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Monthly Archives: December 2016


Sunflower Student Movement Protest
Students’ mass protest in Taiwan to end occupation of legislature | Artemas Liu

December 22, 2016

by Chen Wei-Ting, Lin Fei-Fan, June Lin, and Liu Yen-Ting

On December 15, the New York Times ran an article belatedly covering the reaction of Taiwanese citizens to the recent international dustup over President-elect Donald Trump’s unprecedented phone call with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen. It featured short quotes from Lin Fei-Fan, a leader of the Sunflower Student Movement—a popular 2014 uprising by progressive students and civic organizations that challenged the conservative government of the time over its support for a trade deal with China that they believed would sacrifice Taiwan’s democracy in the service of corporate profits. While Lin and other democracy activists were grateful for coverage of their views in the American “newspaper of record”—given the major global news media previously framing the story almost entirely around China’s reaction to the call—they felt that their full position was not adequately reflected in the article. So, Lin and three other activists wrote the following explanatory statement that they would like American progressives to read and share widely. -Jason Pramas, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism & DigBoston

  1. We felt ambivalent about the phone call and Trump’s recent remarks. On the one hand, the call brought a chance for the world to reconsider its relations with a democratic island nation—Taiwan. On the other hand, we are puzzled by the reaction of the so-called liberals and the news media. Because the last thing that we think liberals should care about is “angering China.” However, many choose to put all their focus on that. Liberals should care more about the people of Taiwan and how such allies—sharing so many similar values with the people of the United States as we do—should be treated going forward.
  1. Although we can hardly accept that Trump uses Taiwan as a bargaining chip with China, we also have to point out that the current China policy of Obama’s administration has brought many crises to Taiwan. For example, in 2009, when Obama met with the Chinese president Hu Jing-Tao, he continued encouraging the Cross-Strait Agreement and dialogues that encouraged the former Kuomintang (KMT) government—which presided over a military dictatorship from 1949 to 1987—to pursue policies detrimental to Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty in order to accelerate integration with China both politically and economically. Eventually triggering the Sunflower Movement in 2014.
  1. If people worry about Trump’s move of using Taiwan as a business bargaining chip, they also have to be aware that the Democrats and many liberals of all stripes were/are also using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to maintain America’s relationship with China.
  1. If Americans really care about Taiwan’s situation and the difficulties it is facing—being treated as a pawn in a giant geopolitical game— the best way to help is to “Urge the Normalization of US-Taiwan Relations.” Normalized relations can be the best way to keep rumors at bay and—along with allowing democracy-monitoring civil society organizations to act as watchdogs in the public interest—avoid letting the Taiwan issue be manipulated by a small number of politicians, from the president on down.
  1. Trump’s victory can be seen as part of the recent trend of the rise of right-wing conservatism around the world. However, when conservative forces are gathering, progressives worldwide must gather together as well. There is no reason for liberals and progressives to abandon a democratic and liberal ally, or leave them alone to face relentless political economic pressure and the growing threat of invasion from authoritarian China.



December 6, 2016


For many people, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the only time of year that their thoughts turn to the plight of the homeless. Money, food, and presents are donated. And time is volunteered at shelters. All to make sure that people without a home of their own have a nice holiday—at least for a few hours. Worthy efforts to be sure.

However, despite this periodic outpouring of compassion, there’s still an unfortunate tendency to individualize homelessness in our society. As with poverty in general, casual observers assume that it’s personal failings that cause people to end up without housing.

And while it’s a truism that every person bears some responsibility for the straits they find themselves in, there are three major structural problems out of the control of impoverished individuals that best explain the rise of homelessness in Massachusetts: savage cuts to our state mental health system, an economy that creates large numbers of bad low-wage jobs, and the destruction of affordable housing.

Taking these issues in turn, the Commonwealth started shutting down most of its oft-criticized inpatient mental hospitals on budget and civil liberties grounds in the 1970s—leading to the first wave of homeless people with few places to turn for help and little ability to escape their fate. Things have only gotten worse since then. According to Mass Live, over the last 20 years the legislature has cut spending on inpatient mental health services by half and outpatient spending has remained stagnant.

Next, National Public Radio recently reported that wages and benefits “essentially flatlined or declined for four of five Americans between 2007 and 2014.” As big business racked up super profits, and crushed labor unions. Continuing a trend that also started in the 1970s where wage growth has slowed dramatically for most working people even as their productivity has increased. People at the bottom of the economic pyramid have been hardest hit, and ever more working people are finding themselves unable to pay mortgages or rent with the money they make working two or even three bad low-wage jobs with no benefits and little opportunity for advancement.

Then there’s the acute problem of skyrocketing housing costs in the Bay State. Especially in the hot Metro Boston real estate market where either buying or renting has become terribly difficult for poor folks.

This situation began when rent control—which limited the ability of landlords to raise rents in a number of cities in Mass—was torpedoed in 1994 with a state referendum backed by the real estate industry. When rent control ended in 1995, landlords immediately started jacking rents far beyond many tenants’ ability to pay, and housing developers started building luxury apartments and condos at a far higher rate than desperately needed affordable housing. Building new public housing, once a saving grace to poor families, has been taken pretty much off the table on ideological grounds since the Reagan era.

Making matters worse, the devastating subprime mortgage scandal that started in 2007 and caused the Great Recession of 2008 led to nearly 22,000 foreclosure filings in one nine-month period in Mass in 2009, according to the Boston Globe. And there have been thousands more in the years since. A trend which is now accelerating again.

The result? As a 2016 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition points out, the Commonwealth is short 166,960 affordable housing units for extremely low income households making 30 percent or less of their area’s median income. And the Mass Coalition for the Homeless states that the approximately 3,000 night shelter beds for individuals statewide are usually full or beyond capacity—and that there were 21,135 people in Massachusetts counted as experiencing homelessness during the January/February 2015 headcount conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Numbers which barely begin to describe the magnitude of the crisis when hundreds of thousands of hard-working Bay State residents are just a couple of paychecks away from penury.

So if you really want to help homeless people—during the holidays and every day—you should consider joining advocates working to end homelessness. It’s not rocket science. Increasing our state mental health budget, passing living wage laws to make more jobs into decent ones, restoring rent control, devoting public funds to build lots of decent affordable housing, and properly taxing the rich and corporations to pay for such needed reforms will go a long way toward stopping the structural poverty forcing people out of their homes. Making us a better and more compassionate society in the bargain.

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest show – co-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalismand media outlets in its network.

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