Showing posts with label us_election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us_election. Show all posts

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."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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

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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.

Monday, September 24, 2018

We may have bipartisan support, but it's still hard to vote for friends of Taiwan


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Like any good Snowflake SJW Avocado Toast Millenial*, I'm excited that Beto O'Rourke - a liberal described as "the next Obama"  - is actually a realistic challenger to Ted Cruz in Texas. Texas! Where "no democrat has held state-wide office since 1994"! In a midterm election year that is not only seen as a referendum on Trump's two years of terrorizing from his perch in the White House, but also the only realistic chance we as a nation have of curbing him, to see this kind of progressive stand a chance in Texas of all places is huge.

This is especially exciting as he stands to unseat Ted Cruz, who ran for Human President in 2016 and who hates women and the LGBT community which is odd as I'm not sure his species has 'genders' or 'biological sex' in the way we understand them. In any case, pretty much nobody likes him.

So he could be gone! Yay!

...right?

Oh, wait, you support Taiwan and want to vote for representatives in the US government who are friends of Taiwan.

Then, not yay.

I have no idea what Beto O'Rourke thinks about Taiwan, or about foreign policy in general, and it seems neither does anyone else. His own website has no guidance whatsoever as to what, as a senator, his foreign policy would be.

But, as 'the next Obama' I can make some educated guesses. Obama was not a great friend to Taiwan.  See here on arms sales (Taiwan advocates didn't seem terribly impressed and neither was I), "reducing tensions on both sides of the strait" (as though the source of the tensions weren't entirely one-sided), his advisors totally missing the point of Taiwan independence, ceding the high ground (and insistence on standing up for what's right) to McCain, and seeming to care more for Beijing's tender baby feelings than actually doing the right thing. Then there's support for the milquetoast, only-because-of-politics status quo ("a high degree of self-determination?" Screw you, buddy. Total self-determination like any other democratic nation or GTFO). Perhaps necessary, but harmful to Taiwan.

Long and short of it? Lots of talk about doing what's right on the American left, but then they turn around and play politics just like everyone else. I don't imagine an Obama-style liberal like O'Rourke will be a great ally of Taiwan.

Who knows? He might surprise me. But I doubt it.

Ted Cruz? He met with Tsai Ing-wen. Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz!) said this:


Another champion of Taiwan and supporter of the travel bill, is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who met with Tsai in Houston on Jan. 8, 2017 despite Beijing’s strong objections.

In an interview, Cruz slammed as “absurd” a December threat by Chinese diplomat Li Kexin during an event at Beijing’s embassy in Washington. Li told colleagues that he had warned U.S. officials against docking American warships in Taiwan.


“The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Li said, according to Chinese media reports cited by Reuters.


“The threat from a low-level Chinese diplomat of a military invasion of Taiwan was absurd, unduly provocative and should be met with laughter and derision,” Cruz said.


Cruz also denounced China for “vigorously” lobbying to kill strong ports-of-call language for Taiwan that he wanted included in the 2018 defense authorization bill, Cruz said.



I'd cream my damn pants if Obama said something like that.

I know, I know, a senator can say things a president can't, but remember, Cruz wanted to be
president.

But wait, there's more!

"Texas stands with Taiwan," Ted Cruz also said.

While I'm not sure why Cruz is such a strong Taiwan supporter - general wisdom has it that most pro-Taiwan Republicans support this country because they oppose "Communist China", that is, they're still stuck in Cold War thinking - I'm definitely of the school of Taiwan advocate that feels Taiwan should take the help it can get. I'm not inclined to say we don't want his support because he's awful in just about every other respect.

But, as a liberal pro-Taiwan voter, I'm damn glad I'm not a Texan.

Sure, we have bipartisan support and I am glad of that. I won't pretend this is a war of Dems against Reps for the future of Taiwan or anything like that.

But, what's a girl who supports Taiwan, enjoys bodily autonomy and wants her gay friends to have equal rights to do, when the guy she would vote for is very likely not going to be the Taiwan ally she wants to see in office, and the champion of Taiwan he stands to defeat pretty much hates her on account of her having a vagina?

If the only issue she cared about were Taiwan, the choice would be obvious (and very self-harming, if not masochistic.) But when every other platform of the friend of Taiwan she wants to see in office is so odious that she feels she must vote against him, only to worry that that strong bipartisan support for Taiwan in congress might well waver - maybe just a ripple - by voting out a Taiwan ally and voting in someone who doesn't appear to have a foreign policy at all, let alone any sense of the importance of Taiwan.

All I can say is, if this issue were to ever face me as a voter in the northeast, I would honestly spin myself in circles with anxiety. It quite literally feels like it comes down to "Taiwan, which is what is right", and "everything else that's right".

I want a tried-and-true friend of Taiwan in office, but I also want O'Rourke to win for literally every other reason.


So yeah, bipartisan support or not, it's really difficult to use our votes as Americans to support Taiwan.



*not really a Millenial but let's pretend

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Careful what you wish for

For years, I have wished for the US to take concrete strmeps to recognize Taiwan formally (as Taiwan) - and tell China that if they didn't like it, they could eat a big one. Well, I woke up this morning to find that *tiny mouth barf* President-elect Trump had broken with decades of US policy and spoken to President Tsai. 

Before coffee, I was amazed. In part because Trump managed to do something I agreed with, and in part because I didn't expect he'd know what "Taiwan" was (after all his products are no longer made here).

I really do want to agree with it. I want to be over the moon. Make no mistake, I am completely in favor of such calls and think US-Taiwan policy is a joke.

My problem is not the call - it's that Trump made (or answered) it.

In fact, I'm only 1/3 through my coffee so this is a good time to just give myself a minute to be happy about this. In fact, let's all just go ahead and wait to put our Serious People hats on for a second and just allow ourselves a moment of joy that a US president finally did the right thing vis-a-vis the Taiwanese president, and that Tsai was smart enough to seize this opportunity (I read that she called him). Let's just let ourselves have a moment of worry-free glee, shall we? We've earned it.

So...

*happy happy happy*

*so much fun thinking of China crapping their pants, ha ha, suck it China*

*drink some more coffee*

OK, now it's time to be sad.

I really want this to be something. I've always said that Taiwan, as a successful and sovereign nation, deserves international recognition and that ought to begin with the US - they need to back up their words about supporting democracy abroad and standing against human rights violations with the deed of calling out China and recognizing liberal democratic Taiwan (no need to switch diplomatic recognitions - just recognize Taiwan as "Taiwan", not China, because it's not China. Never was. Recognize both and when China complains, tell them to choke on it.)

I wanted this to be done - by a leader who fully knew what she was getting into, who understood the consequences and was prepared to stand by her choice. Trump is not that leader. Trump is not the person to be doing this - he doesn't seem to fully grasp what this means, and therefore is not a leader we can trust to stand by Taiwan as China rattles its tiny little saber. I want that hypothetical better leader to have answered that call. I have, for a long while, been disappointed in the Democratic party's boot-licking of China, and their willingness to play along with a stupid fiction to avoid angering a power that perhaps needs to be angered a bit. I have been angered by the hypocrisy of my fellow liberals on the Taiwan issue - so that the only welcoming arms the Taiwanese and Hong Kong independence advocates find in the US are on the hard right (more on that later).

I absolutely want the US to bring Taiwan out from the cold. I do not trust Trump to fully understand or follow through, though. It is possible to be in favor of the phone call, but not be happy Trump made it, and feeling that way doesn't make one anti-phone-call.

I feel like I just got my wish, but it was a monkey's paw wish. I feel like some imaginary ex I've been hypothetically pining over, but who was a terrible person, called me and I was both excited and very worried because I know he's awful and I really shouldn't. I feel like I've been tricked by a cranky genie.

I really want this to be a coherent policy initiative with an ethical grounding. Finally a leader seeing the truth and doing what is right. I want to believe that the words he exchanged with Tsai will translate into deeds: backing up Taiwan against an angry China.

But let's be honest. We all know it's not.

My friends have speculated: "probably he thought she was the president of Thailand", or "they probably spoke for a few minutes before he asked her to put her boss on the phone". I do give him an eensy bit more credit than that, but not much. Maybe he does know Taiwan is a place that exists and has a president which is not the same person as the dictator they have over in China.

More likely is that he doesn't fully understand cross-Strait (I never did figure out how to capitalize that and I am only halfway done with my coffee) relations, and is completely, bumblingly, unaware of what he's just done. Most likely, he won't fully understand why when China starts fulminating. Or he will, at least in a simplified way, but not realize he ought to do something about it.

In short, when China gets pissed and maybe makes some moves to threaten Taiwan, it won't even occur to Trump to have Taiwan's back. This truly needed to be a part of that coherent, ethical policy initiative that I've always said the US needs to pursue, but the ugly truth is that it's not, and it could ultimately do more harm to Taiwan than good.

Yes, I realize I've just basically said "Trump does bad things and I hate him; Trump does good things and he's too stupid to follow through, I will never like him no matter what he does." This is true. I will never like him, no matter what he does. He has no chances with me and I will never accept him as a competent leader. Why? Well, because of everything he's been, said, or stood for in his life leading up to the election, and plenty after too. I refuse to give him credit because that's what he's earned - no chances and no credit.

Michael Turton thinks this - or an attitude like this - is a part of "media bias against Trump". While I agree with most of the rest of this post, especially calling out progressives for their hypocrisy on Taiwan (except I am not quite as willing to just be happy about this phone call), I don't agree with that particular notion: media bias against Trump exists because that is what Trump has earned. It is entirely right to paint him in this light because he has shown it is the correct light to paint him in: he's practically chosen the colors himself. It is an entirely justified judge of his character.

Anyway, I just spent a whole blog post worrying about China, but legitimately this time. Nevertheless, I'm now 2/3 done with my coffee, and I would like to end by calling out the shitty, shitty news media for casting this in a completely bad light - they didn't even give themselves a few minutes to be happy, because they don't care about Taiwan - because what China wants, to them, trumps what's good for Taiwan. Pun intended. CNN even mentioned China before Taiwan in their headline and doesn't have a lot to say about the consequences for Taiwan, only for the US. Screw you, CNN. Sure, you have to discuss the cross-Strait ramifications of this, but could you at least give Taiwan top billing this one fucking time? Like, just once? Maybe talk more about US-Taiwan policy and what this means for Taiwan rather than China China China? Even a word as to Tsai's maneuver to call Trump, or anything Taiwan stands to gain from this domestically (in Taiwan itself I suspect Tsai's action will be met with a fair amount of approval, and may even increase Trump's popularity here)? Anything? No? Ugh.

I do see one tiny light in the darkness. If this call was made by Tsai, then she probably knows what she's doing. She is smart, cautious, a policy wonk, yet she took this step (this is true even if she didn't make the call, but answered his). I trust her to have a plan, or at least to know what the consequences are and have an idea of how to deal with them. I trust her in a way I will never trust Trump. So it could be okay? Maybe?

That said, I really hope that Tsai and other pro-independence and pro-localist leaders in Hong Kong and Taiwan know what they are doing when they get into bed with hard right American conservatives (ignore the ridiculous bias of that article please). It is not exactly a bed of roses. I have long expressed dismay that the side with the Taiwan policy I actually agree with the most is the side I can never vote for for other reasons.

Anyway, I will think of this as a good thing when words are backed up with deeds and the US tells China to lay off Taiwan militarily, recognizes Taiwan officially and pressures other nations to do the same. Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

So, will there be a war? Will China invade Taiwan over this, or in part over this?

Honestly?

Maybe.

Will the US come to Taiwan's aid then?

Probably not. If they do I'll eat my hat (I'm safe in saying this because I don't think I own any hats).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dealing with life as an expat who hates Trumpism

As you can probably tell by now, I am devastated beyond words that my (in name only, in all other ways former) country chose to elect hate. Even those who didn't vote for hate per se felt it was an acceptable part of the package, which is itself an act of hate - no matter the reason - that I do not forgive.

It's not so much that I particularly loved Clinton, though I was excited to vote for the first female president with a serious chance, and I do not think she is the bloodthirsty vampire-she-beast that many have come to believe she is. And it's not that I am so devastated after every Republican win - I'm not (okay, I'll admit that when I moved to Taiwan I trolled my coworkers saying it was because GW Bush was re-elected, and I'm not sorry for this real life troll job, but that's what it was - a few lulz, nothing more. I left for other reasons entirely).

Now, though, I have come to feel more than ever that Taiwan is my home. I hadn't planned on returning to the US in any case, but it was always on the table, potentially. Maybe we'd have elderly relatives to care for, or maybe one of us would get a blockbuster job offer. New York seemed like a fine city if we could afford it: I could continue to treat mass transit as a core belief, and not have to buy a car. It might have happened.

That is all gone. I do not think I can return for more than a visit. Ever. We may not stay in Taiwan, but I truly cannot imagine moving back to the US. Not because of Trump itself, but because the people who voted for it (remember, a thing who openly bragged of sexual assault and ran a campaign with very strong, obvious messages of racism, who has already said it plans to take away my medical rights as a woman) will still be around, and I do not imagine that I can peaceably share a country with them. Forget anger - though there is that - I just don't think my psyche could take it.

And yet, I do feel a sense of guilt about this. A lot of people say they're going to move to Canada if so-and-so wins, and with Trump, that rhetoric was stronger than ever. I am in the fortunate position of being able to do so fairly easily. I married into the nationality because I'm smart like that.

But, then, another call came: don't move to Canada. The US needs you. It's a privilege to be able to leave, when those who will really suffer under Trump's regime perhaps can't leave, but will definitely lose allies and accomplices if you go. You need to be there to protest, to resist, to get involved, to fight back. To register yourself as a Muslim if it starts putting that Nazi-like shitshow into action. To walk women into abortion clinics and put yourself physically between a harasser and a minority being harassed. To provide help and possibly housing for refugees (potentially domestic ones, and I am not joking). To join local groups and donate to national ones. To get your ground game going. We need people to fight, not to run. To occupy.

I get it - and the argument is persuasive. I love a good fight, and that is something I do have the constitution for (certainly I don't care much what people think of me, and am quite happy to say what I think and stand up for what is right under my own name).

In fact, if I lived in America, I think I would stay for this reason. To make people who want to implement a racist, sexist agenda and set back our collective cultural clock to a racist, sexist time as miserable as fucking possible. Like, if you thought I was a bitch before, you ain't seen nothin' until I've got something real and tangible and scary to fight for.

Hell, I could probably even find common cause with decent, fundamentally morally good conservatives who  also hate Trump and everything it stands for. The basically okay folks who believe in personal freedoms (as long as they leave mine and my loved ones' alone in terms of who they marry or what medical choices they make - I'll even leave their guns alone in good faith), the folks with a conscience even if we disagree on some things, who have a similar idea of where we should go as a country but maybe have different ideas on how to get there (some of which are terrible, but that can be worked around civilly. Probably some of mine are too).

The thing is, though, that I don't live in America. I haven't for a decade. Does the call to stay and resist apply if you weren't there to begin with?

After careful thought, I have decided that it doesn't. There are good reasons why I consider Taiwan my home, and most of them actually don't have to do with my anger at the country I was born in. Those are not invalidated. Taiwan is still my home, and would be even if I came from the Land of Peace and Bubbles (a.k.a. Denmark, apparently?).

So, it is acceptable to decide to continue to live abroad guilt-free. If Clinton had been elected I would not have returned permanently, so this doesn't change that - all it changes is that now, even in the future, I won't. I do not imagine Trump will be president for more than four years, but even if it is, as someone who was already gone, I do think it is morally permissible to stay gone.

That said, I am still in the resistance. I do not consider myself absolved of my duty to fight as a decent human being who was born in the USA. Not because we "lost" - we've lost before. Who cares. It happens. But because this is actually terrifying in a way it never before was in my lifetime, in a way that could truly hurt many people I care about who happen to be LGBT, or Muslim, or Hispanic, or women who may need abortions, or whomever our brand new white supremacist in the White House may seem fit to target. This is some real honest-to-goodness Greatest Generation shit right here and we need to resist. We need to put ourselves at risk and maybe be uncomfortable. We need to start thinking about who stands to suffer most and figure out how we can either stop that from happening, or be of help when it does.

This leaves the question of how. From Taiwan there is not that much I can do. But there are a few things.

First and foremost, donate donate donate donate (I can't find a donation page for that last one, but if you can, you should try to help them stay afloat - here's why). Money is one thing that crosses borders easily. This is the first thing I plan to do once my next transfer to my US bank goes through.

Secondly, if at any point this whole super-duper-Nazi "Muslim registry" actually goes into effect, if you are abroad but able to do so online, register as a Muslim yourself to confuse the thugs. (You can sign the petition if you want, but that's not really the point - the point is to keep your ears open.) Or, do it on your next visit home, if it becomes a real thing. It can't target Muslims if it doesn't know which registrees are actually Muslim, and if you are targeted yourself, consider it as taking the place of a Muslim who now has the extra time to get away.

Thirdly, you are still a citizen. You can still vote. Call your representatives. Or write to them, though this is less effective. Sign petitions, join mailing lists, be a voice.

And finally, find out where the major protests are and plan your visits home around them. Make a sign, go march, occupy, do what you can. Confront your family members if you are at all able to do so. I am skeptical of this working much: while there may be some truth to the power of engagement, my experience has been that when someone calls someone else out as racist, it's not because the person they're calling out is talking about their problems and the listener is downplaying them or trying to tell them they're actually privileged. Replying to a story of economic woe or an opioid addiction crisis with "well actually you should be grateful because at least you're white, and if you don't see that you're racist" is cartoonishly insensitive - while I'm sure people like this exist, I have never met one.

No, it's because they are actually saying or doing something racist, and not calling that out normalizes it in an unacceptable way. I do not think Trump voters voted for racism because they're sick of being called racists. I think many of them voted Trump because they actually are racists, and whether or not you called them that, it wouldn't have changed anything (nor would being nice to them - no social movement ever got anywhere by asking nicely).

Side note: while I am sympathetic to someone's economic struggle, I don't excuse that as a reason to have ignored Trump's bigotry. Voting for it isn't going to bring those jobs back. The economy has been fundamentally restructured, and all these trade deals you don't like (guess what, I don't always like them either) are a by-product of that, not the cause of it.  Only finding a place for yourself in the new economy - and maybe accepting some government help or getting more education (which you deserve to be able to afford) to do so - is going to change the situation.

Though I do not believe this is the main reason most people voted Trump, I am genuinely sorry - no sarcasm - that your Rust Belt job is gone, but Trump isn't going to be able to bring it back. Even if it could, re-investing in fossil fuels will render our skies gray again. That's not a solution. In any case, I have struggled too, and I did not grow up in a wealthy family. I never took that as an excuse to ignore racist rhetoric in a candidate because they said what I wanted to hear about jobs. It was always my job to educate myself and find a place in the economy. So I take this "reason" for voting Trump as a reason to improve education, so people might better understand when a candidate's promises are not possible.

Perhaps I am a flawed person, but I do not think it is ethically right not to call out overt racism, nor do I think I have the constitution not to do so. But, I suppose you can try. Hail Mary, right?

Maybe don't bother with a safety pin on those visits - I guess you can if you want, I can't be bothered with that argument, let's not fight please - but do keep your eyes open for instances of harassment and physically intervene. You are only there temporarily but the person being harassed has to live with the threat of it every day.

Two more things - stop believing and posting bullshit from fake news sites (feel free to keep posting on Facebook: it's not that productive but it is therapeutic and helps people hone their real-life arguments, so there is some benefit). Get your real argument game on, get facts, listen to real media with real fact-checkers and trained journalists who are at least trying to be accurate. Subscribe to an online news source and actually pay for it so we can keep real media alive.

And - remember, Taiwan needs you too. The appointment of a few Taiwan-friendly folks to the cabinet is a good sign, but Trump's utter disregard for any sort of international diplomacy that doesn't result in a shower of shiny gold coins or telling brown people to get lost is still worrying. So be present and engaged and ready to fight for Taiwan if the chance presents itself.

There will be expats here, and some will support Trump. Engage with them if you feel you can, or avoid them (I do not necessarily think it is bad for someone who voted for a racist agenda, even if that's not why they voted for it, to feel a bit ostracized). Watch out for increased harassment and other hate speech among your fellow expats, and step in as necessary.

No matter what, if you plan to stay abroad - even if you plan to never return and quite possibly someday renounce citizenship as I do - don't think this absolves you from the fight.

Trumpio* delenda est.

*I have no idea what declension to use because I forgot all my Latin. So I made this one up. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

If you care about Taiwan, vote Clinton.

Every expat in Taiwan ought to listen to ICRT's last Taiwan This Week podcast on how the US election might impact Taiwan - the views of one of the speakers (the one who points out that Trump doesn't care about human rights and therefore he can't be expected to care about Taiwan for any reason other than money, which is massively dangerous for Taiwan) especially resonates with me and what I've been saying about how the US election will affect us. I was less  sympathetic to Mr. "It doesn't matter who becomes president, these issues will be similar in any case..." guy in the beginning. He seemed to really not get how terrifyingly selfish, shallow and narcissistic Trump is and how destructive a Trump administration could be, but later comments about how Trump is willfully uninterested in international issues including those related to Taiwan resonated more with me.

As I don't really have Trumpist friends - if I did I wouldn't be their friend anymore because I view support for Trump as something of a moral or character defect more than simple political differences - but I do have a lot of super lefty Stein supporters, it is also wise to go read what she has said on the US's role in East Asia:

OnTheIssues: How would you maintain relations with China and human rights vs. debt?
Stein: We should deal with China like a member of global community--stop isolating and intimidating China--that is not gonna work.

OnTheIssues: What about the latest standoff in the South China Sea?

Stein: It is wrongheaded for us to deal with territorial rights on the borders of China--what I mean by dealing with China as a member of global community is not to isolate them. On US debt, they finance all sorts of 3rd-world countries in a way that is far less heavy-handed than the US--we need to compete with China on that. We do need to stand up on human rights--but we need to do that inside the US or it does not pass the laugh test. Like in our jails and in our schools and in our courts and the way that we treat immigrants--we have created them and then we criminalize them. We need to get our own house in order first--stand up for human rights in China, yes, but also in Israel and Saudi Arabia too.

Remember that Taiwan is one of China's "territorial claims" on its periphery. So what this means is that she would not interfere with a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Her commitment to peace and scaling down the military outweighs any concern she might have for Taiwan's liberal democracy and its resonance with US values.

Forget Gary Johnson, if he doesn't know "what" Aleppo is, he can't be expected to know that Taiwan exists and therefore won't be a very strong ally of Taiwan.

I'm only mentioning them in case anyone was planning to vote for them - I don't seriously think either will get elected, so I won't pursue those ideas further.

I'm less concerned about trade and investment concerns and more concerned with whether the new US administration will honor its commitments - such as they are (and they aren't great) - to Taiwan in terms of maintaining peace between Taiwan and China.

What it comes to, then, is that honestly, Clinton is the only choice. I do wish the podcast above had touched on that a bit more. I felt it was quite weak in that area, focusing more on economics especially toward the beginning. Or perhaps too 'gentlemanly' when a strong statement is called for.

I can seriously criticize a lot of Clinton's foreign policy - and I do - but she is obviously one of the foremost experts in the world on what the issues are, what the conflicts are, where they are and why they are important. She is the only candidate who even understands, let alone has a chance of honoring, the implied US support for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. She is fairly tough on China, and in the right ways - on human rights more so than trade.

Trump? He only cares about money and trade, is not concerned with helping or allying with countries in ways that can't enrich the US or are not immediately of value he can understand. He may hate China, but not because of its values - he hates China because he thinks China "beating the US on trade" (they're not). He has said the US should not be in the business of working with, let alone helping, "weaker" countries, implying he would abandon NATO allies without a second thought.

Assuming Trump has even heard of Taiwan - I doubt it, but let's play pretend - he would see no reason to use US influence to warn China off of war with Taiwan. He might even think Taiwan is already a part of China, and possibly lump Taiwan in with China as a country that is sucking American manufacturing jobs (it's not, at least not anymore).

He doesn't care about Taiwan's democracy. He doesn't care about human rights. He doesn't care about Taiwan and the US's shared values, and while its lovely that "Taiwan US relations are based on shared values and transcend politics", we have to remember that American values under a Trump administration would change fundamentally, and would not necessarily be enough to propel the relationship.

Standing by Taiwan wouldn't hurt China in the way he wants, and would require America to do something for no immediate financial benefit, so he won't. While it would, long-term, benefit America to stand by Taiwan, it doesn't have an immediate "America First" impact that would appeal to his nativist rhetoric.

The scary part is that the Chinese government is not stupid. It's evil. They are not the same thing.

They know that the only president likely to want America to stand by Taiwan is Clinton. They know that a Trump presidency would mean America would stand by as China invaded, because Trump would view protecting Taiwan as helping a "weak" country - something he's already said he's not interested in doing. China knows that this might be the best chance they will ever get to take Taiwan by force, as they surely already understand that peaceful entreaties will never work on the Taiwanese. They will never win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese.

The only thing standing in the way of China under a Trump presidency, then, would be if China doesn't actually want to control Taiwan but simply to use it as an ongoing conflict to stoke nationalist sentiment and rhetoric.

Therefore, if anybody but Clinton wins, I hate to sound like a nihilist or pessimist, but Taiwan is screwed.

If you are Taiwanese or you live in Taiwan, you should be nervous. Your hands should be shaking. You should start thinking about the future, because this threat is real.

You should also be voting Clinton, because she's the only choice that is most likely to guarantee  that Taiwan gets to continue to exist.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Real People


My husband posted a fantastic rant on his blog about political discourse that you should all go and read.

And it's exactly right - I get really pissed off at people who think that things like not having access to health care, marriage or reproductive choice either doesn't truly affect others, or shouldn't truly affect others, or that "others" aren't real because they aren't the person commenting themselves and have different lives, experiences and issues.

To me, it's like saying "you said your mom has cancer and came very close to facing a situation in which she was uninsured through pure misfortune...but whatever, I don't care that your family might not have been able to afford to treat your mother's cancer had things gone even slightly differently, because allowing for the idea that she and everyone else should have access to basic health care that they can afford violates my worldview, and my worldview is more important than your mother, because to me she's not a real person."

These issues are very real to me, as someone who has contraception sensitivities, a mother who came very close to having cancer and no insurance, who has gay friends who want to get married, friends who have been unable to afford the best medical care and friends who might need abortions, friends who are victims of rape (well, one friend I know of and probably others I don't, because I don't pry into private lives that way), friends who have made something of themselves after getting a leg up. I've been lucky, personally, but these issues are very real to me...and I have no patience - none - for people who would rather preserve their views as political abstractions than look at real life.

And little patience - although I am learning some tolerance - for people who vote for those whose platforms would harm those real people, even if they don't agree with them. I have little and less patience for complicity. I only barely tolerate it because otherwise I'd have to think that slightly less than half the electorate are all terrible people, and that's no way to live.

Also, on a somewhat tangential note, this:

Why Romney Never Saw It Coming


Basically, Jon Stewart was right when he said to Nate Silver that what scared him most about a Republican victory wouldn't have been Republicans in power (although as a woman that too is pretty scary to me), but that it would have meant a victory over arithmetic, and that's just horrifying. How could we trust someone with the economy (or anything else) if they defied basic math? This 
quote says it all: 

"The Obama team would shower you with a flurry of data—specific, measurable, and they’d show you the way they did the math. Any request for written proof was immediately filled. They knew their brief so well you could imagine Romney hiring them to work at Bain. The Romney team, by contrast, was much more gauzy, reluctant to share numbers, and relying on talking points rather than data. This could have been a difference in approach, but it suggested a lack of rigor in the Romney camp." 

- and this is why I am totally OK, happy even, with Obama back in office. I know some folks think he's *too* conservative and has played politics rather than upending the establishment, but at least I have faith that they're doing the math, going by numbers, and making decisions based on data rather than "I think so, so it's true, and all my rich white friends agree."

At some point I'll shut up about American politics and get back to Taiwan, but not quite yet.




Saturday, November 10, 2012

No Really, The GOP Can Go Die

Not Taiwan related, but whatever.

My assessment of why the Republicans lost so bad in the election boils down to this: not only did they lie, but they kept telling people what their lives should be like, what their options should be, how things should work out for them, rather than listening to what people were saying about how their lives actually are. People, who don't like to be told what their lives are like despite their own experience, who don't like to be condescended or mansplained to, called 'em on it and didn't vote for them.

Let me give an example of this sort of attitude. In a comment on an article in a well-known online magazine, I gave a few facts about myself (while trying to stay anonymous). I won't copy the comment itself, but here are the basics:

- That I am a married woman who doesn't want kids, and therefore access to my reproductive rights is important to me, not something I am "not concerned about" or "isn't a part of my life" according to conservative pundits.

- That for me and many other women, control over when and how many children to have is an economic issue, it's not a belief voted on over other more pressing economic issues. Children are expensive to deliver and raise and being concerned about this absolutely boils down to economics (not for us - we could afford a child - that's not our reason, but it's the reason for many).

- That I may be fairly well-off now, but there was a time when I earned in the low 20s and lived in an expensive part of the country. I couldn't get a more affordable apartment farther from the city as I couldn't afford the car I'd need to do so. I lived a mile from the nearest metro station as it was (albeit in a pretty nice rented townhouse with roommates). I definitely felt an economic impact - I had to budget very carefully to get by in that city, even as an income in the low 20s would have been better in other areas.

- That as a result, in my early-to-mid 20s I couldn't access or afford oral birth control. I couldn't take over the counter meds that were sold at affordable prices because I happen to be very sensitive to contraceptive side effects (more information than you really need about me, but it's important as many women have this issue). I had insurance but the co-pays were so high that on my low-ish income I couldn't afford pills even with coverage. I budgeted for the necessities - food, one phone (cell only, no landline), Internet, housing, transport, a bit for other expenditures such as clothing, emergencies, visits home, and very little left over for fun. There was no room in my budget for that. Now, imagine a woman who has no insurance or whose insurance doesn't cover contraceptives - they'd be in even more dire straits. Clinics (like Planned Parenthood) were difficult for me, as I couldn't easily get time off during business hours, I worked in the suburbs and had to take a bus (meaning no lunch hour visits), I'd get home after evening hours were done, and so the only time I could go was Saturdays. The only clinic with Saturday hours was in a very bad area - one that a white woman wouldn't want to walk in alone (I don't say this to be racist - I say it as a matter of fact. Pizza delivery wouldn't even deliver there. It was not safe). I wasn't poor but I was just getting by, as were many people I knew, and there was no room in our budgets for such things.

- That abortion is basically inaccessible to many women, even with Roe v. Wade in effect. Some states have done a remarkable job of removing visits to Planned Parenthood or getting abortions as an option for women in their state. Looking at Missouri (not where I lived, but relevant), abortion is not accessible to women who can't get time off work to travel to one of the six clinics in the state, who can't afford to travel to one (and Missouri is a big state, most women live some traveling distance from one), who can't afford the hotel or time off for the 24-hour waiting period, for women who can't afford an abortion but who were not impregnated due to rape or incest, and their life is not in danger, and to minors whose parents don't consent. Missouri is not a wealthy state - that makes abortion inaccessible to many, if not most, women in that state. Roe v. Wade and its remaning the law of the land is irrelevant when it comes to these real-life issues.

- That I moved abroad not only because I wanted to learn another language and immerse myself in another culture, but because I had better career opportunities abroad, and finally, for better health insurance because America's current "system" SUCKS. It sucks for anyone with a pre-existing condition, for anyone who can't afford their premiums, their copays or their deductibles but also can't afford a better plan, for anyone who is unemployed or has a job that doesn't offer benefits, for someone who needs coverage and has a pre-existing condition but wants to start their own business or go freelance and can't afford it while maintaining insurance. That as much as Americans crow about how foreigners come to America for care, people from Taiwan who live in America often come back to Taiwan for similarly high-quality but affordable care, and you don't hear a lot of expats complaining or returning to America for care. I've never heard one.

And what I got told was that none of this was true: that if I didn't want to go to a known dangerous neighborhood then I was clearly racist, that I could go on my lunch hour to a "nearby" clinic, that I couldn't possibly have moved abroad in part because I wanted socialized health insurance, that I could have bought cheap OTC birth control at Wal-Mart (there was no Wal-Mart near me, thankfully, but I took his meaning to be 'a pharmacy'), that I was lying about how difficult/impossible it was to go to a clinic, that my story of "bad side effects" from OTC birth control was a "lie", and that America clearly has the best health care in the world, and that abortion was a non-issue because "we have Roe v. Wade" so, basically, quit yer whinin'.

That right there is what I mean - this commenter was telling me what my life was like - despite not living my life, and not even knowing me. He was telling me what my options should be, what my choices are, what I could do, rather than listening to me when I told him what my life was actually like, and listening to the statistics on how accessible abortion really is to women across the country, despite Roe v. Wade. It was condescending, it was mansplaining (the commenter was male and thought he knew better than me what my own experience was), it was holier-than-thou, and it was not listening.

And this is why the Republicans lost - because their entire party line has become like that. They keep telling people what their lives are like, and don't listen to what people are saying about what their lives are actually like.

They tell women what their options are, rather than listening to women talk about their options.

They say that equal pay is not an issue when it clearly is.

They tell minorities what their experience is, rather than listening to women talk about their experience.

They spew "facts" about immigration rather than listening to those who have immigrated or want to immigrate. (Fortunately this seems poised to change).

They reduce the entirety of the American lower classes to "moochers" and "takers" without listening to what the lower classes say they do and what they need. They refuse to hear that many poor people work hard and need a leg up to no longer be poor, and characterize them instead as "not taking personal responsibility". You ever been poor and tried to not be poor? Yeah, NOT SO EASY, is it?

They talk about how much the haves are subsidizing the have-nots without listening to the facts of how much the haves really are paying for.

They tell the LGBT community that they're "not homophobic" while ignoring the needs of the LGBT community and pushing clearly homophobic platforms, prioritizing their religion and shitty "morals" (I spit on those morals) over what people actually want and need.

They tell those who are sick what their health care options should be rather than what they are ("you can just go to the emergency room" - great, but that doesn't work if your problem is cancer and is not immediate or acute. You can't get ER treatment for cancer, psychiatric issues or diabetes or any other number of diseases).

They tell the middle class that they'll get jobs only if they give breaks to "job creators" without listening to what the middle class actually needs (infrastructure, affordable education and job training, affordable housing and childcare options), and ignoring the fact that trickle-down economics just plain does not work. Ignoring clear statistics - if you give a person in need money, that money generates more for the economy. If you give a wealthy person money, they tend to squirrel it away or invest it in ways that benefit them, but not others, and generate a net loss for the economy.

They tell those affected by climate change that it's more important to prop up Big Oil than to acknowledge climate change, and then try to pretend climate change away. "No, you didn't get hit by a natural disaster or have your crops ruined, or can't afford rising food costs due to climate change, now shut up and vote for me".

They tell the poor that they shouldn't want "things and stuff", and should ignore the fact that there are those who have far more "things and stuff" than they need and are pushing policies that make it harder for others to get the same things...and stuff. But wait - why shouldn't I want things and stuff? You have things and stuff because the balance of power is in your favor. Why should I find that fair?

They tell teens and parents of teens what their attitudes should be - "just don't have sex, wait 'till you're married", as though that has ever worked in the history of ever - rather than acknowledging the need for sex ed based on what is.

And that's why they only won one segment of the population. One that I daresay is easily duped, or for whom the message is carefully calibrated. And if people are upset that women and minorities are sick of being condescended to, then that's their problem - and if they want to say that in the most racist terms possible

The rest of us are sick and fucking tired of being told what our lives are like, and would like people in power to instead listen to us to find out what our lives are actually like.

And until the GOP understands this and stops with their condescension and unfair characterizations, and wrong assumptions about people they don't understand, they're just not going to win among anyone other than non-urban white males. We're sick of it. Get with the times or get lost.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maybe it's because you're an IDIOT, Paul

Wistaria House, Taipei
A typical dark, rainy late autumn day in Taipei today, and we gathered at Wistaria House (the historic teahouse known for early pro-democracy activism and the movie Eat Drink Man Woman) to do what one really ought to do there: drink tea, shoot the breeze, and talk philosophy and politics.

The now-infamous op-ed piece published in the New York Times (for some reason) came up - I find it so abhorrent that I don't even want to link to it directly. But I will, I guess. The prevailing theory among my friends is that Paul Kane's a hack (keep in mind that many of my friends studied International Politics) and that the NYT just likes the controversy it's drumming up. I can't think of any other reason to publish such a steaming turd-pile.

Brendan's take: Paul Kane is clearly the sort of academic who can't handle complexity and discussing politics and current affairs through an appropriately in-depth understanding of the issues. He's the sort - and libertarians do this too, I might add - who reduces very difficult situations to simple models that suit his needs and disregards anything that could upset the simplicity of his ideas (and I use "simple" in the way that a 19th century governess would to describe one of her charges who was especially slow). With ideas based on models rather than reality, his understanding of the deeper issues is about as thorough as a four-year-old's understanding of the mechanics and engineering of trains, from his model train set. He can't afford to take into account things that upset the balance, like how the Taiwanese might feel about this, how it not just might, but would start a cross-strait war, and how political negotiation is rarely as straightforward as "you cancel our debt, we give you Taiwan". At least it hasn't been since Europe gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. And gee, that sure worked out. That what a people and their government thinks is only important in relation to how much power that country has globally, so the only people whose ideas matter are the US's and China's, and everyone else is like a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia, which might cause a storm: something you can't and shouldn't take into account. Basically, these sorts of people - Kane, a lot of people in the State Department and on international affairs advisory committees, the stupider sort of academics, libertarians and most conservative economists - look at the world the way a sociopath would ("sociopath" being my word) - with zero empathy. They're chess pieces, big ones if they're lucky, small ones if they're not, and what matters isn't people but the game: both the political game and the economic one. There's no accounting for actual people, because it's all models...and let's be honest, models don't work.

(Some of the above, like the train set analogy, is mine).

Joseph's take: It's just plain more complex than that! Hacks like Kane treat Taiwan as a troublemaker, a thorn in the side of the USA, but it's not Taiwan that's the problem. Taiwan has issues (human trafficking is a biggie) but generally speaking is probably one of the easiest and least offensive countries to deal with in Asia, if not the world. The problem - the thorn in our side - is China acting like a spoiled little bitch (his words, not mine, but they really need to be emphasized). Taiwan is not a part of a bigger country that wants to be free, or a province looking for independence - it's a de facto independent political entity, and Taiwan is not the problem. China is, and the solution is not to just bend down and **** China's **** (redacted for the sake of my Moms), which is what this move would be. Furthermore, Taiwan really should be the US's easiest bargaining chip (we all hate referring to Taiwan as a "bargaining chip" but let's be honest - in the eyes of the US government, it is). It doesn't have to send troops. It doesn't have to impose sanctions. All it has to do to keep a little bit of strategic one-uppery on China is to throw out a few "we hope for a peaceful resolution" platitudes and sell it some arms from time to time. How is that so hard? It's a huge advantage for the US. Giving it up would be idiotic.

My take: all of the above, and the fact that Kane seems to just assume that this won't have any adverse impact - that because the feelings, thoughts and opinions of the Taiwanese don't matter, that selling Taiwan to China won't incite a cross-strait war. But it will - I know of very few Taiwanese people who want to unify with China. I know more who think it's inevitable, but almost none who actually want it. I know plenty of people who feel that keeping the status quo is the best way to go, but none who would think that way in a world in which China was not a threat: they'd vote for independence, not unification. The status quo is a necessity, not a desired state, in their minds. And for every apathetic sort, I know a few who would fight. Taiwan would almost certainly lose that war (OK, it certainly would without assistance), but not until horrific carnage was racked up. The death toll, the economic costs (especially in the tech industry, seeing as Taiwan is one of the core pillars of semiconductor technology, OEM products and more), and the political strife it would cause in East Asia is something the US can't possibly accept or justify. That alone should be enough to realize why Kane's idea goes beyond idiotic and into the "I'm just an idiot trying to stir up controversy" territory.

Plus, well, think about it: America not only can't afford to police the world for democracy, but also I'm not nearly convinced that the USA as a nation has the moral compass to be able to do so effectively. We can't go sending the military around the world to force democracy on people (as much as I am a fan of democracy). Taiwan isn't like that - it takes very little effort for a fairly big payoff. And while we can't force democracy on countries like China, we shouldn't go in the other direction and sell out functioning democracies like Taiwan to autocratic, corrupt states like China. We can't force democracy, but we shouldn't be taking actions that actively dismember it. Selling Taiwan out to China would do just that.

He says somewhere in the piece that people will think his idea is crazy and unworkable.

Well, DUH. Because it IS.

And with that, I've already wasted too much time on this worthless piece of tripe. I'm going to go find more funny pictures of AIDS brochures.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Comparative Politics 101

So the US government won't be shut down after all - which is a good thing, I guess, when it comes to museums, parks, federal workers, federally-backed mortgage approvals and government services for the poor and elderly. Allowing it to be shut down would have also had some upsides, and I'm not entirely sure it wasn't a good idea to just let it happen (for once, I agree with Eliot Spitzer!) and what we've got is a country where liberal social principles are triumphing, but Republican (I can't say conservative - it's not, really) financial ideas are sharing that winner's circle.

This brings about an interesting little eddy in the writhing tides of comparative politics.

Before we found out that there would be no shutdown, I mentioned it to a student. She was taken aback - positively horrified - by the idea that a government would go so far as to not reauthorize spending to maintain itself.

"I thought that American politics was more mature than Taiwanese politics, and these things don't happen in America," she said.

"Yeah, well, that's not true. We're just as immature politically as the DPP and KMT. The arguments and divisions are different but the rhetoric is the same. The only thing that separates the Legislative Yuan from the Senate is that American Senators don't beat each other up..." (Which, actually, I'm not sure is historically true). "...although sometimes I think they should."

And it is absolutely true. For all the complaining that you hear about politics in Taiwan and how it's too rough, immature, pointless, boastful and full of empty rhetoric and political game-playing over serious investments in improving the country - honestly, you'd think that that was only a problem in Taiwan. It's not. We're just as bad, if not worse. I mean, is there a Taiwanese Sarah Palin? Although, for all his wishy-washiness, Obama is a better and more centrist leader than Ma.

Both countries are deeply divided over social and economic issues, and both of those divides follow cultural lines (in the USA it's generally regional and is in some way related to religion; in Taiwan it's mostly about who immigrated when). The words are different and the issues are different, but the BS is the same.

So.

A lot of people like to boast that they are "socially liberal and fiscally conservative". This is apparently something that many people are proud of, and they think it makes them somehow more sensible than either party. I am not fiscally conservative - while I'm not in favor of debt, cutting government programs that many needy people rely on is not the way to go about reducing it. Lowering tax rates for the wealthy and corporations is definitely not OK - I'm sorry but supply side, Libertarian and trickle-down economics do not work. We've been through this. We talked about this in the late '80s and '90s. We agreed. Doesn't work. Money spent on social programs for the poor, elderly and unemployed put more money back into the economy than money spent giving breaks to wealthy people. So, America, WTF?).

I do believe that a time of recession and high unemployment is not the time to slash spending. I do believe that the spending the government has agreed to cut isn't the spending that really matters, and isn't the right thing to be cutting. I do believe that Obama should have called the Republicans' bluff.

I am happy that liberal values are winning out in the USA (because they're right, natch) and that for the first time in awhile, the Democrats actually stood up for women's rights and refused to allow the de-funding of Planned Parenthood.

I am not happy, though, that conservative fiscal values, at this time, are winning - and that they're cutting the wrong things and lowering taxes for the wrong people.

So yes, we might be basically just like Taiwan except we don't slap each other, but really, someone should just take Boehner and rough him up a bit, Taiwanese-legislature style.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Playing Chicken

I almost always vote Democratic (nowhere I've lived has had a Republican nominee I'd vote for - though I think that even though I am more liberal than most liberals, that I'd vote for a good, socially liberal Republican if one came along in my voting jurisdiction who clearly deserved my support).

But, I agree with this article. Completely. I vote Democrat because, as a woman who is consciously and actively aware of and in support of the struggle for women's rights and equality (true rights and true equality, in society as well as under the law - something that's definitely better for American women than most other women in the world, but could still stand to improve), I'm still consistently disappointed with the Democrats' fight for women's rights. I don't take my support away because the other choices are to vote Republican - which I really can't do when it comes down to the candidates I've had to choose from so far - or not vote. I could and would be an activist if I lived in the USA, but other than blustering on the Internet there's not much to be done from Taiwan. But still. What is up with the Democratic party? As the article states, they're chicken.

We're chicken.

I'm chicken, for continuing to vote "in support of" these measures...though I feel like I was forced into that role.

Why is that?

I feel like it's a massive Prisoner's Dilemma (sort of) for 51% of the population. Seriously, 51% and we can't even keep our rights safe? What's up with that? I'd love to see every likeminded woman in America suddenly turn activist, and what's more, refuse to vote for any candidate who does not support - in full, no chicken - our rights. I know that sounds extreme but it seems like that's what it's going to take. And yet nobody's willing to stand up and start taking that risk, not knowing if refusing to vote in favor of cowardly politicians of both genders.

And it's frustrating. To be pushed down that road. To have to choose between compliance and extreme, crazy left-wing action, and to know that those who would like to see our rights taken away know we won't go to that extreme.

Frustrating...and sad.