Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

Untitled
I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely? 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being a democracy activist in Asia is an act of extreme courage

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 12.19.45 AM


Asia woke up this morning to the news that several Hong Kong activists were being arrested or attacked for their alleged roles in the ongoing protest movement there. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, Andy Chan, Jimmy Sham, Althea Suen and more (including some pro-democracy lawmakers) have been targeted in various ways - cornered and beaten, shoved into private cars and taken to police stations to face charges or arrested at the airport before a planned trip abroad. One activist was released from police custody and then attacked.

These are only the high-profile arrests. Hundreds more have been quietly arrested in previous weeks:



Notably, the Civil Human Rights Front march that Jimmy Sham was likely involved in organizing hasn't taken place yet. 

What that means is that these activists are being targeted - arrested or beaten - in some cases for things that China Hong Kong anticipates their doing, not things they have already allegedly done.


I cannot stress this enough. It's full-on Minority Report, as a friend put it: arresting someone for a "crime" that has not been committed (yet, allegedly, not that a peaceful march is a crime at all.)

That's not the sort of thing well-functioning societies do; it's the sort of thing fascist states do. It's White Terror. It's pre-massacre. If that alarms you, it should. 

The march has been officially canceled but I'll be very interested to see what actually happens tomorrow. 

These demonstrations are officially 'leaderless', and while organizers certainly exist, it sure looks to me like the Chinese Hong Kong government just decided to go after former protest leaders and other activists almost randomly, either assuming that they must be somehow involved or not caring and just looking to arrest some public pro-democracy figures on whatever charges they could drum up. 

In fact, there are serious doubts as to whether Joshua Wong had a leading role in the Wan Chai demonstration:



That this sudden crackdown on pro-democracy activists happened right before this weekend's planned march hints at China Hong Kong's true intentions: not to actually bring 'leaders' of these demonstrations 'to justice', but rather to scare demonstrators into ending the movement.

Add to this the detention in China of British Consulate employee Simon Cheng on unclear grounds (Cheng has since been released) and the disappearance of Taiwanese activist Morrison Lee after entering Shenzhen (in China) from Taiwan, and you've got yourself quite the 'crackdown' list indeed. What's more, with Cathay Pacific now stating that any employee who protests this weekend or joins the planned general strike next week may face termination, other companies are likely to follow suit. Even more than that, there are rumors of Hong Kong locking down its Internet access much in the way China does its own.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Lizard Person Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that "all laws" were on the table as possible tools to end the protests. This includes the absolutely terrifying Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which is basically a state of Martial Law:


Such regulations grant a wide range of powers, including on arrests, detentions and deportations, the control of ports and all transport, the appropriation of property, and authorising the entry and search of premises and the censorship and suppression of publications and communications. 
The ordinance also allows the chief executive to decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

All of this was done by the Hong Kong government officially, but we know who's really running the show. To wit:


The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.... 
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Of course, it's unclear what China hopes to gain by escalating rather than choosing a path that would bring peace (do not think for a moment that they couldn't choose such a path; they just don't want to. Don't pretend that Beijing is not responsible for its own choices.)

Is it a trap to provoke protesters into actions that could be spun by Chinese state media as "violence" and used as justification for further crackdowns?





Or, perhaps China Hong Kong isn't sure at all what to do about a leaderless protest with very specific demands - including the one thing they are completely opposed to offering (that is, true democracy) - is desperate to stop it, has started panicking and has started randomly arresting figureheads thinking they're all the same kind of 'roaches' anyway. Or, perhaps,  China Hong Kong law enforcement really is stupid enough to believe that these arrests along with talk of 'emergency powers', random attacks and disappearances and more will 'scare' democracy activists away and end the protests. (It won't.)

I don't know, and I'll be watching social media carefully this weekend just like everyone else to find out what the effects will be.

Given all of this, all I can say is - it takes guts of steel to be a democracy activist in Asia these days. Not a dilettante at a keyboard like me, but the ones in gas masks on the streets, the ones likely to be arrested, attacked or disappeared. That's true regardless of where you come from in Asia, and is especially true in Hong Kong now.

It's dangerous to travel, as you never know which countries might detain you at China's request as Thailand did with Joshua Wong. A Taiwanese activist friend of mine has said that as a result, he worries about travel to other parts of Asia. The Philippines, an ostensibly democratic nation, is turning 'death squads' on political activists. Constant threat of attack, detainment or disappearance bring both pride and anguish to their families. Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists now disappear in China regularly - Lee Ming-che, Simon Cheng, Morrison Lee - those who are banned from China got the better deal than those allowed to enter only to be thrown in a cell.

And yet, the protests must go on. The activism must continue. Having guts of steel is necessary, because giving in is not an option. They are not wrong - China is - and it's therefore on China to do the right thing. (They won't.)

For a part of the world that is relatively politically stable (well, outside China) and well-developed, it's an absolute tragedy that this is what one risks when one stands up for the basic right of self-determination, even in the Asian countries that protect such rights.

That leads me to a darker thought. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton making an off-the-cuff remark (spoken, and I can't find video) about how the international affairs landscape had changed since the '90s - she said something like "we all believed it was supposed to be the End of History", admitting through her maudlin tone that it had not and would not come to pass. 


I remember Clinton shrugging it off, like "oh well, guess we got that one wrong", as though that's all there was to it. A scholar wrote a thing, we believed that thing, we acted according to our belief in that thing but...haha funny story, turns out he wasn't quite right that free markets under neoliberal capitalism through globalization and wealth creation would bring about liberal democratic reforms in currently illiberal nations and that didn't actually happen lol  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ !

But sitting here in Asia watching people I follow on social media - and in a few cases have some mutual friends with - be arrested or attacked for things that either haven't been done yet or would not be crimes even if they've committed them, it makes me furious. Beliefs like that led the rest of the world to praise China's rapid (if uneven, unreliably measured and volatile) economic development while not saying much at all about continued political oppression there, their escalating nationalist and fascist rhetoric, including 'moral education', and increasingly aggressive expansionism.

And now that big, mean giant is trying to call the shots in Asia well beyond its own borders, and is actively threatening exactly the democracy activists those '90s wonks would have wanted - nay, expected - to succeed.

Basically, the West's oopsie! on believing that freer markets would lead to freer societies has instead led straight to all of the dangers - including threats to their lives - that these brave activists must now face. Believing in hackneyed political philosophy and acting on that, it turns out, has real consequences.

Most of the blame for the poor current state of freedom and human rights in Asia lies with China. Some lies with a few other nations, but none are as powerful as China. But some of it lies with us - the West. We could have figured out in 1989 - the year of both Fukuyama's essay on The End of History and the Tiananmen Square Massacre - that we couldn't just rely on China to liberalize, and that freedoms must be consistently fought for and sometimes paid for with blood. We could have done right by Hong Kong before 1997, actually giving Hong Kongers a say and a true democracy then, rather than relying on China to do the right thing when it was so very clear that it would not. We could have woken up to the need to stand by Taiwan far earlier (some still haven't woken up).

But we didn't. Oops. And Asia suffered for it. 


Another bit of ‘90s era claptrap that hobbles today’s activists in Asia is the notion of ‘Asian-style democracy’ - relentlessly prompted by people like Lee Kuan-yew. This preposterous notion that it’s OK for democracy in Asia to be a bit more authoritarian and much less free ‘because of culture’ - which is what its rationale boils down to - made it that much harder for the millions in Asia, who never consented to this quasi-authoritarian model of limited democracy, to fight for the same freedoms that Westerners expect and enjoy. And it made life more dangerous for activists working for those goals, and who understand that human rights are not ‘cultural’, but universal. That they exist in large numbers and persist in their goals shows that the ‘different cultures’ argument is ultimately specious. 



Asian strongmen - the ones who benefit from the normalizing of this belief - still use the ‘Asian-style democracy’ argument to justify their tactics, China uses the ‘East-West values’ argument, and some Westerners, especially lefties and liberals, lap it up. It allows them to feel good about themselves for understanding ‘cultural differences’ while offering them an excuse to sit back and do nothing without moral guilt. Meanwhile, people who share their vision in Asia fight, are injured, disappear and die, ignored. 

Alongside ‘the end of history’, the troublesome persistence of the ‘Asian values’ paradigm has actively hurt democracy activism here, and continues to harm them. 

Arguably the logic behind the Handover was rooted somewhat in these beliefs (they were popular notions when it was being negotiated in the ‘80s and ‘90s). And now, Hong Kongers are feeling the result. Bad beliefs aren’t just oopsies. They have consequences. 

And now, thanks in some small part to us,  must be very brave and willing to risk everything to fight for democracy in Asia, and we are going to need a lot of gas masks, a lot of umbrellas, and wave upon wave of courageous people.

It should bother you, then, that the people - many of them young, some even teenagers - who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for democracy against authoritarianism are not fighting just for themselves, but for you. This is the front line but if you think China's not coming to subvert your democratic norms too, you're blinkered. In some cases, they already are. It should bother you a lot that they're fighting for themselves and for you, when you helped create a world where it was necessary for them to stand up in the face of bullets, 'private cars', trumped-up arrest charges, water cannons and tear gas. It should bother you that they're risking their livelihoods and their lives to fix a problem you helped create.

And it should bother you that the rest of the world is not standing with them as much as they should. It takes courage to be a democracy activist in Asia, and even greater courage to continue to fight when the world does not necessarily have your back.

So, fellow Westerners, global middle and upper classes, and political influencers. The next time you pat yourself on the back for buying into something that sounds so very clever, think about how many Joshua Wongs are going to end up disappeared, in jail or dead if you are wrong. Think about how many people might have to be brave because you wanted to think yourself smart. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

Untitled


I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nobody should need a personal "refugee fund" to feel safe in a developed democracy

Untitled


Hey Taiwan residents - both foreign and local - do you have a refugee fund?

That is, personal savings or some other safety net that you are preparing in the event that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan forces you to leave?


I do. I don't want to leave, and would not do so unless I absolutely had to - we're not talking "the invasion is coming soon", we're talking "my house just got bombed, people are dying and I have nowhere to go." And I only mean that in the event that I am not a citizen: I don't owe my life to a country that won't even give me a passport. If I had obtained Taiwanese citizenship by that point, however, that's a different obligation and I would stay and fight.
The money I have set aside could be used as a down payment on property. If I don't need it, it will be part of my retirement fund. I could use it to pay off my student loans. There are a million other things I could do with it, but I may need it for this purpose and don't feel safe not having it available, so here we are. 

Of course I'm very privileged that I'd even be able to leave (a lot of locals would not be) and that the money is there, but here's the thing.

I should not need to set aside money specifically for my escape from a free and developed democracy due to a highly possible invasion by a hostile foreign power. Nobody should have to.

Not in a country that actively wants to exist in peace, and has no desire to start any wars with any other nation. 


I should not need to wonder, quite pragmatically, whether the rest of the world will tolerate a brutal dictatorship violently annexing the world's 22nd largest economy, one of the US's top trading partners, with a population comparable to that of Australia which is free, basically well-run and friendly to other nations. I should not need to consider whether my decision to stay or go - and the money I need to do that - may well hinge on whether that help comes. 


I'm reasonably sure all of my friends in Taiwan - local and foreign - can understand this.

I am not sure at all that my friends abroad do, though. I'm not sure especially if people I know in the US, Europe, Japan (all developed countries/regions, a group in which Taiwan also qualifies) and beyond are aware of what it's like to have a practical, non-insane notion that they might have 30 days' notice that their life and livelihood as they know it is about to be over. Where "getting out" and losing everything would be the better outcome, and how many more people (again, the population of Australia) might not even have that option.


So I still hear things like "oh but you don't want US help, it'd be just like Iraq or Syria, they'd wreck the place!" or "I don't want your city to become another Fallujah."

Do they understand that it is China who would turn Taipei into an East Asian Fallujah? 


And that their and their governments' wishy-washy response to Chinese threats against Taiwan are a part of why I need to have this fund at all? 

That they think they support peace, but in fact they'd leave us (foreign residents and Taiwanese both) to run or die in war? Do they understand what it would be like for Taiwan to be forcibly annexed by China? Do they understand that giving in and just surrendering to authoritarian rule - and the loss of very real and important freedom and human rights - is not an option? That there is no One Country, Two Systems?

Over the past few years I've come to realize that while at heart I want to be a dove, I can't. Sure, I agree that the US is a neo-imperialist murder machine. Fine. We suck. I won't even argue that we don't. We've done so much harm in the world.

But Taiwan is not Iraq. It's not Syria, it's not Iran or Afghanistan or Central America. It's just not. It's not even comparable. It has its own military and simply needs assistance (or the promise of it, to keep China from attempting an invasion). It has its own successful democratic government and rule of law (I mean...basically. Taiwan does okay.) There'd be no democracy-building or post-war occupation needed. It just needs friends. Big friends, who can tell the bully to back off.

So, y'know, I don't give a crap anymore about anyone's "but the US is evil!" I just don't. Y'all are not wrong, but it simply does not matter. China wants to wreck this country, not the US. China's the invader and (authoritarian) government-builder, not the US. China will turn their guns and bombs on Taiwanese, not the US.

And if you're not the one who has all those missiles pointed at them, you're not the one with lots of friends who could lose everything (including their lives), or lose everything yourself, and you're not the one actively building a refugee fund to escape an otherwise peaceful, developed and friendly country, then you can take all that "but the US is evil!" and shove it. This is a real world situation where we don't exactly have the luxury of choice in who stands by us. There isn't a "better option". There just...isn't.

Unless you think a friendly, open and vibrant democracy being swallowed by a massive dictatorship and losing all access to human rights is totally fine, or that having a refugee fund when living in said open democratic nation is normal.

It's not normal. My refugee fund should not have to exist. Please understand this. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Chinese government spying is the scariest sort: an explainer

I'm in the US for the holidays, and a segment came on some silly morning show (they're all silly) about how China is "revolutionizing" shopping and payment through cell phone payment apps at a far higher rate than the US. Or, as the silly hosts of this silly program described it, "China is decades ahead of the US in shopping technology".

And I made a remark about how that's actually terrifying, because the Chinese government watches essentially everything you do on your cell phone in China, and can and will use it against you. They don't even try to hide it. That everyone I know who is knowledgeable about cybersecurity in any way uses a second dummy cell in China for all of the apps there that come packaged with nasty spyware.

The person I was watching the program with looked duly horrified - after all, the silly segment by that silly host on that silly TV show was making China out to be this amazing technological wonderland of the future (the tone was similar the one taken in this article, but if anything less critical). What I was saying was totally at odds with that.

She came back with "you know, I'm sure the US government does that too, we just don't know about it."

Sure. I mean...kinda. But it's not at all the same thing. I don't blame her for her reaction, by the way - when your exposure to current affairs in China comes entirely from Western media, and mostly Western media that is uncritical about China but highly critical of domestic affairs, interspersed with ads for Shen Yun (with no context whatsoever pointing out that a.) the Chinese government hates them, which is great but also b.) that they are owned by a wealthy cult-like religious organization which is not great), then this would be your natural reaction.

But there is a world of difference, and it's important to know why.

I'm going to come at this from a non-expert, non-academic, non-technical point of view. If you want detailed, professional analysis go somewhere else. I've noticed, however, that the average non-expert finds these issues too dense and daunting and typically doesn't read or fully understand them. Hell, I can't claim to fully understand them (this, for example, is barely readable to me despite being highly important). Instead, I'm hoping to tackle this in a way that helps the average reader comprehend what is so terrifying about China's government surveillance, in particular.


"But the US government does the same thing!" 

This is an issue in that the US government does have some unsettling rights to surveillance and data under the Patriot Act. I don't like it either, and I've had it and other surveillance programs affect me three times that I know of, including having to sign something that allowed the US government to monitor one of my bank accounts in Taiwan, and being unable to open a new IRA in the US.

So, yes, it's creepy and horrible. Please don't categorize me as a defender of the actions of the US government.

But. But! This is really not on the same level as what the Chinese government does.

For reasons explained below, it's doubtful that the US government is directly intervening in what private businesses do, forcing them to put spyware into their devices or app/online offerings. They're not using what data they do collect in the same way as China, and while maddeningly opaque and bureaucratic, the very fact that the US is a democracy with certain freedoms of expression and information means it is still more transparent than China.

Oh yeah, and say what you will about who is watching what you do online, but the US government isn't going to disappear you because you said something online that they don't like. Even if you make suspicious purchases or phone calls, or visit certain sites, you might find yourself detained or questioned, but you won't be disappeared in an unmarked van.

No, you won't. Don't give me any conspiracy theory nonsense. But in China this is a real thing



"The US government could just be putting spyware in our phones too!" 

Maybe. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

As far as I'm aware, the US government doesn't "own" (or have some sort of control over) the various tech companies that make our stuff. The US government can't tell Apple, Google, Paypal, Venmo etc. what to do the way the CCP can tell Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu and Alipay what to do. It's an open secret - if it's a secret at all - that Communist Party members and officials have a controlling stake in those Chinese companies and they almost certainly do have those companies install spyware and other backdoor access to data in their products.

It is not clear at all that the US has the same thing, and I doubt they do.

The US media, for all we deservedly criticize it, is pretty good at rooting out this stuff, investigating it and exposing it in detail. We know that Donald Trump committed tax fraud thanks to an in-depth investigation by the the New York Times, to give just one example.

If the US government were ordering Apple to install spyware into their phones, or ordering Google to have government spyware installed on everyone's phone with every download of the Chrome app, while those companies would certainly not be transparent about it (seeing as they're not transparent about much), it would still likely break in the media eventually. Criticize it all you want - I do! Push the media to be better. But it's a lot better and a lot freer than in many places, including China.

If anything, you should be scared that the Chinese government, not the American government, is putting some scary things into products by non-Chinese companies. Though it's perhaps less likely as they don't actually control these companies, most of the production takes place in China and some of the components of these products are designed/produced by Chinese companies, so it's still a real possibility.


"But the US monitors our financial transactions and punishes us too, through credit scores!" 

I don't care for credit score companies either. I understand why some institutions would want a heads-up as to how well or poorly you are likely to be able to pay your bills from them, but the way scores are calculated is not nearly as transparent as it needs to be, and in some ways is unfair.

However, most developed countries have some form of credit score system, and the effects are not as far-reaching.

In China, the social credit system being developed will operate on such a greater scale than any credit scoring system that the two can't be seriously compared. A bad credit score might make it hard to get a credit card or loan (or, if it's bad enough, a bank account), and you may be denied a visa to go abroad by that country's embassy, but it won't stop you from buying flight or train tickets or from getting a passport. China eventually willEven articles trying to downplay the threat are unconvincing. It is very real, and it's the outcomes, not the details, that matter.

Even if the US government is spying on us in the same way and to the same degree that the Chinese government spies on their citizens (and, possibly, us) - which they almost certainly are not -  a system designed to force you to be a "good citizen" is not the outcome and nobody is talking seriously about building one.

If that were to change (and in the Trump era, who knows?) we still have ways of fighting back that Chinese citizens do not. We can still speak openly about it. Journalists can investigate and publish stories. If nobody will publish your story you can publish it yourself (and who knows, you might go viral or at least show up in search results). We can file lawsuits against the government. We can vote the bastards out of office. We can push for better legislation. We can take to the streets. We can fundraise for a series of legal moves, lobbying and awareness campaigns that aim to change the way things are. It's hard to do, but it is possible and, most importantly, all of this is legal.

In China, none of it is. In China, you have no recourse. You can't protest, you can't sue, you can't raise money for these causes, you can't easily investigate (nothing is transparent enough for you to be able to do so - there is no Freedom of Information Act), and you can't vote in any meaningful way.

Also, in the US, it is still possible to exist (though with difficulty) without giving the government access to a lot of your data. You don't need to use any apps that you don't want to, and you can still (mostly) pay in cash for things. In China, I hear time and time again that it is impossible to keep in touch with people without WeChat (a social media app that definitely funnels information to the government, and every expert I know says likely comes packaged with all sorts of spyware quietly downloaded on your phone) or Weibo (same). You can't hail a taxi without a WeChat-related app, and may not even be able to buy anything at department stores or go out to eat.

It's becoming impossible to pay for things in China without some sort of phone payment app like WeChat Pay or Alipay. Taxis will upcharge you to an insane degree, and some places won't take cash at all. You can't function in China without signing up for these payment apps, meaning you cannot exist somewhat anonymously in even the simplest ways. In the US, you still can.


"But Facebook and Google collect our data too!" 


They do, and that sucks. And the data seems to be mostly used for selling ads. Even though, if I have to see ads, I'd rather see ones that might interest me, I don't really want companies to refine how well they can target me to convince me to spend my money through psychological means that I often find deceptive. That said, I can and do ignore them. It is possible to not buy. You can not pay attention to ads or fake news targeted at you (another way that our data was problematically used). You can ignore memes (I do), check sources (I do), and think critically about what you are reading and seeing, where it comes from and why it appeared on your news feed or in your search results. I do.

That data is not being handed to an autocratic government (the US has many flaws, but it is not an authoritarian state. China is) to build a massive social credit system that you can't opt out of and that you can't ignore the way you can a shitty ad or lizard-brain meme. You can choose not to use any apps you don't trust in the US, and you can choose not to believe or pay attention to dodgy things targeted at you.

And we know that data is not being handed over for the same purposes, and we know the US government doesn't control these companies, because if it were, there would be no reason for Google or Facebook executives to testify before Congress.

You don't have any of those options in China, and there is no need (from the government's perspective) for either testimony or transparency. You know why.


"If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to fear!" 

Yeah okay um...who determines whether you have nothing to hide? You, or the horrible government that is monitoring you? Who decides if you've done nothing wrong - them or you?

Do you really trust them to agree with you that you have done nothing wrong? All the time?

What happens when you do have a complaint with the government? A legitimate complaint that is nonetheless not allowed? What if your complaint is that they disappeared your daughter, forced you to have an abortion, or expropriated your house without compensation? What if you took a trip to Taiwan and realized that the situation there was completely different from what you'd always been told, and simply wanted to say that honestly? What if you had an 'undesirable' friend who was not a model citizen like you, but you'd known them since childhood, cared about them and knew them to be a good person? What if the only way to boost your own social credit score was to disavow this friend? What if that person wasn't your friend but your brother, or mother? What if merely calling that person from your compromised phone put them in danger?

Even if you'd been a model citizen up to that point, what happens when suddenly you are faced with this choice?

Don't even get me started with "I have nothing to hide."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The party's starting late (or: it's your country - save it yourself)

IMG_0254
We are all Taiwan souls


Just some thoughts in the warm light of day. 

I'm a little hungover this morning, so I got up late and put up this flag just to remind myself that the fight's not over. 

I have less to say about the races so I'll talk about marriage equality. Honestly, I think that's the one we all cared about the most. 

First, yes, despite the deliberately confusing wording of the referendums, we were a bit too early to the party for marriage equality in Taiwan. The old folks came out and voted, and they showed that the wrong side of history still holds sway here. 

But let's remember a few things. We were early to the party, but what we heard last night wasn't the voice of eternal conservatism in Taiwan. What we heard is that the party is still on, it's just going to start later than expected. 

Young people are more disenfranchised in Taiwan's voting system: they're broke, they can't vote absentee even though they're less likely to live where they are registered, they work long hours so it's hard to travel back. Some perhaps didn't vote because they knew they'd be harangued by their elders for voting the "wrong" (actually the right) way. It doesn't change the fact that the younger generation DOES think differently for the most part, and unlike views on things like fiscal policy, this isn't a view that grows more conservative with age. They got complacent perhaps, because all their friends are pro-equality too so it seemed like the country was more firmly on their side. They thought 10, 11 and 12 would be defeated, so it didn't matter if it was inconvenient to vote. But the old folks will die and the younger ones will do better. 

Let's remember as well that the pro-equality side had far less funding - why aren't you guys donating, by the way? - and young people are too busy and broke to volunteer. You could see it in their materials: their brochures weren't as glossy or thick, or as great in number, because they didn't have the cash. Unlike the bigots, who could recruit housewives with nothing better to do, their supporters work long hours just to get by and so they couldn't get out and volunteer as much. But that doesn't mean supporters don't exist. 

People might say "Taiwan is a conservative society" and I have to admit there's some truth to that. But it is not conservative across the board: older folks still hold a lot of cultural power, but the winds of change are blowing. They were blowing in the US in the 1960s, even though most people still opposed civil rights (the majority were against the Civil Rights Act when it passed). They were blowing in the 1970s and 80s, when most people thought the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident were ruffians and 'bad elements', because the KMT dictatorship portrayed them that way in the media. Now we know better. Both the US and Taiwan still have a long way to go, but we have come some distance. 

And yes, some people were tricked. My student on Friday was talking about how a "separate law" could still be "equal", and I had to set him straight (he'd heard misinformation). A former student said the referendums were so confusing that they seemed to have been written by "an elementary-school student". A lot of people who theoretically believe in equality but are still coming to terms with this new world of LGBT acceptance thought the wording of #12 sounded tempting. A lot of people were misled to believe that the problem with sex education in schools is that it starts too young (it doesn't, by the way) - that's what the commercials said - and don't realize that the intention is to ban it from school altogether. 

While the anti-gay referendums might still have gotten more votes than the pro-equality ones had the wording been clearer, I honestly doubt they would have passed. That's what the anti-gay Christians had to do to get votes: to deliberately confuse people. If Taiwan really agreed with them, they could have written three clear proposals. It says a lot that they didn't. 


The fact that the bigots had to deliberately make the wording fuzzy and spread lies to get votes, that they had to pour so much money into their campaign, and that they had to move from trying to "portray LGBT people as morally degenerate" (to quote a friend) to "we support a separate law to protect LGBT rights and interests" shows that they had to pretend to care about equality to get all those votes. Taiwanese people did not vote "WE HATE GAYS" last night. The Christian jerks lost that battle. They voted "we're scared of change, so let's pick this thing that seems like equality so we don't feel too terrible. After all, aren't we still protecting LGBT rights if there's a separate law?"

(No, but I can see why some people were convinced that this was the case.)


Someone else I know pointed out that conservative forces in Taiwan have been studying US electoral politics, and I agree. The deep green conservatives who want global recognition for Taiwan got played with a bunch of needless 'culture war' garbage that has actually set back their goal. Marriage equality was one way to get Taiwan into the headlines, and now Taiwan looks bad. I hope they're happy. They pulled a Trump in Kaohsiung (Han Kuo-yu is not only terrifyingly right-wing populist, he can barely answer questions and never gives details, and beats people up for no reason at all). They're doing a really good job in getting us lefties to all hate each other for no goddamn reason. 

The US voted right-wing in 2016 too, and those of us who are trying to bend the arc of history towards justice realized we weren't fighting hard enough, and we weren't fighting well enough. We realized that marching around with signs is only part of the equation, and we needed to start politicking (again to quote a friend) and stop shitting all over every incremental improvement that was not the total change we wanted. I think Taiwanese youth will realize this too, and stop thinking that only 100% moral purity will do, or that anything less than 100% victory is defeat - and it's time to start politicking. 

We should have learned this in 2014, when the Sunflowers stopped CSSTA and effected a huge electoral change not because every one of their demands was met, but because they ended the occupation after a sufficient victory. Their slogan was 自己的國家,自己救 (it's your country, save it yourself) - and we should have learned from that and not just trusted politicians to do the right thing or for 10, 11 and 12 to fail.

Or we could have learned it during the Wild Strawberries, where they were broadly ignored in their time but have had a big influence on Taiwan in the 2010s. Or we could have learned this during the Kaohsiung Incident, which broadly failed in its day (many participants went to jail, some were tortured), but they kept fighting.


Culture wars work to get out the vote, and as I do suspect that the KMT cut a deal with churches to quash marriage equality for votes (I can't prove this; I just suspect it), which with the deep green conservatives, pushed the anti-equality initiatives over the top. But neither the US nor Taiwan is homogenously bigoted. We might be post-Sunflower in Taiwan now, but Taiwan is not only a 'conservative society'. Remember that it was the Christians - people who follow a Western religion - who spearheaded this. They got others to agree, but non-Christian Taiwanese were not leading the fight. 

And it's ridiculous to let Christians define what it means to be Taiwanese. Taiwan is not a Christian nation. Even if you consider Taiwanese culture to be an outgrowth of Chinese culture (which I don't), Chinese culture was not particularly traditionally opposed to homosexuality. While things may have been different for everyday people, rulers often had gay lovers and nobody cared as long as they produced heirs. There's an entire opera - The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝) - in which a boy falls in love with a girl dressed like a boy, and is conflicted (in the end she's to be married to someone else and they both commit suicide.) In the opera, his confusion over his feelings is merely described; it is not condemned. Being anti-gay is not inherently Chinese (if you think Taiwan has Chinese heritage, which, again, I don't). It may be Neo-Confucian and Christian-tinged authoritarian (the Chiangs were Christian), but it is not "Chinese". 

The 100,000+ people who have turned out for pro-equality events are Taiwanese too. The few million who did vote for equality are Taiwanese too. Those who got tricked into voting for 'a separate law' but are actually not bigoted are Taiwanese too. People say that ascribing certain 'Western' values to Taiwan makes white folks like me 'culturally imperialist', but I'm not the one doing it. I'm describing what they are doing, and they have just as much of a say in what is or is not 'Taiwanese' as the old conservatives.

I mean, when America sort-of voted for Trump, liberals didn't think "oh, I guess that means we don't have any say in what it means to be American". We re-evaluated what we thought we knew about our country, realized we needed a new strategy, and kept fighting, because we were and are just as American as anyone from Trump Country.

What's more, in the US once marriage equality was made law, it ceased to be a relevant issue. Just as with every other country in the world - and even in the US's own past with abolition, suffrage and civil rights - often popular opinion follows law rather than preceding it. That's not the typical order in Asia (generally things don't change here until popular opinion supports a change), but that doesn't mean it's impossible. In fact, I suspect in the years after May 2019 when some sort of same-sex unions become law, they will then become normalized. Then, the groundwork will be there for true equality. 


And yes, a lot of young people also voted against equality, because they grew up in conservative families. Because Taiwan is more "filial piety"-oriented (well, Neo-Confucian obedience-oriented - Confucius never envisioned 'filial piety' this way) it will take longer, but more will break free as they grow, and the ones who do not will not be the definitive voice of the next generation. 

So we need to support them - with our time, our advice from the battles we've fought in our own countries, and our money (DONATE, YOU GUYS) - so they can make this party happen for real. We need to engage with them and they need to figure out how to engage with their elders. 

Let's remember as well that the DPP may be spineless, and they don't all support us, but they didn't want marriage equality to be decided by the electorate for just this reason. They knew how it'd turn out, and they knew what the more conservative wing of their base thought. So they may lack moral courage, but we do have allies among some of them. We can't make the mistake of thinking that electing them will fix everything again: it's your country, save it yourself. 

The good news is that their conservative base is pro-Taiwan, and Taiwan stands for equality and human rights. I do believe that some of them can be convinced in the coming years, if we make the right arguments about marriage equality being good for the country's international profile, for Taiwan's economy, and for Taiwanese values, of which equality is a part.


Another bright spot as well is that the NPP won several city council seats, and Miao Poya, the first openly LGBT city councilor, was elected last night in my district. We do have allies. The old people don't get to define all of what it means to be Taiwanese. The Council of Grand Justices has already said their ruling stands. 

That shows we've already pushed the conversation a little bit in the right direction. The "gays are degenerate and have AIDS!" argument no longer works here. And no matter what, there will be some form of same-sex partnerships in May. This is not a 100% victory, but it's a step. Once that happens, and people realized that AIDS doesn't start falling from the sky, then we can actually get this party started. 

I'm here in my party dress and I have to believe it will start. 

In other words, that flag above and the people who fly it are *just* as Taiwanese as any old bigot at the polls. And we've got one thing that most of Asia doesn't: actual democracy. China says "'Chinese' [by their definition] people are not ready for democracy", but although we don't like the results, and some outcomes seem straight-up stupid, you have to admit: people were engaged and talking about the races and referendums. People turned out to vote. They didn't vote the way wed've liked, but Taiwan can still prove that 'Chinese' [again, China's definition, not mine] can and have built a democracy. We only have to hope that it stands, because there are some huge tests coming.

Well. We are all Taiwan souls. Some of us were born into it, some of us are not actually Taiwanese but this is our home. I don't get any say in what is or is not "Taiwanese", but our liberal Taiwanese friends do. We need to support them. Now. 

I am deeply disappointed in Taiwan today. I still love this country, but I don't like it very much right now. But this is my home and I may be crying and hungover, but I have to keep fighting for it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

American voters in Taiwan (or anywhere overseas): be vigilant about your absentee ballots

46131336_10156963067512764_5569804595514834944_n
How is this undeliverable to the address on the label they themselves provided? 


There are a few good things to being American (y'know...a couple. One or two.) One of them is the ability to vote from overseas, so you don't have to fly back to your designated polling place or skip the election. Although there are good reasons why Taiwan doesn't have absentee voting (mostly that it would be a huge security risk in terms of China tampering with the votes of Taiwanese residing there through any number of means, but it's hard to make an argument to allow absentee voting for everyone but those residing in China), that means voting in Taiwanese elections means flying back. That, or don't vote.

I've realized in this past election, however, that one's absentee ballot is not nearly as guaranteed as it might seem. I had trouble myself, which is how I became aware that this was an issue.

I did an informal poll of American friends here in Taiwan, most of whom had no problems with their ballots in the last election, but those that did all had similar stories to tell. They were also far higher in number than I am comfortable with: about a quarter of the people I asked had trouble. That number should be in the single digits, or approaching zero.

So, what can go wrong with your absentee ballot?

My husband and another friend encountered a suspicious issue: Brendan's ballot mysteriously disappeared (he did something about that and emailed a new ballot, which was accepted, in time for the election). Just today he received his original posted ballot back, marked as "undeliverable", even though - and I cannot stress this enough - he used a label with the address that his own board of elections had provided. It was their envelope - how could it be undeliverable to their address? And the address on it was clear.

My friend also had a ballot returned as "undeliverable" despite, again, using the envelope that was provided by the very organization he was sending it to. There is just no good reason for this to be happening. He had a family member bring it in person to the election office, but that should have never been necessary.

My own ballot took far too long to arrive: I mailed it three weeks before the election, on October 17 (my state allows you to download and print your ballot, but not to email or fax it back) and only realized on election night that I could actually check the status online. I was dismayed to find that there was no record of it having been received. Mail from Taiwan is generally reliable and takes about a week, so I was understandably nervous.

I called the elections board that should have received my email, only to have it confirmed: there was no record of my ballot being received. As another rule my state has is that absentee votes need to be postmarked the day before the election, it was too late by then to send another ballot. I had no idea where it ended up, and no way to track it as it hadn't been sent by registered mail (because I truly didn't think it would get lost). Another Facebook friend had the same thing happen to him - same congressional district, coincidentally. Same Board of Elections.

The bigger issue for me wasn't that my vote in this election might not have counted - my choices for Congress and Senate won - but that I had never before thought to check the status of previous ballots. I had just assumed they'd been counted. I had to wonder: was my entire adult voting life a lie? Have I been a non-voter this whole time when I thought I was casting ballots?

My story has a happy ending too: the day after the election the system finally marked my ballot as received. However, that was not a foregone conclusion.

Even more worrisome? I was able to check the status of my absentee ballot as an overseas voter. Another friend who is absentee but domestic (same state, different district) had no way to check that her vote was received. She'll literally never know.

Of course there are also the issues with absentee votes simply not being counted - as we're seeing with the absolute fuckshittery (Brendan's word, credit where credit is due) going on in a few states, signature matching issues and voter roll purging (at least as an absentee voter you'll find out early if Republicans are trying to suppress your vote because you won't vote for their racist, sexist rich-people bullshit. And yes, I am saying one party is entirely responsible.) These issues are in addition to everything else going on.

It's quite worrisome that it's hard to know if one's vote is going to be counted. It's not something to be dismissed. People died for the right to vote; it's worth taking seriously. Civic engagement matters. A lot of the bullshit that gets passed goes through because otherwise good people don't vote. Because the youth - who frankly, tend to end up being right on classic liberal issues like marriage equality - don't turn out to vote in the same numbers. A lot of things could change if more people voted (including better candidates so we'd feel more empowered to vote for people we actually want in office).

So, what can you do about it?

1. Vote early. That gives you weeks or possibly even months to ensure that your vote is in and counted.

2. Drop off your ballot if possible. That might mean sending it (in a third envelope that holds the two required ones) to friends or family who can take it in personally, or bringing it to your embassy if that's possible (I know that's possible in the UK but don't know if it is in Taiwan. I'll check. Does anyone know?)

3.) Keep tabs on your vote. Don't do what I do and blindly assume it will be received because the mail is reliable. Wait a week then check the status every few days. If the election is getting close and your vote still has not been received, send another through more secure means.

4.) Spend some money. By this I mean, send it registered mail (which I've been told doesn't actually do anything, but so far everything I've ever sent this way has been received) or, if you want to be really sure, send it by Fed Ex or some other guaranteed service where someone must sign for it. I hate this, because it amounts to a poll tax for ensuring that your vote is received, with no other way to be absolutely sure that something you send will get there. But, it is a way to make sure you do vote.

5.) Don't vote for dagweeds! Seriously, don't vote for authoritarian dipclowns who want to do things like cut important government funding ("we want less government" often translates into cutting funding for things like making sure elections run smoothly, updating voting machines/procedures/etc. and hiring enough poll workers.) Don't vote for buttparrots who say we shouldn't count every vote because "they're probably fake anyway". Don't vote for turdburglars who try to close polling locations, purge voter rolls in suspicious ways and don't seem to think it's important that voting machines run out of batteries, aren't set up (as in, they're found locked in a closet later, never having been used) or have confusing user interfaces that cause people to mess up their votes, or which may be insecure. Don't vote for people who try to convince you that voter fraud is a prevalent issue, when it's actually extremely rare. SERIOUSLY STOP VOTING FOR THESE PEOPLE. JESUS H.Q. CHRIST. IF YOU DO THINGS WILL ONLY GET WORSE. And I would say that even if the people doing it were on "my" side - though, to my knowledge, no one on "my" side is engaging in this crap.