Thursday, December 30, 2004

Manufacturing consent? What about manufacturing total bullshit?

Several bloggers in the US have addressed this, but I had saved some webpages with the intention of writing on it anyhow. After the Christmas tsunami that caused the earth to wobble on its axis, the Bush administration came up with an aid package of US$15 million.

Later, a UN official quipped that wealthy nations were stingy as most rarely give more than 1 percent of their GDP for foreign relief or any kind of aid that could directly improve the lives of those suffering hunger, disease or natural disasters.

By one news cycle in the US, that statement had morphed into a direct criticism of the US, and every right winger in America was going bat-shit crazy over the UN's unmitigated gall to criticize the homeland. The theme was, as Colin Powell put it, "The US is not stingy." (dammit)

Here is one such example in a column by Jeff Crouere for Bayou Buzz, a web site dedicated to Louisiana politics:

Yesterday, a UN official claimed the US has been "stingy" in responding to the tsunami disaster in Asia. UN Humanitarian Aid Chief Jan Egeland made this appalling comment, which incredibly comes from a representative of an organization replete with mismanagement and fraud. The same organization that has mismanaged aid to countries in need all over the globe.
The US is the most generous nation on earth. After every international crisis, our country responds with government aid and our citizens respond with personal philanthropic donations. No matter whether the country is free or not, an ally or not, we respond because we care about humanity. The same cannot be said for many other countries.

In responding to this horrific disaster, our government initially pledged $15 billion. Now, Secretary of State Colin Powell is pledging even more aid. According to Powell, "The United States has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." Powell is correct. In this case, we are contributing humanitarian supplies and the military aircraft to send those supplies to the areas devastated. In addition, our disaster relief specialists have already been dispatched to several of the countries impacted.

The UN official's comments are not only wrong, they are spiteful and disgusting. If he wants to criticize, he should look in the mirror at his own pitiful organization.

The point of all this is that these guys are wrong on several counts. First off the UN official never said that the US was stingy. Secondly, on a list of thirty wealthy nations, the US comes in last as giving a smaller part of its GDP than most European countries. In terms of pure cash, yes the US gives a lot, in terms of measured commitment, it's a poor showing indeed.

Don't take my word for it. Here's part of a piece that ran in yesterday's Washington Post, which has information Mr. Crouere could have easily accessed through Google, thus saving him the time of writing such rubbish:

Still, the UN's Egeland complained on Monday that each of the richest nations gives less than 1 percent of its gross national product for foreign assistance, and many give 0.1 percent. "It is beyond me why we are so stingy, really," he told reporters.

Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the US often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the US gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

Note the word "we." Oh yeah, the Bush administration upped its commitment for tsunami victims to US$35 million. His upcoming inauguration will total around US$40 million, not including security costs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Susan Sontag dies of cancer at 71.

More from the San Franciso Chronicle.

Several days ago I wanted to write about the rice bomber, and while it's a subject that deserves attention, it pales in comparison to the tsunami that broke across south-east Asia during the Christmas season. Such a disaster is difficult to comprehend, the pain, the wreckage, the loss of life, with little in the way of an explanation except the movement of the earth's crust.

The numbers are staggering and will continue to grow as the week nears an end. For information on where you could contribute, go here or here. (This second one you will have to scroll down. It's the same list but some people are not registered with the New York Times.) I'm sure CNN has a site with listings as well. Or you can donate here.

Also for Taiwan, some of the charities listed here would gladly accept your help. And yes, I'm sending money as well.

Forumosa has more information on its open forum thread.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays Everybody!

Here in the depths of a brown-brick building with horrible cell-phone reception, I am enjoying Christmas Eve. There is no snow or oyster stew(a family favorite), but I have found a wonderful Christmas Carol quiz for you to entertain yourself with. What Christmas Carol are you? Find out here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What to make of it?

Roughly a week after Taiwan had wrapped up its legislative elections, Beijing let the world know that it was pushing the anti-secession bill, which, if it becomes law, would stipulate that Taiwan must unify with China by a certain date or be subject to attack. As of now, we don't know what date they have in mind.

I'm going to go off track for a second, but bear with me. Taiwan has, as of this year, been told that the US is considering removing it from the special 301 list, a list put together by the US State Department of countries that are known to be the worst abusers of intellectual property rights. If in 2005, Taiwan does come off the list, it will be the second time in over eight years that Taiwan has managed to make it over this hurdle.

Why has it taken this flourishing democracy so long to address this problem? Well, Taiwan has implemented laws, but may such laws are often symbolic, in the sense that little thought or money goes into enforcing the law. While this has changed for the better in Taiwan, it is something that has plagued Taiwan's efforts to improve its record in a number of areas.

So, back to China, which probably has Taiwan's enforcement-resource problem in spades. I don't know what to make of it, but one can be sure that Beijing held off on this announcement until after Taiwan's legislative elections were over. And however the wording comes out in the final bill, we already know that for the most part, this has been Beijing's policy all along. Is this a symbolic gesture to give weight to policy? And are they aware that such a move will further distance the Taiwan they dearly hope will move closer?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

On Eco and sin.

Going from Tuesday to Thursday sans posts is vexing. Blogger sin #1, posting rarely.

I like reading Umberto Eco's books, both fiction and essays. He's got a new one out. Here is a review from the WSJ. While the piece did make me want to find out more, the prose is much too cluttered for me.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I'm back ...

I know this blog has been left to founder under the crushing weight of neglect. I've been working on a big project, of which the first stage is complete, so now I can start posting normally again for awhile. The last post, the stream of consciousness thing, was a sign of duress and rather than subject you to more such malarkey, I just decided to take a week off.

As far as the elections go, I don't feel so bad for calling it wrong. Even the Asian Wall Street Journal missed it, and I covered my bases by warning you how off I usually am. So what's the final analysis? Humdrum stuff. The electorate goes for the status quo. President Chen Shui-bian will have more difficulty pushing his reforms. Chen steps down as party leader, so the only question left is what will happen to KMT party chairman Lien Chan in March, when his tenure expires and the party has to decide whether to keep him?

The past several days I've paid less attention to what I am reading and where I am reading it, but I know I saw an article, presumably in the Taipei Times, that suggested that the moderates in the party want Lien out now, and if that happens, they anticipate cooperating with Chen's government more thus breaking the gridlock that has plagued the legislature for the past four years.

I think it'll be a full on struggle. Lien simply strikes me as too vain to walk away with dignity. As deluded as it may seem, I wonder if he still has presidential ammbitions?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Busy, busy, busy.

I haven't had time to read the newspaper or surf. Things are crashing about my head. I sell yeast not bread. I agitate. I am a cereal. Killer, a relentless puff pastry, manna from heaven. Unleavened in the dessert, a crust of bread, praise Demeter. From grain to mill to bloated mass to oven to gullet and to seed again. I give fungi a home and home in on hunger. Had enough? Me too. Dough!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Nostalgia and the future.

I had heard reports of how the US press excoriated Howard Dean for what is now known as the "Dean Scream," but I had never actually heard it, nor did I know the context until now. Dean's people are mobilized to change the leadership of the Democratic National Committee hoping he will take the chair. So for those of you who missed out or just want to hear it again, in context with music, here it is, the "Dean Scream." What was first perceived as a swan song may end up being a battle cry afterall.

Here's more on Dean and the DNC.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Predictions for the legislative election.

As fair warning, I have a miserable record when it comes to predicting elections. This started in 1979, when I was being bussed across town to public school telling my mates that Jimmy Carter was going to win a second term. I lost two bets, one on the last US presidential election and one on the Taiwanese presidential election of 2004. Brian Kennedy, the man I lost these bets to, according to many who have been on the losing end of these wagers, has an uncanny ability to call it right. He said, "Hyatt, you bet with your heart, not with your head." That's true most of the time.

So now that you have been warned, it looks like the pan-greens, the TSU and the DPP, will pick up enough seats to have a majority. I'm not really walking out on a limb here. The pan-blues are crumbling apart. A colleague and friend, I'll just call him "Papa," went to a press conference last week that was held for the Foreign Correspondents Club. There, four representatives, one from each of the major four parties, spoke with reporters about their campaigns and the issues that were driving this election. Papa asked the KMT representative a straightforward question, one that any politician should be able to field with ease, and got a bumbling jeremiad as a response. The question: "Most people are aware of the issues that the DPP stands for, contitutional reform, media reform, referendums, etc. Can you tell us in a few short phrases what the KMT's platform is? The man couldn't answer. This is why the pan-blues are lost. They are only anti-Chen parties now.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Zhu Rongji scolds the Taiwanese electorate
on March 15, 2000.

They never learn, do they? (sigh)

In a Reuters article posted up on the ABC News site we learn this:
A Chinese major general-turned-vice minister, speaking days before Taiwan's parliamentary elections, warned the island against miscalculating Beijing's determination to crush its separatist dreams.

"There can be no peace (if) Taiwan (becomes) independent, there can be no stability (if) Taiwan splits," the official People's Daily on Thursday quoted Wang Zaixi, a vice minister of the policymaking Taiwan Affairs Office, as saying.

"It would be a serious, dangerous miscalculation if the Chen Shui-bian authorities…think the Chinese people will tolerate 'Taiwan independence' splittist activities for the sake of seeking a peaceful environment to develop," Wang told a seminar in Macau on Wednesday.

China has tried the admonishment strategy a number of times and each time it has failed miserably. In 1996, China fired missiles into the Strait to try and intimidate the Taiwanese electorate into voting for Ling Yang-kang of the New Party, rather than the KMT's Lee Teng-hui or the DPP's Peng Ming-min. To anyone in Taiwan this show of force hailed from the theater of the absurd. The New Party, which advocates unification with China, received 14.9 percent of the vote at the time.

Then in 2000, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji wagged his finger at the Taiwanese electorate, this time around implying that the KMT were to be voted in rather than the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian. Again it didn't work.

One would have thought the suits in Beijing would have changed their tactics, and indeed in this year's presidential election, perhaps because the communists were convinced that the KMT would win, there were no public dressing down of the Taiwanese electorate. Here we are on the cusp of this year's legislative election (the Taiwanese go to the polls on Dec. 11) and its the same song and dance all over again. Considering their record, do they still think they can affect the outcome of an election in Taiwan?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What are they thinking?

You may have noticed both on Google News yesterday, or on the front page of the Taipei Times today, that the US State Department has warned Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian that he must stick to the "Four Noes" platform that he laid out upon his first inauguration. That means Chen will not declare independence, not change the official name of Taiwan from the Republic of China, not add the state-to state model of cross-strait relations to the constitution, not hold a referendum on the status of independence or unification and not abolish the National Unification Guidelines.

Last week KMT Chairman Lien Chan dared Chen to hold a referendum, and Chen, while not stating that he would do so, bandied the idea about to call Lien's bluff and show the voting public what an asinine idea Lien had come up with in the first place. All politics as usual for the upcoming legislative elections.

But this idea that the US seems to have that Chen is going to pull a fast one and submit a constitution that has a gazillion amendments that scream "Taiwan is independent, yeaaaarrrrggghhh" is ludicrous. Chen has repeated ad nauseum that constitutional reform is needed so the constitution will reflect the realities on the ground rather than the fiction upheld in an anachronistic document that suggests the government of the ROC runs all of China and Mongolia as well.

What compels the US State Department to make such a public announcement? Are there not people in its ranks that have a background on Taiwan, and in particular, Chen's history as a politician? Perhaps they are buying China's alarmist rhetoric. Or maybe the announcement has less to do with Chen and more to do with throwing China a bone.