Sunday, April 5, 2015

brain pickings | vol 3 | 'today' edition | 2015.04.06

welcome to volume 3 of the ongoing series, brain pickings! here's 5 things from today.

  1. athletic footwear is so expensive. actually, clothes are expensive. it's really sad.
  2. 99% of the time I waste is spent reading blogs or news.
  3. i am that bad kid on the block the neighbor moms hide their children from.
  4. blogs are so interesting like I promise I'm going to try harder. I already have 3 posts scheduled/queued so I don't have a super long hiatus. <3

brain pickings | volume 2 | 2015.04.05

  1. I'm absolutely obsessed with the Geeky Girls Knit podcast. HEAVEN.
  2. Nat Geo. Need I say more?
  3. gmail chatting okay
    1. renaissance of the good old days??
  4. The idea of Rookie. I haven't read Rookie in more than two whole months (all without going on a Rookie diet - ew) but I'm still enamored with the idea of it.
  5. I had the idea to make my own zine yesterday, and I'm still living off the high I got when I started thinking about that idea. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEE
Five items a week/day/month doesn't make me seem so insane, now does it? wink

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

“Why Will Young People Dominate at the Midterm Elections?”: Du Yihuan’s Take on the Rise of Young Voters’ Involvement in Politics in Taiwan

On November 29, 2014, Ko Wen-Je, a physician with Asperger’s syndrome, won the Taipei mayoral election. While it was a triumph for a candidate who did not have any kind of political background, there was a larger force at play besides his own abilities. For the first time in history, the younger generations in Taiwan, fed up with the inaction and incompetence of incumbent politicians, decided to take matters into their own hands by publicly voicing their frustrations and directions of change, and actively transforming the ways political campaigns are conducted. As a result, Taiwanese young voters aged 20 to 35 turned out to be the dominating factor in this election and perhaps all elections in the coming years, said the Commonwealth Magazine’s Du Yihuan in “Why Will Young People Dominate at the Midterm Elections?”, a reflection of the impacts of young Taiwanese on 2014’s Taipei Mayoral election.

The story of this “Young Political Activists” movement began 15 months prior, when the death of a mistreated conscripted soldier, Hung Chung-Chiu, led to widespread protests. Hung was forced to do strenuous physical drills as a punishment for carrying a camera phone with him into a military base, even though this offense should only have warranted administrative punishments. As a result, he suffered from heat stroke and fell into a coma before dying of organ failure at a military hospital, a mere two days before he would have been relieved of conscription duty. The incident sparked roaring outcries, particularly among younger generations, and impelled a record 100,000 people demonstrating outside a Ministry of Defense building. This series of protests was a major reason for the drastic changes in legislation that followed, including the abolition of court-martial during peacetime, and the treatment of military prisoners as civilian prisoners..

The Hung Chung-chiu incident struck a nerve in the hearts of young Taiwanese. Paired with discontent of the government’s attitude towards low salaries (“22K” is an oft-quoted statistic, referring to the monthly salary in New Taiwan Dollars afforded to minimum-wage workers, an amount that barely makes ends meet) and growing economic inequality, various scandals, such as the food safety incidents that surfaced in late 2013, only served to build up the smolder and long-lasting grudge in the hearts of activists waiting for the culmination, the tipping point, the needle on the haystack. And it did come, albeit after months of no action.

On March 18, 2014, a group of university students stormed into the National Assembly house, and, with the aid of the oppositional party, occupied it for the next two weeks. This incident, later known as Occupy Parliament or the Sunflower Student Movement, was triggered by the passage of a cross-strait service trading agreement. Students and other young people that later would join them were angered by the potential service job loss caused by this agreement, as well as the hasty process in which it was passed. To peacefully end the occupation, the government eventually accommodated the movement’s main adjuration, “demand transparency in pacts negotiated with China,” according to Du, by extirpating the agreement altogether and restarting.

A couple of months later, when election season was fully upon Taiwan, a tectonic shift in attitude was evident when contrasted with previous elections. In the past, young people either didn’t vote or only voted according to their parents’ suggestions or stances, much less actually participate in the election process. This year, however, the number of young people who signed up as candidates for local political positions had grown by more than tenfold. This also showed the remarkable change in young people taking initiative and taking responsibility for their own government. In addition, instead of following their parents’ political stances, they are thinking for themselves, coming up with their own, informed conclusions, and even make strong cases for their ideal candidates to their family members.

All over the world, young people invariably fall to the bottom of the economic ladder, and are forced to politically engage themselves in order to enact socioeconomic changes that were otherwise considered impossible boundaries to cross. Some organized peaceful strikes and protests to earnestly voice their appeals, like the Occupy Wall Street movement; others went to the extremes of instigating a civil uprising that started with riotic demonstrations and eventually led to a revolution, for example the Syrian Revolution. But Du’s article shows how young Taiwanese take a different route. They recognize and even embrace the existing political system, are able to leverage modern technologies and social media, and eventually beat career politicians at their own game. The young generation in Taiwan is not only pushing the once unshakable boundaries rooted in political stalemate, but is also showing the world a new and effective path of bettering their homeland.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Tale of Two 'Ma's

Ma Ying-Jeou, who would later become one of the KMT party's most influential leaders, catapulted into Taiwan’s political scene in 1981, as the personal English translator for then-President Chiang Ching-kuo after receiving his S.J.D. from Harvard. He defeated the seemingly unbeatable incumbent Chen Shui-bian at 1998’s Taipei City mayoral election, and set a record for the highest number of votes at 2008’s presidential elections. Today, with 14 months still left in his second term, his approval rating has already plummeted down to under 10%, making him almost a premature "lame duck". This is a story of two “Ma”s.

After President Chiang’s death, Ma started to garner public attention due to his status as a strong advocate for exercise and an ardent blood donor. His image became that of a persevering runner steadily jogging on the streets. In 1997, he’d resigned from the position of Minister without Portfolio because he felt ashamed that he was a part of a government that had let down the citizens for failing to save the victim of a high-profile kidnapping case. This furthered his reputation, as it was such an  unprecedented move among career politicians.

The 228 Massacre, which began on February 28, 1947, was an incident in which the KMT murdered or imprisoned many Taiwanese, including many of the elite, while occupying Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. This, of course, caused a huge chasm between the two ethnic groups: the refugees and government powers from China, and those who had already settled in Taiwan. However, every year there was always a commemoration, which Ma attended annually, showing his sincerity even before he had become an important politician. This was an action that no KMT members had previously taken, due to their reluctance to admit such an event had even taken place. Truly, this was taken as a great step towards mending the gap that had plagued Taiwan's politics for years.

As Mayor of Taipei City, Ma brought about many changes, most notably one of the world’s foremost Pay-as-You-Throw waste management systems. In this pioneering program, residents of Taipei City are only allowed to dispose of trash contained in special bags purchased from the government, while recycling can be disposed of free of charge. This scheme has reduced Taipei’s trash by more than 35% to date since 1999, and has increased the recycle output by approximately 260%.

As President, Ma worked tirelessly to make peace between Taiwan and China, successfully repairing connections and instituting a diplomatic truce between Beijing and Taipei. This allowed Taiwan to maintain diplomatic relations with 22 countries, no small feat when most countries would prefer to seek China’s recognition in exchange for Taiwan’s. A notable breakthrough in regards to cross-strait relations with China was the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, abbreviated as ECFA, which sought to reduce commercial taxes between the two sides and promote economical interaction. This had great consequences, drastically increasing the trade between Taiwan and China.

In addition, under Ma’s leadership, Taiwan became the 37th country to gain admittance to the United States’ Visa Waiver program, allowing Taiwanese citizens to enter the U.S. without a visa. Meanwhile, 86 more countries started to accept Taiwanese travelers with digital visas, visas on arrival, or without visas at all, bringing the total count from 54 to 140. On another note regarding international travel, Ma opened Taiwan's doors to Chinese tourists, giving the tourist trade a huge boost.

He did things that no other politician would dream of doing because it would influence their approval rating. For example, he drafted a law to start implementing more taxes for civil servants, teachers, and soldiers, an idea that infuriated the general public, yet was necessary for a nearly bankrupt government to keep operating. Was the country’s general wellbeing worth losing a large share of his supporters? It was a complicated decision. In the end, Ma chose the righteous and less “politically correct” way.

Unfortunately, he seemed to become less and less popular with the people. In truth, Ma himself did not seem to change much, but his weaknesses and limitations become more evident in his second term as President. In general, Ma was indecisive and unable to stick to his convictions when subject to the opposition's pressures, and tended to change positions abruptly and to not provide strong and continued backing for government policies advocated by his own cabinet. For example, he vetoed the construction and operation of the fourth nuclear plant in Taiwan, but only when pressured to do so. As a result, the general public had the impression that he terminated the plant without a genuine belief in the vision of “nuclear-free homeland” and without a concrete plan to address the economic development issues brought about by the termination.
During Ma's second term as President, food safety controversies began to be revealed at a far too alarming rate. The general public was tired of being kept in the dark as to which foods were actually safe to eat. The major food-safety incident occurred right before midterm elections. The Ting Hsin International Group was discovered to have been mixing imported animal feed oil with regular lard and selling it to a huge lard corporation, affecting millions of consumers. Though a national -- and global, too, as the oil was also exported -- concern, Ma refused to make any decisions on this matter, preferring instead that the Judicial System be in charge, like it should. However, this led to the Taiwanese people's distrust of him and his government, due to the frustrating opaqueness and  hardly comforting resolutions of major issues. According to the BBC, this distrust, combined with low salaries and increasing economic inequality, caused the KMT to fail miserably at the 2014 midterm elections.

The public was also upset at some high-profile scandals, such as the death of a mistreated conscripted soldier. The soldier was forced to do strenuous physical drills as a punishment for having a camera phone with him; this offense should only have warranted administrative punishments. As a result, he suffered from heatstroke and fell into a coma before dying of organ failure at a military hospital, a mere two days before he would have been relieved of conscription duty. The incident caused widespread protests, particularly the "White Shirt Army" protests, and Ma personally apologized. The Minister of National Defense also publicly resigned. Although this episode occurred in mid-2013, it culminated with various other mishandlings on the government's behalf, lowering Ma's approval rate radically.

Various parts of the private sector also grew to resent Ma due to his "Teflon pan" status: that is, he never made exceptions to any laws or allowed anyone to slip through the cracks. Ma even sued a member of his own party, Wang Jin-ping, who was bribed. While this is "Teflon pan"-ness is an admirable aspect, as so many politicians fall prey to bribery and embezzlement, many people started to doubt his loyalty to his own party, and supporters of Wang Jin-ping. But this was no fault on Ma's part; he had done his job; he had made a righteous decision.

As Taipei Mayor and subsequently as Taiwan's President, Ma is a classic case of a President who had started out strong and then lost people’s trust and support. Because he wasn't able to balance the interests of the government with that of the citizens, his presidency ultimately went downhill. Now, with only 9.2% of the public backing him, it is evident that the same sense of righteousness that had won him the public's overwhelming support has eventually worked against his favor.