Saturday, October 30, 2004
This is what happens when Dick Cheney and Scarface become the same man. Steer clear if you're averse to trash talk. Dick Cheney at the Republican Convention.
Friday, October 29, 2004
Voter Intimidation ...
This flyer is being passed around black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. I guess some Republicans still yearn for Jim Crow laws. This is reprehensible.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I goofed. My mistake was to see US Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement through the lens of long-held US foreign policy, not as it would be interpreted by those whose lives it would affect the most.
Cross Strait relations have been so taut for decades that every statement issued by Taiwan, China or the US is combed over for nuance, as officials search for that hidden departure buried in a morass of jargon. It is here that a slip of the tongue can have others wagging for months on end.
Powell said that Taiwan was not an independent state and did not enjoy sovereignty. This is not, as I pointed out earlier, at odds with previous US policy. It is, however, a precedent. For the past 25 years, the US has religiously followed its policy of "studied ambiguity," but Powell either forgot to hit the books or was dropping a hint. Powell's sin was not his interpretation of US policy, but how he articulated it. Up to this point, US officials have cautiously avoided saying whether Taiwan was sovereign or independent. In short, no nays or yeas, but this week's turn of events changed all that and rattled Taiwan's confidence in its relations with the US.
The US State Department is already backtracking here in Taipei. President Chen Shui-bian called upon the director of the American Institute, Douglas Paal, to clarify Powell's statements.
Paal said US policy hasn't changed. He also said Powell tripped up when he said, "We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking." The key solecism, according to Paal, was Powell's use of the word "reunification," when what Powell had intended to say was "resolution." From Taiwan's point of view, this is a nasty gaffe, as many Taiwanese are wary of any move on the part of the US to weaken its position vis-a-vis China.
Speculation is rife as to what Powell really meant. Many in Taiwan see Powell's statements as a thinly veiled warning to Taiwan to not go too far when pursuing independence. Others, such as myself, think that Powell mistakenly overstepped the bounds of diplomatic protocol. It's a hard call. I'd like to think it's much ado about nothing, but as I noted on my first blog entry, US-Taiwan relations are changing, and they may not be changing for the better.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Well, it looks like I jumped the gun in my reading of Colin Powell's visit to China. At the least, Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen thinks that Powell's statement on CNN breached the trust between Taiwan and the US. According to the Washington Times Powell said both:
We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking.I'm not as prepared as the minister is to read anything into this. Powell's second statement doesn't strike me as anything new. If in fact Powell said that Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, from the US point of view, this is entirely true. While Taiwan's electorate gets to choose its leaders and the country has a standing army, the US doesn't officially recognize Taiwan, in fact very few countries do. Taiwan's absence from the UN, and the number of de facto embassies in Taipei, which have to operate as cultural and trade offices instead of official diplomatic channels, are but two of a number of conditions that keep Taiwan isolated form the international community. I also can't help but notice that Powell used the word "enjoy." Clearly Taiwan doesn't enjoy sovereignty in the eyes of the world, and for this reason, it does not enjoy all the benefits of sovereignity at home. Perhaps someday it will.
Taiwan ... does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.
The former statement, at first glance, looks more menacing. Again though, from a US perspective, I'm not so sure that's the case. One of the key points of the US policy regarding China-Taiwan relations is that of "studied ambiguity." Even now, the US holds onto the myth of "one China," but for years US policy has recognized a one China without explicitly stating what that one China consists of, or even who is its rightful heir.
Those of us in Taiwan know the reality on the ground, and its a harsh reality that even Beijing is coming to terms with. Taiwan is no longer seeking "reunification." The ROC as envisioned by Chiang Kai Shek and Chiang Ching-kuo is falling apart at the seams, and the DPP government has made official statements that Taiwan no longer has designs on China. US policies were put in place long before this happened, but for the US to acknowledge the changes taking place in Taiwan could anger Beijing unnecessarily. Powell's statement seems consistent with what the US has been doing for years with regards to Taiwan and China, ignoring the big white elephant in the room.
Then again, I may be out of my depth here. Please explain it to me if I have missed the critical nuance, the slow twist of the shiv.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
As much as I dislike the Bush administration, I think if I were a Taiwanese American, I would be voting for Dubya in the upcoming election.
Colin Powell's trip to China had few, if any surprises. Of course Powell sought to pressure China to take a more active role in bringing N. Korea to the table to revive the six-way talks. Powell said that China has considerable influence over Pyongyang. I wonder to what extent this is true. It's a belief that's had great currency over the past three years, but Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin's assurances may be more bravado than substance.
Once Nixon and Kissinger had broken through to establish ties with Communist China, one of their primary goals was to try and get China to exert its influence on N. Vietnam, so the Americans would have a better opportunity to extract themselves from the quagmire of the war. Later it was revealed in James Mann's book About Face that the Chinese leadership had far less control over N. Vietnam than they let on.
Granted, China is a far more powerful country than it was in 1972, but the megalomaniac Kim Jong-il is also far less dependable overall than a popular leader of a people's independence movement like Ho Chi Minh. So are the Americans just doing some wishful thinking here?
Everything else about Powell's visit was the same song and dance with the exception that Powell prodded Hu to open up talks with Taiwan after Chen Shui-bian's "concilatory" speech on Taiwan's National Day, Double Ten. Predictably, Hu said he didn't trust Chen and China was not prepared to open talks with a man they consider to be at the forefront of a Taiwanese independence movement.
I checked out John Kerry's policy page to see what differences we would see vis-a-vis Taiwan if Kerry wins the presidency. Of course the Kerry campaign says it will support Taiwan's robust democracy and will continue to sell defensive weapons to Taipei. I don't trust the Democrats 100 percent on this issue. Bill Clinton talked a good game about not coddling dictators before he was elected but, by the time he was in office, his administration seemed beholden to the idea of engaging China, which included hammering away at human rights violations, in the hopes that China's emerging influence and free market would prompt reforms at the very highest levels. Remember when we were told about Zhu Rongji the great reformer?
Of course some would argue that in 1996, Clinton proved to be resolute when he sent the 7th fleet into the Taiwan Strait during Taiwan's presidential elections. Yet two years later he undermined Taiwan's ongoing efforts to be a part of the international community when he embraced the "three no's" policy, the last of which explicitly states that the US believes that Taiwan should not be a member of any international organization for which statehood is a requirement for membership.
Many of the Clinton administration's policies were necessary, but Republicans tend to make it very clear whether they are in the White House or the House of Representatives that Taiwan is not to be touched. Democrats simply aren't strident enough.
Monday, October 25, 2004
The Guardian's Web page, which I referred to here, no longer has the original column up. Apparently calling for the assassination of a US president didn't go down well in some quarters, so now Charlie Brooker has posted an apology. But Google's cache has the original.
From St. Augustine's The Confessions:
I had come to understand that just as wholesome and rubbishy food may both be served equally well is sophisticated dishes or in others of rustic quality, so too can wisdom and foolishness be proffered in language elegant or plain.
In addition to voting, I think I'll go to a temple or two just to try and whip up a karmic wind to flush George W. Bush out of office. But this column in The Guardian is beyond the pale, even for me, and I relish reading a well-hewn philippic. Don't miss out on the closing paragraph. Nasty.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
It looks like Typhoon Nock-Ten is headed our way. Still no news on whether it's going to make it to Taipei. But if it does and we have to wait it out inside for a couple of days, there's only one, err, two things to do. Go to the grocery store to stock up and fly by the movie rental joint. Here's something that might help.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Friday, October 22, 2004
This just landed in my email. Take a look:
Watch this video. The first time I watched it I didn't notice it, but the second time I found it creepy to say the least. This is a car advert from somewhere in Europe. When they finished filming the ad, the people who made it noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. If you have speakers, you can lightly hear a strange whooshing sound as the mist goes by, but its faint so listen hard.
The ad was pulled off TV because the unexplained ghostly phenomenon frightened the production team out of their wits and figured it would do the same to anyone who noticed as well. Watch it, and about halfway look and you will see the white mist crossing in front of the car by following it along the road... this is very eerie.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Okay, so Tibet has been under the boot of Beijing's martinets for well over 50 years, yet Taiwan has never had to answer to China's communist tyrants. Yet this is what we hear today:
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue says the Chinese government insists that the Dalai Lama ... should state that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, in the same way that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.Go figure. Perhaps the Dalai Lama could get some milage out of this. He could make the statement and then draw attention to the fact that Taiwan has a democratically elected government, its own standing army, its own tax system and answers to no one except its electorate.
For more on Tibet.
It looks like Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which I mentioned in an earlier post, is pulling its anti-Kerry film. The group's stocks have tanked over the past week and up to 80 regular advertisers have pulled their ads. This does not mean that Sinclair will not try to repackage the information in some other way. Also Sinclair's own Washington bureau chief spoke out about this and promptly lost his job.
Again, I can't do this issue justice, so I'll just link to the guys who have been on top of this since it began, Atrios, Kos and Josh Marshall.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Harpoon in the Pacific. (Left click on pic for full scale)
On some days the sponge is dry ...
Here in Taiwan, a 7.0 earthquake in the Pacific last Friday jostled us all. In Taipei it was only a 4.0, but for those of us who were here during the 921 earthquake of 1999, it was an eerie reminder.
One typhoon just passed us by and decided to head toward Japan, which I'm sure is a relief to Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, since he seems to catch the blame everytime a typhoon makes landfall near Taipei. But the mayor cannot rest just yet, as another is still heading our way.
Most of the time it's best to ignore the sclerotic rumblings of The New York Times' op-ed columnist William Safire, but today's jeremiad against the Kerry camp is nothing but disingenuous.
Safire spends some 700 words excoriating the Kerry campaign for drawing attention to Mary Cheney's sexual preference in the third and final presidential debate.
It's not my purpose to defend Kerry on this point. For Kerry to have brought up Mary Cheney again, after John Edwards had done it once in the vice presidential debates, was certainly a lapse of judgement, but what the Republican Party would have you believe, and this is the crux, is that by "outing" Mary Cheney, the Democrats were gunning for a cheap smear. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is this line of attack that lays open the heart of today's GOP.
Kerry's mistake was to further subject Mary Cheney to the same public scrutiny that has plagued the family members of presidents and presidential candidates alike.
Yet amid all the hubub, it might be easy to forget why this is an issue at all. President George W. Bush pledged his support to Colorado Representative Marilyn Musgrave for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage three months before he made his public announcement in February of this year. Bush and the GOP intended to make gay marriage a wedge issue in a sordid attempt to divide the American public by appealing to the basest of human emotions, the fear of difference and the fear of the unknown.
One would do well to remember that all this mock outrage comes from the very same party that under former president Ronald Reagan did everything it could to distance itself from the AIDS crisis, buoyed by the belief that AIDS was merely a "gay" disease. And from the bowels of the GOP's reactionary wing, the so-called moral majority, we were told that AIDS was God's scourge on homosexuals.
To his credit Safire came out against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but regrettably he is no stranger to the art of the slur. Safire's role in amplifying the outrageous accusations that Bill and Hillary Clinton may have had a hand in the death of Vince Foster is a rancor that should not be forgotten. Safire, a man who once accused a sitting president of murder, is now chastising Senator Kerry for telling the truth.
Safire ends his column by urging Republicans to quote the words of Senator Joseph Welch:
Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"Yet coy Bill neglects to give this famous piece of Americana its rightful context. These words were spoken to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Senate subcommittee on un-American activities hearings in 1954. It was a pivotal moment that both undermined McCarthy's communist witchhunt, and eventually destroyed his reputation.
William Safire has no moral integrity. Drawing a parallel between Kerry's poorly thought out gambit and the slanderous lies of the McCarthy era is scabrous, cheap and intellectually dishonest.
Appalling correspondence from The Guardian:
Have you not noticed that we Americans don't give two shits about what you Europeans think of us. Each email someone gets from an arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid yellow-toothed pansies ... I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should not try to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh yeah, and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.
There are of course a few letters that are less strident. Here is the mailbag.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Friday, October 15, 2004
Ever since my first year in Taipei, I have always relished the coming of October. The month's name is confusing and can be blamed in part on Roman vanity, specifically Augustus and Julius Caesar.
Taipei's climate is generally horrible. It's either sizzling hot or pissing down rain, or both. But October is always a welcome respite. It rarely rains, and the city cools down. Taipei's Octobers don't have the advantage of New England or Mississippi autumns, with the leaves changing colors and the sweet and sour smell of fermenting leaves, redolent of sex, along two-lane highways.
But Taipei has everything else plus some: the layers of clothes, angora sweaters, reddened cheeks and cashmere coats. Over this basin city, to the west, there now rises the tallest building in the world, where one can easily see Yangmingshan, the volcano to the north. It is there where many people go during chilly weather to languish in hot springs pools and stuff themselves afterwards with hot pot or steaming soups.
But enough about the weather. It's time to watch the last US predidential debate via streaming video, hooray!
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Just kidding, but if I find one I'll let you know.
Both the upcoming legislative elections in Taiwan and presidential election in the US should provide entertainment and grief in spades over the next several weeks.
In the US, Sinclair Broadcasting Group is ordering its affiliate stations across the US to air a feature-length documentary on the treasonous actions of presidential candidate John Kerry. This piece of agitprop will run in the same slot that is usually reserved for evening news sans advertising, and Sinclair has already said that it has no intention of running a separate piece that would show Kerry in a more favorable light in the interest of balance. Already there is a full effort underway, through boycotts and stock divestiture, to try to get Sinclair to reconsider its decision. According to a number of sites I've looked at, Sinclair controls roughly one quarter of the affiliated broadcast TV market in the US. Of course, there are bloggers far more knowledgeable than I on this issue, so if you are interested, you can learn more here, here, here and here. Don't get lost!
Here in Taiwan it appears that the accusation of "flip-flopper" stings not with an equal drop of poison. A DPP legislator accused a PFP legislator of changing his mind on a substantive issue, and the PFP legislator, feeling the welt sufficient, assaulted his colleague on the floor of the Legislative Yuan.
From the Taipei Times:
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Wen-chung yesterday carried some posters to the Procedure Committee to highlight that the arms deal had been agreed to during the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) adminstration.Here's the article in full.
Lee also highlighted PFP Legislator Nelson Ku's
conflicting roles as former chief of the navy -- when he supported the deal -- and incumbent opposition lawmaker -- who now opposes the deal.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
I am almost finished with Graham Greene's novel The Comedians, and while not his best work, it bears up to scrutiny. Several years ago, I tried to read as many of his novels as I could, but given my habit of buying more books than I can read, I had a few of his works left unopened on my shelf.
What led me to the novel was this review of the last of a three-part biography of Greene.
Green's antipathy toward Americans was no secret. His American characters wander the world in a fog of blind idealism, wielding the shiv of naiveté. They support causes for their symbolism and impose sunny scenarios on a world far more complex and bleak than they are willing to acknowledge. Thus his American characters often careen through life oblivious to the death and destruction they leave in their wake.
No one would argue that Greene's depiction of Americans was fully fleshed out, but he did touch upon the dark side of the optimistic, can-do spirit that Americans so cherish about themselves.
This virulent strain of American idealism can now be found in the corridors of Washington D.C., specifically among the neocon cabal in the Bush administration that guides American foreign policy. The belief that American troops would be greeted as liberators and showered with a confetti of flowers upon their arrival in Iraq is so ludicrous it could have easily been a line from one of Greene's execrable, pioneering villans.
Almost everyone is familiar with the seasonal bug panic, be it West Nile virus in the US, or SARS, dengue hemmoragic fever, and hoof and mouth disease here in Asia. Yet the viral menace that most merits vigilance is avian flu, also known as H5N1.
The strain of avian flu that has officials at the UN World Health Organization so worried made its first appearance in Hong Kong in 1997. But at the time, the virus’ spread was, for the most part, confined to birds.
A spate of articles, most notably in The New York Times, have noted that the virus is clearly getting stronger, and health officials in Thailand are worried that they have seen the first human-to-human transmission. Of the 40 some odd people who have taken ill with the virus, 70-75 percent have died.
Whenever influenza becomes the topic of discussion, someone invariably mentions the Spanish Flu of 1918, which had a fatality rate of 2.5 percent, and culled more of the global population than World War I. Most virologists acknowledge that there is no way to predict what happens when such a virus makes the species jump complete. It is always in the realm of possibility, like what happened with SARS, that the virus could become less lethal as it travels from body to body, as immune systems come up with coping mechanisms. Then again, the reverse could be true as the virus combines with others, thereby constantly changing its genetic make up.
As of now, the most pressing concern is how unequipped and under-funded countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are to deal with the disease. When I was in Hanoi at the beginning of this year, the Vietnamese government was wrestling with another outbreak of the flu among chickens. At the time it was well known that the Vietnamese government was only offering one-third of the market price to poultry farmers who had been ordered to kill their stock. It is not surprising that many farmers opted to kill their chickens and try to sell them in the markets, rather than take the loss.
Many governments in South-East Asia cannot afford to take the kind of preventative measures that are needed to stem the virus’ mutations. With all the hand wringing over the terrorist threat during the past three years, one would think that governments of developed nations would be eager to fund a “preemptive” attack on a growing menace that could well wipe out more people than terrorists could.
The affairs of developing nations are often seen as none of our concern, but as the SARS scare proved, ignoring their failures can quickly become our own undoing.
It is like having a pipe burst in the closet, closing the closet door, and then acting gobsmacked at the fact that water is now all over your living room floor.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
I created this blog on May 5, 2002. At the time I made a single silly post, to see if the template worked and what it might look like. Then I promptly lost interest and forgot. I've since discovered that my blog embryo wasn't dead, merely suspended in a state of arrested development. I've been accused by some friends of having been lost in the blogosphere, and that is, to some extent, true. But the upshot of such ribbings is friendly encouragement to start a blog, so here goes. I wrote this piece a week ago, which I know will go unpublished, so I thought I would post it here:
The Scorpion and the Frog
On October 6, US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless sent ripples through Taiwan’s political community by warning that if Taiwan did not pass its NT$618.8 (US$18.2 billion) defense budget, which has been languishing in the Legislative Yuan for several years, "… it will have repercussions for the United States [and] will have repercussions for Taiwan’s friends."
While Lawless didn’t elaborate any further, he was sending a clear signal—not so much to President Chen Shui-bian, who has campaigned for passage of the budget for well over four years—to Taiwan’s dilatory legislature, which has stymied the legislation at every opportunity since Chen’s first inauguration.
The opposition KMT and PFP parties’ primary objection to the defense budget is that Taiwan simply cannot afford to buy the weapons. The pan-blue alliance maintains that the funds would be better put to use if they were reinvested in the economy or other domestic concerns. In a deft response, Chen pointed out that if the legislation passes, Taiwan will be paying only 2.8 percent of the nation’s GDP for defense expenditures, which is less than what Singapore, South Korea or the US spend annually, thereby implying that as a percentage of GDP, Taiwan would be investing more heavily in its domestic affairs than its neighbors and most-valued ally.
It is true that budget squabbles and party rivalry are an integral part of any functioning democracy, but the Legislative Yuan and its pan-blue majority have lost sight of the larger picture, a picture in which China refuses to renounce the use of force, continues to add to its stockpile of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and seeks to interfere at every turn when Taiwan attempts to become a member of the international community.
But the true oversight here—hence Lawless’ remark—is Taiwan’s long-held assumption that the US will come to its aid in the event of a conflict across the Strait. It is no secret that US troops, in light of the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, are stretched almost to the breaking point. In the US there are persistent rumors of an upcoming draft, and most of those who are now serving in Iraq have been there far longer than they had anticipated.
At this juncture, any administration in Washington D.C. might jib at the prospect of having to mobilize a large number of troops in the event of a war in the Pacific. This is not to say that the US would relinquish its commitment to Taiwan, rather Lawless is simply, and none too subtly, suggesting that perhaps Taiwan should show as great an interest in protecting itself as the US does.
Those, like some in the blue camp, who continue to look to
If it comes to a point where China clearly has the upper hand militarily, and Taiwan continues to be marginalized from the international community, Taiwan will have few bargaining chips with which to stem a “reunification” juggernaut. With this in mind, it is clear that Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan must approve the defense budget within the next year, for it is not merely the right of a sovereign nation to arm itself against an avowed aggressor, it is both a moral and fundamental responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry from a bellicose neighbor.
... I understand that there are nuances to this argument that have been left out, but one can only say so much when allotted 600 words. One thing I neglected to mention was that the KMT and PFP have also argued that it would simply be impossible for Taiwan to outlast or outspend China in an arms race. There are also legitimate criticisms that the US only allows Taiwan to buy what Washington wants it to buy, which is for the most part second rate equipment at department store prices. Yet there is something else that I have yet to see touched upon, and that is an unspoken belief, perhaps on the part of the Pentagon or the US State Department that the inflated prices are in fact a silent quid-pro-quo arrangement whereby the US deflects some of its costs for the 1996 7th Fleet interference run when China was testing missiles in the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan was holding a presidential election.
David Momphard of the Taipei Times had a nice overview of the US' changing relationship with Taiwan, which touched on some of these issues in Sunday's paper.