“Now living in Taipei”

One of the most-asked questions I hear is why this site prominently states I am now living in Taipei, when I am actually living in Beijing. The answer is, I can’t get rid of the artwork up above. This site’s designer has all the artwork and she appears to have vaporized. Not only that, but she vaporized with $600 I paid her 18 months ago to overhaul the site and get rid of that Taipei balloon and make trackbacks functional, etc. She kept promising me she was working on it, and month after months she said she was almost ready. Then she stopped responding to my emails, and finally she replied telling me she may never finish it but would not send back the money. Based on the tone of this email, I could tell something was a bit off, i.e., she was bipolar or something. She has my sympathy, and my money. And I’m stuck with this site template.

Which all leads me to one question: Should I get rid of this template and do away with a design that one reader told me had become “an icon” (whatever that means)? I either scrap the whole thing or keep what’s there despite its dysfunctionality. Tough call to make after nearly five years with the same design, like giving up your well-established brand.


Hillary Clinton will win

I would now place bets she will win the primary, and almost certainly the presidency. I wish it were Edwards or Obama, but I now believe the magic of Obama’s Iowa surprise has faded completely, and the majority of Democrats and independents are skeptical he has the stuff to lead. As much as people hate Clinton, she still enjoys immense support among those whom Nixon famously dubbed “the silent majority.” This silent majority consists of retired people, lots of blue-collar Democrats and the average middle-income middle-aged adults who don’t show up on the blogs but who always vote. Today she won an important endorsement and I expect her support to rapidly increase.

Part of the reason is the sheer nastiness of those who hate Clinton, including us liberals. I’ve been combing message boards at some liberal sites and am stunned at the hostility. Yeah, she’s hard as nails and opportunistic and ruthless (is there any president who wasn’t, at least to some degree?). But what has she done to qualify as “loathsome” or “a hateful bitch”? Those are tough words, and we should save them for the real thing, like Bush and Karen Hughes.

Ezra Klein has a good piece about this today, and it further increases my conviction that the attacks against Clinton have ironically done more good than harm.

On the one hand, Hillary Clinton is running a bare-knuckled, often unfair campaign, and pundits should mention that. On the other, the sort of attacks she’s levying — misrepresenting Obama’s payroll tax plan, or exaggerating his comments about Reagan — are pretty much par for the course. We’re not hitting some sort of new low in politics, here. And the overarching theme of Waldman’s column — that Clinton is “running like a Republican” — almost pushes me to her side on the issue. The winner of the Democratic primary, after all, will have to run against a Republican.

This seems like good practice for Obama, who needs to prove that he can do precisely that. And, so far, it looks to me like Clinton is getting the better of this one: Obama and his folks are spending a lot of time clarifying statements and categorizing attacks as unfair, while Clinton keeps throwing more punches and controlling the conversation. While I can name a half-dozen open attacks Clinton has on Obama right now, I’m not really sure what line his campaign is taking against Clinton. This is what folks feared with Obama: That he’d be too high-minded to stand up to the smear machine. And distasteful as some of Clinton’s hits are, they’re nothing compared to what he’ll face as the nominee.

Clinton now has the upper hand and I think she will retain it, for better or for worse.


It’s the economy, stupid!

Is anyone watching the meltdown? All I’m seeing is collective willed ignorance, ostrich-style. (“America is strong and it will always be strong.”) When you have companies the likes of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch facing calamity, the very foundations of our system are in question. And it’s just starting. Yes, definitely a good time to be paid in RMB. It’s Asia’s century.


Using US dollars to keep China’s poor poorer, its rich richer

James Fallows, always one of my favorite columnists, does the impossible, simplifying some terribly complex issues about China’s dollar-surplus and providing answers that actually can be understood by those who are MBA-less. The chief question he sets his sites on is this:

Why should the Communist Party of China countenance a policy that takes so much wealth from the world’s poor, in their own country, and gives it to the United States? To add to the mystery, why should China be content to put so many of its holdings into dollars, knowing that the dollar is virtually guaranteed to keep losing value against the RMB? And how long can its people tolerate being denied so much of their earnings, when they and their country need so much?

Fallows’ answers are cogent and depressing. The bottom line is that China ends up with a much better deal than the US, even if it’s sitting on all that money that can’t be used for the good of its own people. China holds most of the cards, and they’ve reaped the most benefits. We’ve reaped benefits, too – it’s allowed us to borrow all we wish, and to live well while consuming more than we produce. But as Fallows makes gloomily clear, that situation cannot last forever, and it is probably about to end sooner than most of us imagine. And it won’t be pretty.

Sorry for the huge gap in posts. A combination of working/sleeping offsite and not feeling I had much to say recently.


Did the “Fred factor” win South Carolina for McCain?

(With respect to Richard I am not commenting on the Democrat race today)

Looking at key counties that voted big for Bush in 2000, Fred Thompson was taking a lot of votes that potentially could have gone to Huckabee. For example:


Huckabee – 16,775
McCain – 15,297
Thompson – 12,438


Huckabee – 10,297
McCain – 8,232
Thompson – 5,893

The open nature of the Republican race helped McCain in Iowa, as Huckabee’s victory over Romney stopped the latter getting momentum. As a result McCain took New Hampshire. Now Thompson may have helped McCain (not necessarily handing him the victory) again in South Carolina.

And South Carolina does matter. It has selected the Republican nominee for a long time, and it’s where McCain foundered in 2000. It will be a great confidence boost to him and his crew to win this time. With Florida coming up in a bit over a week McCain will get a boost and Giuliani, ahead for months, will be kicking himself about that. McCain has always been his biggest rival.

I think Huckabee and Thompson have lost their chance. The former should have won tonight and the former needed to come second/near to the front-runner (16% is not enough). Even if they get support elsewhere it will probably be too little too late. That leaves Giuliani and Romney to compete against McCain – at this time I’m not sure they can.

Those who wrote him off as early as late last year must feel really embarrassed now.



Gerard Baker on the Republican race

How mad are the Republicans?

I sense that the syndrome says something about what has gone so badly wrong with the conservative movement in the past ten years. It has become so intolerant and exclusive that once orthodox views are now regarded as heresy; while views once merely narrow and eccentric are now prerequisites for membership.

One of Mr McCain’s biggest sins is to have opposed tax cuts in the early years of the Bush presidency because there was no effort to cut spending to match them. This runs counter to the new orthodoxy on the Right that believes tax cutting is a kind of alchemy – cut taxes anywhere at any time and you will always and everywhere produce increases in government revenues. There is not the slightest evidence for this, but no matter. You must believe.

Mr McCain is unacceptable also because he has insufficiently orthodox views on human rights. Last week a writer in the National Review said that Mr McCain was not a conservative because he opposes torture of terrorist suspects. Quite how the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower came to erect a “Torturers Only” sign at its gate will be a matter for historians.

An interesting read and generally spot on in my view. Even if McCain doesn’t pick up South Carolina it won’t mean he can’t win sufficient support on Super Tuesday to make him the clear front-runner. But, as I have said all along, he is the only serious challenge to the leading Democrats. Sadly some Republicans clearly are delluded in believing Huckabee or Romney could do better. Or maybe they know McCain is their only real chance, but the last thing they’d want to admit is that he could win.

We shall see in a couple of weeks whether Republicans would prefer to try to win or sulk because the country doesn’t share their “values”.


And now for something completely different

Achmed the Dead Terrorist

From Youtube



It’s “one of those weeks” where I’ll be essentially hiding out. But this story is too significant to pass up. It’s an old story, maybe as old as China itself – the government seizes land used by farmers for many years and tries to profit from it. The interesting issue here is the chain reaction of protests this is setting off in multiple locations.

About 1,000 farmers gathered in the village meeting hall here at 8 a.m. on Dec. 19 and proclaimed what amounted to a revolt against China’s communist land-ownership system.

The broad, flat fields surrounding Changchunling belong to the farmers who work them, they declared, and not to the local government. The farmers then began dividing up the village’s collective holdings, with the goal of making each family the owner of a private plot.

“There is no justification for taking the land away from the farmers,” said one of the participating peasants.

The redistribution exercise at Changchunling was not an isolated incident. Rather, it marked what appears to be the start of a backlash against China’s system of collective land ownership in rural areas….

But here in the Fujin area, farmers have not just exploded in anger, but have taken on the system that gives officials their power over the land. Moreover, they have coordinated with other farmers via the Internet and sought tactical advice from democracy advocates in Beijing who see an opportunity to advance their political agenda.

“It is a frontal challenge,” one activist said.

Is this more of the same, or a “revolution”? Whether it’s a revolution or just another of those countless demonstrations that erupt every year in the countryside here, it all goes back to the same issue – corrupt local officials trying to fuck their people over, and a central government too weak and insecure to do anything about it. That corruption, after all, is the grease that keeps the CCP power machine humming. One more embarrassment the Party will have to deal with as its day in the sun approaches.


Was the Economist right all along?

The Economist – The case for John McCain (Lexington, 6th December 2007)

There are signs that Republicans are swallowing their doubts about Mr McCain. He is gaining some momentum in New Hampshire (he is barely campaigning in Iowa because he has long ridiculed the absurd ethanol subsidies with which many farmers there line their pockets). The New Hampshire Union Leader gave him a ringing endorsement this week. He is creeping back up the polls nationally, and is now coming second to Mr Giuliani. Republicans need to keep swallowing. Mr McCain is surely worth another look.

Even as recently as last month McCain was still written off by many pundits, yet the Economist’s picture of the battle between McCain and Giuliani as being like the story of the tortoise and hare seems to be coming true. The former mayor of New York’s polling is being punished by his poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, even in states where he thought he had it wrapped up, whereas the McCain election campaign has got it right so far.

Rudy Giuliani eyeballs poll disaster

As recently as early last month, Giuliani was almost 15 points clear of the field in national polls; he was 33 points ahead in his native New York and 15 points up in Florida, which holds its primary on January 29. But a series of embarrassing political setbacks has knocked his legs from under him.

In one national poll last week, he plunged to third place among Republican candidates, with only 16% of the vote. In New York on Friday a Survey USA poll showed that his lead over John McCain, the surging Ari-zona senator who won the New Hampshire primary, had sunk to just three points. Even Florida, long targeted by Giuliani as his ideal state to launch a winning campaign, is turning into a minefield. In a poll last Friday, he slipped into second place, eight points behind McCain.

The race isn’t over by a long-shot, but the idea that McCain is only three points behind in his opponent’s backyard boggles the mind.

Giuliani’s mistake was to rely too much on his post 9/11 reputation. It should have served as a base to gain notoriety and nothing more. But he keeps talking about it far too much, as if it’s the only thing he has. That won’t help him in a race against Clinton or Obama.

Indeed, once again, it’s the senator from Arizona who is pushing the leading Democrats according to this poll. As the Economist suggested, if Republicans want a chance at keeping the White House they need to keep swallowing down on whatever concerns they have about him – he’s the only credible chance they have now.

As for Rudy:

“Either Rudy is a genius, and is about to defy half a century of conventional political wisdom,” noted one leading New York Democrat last week. “Or he has run the most stupid presidential campaign in history.”

We shall see, but from this point on I think his campaign is in the hands of the Fates, not his own. That’s not a good position for a politician to be in.




Britons “richer than Americans”

Thanks to Battlepanda’s blog for reporting this.

BBC reports

The average UK person will this year have a greater income than their US counterpart for the first time since the 19th Century, figures suggest. Analyst Oxford Economics said the UK’s GDP per head of population will reach £23,500 – £250 higher than in the US.

However, because goods and services are cheaper in the US, Americans will have stronger purchasing power, it added. UK GDP per capita will also be higher than in Germany (£21,665) and France (£21,700), Oxford Economics calculated.

We have not been the “sick man of Europe” for some time, but it’s always nice to be reminded of the change that has swept across the country. We are still one of the premier European economies, and will remain that way even though growth will slow next year.