Quote of the Day

Peter Daou, in a column dissecting the myth of the liberal, anti-Bush media, writes a paragraph to remember:

[F]or the past 5+ years, one of the overarching narratives about Bush is that he is ‘firm’ in the face of criticism, a victim of events rather than a precipitator, under attack by whining Democrats. The mess in Iraq is due to faulty intelligence, Katrina is a generic “failure at all levels,” his disastrous second term is attributed not to him but to the benign-sounding “second-term curse,” 9/11 happened on his watch but mysteriously terrorism is his strength, he can defy the law on warrantless spying and the thrust of reporting is about how polls are split, the Plame leak is Libby’s fault or Rove’s fault or McClellan’s fault or the Democrats’ fault or the media’s fault, and on and on. Bush is rarely, if ever, directly blamed for the mess he’s created. The subtext, therefore, is that he is infallible. It’s no accident that when asked at a presser, Bush couldn’t think of a single mistake he’d made. And it’s no accident that the administration never admits errors in judgment and is pathologically incapable of firing anyone, no matter how egregious the screw-up. As far as Cheney is concerned, he shoots a man in the face and the victim apologizes to him. Need I say more about infallibility?

Daou is one of the most brilliant and least partisan bloggers out there (look at his column, which always gives views from both sides). Today he wins the ultimate honor, a place on my coveted blogroll.


Proposed Guidelines for Taiwan’s National Unification Council

A guest post from Jerome Keating.

Inane Flap Over an Outdated and Inept National Unification Council

Some called it a bombshell but it was only the bursting of a bubble. Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian has recently caused quite a stir among the biased and uninformed by proposing to abolish the country’s ineffective National Unification Council (NUC). The continued flap over the NUC and its guidelines highlights that most people know nothing about this outdated and ineffective organization, how the guidelines themselves contradict reality, and how the council comes from an era when the Kuomintang (KMT) wished to substitute its personal agenda for that of the people of Taiwan.

Formed back in 1990 (six years before Taiwan’s people were allowed to directly elect their President) the NUC represents a last ditch effort by the KMT to explain and justify its continued forty plus years of martial law and one-party state rule i.e. their alleged purpose all along was democracy. The council adopted the present guidelines at its third meeting on February 23, 1991.

First examine this; the Pan-blue dominated Legislature in typical hypocritical fashion cries at how President Chen does not have the best interests of the people in mind. That same Pan-blue Legislature had just cut the annual budget of the NUC to a mere US thirty-two dollars—barely enough to pay to install a phone or get fax paper for less than a month. This is more than a slap in the face to the NUC, it confirms that even the Pan-blues consider the NUC useless but it further insults the people of Taiwan.



The End of Oil

Unlinkable, by NY Times editor Robert Semple Jr.

This topic created a really nasty comment war last year on this blog, when one commenter insisted any mention of the possibility of the world running out of oil was foolish, juvenile and ignorant. (Funny, that’s just what I thought of his comments.) It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but the crisis may not be that far off, either.

The End of Oil

When President Bush declared in his 2006 State of the Union address that America must cure its “addiction to oil,” he framed his case largely in terms of national security — the need to liberate the country from of its dependence on volatile and in some cases hostile nations for much of its energy. He failed to mention two other good reasons to sober up. Both are at least as pressing as national security.



Iraqi death toll

More than 1,300 killed over the past week in Iraq’s civil war. Of course, there’s not a word of this over at LGF and most of the other war-bloggers’ sites, where they’ve dutifully placed their heads deep and conveniently in the sand.

Small wonder Bush’s popularity now stands at a paltry 34 percent, the lowest ever. Will the media stop referring to him as “a popular president” now? (No, the probably won’t.)


The Dark Side of China’s Rse

You simply have to read it. Thanks to Bill Stimson for calling it to my attention.


The only thing rising faster than China is the hype about China. In January, the People’s Republic’s gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded that of Britain and France, making China the world’s fourth-largest economy. In December, it was announced that China replaced the United States as the world’s largest exporter of technology goods. Many experts predict that the Chinese economy will be second only to the United States by 2020, and possibly surpass it by 2050.

Western investors hail China’s strong economic fundamentals—notably a high savings rate, huge labor pool, and powerful work ethic—and willingly gloss over its imperfections. Businesspeople talk about China’s being simultaneously the world’s greatest manufacturer and its greatest market. Private equity firms are scouring the Middle Kingdom for acquisitions. Chinese Internet companies are fetching dot-com-era prices on the NASDAQ. Some of the world’s leading financial institutions, including Bank of America, Citibank, and HSBC, have bet billions on the country’s financial future by acquiring minority stakes in China’s state-controlled banks, even though many of them are technically insolvent. Not to be left out, every global automobile giant has built or is planning new facilities in China, despite a flooded market and plunging profit margins.

And why shouldn’t they believe the hype? The record of China’s growth over the past two decades has proved pessimists wrong and optimists not optimistic enough. But before we all start learning Chinese and marveling at the accomplishments of the Chinese Communist Party, we might want to pause for a moment. Upon close examination, China’s record loses some of its luster. China’s economic performance since 1979, for example, is actually less impressive than that of its East Asian neighbors, such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, during comparable periods of growth. Its banking system, which costs Beijing about 30 percent of annual GDP in bailouts, is saddled with nonperforming loans and is probably the most fragile in Asia. The comparison with India is especially striking. In six major industrial sectors (ranging from autos to telecom), from 1999 to 2003, Indian companies delivered rates of return on investment that were 80 to 200 percent higher than their Chinese counterparts. The often breathless conventional wisdom on China’s economic reform overlooks major flaws that render many predictions about China’s trajectory misleading, if not downright hazardous.

Behind the glowing headlines are fundamental frailties rooted in the Chinese neo-Leninist state. Unlike Maoism, neo-Leninism blends one-party rule and state control of key sectors of the economy with partial market reforms and an end to self-imposed isolation from the world economy. The Maoist state preached egalitarianism and relied on the loyalty of workers and peasants. The neo-Leninist state practices elitism, draws its support from technocrats, the military, and the police, and co-opts new social elites (professionals and private entrepreneurs) and foreign capital—all vilified under Maoism. Neo-Leninism has rendered the ruling Chinese Communist Party more resilient but has also generated self-destructive forces.

It comes to the same conclusion I do: China’s moment of truth will be the “stress test,” when a recession or other catastrophe tests the system. That’s when we’ll know whether China’s rise was a lot of hot air or a true economic miracle.


228, another day that lives in infamy

A murdered citizen on 228

Maybe it’s fitting that today, my first February 28th in Taiwan, the island is soaked in a cold, gloomy rainstorm. Er-er-ba, as the day is called here, is perhaps to the Taiwanese what the Holocaust is to the Jews. Like 9-11, the numbers 228 speak for themselves; there’s no reason to give it a more informative name. Everyone knows it’s the day Chinag Kai Shek began a massacre of Taiwanese citizens resulting in some 30,000 butchered. You can read all about it here if you’re not up on the details. Here is a brief description from a correspondent in Taiwan at the time:

On February 27 a policeman of the Taiwan (Formosa) Monopoly Bureau saw a woman selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of the capital, Taipei. When he tried to seize her tray and money, she pulled away, and he struck her a crashing blow on the head with his revolver butt. She died at his feet. An angry mob gathered, and the police shot into the crowd, killing one person and wounding others. Forthwith a year and a half of gathering hatred for an inefficient, autocratic, corrupt administration exploded into unarmed demonstrations against the mainland Chinese.

China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre. Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders.

It’s a national holiday today in Taiwan, and most businesses are closed. It is to Taiwan’s credit that it acknowledges its own act of barbarism, and that it invites the public to examine it for themselves. (Still, some contend the government hasn’t gone far enough in weeding out the instigators of 228 and that many of the worst offenders have gone unpunished to this day.) I wonder if we’ll ever see a similar national holiday in China commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the Great Leap Forward or other treats that the CCP bestowed on its citizens.

My first week in Taiwan, Jerome Keating was kind enough to take me to the 228 Museum here. It’s hard to put into words just how upsetting it is to walk through this simple but unforgettable place, where you see hundreds of photos of innocent civilians who were murdered, and all you can do is ask “Why?” It reminded me of walking through the Jewish sector in Prague, where the names of the murdered Jews have been inscribed into the walls. They’re just names, lines of ink, but they say so much. These pictures say so much, and I can never forget them. Some of the victims were so young, and many were killed simply because they were seen in old photographs standing alongside “enemies of the state.”

The fact that Taiwan has grown from a savage place where its Chinese leaders could launch acts of terror that would have made Stalin proud into the prosperous, peaceful nation it is today should hold lessons for each of us, and perhaps give us hope that China, too, might one day shed its mantle of tyranny and become a country of laws and of openness. I see no sign of that happening now, but I probably wouldn’t have seen such signs in Taiwan back in the 1940s or 50s. What will it take? If Taiwan could do it, could the PRC do it as well? What was the turning point, and is China anywhere near such a pivotal moment?

[Note: I promised myself I wouldn’t post anything until later in the week, but the emotions of 228 were too strong to ignore. This had to be written today or never.]


Taiwan and China

You’ve just gotta see this. And don’t miss this deranged comment and the brutal response to it.)

Via Michael Turton.


A thread by any other name…..

Yunnan boy.jpg

An open thread.

I wish I felt as happy as this Yunnan villager today. What a smile.


Nicholas Kristof: Soldiers Speak

One of the most populare memes of recent monmths has been that the US soldiers fighting in Iraq perceive the war to be a good thing, a war we are winning and a war they want to continue fighting. This is rubbish, of course, and Kristof says why.

The Soldiers Speak. Will President Bush Listen?
Published: February 28, 2006

When President Bush held a public meeting with troops by satellite last fall, they were miraculously upbeat. And all along, unrepentant hawks (most of whom have never been to Iraq) have insisted that journalists are misreporting Iraq and that most soldiers are gung-ho about their mission.

Hogwash! A new poll to be released today shows that U.S. soldiers overwhelmingly want out of Iraq — and soon.



Bloggers have to work, too

So it’s impossible for me to put up new stuff at the moment. It’s the week from hell. I should be back in form by Wednesday afternoon, when the Big Project ends.

In the meantime, there are now hundreds of succulent posts in the new Duck Pond, where registered members now number above 60. It actually seems to have worked.