We are very concerned at Yushan National Park’s plan to introduce a double-pricing system for hikers staying at Paiyun Lodge on Jade Mountain, when the lodge re-opens. While we are grateful that ARC-holding foreign residents are exempt from paying the higher rate, we feel that charging foreign visitors over three times the rate applicable to local and foreign resident climbers is both unfair and liable to create negative publicity for both Yushan National Park and the Taiwanese tourism industry in general. This policy could also set a worrying precedent, possibly encouraging other key tourist attractions in Taiwan to start their own dual-pricing system....
Please take a moment and sign the petition...
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Friday, May 25, 2012

J Michael Cole in The Diplomat

Panorama of Taitung and its basin from Rte 197.

Over at The Diplomat in its flashpoints blog, the intrepid J Michael Cole of the Taipei Times has a piece on how the F-35 can be used to ensure that the F-16s never arrive....
Whether the international consortium, led by Lockheed Martin Corp, will eventually succeed in making the troubled [F-35] work is an intellectual exercise that has already been carried out elsewhere. What is already known, however, is that the aircraft has become prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, and more relevant in the present case, the F-35 involves systems and attributes that could make the U.S. extremely reluctant to sell the aircraft to Taiwan, for fear that the advanced technology would be transferred to China. Despite improving relations in the Taiwan Strait in recent years, China continues to aggressively target the Taiwanese military and would undoubtedly make a platform such as the F-35B a primary target of such activity.

Meanwhile, other options, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale, remain off the table, as the EU doesn’t want to risk Beijing’s wrath by selling arms to Taiwan.

The F-35 could therefore become a convenient tool to kill the F-16C/D program while maintaining the politically useful illusion that Taipei remains committed to national defense. While there’s no doubt that requests for the advanced aircraft are heartfelt within the military, there’s reason to doubt that the same applies to Taiwan’s National Security Council and the Presidential Office.
What he means is that pursuit of the F-16 can now be quietly abandoned with the announcement that the F-35 is now the target. Since the F-35 will never be sold to Taiwan, as J Michael notes, pursuit of the F-35 is tantamount to a decision not to buy new fighters at all. While the KMT and President Ma have made lots of right-sounding noises, it seems pretty clear, at least to this observer, that they do not want Taiwan to have any new fighters, given that they killed discussion of the bill to purchase the fighters over 60 times in the legislature, including when Ma was Chairman of the KMT.....
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What earth does Conn Hallinan live on?

193 just north of Rueisuei in the Rift Valley.

Conn Hallinan has another one of his pro-China pieces appearing on various progressive websites on the net. It's a good example of how people on the left view China and its associated issues through 40 year old Cold War glasses that cast the US as the root of all evil of the world, and don't seem to grasp the simple fact that just because US foreign policy is heinous does not mean that other nations are not heinous as well (and may well be even worse). As with his previous pieces, Hallinan also seems to have no access to Google and lives in a pro-Beijing fantasy world to boot. Sad.

The piece was posted at Counterpunch but may be found elsewhere. He begins by correctly deploring the arms race now quietly taking place in Asia, but resolutely refuses to assign the blame for it to Chinese expansionism. The whole piece is an artful pro-China construction, but this paragraph is a classic:
China is prickly about its home waters—one can hardly blame it, given the history of the past 100 years—but there is no evidence that it is expansionist. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in February “No country, including China, has claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.” Nor does Beijing seem eager to use military force. Beijing has drawn some lessons from its disastrous 1979 invasion of Vietnam.
Since unlike Hallinan my readers are all familiar with the dreary history of Chinese expansionism, I won't go over that here. Suffice to say that the Tibetans or the Vietnamese or the Taiwanese or the Uyghurs would find the claim that "there is no evidence that it is expansionist" a bit incredible. Rather, I'd like to draw attention to the way, with the phrase "China's home waters" reconstructs international waters -- the South China Sea is mentioned in the previous paragraph! -- which no emperor of China ever claimed and to which Beijing's claims are entirely modern and post-WWI, as "China's home waters." Ugh.

I also like the way that he piously repeats China's foreign minister's statement that no one claims the entire South China Sea without mentioning that China has, indeed, done just that through the infamous Cow's Tongue map. This is an exceptionally odious example of cherry picking. It would be easy to find 100s of belligerent statements from Chinese officials observing that the South China Sea is Chinese and the nations around it are "playing with fire." Naturally Hallinan throughout the piece presents only China's views; we never get to hear Taiwanese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, or Vietnamese voices.

This construction of "China's home waters" appears above as well in this fulsome wave of historical and ideological sewage.....
China’s more assertive posture in the region stems largely from the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis that saw two U.S. carriers humiliate Beijing in its home waters. There was little serious danger of war during the crisis—China does not have the capability to invade Taiwan—but the Clinton Administration took the opportunity to demonstrate U.S. naval power. China’s naval build-up dates from that incident.
Yes, you read that correctly: Hallinan writes about the 1995-6 Straits Crisis without ever mentioning that it was caused by China firing missiles into the waters off Taiwan during and prior to a democratic election! Instead, Beijing is "humiliated" -- the victim! Let's quote Wiki:
Beijing intended to send a message to the Taiwanese electorate that voting for Lee Teng-hui in the 1996 presidential election meant war. A third set of PLA tests from March 8 to March 15 (just shortly preceding the March 23 election), sent missiles within 25 to 35 miles (just inside the ROC's territorial waters) off the ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung. Over 70 percent of commercial shipping passed through the targeted ports, which were disrupted by the proximity of the tests. Flights to Japan and trans-Pacific flights were prolonged by ten minutes because airplanes needed to detour away from the flight path. Ships traveling between Kaohsiung and Hong Kong had to take a two-hour detour.
Omission of this vital fact suggests that Hallinan is either totally incompetent or a complete shill for Beijing. But let's look at his other claim, which says that China's "more assertive posture" and its military build up date from the missile test crisis in 1995-6. If you run a quick Google Search, you find this CRS report on China's naval modernization program. It observes in a footnote to the discussion on when the build-up began:
China ordered its first four Russian-made Kilo-class submarines in 1993, and its four Russian-made Sovremennyclass destroyers in 1996. China laid the keel on its first Song (Type 039) class submarine in 1991, its first Luhu (Type 052) class destroyer in 1990, its Luhai (Type 051B) class destroyer in 1996, and its first Jiangwei I (Type 053 H2G) class frigate in 1990.
First-in-class ships whose keels were laid down in 1990 or 1991 (see previous footnote) likely reflect design work done in the latter 1980s.
Anyone with any experience of China knows perfectly well it is a common tactic of Chinese apologists to treat Chinese expansionism as a defensive response to Western perfidy by pointing to incidents like this. China's military build up began long before Clinton decided to put US aircraft carriers into international waters (not "China's home waters") to support Taiwan during a democratic election. Once again, one is stuck with the choice that either Hallinan is Google-challenged or else he is shilling for Beijing.

It is easy to rip a piece as incompetent and transparently pro-Beijing as this one, but on a deeper level, the widespread appearance of this piece on Left-oriented websites highlights the ongoing problems of (1) progressive neglect of Asia in general -- lefties can always find room for another 10,000 words for the Middle East but the continent of the future, the factory of the world, barely rates a mention in the Lefty web world; and (2) specific neglect of Taiwan and its democracy among progressives; and (3) deep misunderstandings and misrepresentations of China, especially treating it as exotic and exceptional.

This kind of ignorance and neglect is doubly wrong: one on hand, it is totally discrediting since it is utterly at odds with reality; on the other, it leaves China policy to the Right. Progressives can't default the China issue to what they claim are a bunch of warmongers (let alone actually supporting Beijing as Hallinan does here) and then complain that US policy is warmongering -- that's painfully similar to liberal Christians who do not proselytize and then complain that all the new religious growth is among fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, out in reality, a Japanese commentator writing at Project Syndicate scribes on China's ever-expanding core interests:

Moreover, at a meeting in Beijing earlier this month between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a trilateral summit with South Korea, Wen mentioned the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Senkaku Islands in the same breath. “It is important to respect China's core interests and issues of major concern,” he emphasized.

Until that moment, the Chinese government had never applied the term “core interest” to the Senkaku Islands. Following Wen’s statement, the trilateral summit deteriorated. While South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held bilateral talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, talks between Noda and Hu, and a scheduled meeting between Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, were also canceled. The joint declaration issued at the summit was delayed a day, and omitted all references to North Korea – a prime concern of both Japan and South Korea.

China’s brusque treatment of Japan’s leaders probably was intended as a rebuke not only over the Senkaku Islands issue, but also for hosting the Fourth General Meeting of the World Uyghur Congress in Tokyo in May. Previously, such meetings had been held in Germany and the United States, and this one, which stressed the importance of protecting human rights and preserving the traditions, culture, and language of the Uyghur people, received no official sanction or endorsement from the Japanese government.

If gruff diplomacy was the only manifestation of China’s expansive territorial claims, Asian leaders could sleep more peacefully. But the fact is that China’s navy is becoming increasingly active in the South China Sea, at the Senkaku Islands and Scarborough Shoal in particular, but also around the Spratly Islands claimed by Vietnam. Given China’s mushrooming military budget and secretiveness, that assertiveness has set off alarm bells among the other countries bordering the South China Sea.
What a relief to read a piece from someone who knows what's going on....
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Four Day East Coast Loop

For the first time in a couple of months I took a little mini-vacation of four days of riding on the east coast. Arriving in Hualien on Friday night, on Saturday morning we rode 90 kms down Highway 11 to Changbin and overnighted there. On Sunday we did another 90 kms to Taitung. Our little group split up on Sunday, but on Sunday night I met up with my friend Andrew Bott. On Monday the two of us took the 197 over the low ridges on the east side of the Rift Valley from Taitung to Chihshang, then finished with a 50 km sprint to Rueisuei to pile up 120 kms on the day. On Tuesday we rolled back to Hualien, 75 kms. Just under 400 kms for the four days for me. Moving a bit slowly today at school...... click on READ MORE for pics and discussion...

Military Deliveries Continue: minesweepers

Wow! Tough to get back into the mood to blog again, after spending four days on the east coast biking. I'll take a look at Ma's second inaugural speech tomorrow....

But this report is typical of the kinds of things that Taiwan needs if it is to resist Chinese aggression.... The Washington Times reports:
The two Osprey class vessels - the world’s second largest mine hunters - are expected to be delivered in the second half of this year, a navy spokesman said, declining to provide a more specific time frame.

The two vessels, which were decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 2006, are being retrofitted and are scheduled to be handed over to Taiwan in July, the state Central News Agency said.


The sale of the two vessels is part of a $6.4 billion arms deal that includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and communications equipment for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet of fighter jets.
F-16s may be more glamorous, but support vessels like this are just as important, and no navy ever has enough of them. Two are hardly enough for Taiwan, except perhaps to serve as platforms for training and testing for the Taiwan navy. Andrew Erickson, Lyle Goldstein, and William Murray -- all names you should know from reading this blog -- cover China's minelaying capabilities in this long and detailed essay. As they note in the opening pages, mines are an important component of Chinese naval thinking, and Taiwan's vulnerability to a mines makes a mine-based blockade a tempting strategy for the PRC to pursue.

Note that even if Taiwan manages to deny the PRC control of the skies over Taiwan, the ROC navy is hardly in a position to prevent the PRC from mining local waters. Mines don't actually have to sink any ships to be effective; they merely have to be present in enough numbers to convince shipping insurance firms to jack up rates high enough that no one can afford to ship to Taiwan. The number of mines that might cause insurance firms to balk at insuring ships bound for Taiwan is surely not very great....

Also apropo: Chinese counterfeit parts infest US military aircraft. And China to build two more aircraft carriers.
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Friday, May 18, 2012

On the road

On the road all weekend, probably not back here until Tuesday. Contemplate one of my daughter's artworks instead.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Algae Reefs of Taoyuan

Hang glider's photo showing waste water emerging from pipe, from Taipei Times.

It is clear that if you want the EPA to actually bestir itself, it's best that you report the industrial pollution on....Facebook....(TT)
Responding to photographs taken by civilians from the air near Taoyuan County’s Guanyin Beach (觀音海水浴場) on Saturday, showing polluted black water along the shore, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said it had examined the water on Monday and would continue to investigate the source of the pollution.

Photographs of the polluted water, about 200m north of the beach, were shot from a hang glider on Friday and posted on the Internet by the owner, and picked up by the media on Monday.
The EPA said it suspected that the waste had come from factories in a nearby industrial district. It added:
Bureau of Environmental Inspection Inspector General Chen Shyan-heng (陳咸亨) said that to protect the rare algal reefs along the shore from pollution by the numerous factories in Guanyin and Dayuan (大園) townships, the EPA and the local environmental protection agency had made a plan to strengthen inspections of water pollution along four rivers in the area.

The number of inspection officers at the bureau is limited, so the EPA encourages people to report cases of pollution or damage to the administration whenever they are discovered, Chen said.
Now read the FocusTaiwan piece:
The environmental authorities have been applauded by residents of the area for "taking the initiative" to investigate the reported case of pollution. However, a cultural association in Guanyin Towship said it had informed the the county's environmental bureau several times about the coastal pollution, but the bureau never took any responsive action.

"The government is simply numb," complained Pan Chung-cheng, president of the Dakuxi Cultural Association. He said he hopes that now the central government is paying attention to the matter, the relevant authorities will put forth a real solution to the problem.

Below are excerpts of reports by the United Daily News, a major Taiwanese newspaper, on the "black sea" incident:


After seeing the Facebook post, the EPA began scrambling the next day to investigate the matter.

Pan Cheng-chung, a local cultural association leader, said it was no secret that many factories inside the Guanyin Industrial Park have "hidden pipes" that transport waste water to the sea, where the precious algae reefs have been mostly destroyed.

Pan said when he saw the photo on May 13, he followed a map and walked inland from the coast for less than 200 meters where he found a dye factory that he believed was releasing waste water into the sea.
The Taoyuan County environmental bureau went to test the water but said that the factory had probably been alerted by the media reports and may not have released any waste water that day. Despite this, they charged the factory with violating the pollution prevention act, with a maximum fine of NT$600,000 (US$20,341).

Whoa. Huge fine, eh? I bet that will really change their behavior.

But this isn't the first time these have been in the news, so it is hard to understand why they have been neglected. Or rather, it isn't hard to understand, given the tight industry-EPA relationship in Taiwan. From 2009:
Pan Wen-yen, chairman of CPC, Taiwan, has instructed senior executives to look into a dispute arising from the company’s construction of an undersea liquefied natural gas pipeline near the Kuanyin township of Taoyuan County to connect a giant thermal power plant.

But the construction project sparked widespread concern because it threatens to destroy the rare algae reefs in the area.

In an attempt to put the negative publicity against his company to an end, Pan said CPC, Taiwan was not aware that there were algae reefs at the construction site when the planning for the LNG pipeline got under way years ago.

Algae reefs were not under the protection of the government’s conservation law, either, he said. He explained this is why the construction plan cleared the environmental impact evaluation in 2004.

Now that researchers and conservation organizations rate the algae reefs as an extremely valuable natural resource, CPC, Taiwan is willing to allocate funds to help preserve the algae reefs, he said.
Of course, construction of the pipeline, the article observed, had already commenced and a stretch of the reefs had already been destroyed. The article said that the Council of Agriculture had already announced a plan to coordinate with the Taoyuan County government and other organizations to set up a geological park there for ecotours blah blah blah. Naturally none of that came to fruition.

Turns out that this area of the north coast of Taiwan was once lined with roughly 27 kms of such reefs...
Pan said that in Taoyuan County, there were once algae reefs stretching from Chuwei to Yungan fishing ports. But since the establishment of the Dayuan and Guanyin industrial zones, factory waste from inside the zones has killed almost all of the algae reefs, leaving less than 5 km north of the Dakuxi River and south of Chuwei fishing port, he said.
Less than 5 kms of the original 27 kms of reefs remain, a miracle given what an industrialized nightmare the area is. A 2008 article on the Taoyuan area reef system notes:
Researchers from Academia Sinicia have uncovered the largest algal reef in eastern Taiwan along the coast of Shanyuan Bay in Taitung County.

"It’s quite surprising to discover such a large patch of algal reefs that are relatively undisturbed by human activities," said Allen Chao-lun Chen, an associate researcher at Academia Sinica’s Research Center for Biodiversity Aug. 14.

According to Chen, algal reefs, formed by crystalline calcium carbonates left by dead calcareous algae, usually grow at the extremely slow rate of 0.1 centimeters to 0.2 centimeters in thickness per year. Coral communities can be found in waters 1 kilometer off the coastline at a depth of 8 meters to 10 meters.

In addition to the newly-discovered algal reef, Shanyuan Bay also boasts a dense and diverse cornularia coral community in which a wealth of fish, shrimp and shell species live–a phenomenon not seen in other areas in Taiwan, Chen noted.

The largest algal reef in Taiwan was located off Taoyuan County in northwestern Taiwan, which is 4 kilometers long and 500 meters wide. Most of Taiwan’s coral reefs are found off the island’s southern coastlines, as well as its outlying islands.
Here's hoping someone in authority will wake up and realize what a priceless resource these reefs are...

REF: More info in Chinese
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fun with Google Maps

This should give you the original map. The northern station appears to be misnamed, it is actually Taitung Station.
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Shock Doctrine: Zounds!! OMG debt SELL THE LAND NOW

Last December, just before the election, I blogged on the new aboriginal draft law which gave the appearance, but not the reality, of aboriginal autonomy. I also argued that Ma would be shoveling state assets out the door even if he lost...
I pointed to some of problems resulting from the new act and in general, development on the east coast here. This should also be connected back to the long term "shock doctrine" use of the Morakot disaster as a way to lever mountain peoples off their lands so they can be "developed" without the inconvenience of Other People's Ownership. If you ride your bike around the lower altitudes of mountain areas of Taiwan, you will run across cookie cutter style homes, like this one in Majia Township in Pingtung at about 400m, into which local aborigines are being moved from the mountains.

That too is part of the historical drive of the various colonial governments of Taiwan to move the aborigines out of their mountain homes and take over those resources.

Aborigines are a key KMT constituency. Of course, so are the big businesses that support the KMT, so it is not difficult to see why this law is going through just prior to the election. Recall that even if Ma loses, there will be a four month interregnum before Tsai takes over. Although I don't subscribe to any of the wilder theories one hears floating around about what will happen, it is fairly obvious it will be giveaway time for government assets. With this new law just in time for that....
Predictably, more shock doctrine rapes of the public treasury from Christine Liu, Minister of Finance, today, with the proposal that state lands be sold off to help out with the horror Debt Monster that threatens to eat Taiwan....
“Balancing the budget is the priority for debt reduction,” Liu said. “However, it is not easy to create a budget surplus for the settlement of debts.”

Liu added that the ministry would continue to budget repayment of principal and reduce the deficit in the future.

A Ministry of Finance report shows that the government’s overall budget deficit currently stands at NT$200 billion [US$6.77 billion].

Liu said that activating and utilizing idle state-owned assets could be an important tool for managing national debt, an indication that relaxing the limitations on public land sales might be considered.
Notice what's not there -- increased taxation on the wealthy. Laudably, the Administration has made noises about rectifying Taiwan's lack of capital gains tax and also implementing a tax on stock transactions. But fundamentally, as in the US, Greece, and elsewhere troubled by debt, the wealthy pay too little tax.
As of the end of last year, the government’s long-term debt — representing outstanding debt with a maturity of more than one year — stood at NT$4.769 trillion, an amount equivalent to 35.88 percent of average GDP over the past three years, the ministry said in a report.

If local governments’ outstanding long-term debt is included, the nation’s overall long-term debt balloons to NT$5.478 trillion, or 41.22 percent of the average GDP over the same timeframe, ministry data showed.


Under a definition outlined by the IMF, the nation’s debt — including both long-term and short-term figures — totaled NT$6.725 trillion at the end of last year, -ministry statistics show.
This is not a really serious debt situation. Does it really call for a sell-off of state assets -- a permanent transfer for a temporary gain? Of course not. And then there is the fairness issue -- the wealthy go untaxed, and much of this public debt was run-up to fund infrastructure projects that were essentially pay-offs to local patronage networks by the ruling party. Finally, if these public assets are sold off, we all know who they will be sold to.

One issue that occurs repeatedly throughout the last couple of decades is the government's poor management of its assets. Consider this 2002 piece:
According to Ministry of Finance estimates, the government currently owns securities with a market value of more than US$25.71 billion and US$57.14 billion worth of real estate. If other movable assets and equipment are tallied in, the total value amounts to more than US$171.43 billion. This figure would be even higher if assets at state-run enterprises were included. Despite the value of these assets, only US$1.04 billion in revenue was generated for the national coffers in 2001.
It is worth noting that the article states sales of state lands to cover losses were already policy at state-run businesses until the first Chen Administration when that was stopped. People who claim that Chen Shui-bian did nothing themselves know nothing.

Moreover, the government's poor return on its assets hides other issues. Like wastage -- when Agency A owns no land it pays rent, while at Agency B there is plenty of unused office space.

Would selling off assets pay "the debt"? Sure, until some future government ramped the debt back up. What's the value of all that land?  MoFA has the numbers on its website.... from what I can tell, the total value of public land is NT$4,832,701,000,000, or roughly US$161 billion (USD=NT30). Yeah, that might pay the debt... but a modest 5% return on land assets alone would be $8 billion annually. Clearly selling off  is the least effective policy in the long run, a transfer of assets that would merely make wealthy private asset holders even wealthier.

Sure hope to see the DPP was out there complaining about this and pimping the comprehensive land use policy and land law revisions it had wanted to carry out during the Chen Administration, instead of wasting everyone's time calling for impeachment of the President. This is exactly the sort of issue the Party should be out there leading the public.
Daily Links:
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Monday, May 14, 2012

Daily Links, May 14, 2012

What's being hauled around the blogs today?


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Will Someone Take Out DPP Brains and Thoroughly Scrub Them?

Here's the DPP doing good things. Rumors of a proposed new nuke dump in Hualien county, in Sioulin Township north of Hualien town, were making the rounds. As the Taipei Times reported last month, Taipower was busted drilling in Sioulin north of Hualien...
Having learned about the well only after Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) exposed the project, Hsu said that neither the township office nor the county government were informed of what Taipower was doing in Sioulin.
Bi-khim was told by a friend that Taipower was drilling Sioulin. Her friend wanted to be sure they were not secretly locating nuclear waste disposal sites. Sure enough, Bi-khim did the research and found that Taipei was looking to looking to "geological disposal" as the solution to the high-level waste (fuel rod disposal) problem (Taiwan's current storage is all "temporary" haha). Bi-Khim then directly asked Taipower for the location of the research and discovered that the location matched the drilling activities her friend warned her about. Naturally Taipower had not informed the local government of such activities, so she held a press conference to demand transparency and to express opposition to the selection of Sioulin as an ultimate disposal site for nuclear waste. Taipower has since apologized to the local indigenous people and sealed the hole. But you can be sure this won't be the last time they behave this way.

That's what DPP legislators and politicians should be doing. Effective service to constituents on important national issues. Good work, Bi-khim!

UPDATE: Translation error: the push is for RECALL, not impeachment. Still a silly waste of time, but at least its not a criminal accusation.

Instead, this morning brings news that the DPP is considering attempting to impeach (RECALL) Ma Ying-jeou.
The DPP caucus on Friday discussed whether to target Ma and call for his impeachment, but the meeting saw both opposition to and support for the idea, Ker said.

Supporters of impeachment said that despite the legal difficulties involved in the motion, the party should give voice to public -discontent, Ker said, adding that impeachment, whose supporters mostly draw from factions identifying who follow Hsieh and former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), would “leave a mark.”

DPP Legislator Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋), who supports the move, said elections and impeachment were opposite sides of a coin, adding that since the public elected Ma as president, they also have the right to impeach him.
It's simple: attempting to impeach (recall) the President without just cause is a blatant subversion of the democratic order. Short of violations of the law, mere impatience or discontent is hardly grounds for impeachment(recall). Further, given the perennial KMT control of the legislature, the DPP should be wary of setting precedents that might call for tit-for-tat action by the pro-China side when a DPP politician becomes President. The public protests scheduled soon are the correct way to indicate displeasure.

This is just a bad idea in every way. The energy spent on it should be spent on other, more possible, and more urgent issues.
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rep Bill Owens and Taiwan Lobbying Violations?

Ruh-roh (source):
Congressman Bill Owens says he will repay more than $20,000 dollars for a junket that he took last December to Taiwan. The trip was paid for by a university in Taiwan. And it was planned and organized by a New York lobbying firm, which is no longer allowed under House ethics rules.

As Brian Mann reports, Owens says his office never reported that the firm Park Strategies organized the trip because "there was no place on the form to disclose it."
Politico has a nifty piece on the mess with tons of information. Park is very close to the Ma Administration and lobbies for the Taiwan government in the US.

This kind of thing is actually kind of normal for Taiwan and happens periodically. Remember this Bush-era mess? And the now-legendary Lafayette mess. Wait a couple of years. There will be another one....
Daily Links:
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Poll Revival shows Ma unpopular

Some good news on the polling front. The Taipei Times reports...
The three most chosen descriptions of Ma’s brand were all negative, with 60.6 percent of participants saying Ma was “over-packaged,” 53.3 percent saying his abilities were “exaggerated” and 38.5 percent seeing him as “an expired, deteriorating product” in the survey conducted by research firm Taiwan Indicators Survey Research.

The newly established company, headed by former Global Views Survey Research Center director Tai Li-an (戴立安), released its first Taiwan Mood Barometer Survey, which Tai said would be conducted twice a month and cover various economic and political issues.
Some of you may recall that Global Views Survey Research Center shut down its political polling in October of 2011 in a move that was widely seen as kowtowing to the ruling party because its polls were showing that Tsai was ahead of Ma. The poll, though stiffly pro-Blue, was widely respected. Now that team is back in business with a new business.

As for the actual numbers, Ma is likely to be unpopular for a while until his satisfaction numbers creep back up into the 30s, more or less the norm. If Ma's unpopularity persists, it might lead to losses in local elections, as happened in the run-up to the presidential election, but it wouldn't mean anything as far as his getting elected again, assuming he could run, but he can't....
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Blue think tank poll on Taiwanese Youth & Military says opposite of Pollster's spin

UPDATE: The TT has revised the kicker. The headline is still wrong, but at least a corrective gale blew through the office. I've substantially revised the post.

Youth will not fight for Taiwan: poll
A survey released yesterday showed that 45.8 percent of young people born after 1984 agreed that Taiwan is an independent nation separate from China, while almost 60 percent of the respondents said that people have the right to refuse military conscription in the event of war against China.

The 21st Century Foundation, a local think tank, released the survey to explore the “sense of efficacy” of the generation toward cross-strait peace, attempting to find what they think are the ways to achieve peace and whether it is possible to reconcile cross-strait peace with preservation national sovereignty.
The survey said.....
"The survey found that 57 percent of the respondents agreed that people have the right to refuse to be conscripted into the military if a war breaks out because of Taiwan’s declaration of independence, while 43 percent disagreed.

An analysis of these two questions showed that 31.6 percent of the respondents do not want to be mobilized for military duty and would rather surrender in case of military conflict between Taiwan and China, Chang said."
Read it yourself -- nearly 60% said that others should not be forced to fight, and only 31% said that they do not want to be mobilized for duty. The number of people who said that they would go if mobilized is almost 70%, exactly opposite of what the headline says .

The TT then goes on to accept the spin that the lead researcher puts on the article without any corrective save provision of the numbers...
The survey reflected the “pragmatic attitudes” of young people in Taiwan toward cross-strait issues, he added.

“They do not want to sacrifice their lives for sovereignty,” Chang said of the findings.
The numbers are right there: not only do nearly 70% appear to be willing to be mobilized for duty but according to the survey, 51.7% agreed that Chinese invaders have to be resisted even if the government itself throws in the towel!
Asked whether they think people in Taiwan have to fight against China until the end, even if the government has stopped resisting when China forces Taiwan into unification, 48.3 percent of the respondents disagreed, and 51.7 percent agreed.
Apparently just over half the "strawberries" are bloody-minded bastards who will fight to the bitter end!

The other thing about this amazing presentation that bothered me was the reference to the 21st Century Foundation as "a local think tank." A two second search on Google turned up this collection of slides. Here are the top three people:

You only have to look at the positions and institutional commitments of these three individuals to know that this "thinktank" is a pro-Blue foundation. This probably should have been made clear by the Taipei Times. If you keep reading the slides, the thinktank's agricultural programs appear to be part of a program to transfer Taiwan's ag tech to China.

Finally, how about this research project:
Chang called the research a “pioneering study” because it combined qualitative and quantitative methods of conducting focus group interviews with senior high school and college students. A total of 719 copies of questionnaires were completed either online or through face-to-face interviews, and the respondents had connections to the research team rather than being randomly selected.
The paper's presentation is confusing. The use of "face-to-face" implies one on one interviews but focus groups were used, in which students were interviewed in groups (reflect for a moment on how Taiwanese talk about politics in groups). The idea that combining qualitative and quantitative work is somehow pioneering is laughable; there are a gazillion such studies (I am part of a team that has published one such study myself). I am sure the author knows that, and believe the author wanted to emphasize the pioneering nature of the study stems from its sample size and population, not combo of qual/quan triangulation. If you read the paragraph on how the students define China and Taiwan, it appears that a Blue-skewed population was selected.

However, if you read the paper's description, it says that participants were non-randomly selected. Yes, that's right, the sample population consists of non-random internet users and students familiar to the research team. Representativeness is thus a serious issue. Since the pro-China political commitments of the Foundation are painfully obvious, what we are really looking at is a study from a pro-KMT source that nevertheless says that Taiwanese students are majority bitter enders.

Now that's news the paper should have promoted.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Blogger on Recovery

Biked 160 kms of Changhua, Taichung, and Yunlin today. Very groggy from too much sun right now. I'll be back on the blog tomorrow. In the meantime enjoy a few pictures.

Along one of the bike paths, the men's room has a bike stand

A garlic seller near the huge temple on 19.

Egrets atop pig sheds near the Dz Chiang Bridge on 19.

Heaven on earth: watermelon fields.

The big red bridge on 145 going into Siluo. Really great on a bike.

The big red bridge from the inside, always a fascinating view.
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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

What do stock market taxes and F-16s have in common?

I have the terrible feeling that, because I am wearing a white beard and am sitting in the back of the theatre, you expect me to tell you the truth about something. These are the cheap seats, not Mount Sinai. -- Orson Welles

No need to go to The Avengers when we've gotten a steady flow of theater right here in our domestic politics. First the KMT staged a play as pious as any medieval Mystery Play on the proposed new taxes on income derived from securities transactions....
The Executive Yuan yesterday suffered a setback to a major policy for a second consecutive day when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators refused to place on the legislative agenda an amendment imposing taxes on income earned from securities.
One of the KMT legislators, Wu Yu-sheng, proposed delaying a review of the amendments, blaming it on being overwhelmed with the beef mess. But who is Wu?
Wu, who has been labeled a loyal soldier of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), yesterday said the “KMT caucus will not do whatever the executive branch wants the caucus to do from now on.”

“The caucus will act at our discretion if the executive branch fails to communicate with lawmakers before a major policy is made,” Wu said.
So... question to my readers: when the "loyal soldier" of President Ma opposes President Ma's policies, is it because he has switched sides, or is it because Ma wants him to? This way the Administration can say it pushed the law but oh so sorry our recalcitrant legislature decided to thumb its nose at us and isn't it a shame that no one can control those unruly lawmakers? [cue crocodile tears]. And lo and behold....
With one month left before the legislative session enters the summer recess, it appears unlikely that the amendments to the Income Tax Act (所得稅法) and the Income Basic Tax Act (所得基本稅額條例) will clear the legislative floor this session.
Alas, the revisions are delayed until the next legislative session. What a pity, eh?

Another bit of theater displayed this week was the F-16s. Remember them? Sometime back in the Qing Dynasty the Taiwan government decided it needed F-16s and sent a letter to the US government asking for 66 F-16s. Well, here we are years later and still no F-16s. No sooner did Obama announce that the US might sell Taiwan a few F-16s the KMT broke out in a cold sweat. Diversion! The prospect of F-35s is raised! No hope of that, but the idea makes a nifty dislocation. Further news came out: the budget might not be there for the new aircraft!

Oscars for everyone! As a longtime observer noted, whenever the US moves forward on the F-16s, the KMT has a sudden bout of budget indigestion, and whenever Taiwan presses on the F-16s, the US refuses to sell. The only problem is determining whether the cooperation is planned in advance or whether both sides are simply acting out roles they both know so well there is no need to notify the other guy in advance.

Yes, Taiwan, what a delightful place to live, so many plays staged for our benefit.
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The Peace Riser Peacefully Enhances Its Forces at Scarborough Shoal

Philippines media is reporting that Philippines navy ships have counted more than 30 Chinese vessels operating in the Scarborough Shoals area, denying access to the fishing grounds there...
Chinese maritime ships are denying Filipino fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds in the lagoon of Panatag Shoal, a chain of reefs and rocks off Zambales province whose ownership is being disputed by China and the Philippines even as Chinese vessels were seen continuing to mass in Panatag, also known as Bajo de Masinloc and its international name, Scarborough Shoal—which China claims to own even if the shoal is 472 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese coast.

According to the local government of Masinloc, which is only 124 nautical miles from Panatag, the town’s fishermen have reported that Chinese government vessels had blocked their entry to the lagoon.

The military reported that the number of Chinese vessels in the Panatag Shoal has increased to 33, from 14 last week.

The Philippines has only two vessels in the area. These are the BRP Edsa II, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessel (SARV 002) and the MCS 3001, a vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

China currently has three big ships in the area. These are the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) 310 which is said to be its most powerful maritime ship, and the Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships 75 and 81.

According to the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), seven other Chinese fishing vessels and 23 utility boats have been seen inside the lagoon.

RJ Bautista, secretary to Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora, said the Chinese maritime ships were preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in the lagoon.
Manila is about to get taught a lesson. The Chinese are using their vastly superior power in a completely passive way, forcing Philippines into unpalatable choices. Where is the US? What's Washington's opinion of this mess? Washington's absurd position on Taiwan -- when Chen Shui-bian was admonished for 'provoking' China by holding referendums, but the State Department makes no similar move against Manila, instead offering to mediate. Hahaha.

Note the beginnings of this incident:
The Panatag Shoal incident started last April 8 when the Philippine Navy on a routine sovereignty patrol spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels moored inside the shoal. Navy personnel boarded the vessels and discovered on board illegally obtained endangered turtles, baby sharks, giant clams and a large amount of corals.

The Navy dispatched its only warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to the area on April 10 but before the ship could tow the poachers to the nearest police station, two Chinese maritime ships arrived and blocked their arrest.
What does this tell you about the Peaceful Riser?

The US and Manila have a mutual defense treaty.

What is augured here? A couple of years ago China passed an 'island protection law' that "protected" 16,000 islands in the South China Sea as Chinese. Multiply Scarborough by 16,000..... this is a test, it is only a test. Had it been a real conflict....

UPDATE: Manila DFA says the US will honor its promise to defend the Philippines under the 1951 Treaty.
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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Econ Slump in the Offing?

The last few months projections for GDP growth at most of the major think tanks and financial firms have been falling. Now the DGBAS is warning that inflation will be higher than expected.
The DGBAS’ warning came after the agency announced yesterday that year-on-year growth in the consumer price index (CPI) was 1.44 percent last month, compared with a revised 1.25 percent increase in March.
Not only are rising fuel costs pushing up prices but the recent heavy rains have reduced supplies of fresh vegetables, also driving up costs. The government also predicts that exports will fall for the first half of the year:
Exports to China and Hong Kong contracted 11.6 percent year-on-year to US$9.86 billion following slower economic activity, with exports of machines, metals, plastics and chemicals declining for a second consecutive month, the report said.

Meanwhile, exports to the US fell 16.3 percent from the previous year to US$27.06 billion as a result of lower exports of information and communication technology, products, while outbound shipments to Japan were down 10.6 percent at US$1.46 billion, ministry data showed.

However, exports to Europe and the six main ASEAN members both rebounded last month, with annual growth standing at 3.5 percent and 4.4 percent respectively.

Nine of the nation’s 10 major export sectors posted year-on-year declines last month, while exports of transportation equipment rose 17.9 percent to US$1.01 billion from a year ago, its highest ever level, data showed.

Donna Kwok (郭浩庄), an economist for Greater China at HSBC Asia, said in a note yesterday that she expected demand from the West, especially Europe, to constrain export growth for a while longer.

Meanwhile, the steady economic slowdown from the gradual impact of global energy price increases in the first quarter of this year could encourage the central bank to keep interest rates unchanged at least until the fourth quarter, Kwok said.
Remember when ECFA was going to save us from this? Yeah, right. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, trade with China -- with which we have the "free trade agreement" ECFA -- is falling, while trade with ASEAN -- with which we have no FTAs -- is rising.
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China Times: Nostalgia for the Non-Existent Good Old Days

The bizarre case of the drunk who hit an old man on a scooter and then returned to the scene, apparently to finish him off:
The incident happened early on Friday morning in Caotun Township (草屯), Nantou County.

According to police investigations, Hung Jung-hsiang (洪榮祥) was driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed into Liao Chin-chuan’s (廖金川) scooter from behind on a road in Caotun. Liao was knocked off the scooter and the driver drove away without stopping.

Three young men in a car later drove by, and stopped to help the injured Liao. They set up obstacles in the road around Liao to prevent other cars from hitting him. Not long after, a nurse, Lu Wan-chen (呂婉禎), who at the time was going home by scooter, also stopped to help Liao, police records showed.

However, while the four were attending to Liao, they saw a car approaching. It ran directly over the obstacles in the road and crushed Liao’s legs and head, killing him on the spot.
It is an article of faith among Deep Blues that the nation is going to the dogs. Indeed, if you meet a random person and they start lecturing you on what a mess things are in Taiwan, they are more than likely to be Blue. The political import of this stance should be obvious.

The pro-KMT China Times editorialized on this case:
Over 30 years ago, a psychology professor, Wu Ching-chi, published a best-selling book titled "Young People's Four Dreams" in which he encouraged youngsters to "search for the true meaning of life," "find good teachers and good friends," "pursue a worthy career" and "seek love."

Are these four dreams still in store for today's young people? Given the current reality, the answer may be a saddening no, as a majority of them have lost their sense of direction and even their hope. Some of their problems are personal, but others are directly related to society as a whole.

Take a few major social news stories for example and it becomes plain how our younger generation is confronted with chaotic values and even destruction.
The editorial, meant to give the audience the sense that the nation is hurtling toward moral and social destruction, then goes on to give three instances of this shocking moral decline: the case above, a girl who gave birth to her grandfather's child, and the case of a drunk driver who killed a woman. Her husband then died, leaving their eight year old.

The incest case is terrible, but such cases are common in insular communities all over the world. Does the China Times mean to suggest that there were no such cases in the good old days?

It's not difficult to spot the real moral failure: completely ineffective drunk driving campaigns mean that the roads are crowded with drunks on the weekends. This is underpinned by a self-destructive drinking culture in which alcohol is consumed to get drunk, not merely to put a soft edge on the evening. I am sure many expats have experienced disbelief when they tell a father in law or friends that they are finished drinking after a couple of drinks. The government won't seriously address the issue of drunk driving and it has done nothing to change the alcohol culture. The result is carnage.

Nor is this an issue of the young: most young people drive scooters, not cars, and the drink-til-unconscious drinking culture is not ordinarily practiced among the young either. If these issues represent moral and social decline, they illustrate the decline of the middle aged and above generation....

The paper should also have noted: in the case in which the drunk driver apparently returned to kill the injured man, three young people stopped immediately to protect the victim. A nurse also stopped. The selfless actions of four people apparently tell us nothing about the state of the nation, but a single drunk can represent the "majority".

I am fortunate to work at a university with many dedicated students. Many of them do volunteer work -- I have one brilliant student headed to Ethiopia this summer for a stint as a medical volunteer, and others on their way to Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Thailand. At universities all over Taiwan there are social work clubs. Many universities also mandate a 2 credit hour volunteer work class.

It's the China Times, not the nation, that is moving backwards.
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Monday, May 07, 2012

Critters Redux

Went out hiking instead of riding today, to take a break from the bike. Caught some critters on the trail... including this one above, which seems to be an exoskeleton left clinging to a blade of grass.

Hanging out under a railing was this common caterpillar.

It's big spider season again....

He just waited for me while I perfected the shot.

Color accent function + closeup = lovely

A hairy fellow rests in the grass.

Which end is the head?

A form of critter that is my direct genetic descendant.
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