oops

The students have walked right into a trap.  Storming the Executive Yuan is a terrible strategic mistake.  This will probably be the point when public opinion turns against them.  At the very least, the students will begin to be divided by vicious factional infighting among doves and hawks about tactics.

I was at the legislature last night, and the EY was tightly guarded.  How in the world have the students been able to get in so easily. It almost makes me wonder if it was left open on purpose to tantalize the students.  Ma et al would have known that the EY would be an irresistible target for hardline students.

The KMT may just have been smart enough to let the students destroy themselves.

I hope I’m wrong.

8 Responses to “oops”

  1. Brido Says:

    Professional activists always concern me and I’m never sure if it’s more or less than professional politicians do. I’m not sure the KMT would have needed to bait any specific trap: my own experience of the student activist type is that they can’t help but cross the line of publicly-supported action because they’re incapable of accepting anything other than getting their own way.

    I really do hope that they read the tea-leaves of what the Taiwanese public are prepared to support properly but I strongly fear that there’s a one-upmanship more-radical-than-thou dynamic going on in the chamber that will cause some of them to push beyond that. I can’t see any way that would work out well for Taiwanese democracy.

  2. joequant2013 Says:

    One thing to be clear about this is that there are different students here. I’ve been very impressed by the maturity of the student leaders in the Legislative Yuan and the amount of control that they have. Taiwanese students have legitimate greivances against the system and I think everyone realizes that.

    As far as how the students were able to get in. First of all, there has not been a need to guard government buildings in Taiwan against large protests for a generation, because the protestors of the 1980’s ended up in the government. The second thing is that the internet and facebook changes a lot. One thing that you can do with facebook is to create a “flash crowd.” With social media, you can get 1000-2000 people in one spot and overwhelm the police, and you can find out on the internet how to bypass security measures. It was pretty clear that the students had very carefully planned out breaking into the EY (i.e. they have blankets and ladders ready) and the internet lets you do these sorts of things.

    “Flash crowds” were a popular thing for student mobilization in Hong Kong for a few months, but students here gave up on it once they realized how dangerous it was. The problem with a “flash crowd” is that it very quickly becomes a flash mob. There was a nasty incident at Sheung Shui a while back in which some Hong Kong students created a flash crowd to protest Mainland traders, however it got very quickly out of control, when the more nasty people that attended started pressing the mob on, and it was a public relations nightmare because it looked terrible on the news.

    My experience in Hong Kong and in NYC makes me very supportive of “professional activists” because it turns out that the professional activists work very closely with the police to keep demonstrations under control. When I participated in the Snowden demonstrations, I was very impressed at up well the professional activists had planned everything out. One thing that I found interesting about the demonstration was that it was a parade. You had a thousand people each walking past the US consulate. Having a crowd in front of a consulate was dangerous, and everyone knew that. Also parades are nice for activists because it makes it look like you have a lot of people.

    One thing is that to create a democracy, you need professional politicians, professional police, professional news media, and professional activists. Protesters (student and otherwise) are just part of the system.

    • Brido Says:

      I fundamentally disagree on your last paragraph. In fact I’d go so far as to say the emergence of professional politicians and activists is a sure sign that democracy is becoming rotten. Professionals need paying and who pays the piper calls the tune.

      What is required to create a democracy are people who’re prepared to become activists for the working day, campaign on the issue that motivates them and then retire to their everyday lives and let other interest groups campaign on their issues of importance. A professional activist will depend for their next gig on publicity, which inevitably means doing something attention-grabbing and there are only so many good ways to do that.

      Another requirement for a functioning democracy is that the losers accept losing. Undermining a democratically-elected government on a matter they explicitly campaigned for re-election on is not a good sign of a mature democratic system. Ma and the KMT have the electoral mandate for this, the argument should only be over their methods of trying to push it through.

      • joequant2013 Says:

        There is a disagreement here about the role of money in politics.

        Let me say that there wouldn’t be a need for students to have professional activists if corporations didn’t have professional activists. One problem with the political system is that because big corporations have professional lobbyists that get paid to influence legislation (I’ve worked with them), people that aren’t part of big corporations get shut out of the system.

        I personally think that we would be better off if small companies and small medium enterprises hire professional activists from time to time, to balance the lawyers and lobbyists of big corporations. The problem is that unless you hire professionals, then when you compete with them as a amateur, you are going to shut out of the system, and there are dozens of clever tricks to do this.

        One reason this is an interesting issue, is that mentally I’m extremely torn. I really do share the student’s views on how big companies have too much power, since I used to work in a very big company and was able to see how they influenced legislation. That’s actually one reason I left to start my own company.

    • Brido Says:

      I know the role that money plays in politics and that it’s a dirty old game, not disputing that in the slightest. I just think that as it’s fundamentally undemocratic, the effectiveness of it in politics just serves to underline how badly corroded a democracy is. I can’t say I’m particularly idealistic about democracies but I don’t see any sense in viewing them through the rose-tinted ‘oh no, not in our system’ lenses.

      Corporate activists and ‘issue’ activists (let’s call them) have one thing in common – if there’s no cause, there’s no wage. Professional lobbyists doing it to pay the bills are marginally less despicable in my eyes than professional ‘issue’ activists in that the latter have a vested interest in spinning the issue out for reasons of money, ideology or ego. Having said that, it’s like saying gastroenteritis is marginally less unpleasant than dysentery. Just because they’re a fact of life is no reason to encourage them.

  3. frozengarlic Says:

    The media is reporting this morning that there were only 40 police officers protecting the Executive Yuan complex yesterday. Most of the manpower had been sent home or diverted to the legislature. With the previous levels of security, it would have been easy to repulse the student encroachment. With only 40, the EY was left wide open and must have been an irresistible target.

    Isn’t it amazing how much better the KMT braintrust has gotten at exploiting the internal divisions among students the second King Pu-tsong returned from the USA?

    • Echo Taiwan Says:

      “Isn’t it amazing how much better the KMT braintrust has gotten at exploiting the internal divisions among students the second King Pu-tsong returned from the USA?”

      Yea, this is what I have been thinking.

  4. joequant2013 Says:

    The trouble is that with the internet and facebook, you can have a network monitor all the buildings in Taipei and they choose a soft target. The EY could have increased security, but if you increase security only at the EY, you have to increase security everywhere, and if you increase security everywhere, you quickly overwhelm the police.

    I worked in an investment bank during the occupy protests in NYC, so I got to see what people were worried about, and the internet changes gives a lot of power to occupy protests because you can find the softest targets and hit them.

    One reason these sorts of protests are effective is that police are expensive. Also, the less violent the methods of clearly a square are, the more expensive things are.

    This is one reason I was really worried over the weekend, because if the students really had the ability to flood KMT offices across Taiwan, then you really would have to surrender, because they could overwhelm the police everywhere. I was *extremely* relieved to find that they didn’t have that much support.

    As far as KMT braintrust, none of this requires a superhuman evil genius. Most of this is very basic legislative politics. The KMT has lots of people that are good at this, so does the DPP. The students aren’t that bad at this either.

    The issue isn’t King Pu-tsong. If the people in the KMT were thinking in the same way that I was, then last week it was extremely necessary to figure out how much support the students really had before trying to figure out what to do. There was obviously a political miscalculation, but it was important to figure out how big the miscalculation was.

    The other issue is that if people in the KMT were thinking like me, then last week everyone felt like dirt. One thing that makes a protest powerful is when you point to someone and say “you are evil, we hate you.” At that point you feel that you are evil and maybe you should give up. This happened to me last week, but I feel a lot better this week, and I suspect that this is also true for a lot of other people in the KMT. The four events that really changed things were:

    1) The decision not to use force against the LY students. Doing that would have caused me to just mentally collapse. I was a college student in the US during the Tiananmen protests, and having to use force against the LY would have left me so disgusted at myself that there is no way that I could be pro-CSSTA. If Ma had send in riot police and caused injury, that I would have stopped caring about trade agreements.

    2) The discussion between the Premier and the students. At that point I realized the students wanted CSSTA dead, and they weren’t interested in merely having a deeper reading. At that point there was no need to compromise or discuss anything with the students since their demands were unacceptable.

    I think that this was the opps moment, because at that point the students lost the support of people that were pro-student, pro-CSSTA. The other reason that mattered is that when I realized what was going on, I realized that the students in the LY weren’t “children” and that they were sophisticated adults that knew what they were doing. The more I’m watching the LY students, the more impressed I am with them as politicians. Yes they’ve made some mistakes, but so does everyone else, and one issue is sometimes your mistakes aren’t mistakes rather than trying to adapt to reality.

    3) The lack of response to surrounding KMT bureaus

    4) The fact that the DPP hasn’t gone “all in” with the students, and the fact that the students seem to distrust the DPP as much as the KMT. I’m watching the DPP very closely, because as long as *they* don’t think that CSSTA is a vote loser, and are talking about “renegotiation” rather than “killing it” then that means something.

    The other thing is that if it looks like the students are “joining forces” with the DPP to fight the next set of elections, that changes things a lot, but there is a lot of distance betwen DPP and the students. The students don’t want to be friends with the DPP because they (correctly) sense that the DPP is under pressure to work against their interests.

    You have to wonder if CSSTA is so terrible, why not just kill it outright? The fact of the matter is that the DPP has found that bashing China trade is a vote loser in Taiwan. Right now the DPP knows that if they take a hard line stand against CSSTA, they’ll pay for it in the next elections. So what they’ve been trying to do is to kill it without killing it.

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