Archive for the ‘Do Something Useful’ Category

Busting Baidu

August 31, 2020

BuzzFeed, which I must confess I have not previously paid attention to, has produced a couple of fantastic reports on Chinese repression in Xinjiang. The two reports are here and here.

What is even more interesting than these reports if you are concerned about research methodologies is the nuts and bolts of how BuzzFeed used the efforts of China’s leading search engine, Baidu, to hide what is going on to instead expose what is going on.

That fascinating story is here. It is to do with how the airbrushing of satellite maps by Baidu actually led researchers to the location of hundreds of new internment and forced labour camps.

Baidu is often described as the Google of China. This is a near-literal comparison because most of what Baidu does it ripped off straight from Google, even down to ‘moonshot’ investments like self-driving cars. Baidu has never, to my knowledge, produced meaningful innovation, unlike firms such as Tencent and Bytedance, the Tik Tok creator.

If you own Baidu stock (BIDU), I would get rid of it. The rising Economic Social and Governance (ESG) movement that seeks to promote more ethical investing is presented with a very juicy target here. Plus, Baidu doesn’t seem to be able to innovate anyway, so you won’t even get rich from supporting the concealment of genocide.

Another day in Hong Kong

August 27, 2020

Further confirmation — if indeed it is needed — that press freedom is a thing of the past in Hong Kong. The city’s lickspittle government has denied a visa to the incoming editor of the excellent Hong Kong Free Press. This type of behaviour is standard practice in autocracies like China when governments want to censor without being seen to explicitly do so. However, it is a relatively new phenomenon in Hong Kong.

The piece pasted below explains the context. If you can spare any money, I would encourage you to donate to HKFP to support their free-to-reader coverage while raising a middle finger to the Hong Kong government. The donation process is very quick.

After Jimmy Lai was arrested and his Chinese-language tabloid Apple Daily‘s offices raided, Hong Kong people variously bought the company’s stock and purchased record volumes of the newspaper as a means to support Mr Lai and his paper and to show the government what they thought. The English-language HKFP doesn’t have the same audience-reach in Hong Kong and relies on donations from around the world.

The Hong Kong government will doubtless thank you for supporting quality journalism because it says the media are absolutely hopeless at their job. Only yesterday government and police spokespeople were pointing out that journalists completely misinterpreted photographs and video footage of police officers hanging out with suspected triad members.

The police were not consorting with triad members in attacks on pro-democracy protesters and random members of the public. Instead they were forcing the naughty triad types to go home. Anyone who cannot see the police actively pushing those ‘white shirts’ away hasn’t watched the video footage closely enough. The police didn’t take their names — despite the men being armed — because… err, well, that bit we haven’t come up with a cunning answer to yet. The main thing is that everyone agrees that there should not be an independent enquiry because we all trust the Hong Kong police and Carrie Lam.

Here is some ridiculous mis-reporting of the issue by more of those terrible journalists, in this instance ones who work for the Hong Kong equivalent of the BBC.

Visas ‘weaponised’: Gov’t denies Hong Kong Free Press editor a work visa, without explanation, after 6-month wait


Hong Kong Free Press has been denied a work visa for an established journalist following an almost 6-month wait. The Immigration Department’s rejection for HKFP’s incoming editor Aaron Mc Nicholas was handed down without any official reason on Tuesday, raising further concerns for the business community and the city’s press freedom in light of the new security law.

The news comes weeks after New York Times journalist Chris Buckley was forced to leave the city after being denied a visa without reason amid a tit-for-tat dispute between Washington and Beijing. The US newspaper subsequently shifted a third of their local workforce to South Korea.

Editor-in-chief Tom Grundy said that many other news outlets remain in limbo amid unprecedented visa delays, and a pattern had now emerged: “We are a local news outlet and our prospective editor was a journalist originally from Ireland, so this is not another tit-for-tat measure under the US-China trade dispute. It appears we have been targeted under the climate of the new security law and because of our impartial, fact-based coverage.”

He said that neither the applicant, nor HKFP, had been denied a visa before: “Other sectors can expect to be subjected to a similar bureaucratic rigmarole in light of the security law. Companies are already leaving or avoiding the city for this very reason,” Grundy said. “Businesses can be assured that visa issues are now a feature, not a bug. They may decide that Hong Kong is no longer a suitable place to set up a regional headquarters or base.”

He added that HKFP would press the government to offer reasons for the denial and will consider an appeal and legal challenge. 

Work visas ‘weaponised’

A senior lawyer – who has represented a number of media organisations and journalists but did not wish to be named – said the denial of visas for two respected journalists in such a short time was “unprecedented and deeply concerning.”

“This strongly indicates that the Hong Kong authorities, like those in the PRC [People’s Republic of China], have now weaponised work visas as a tool to control the reporting of Hong Kong affairs by international and local media, as well as silence free speech for all those needing a visa,” he said.

“Press freedom in Hong Kong has been under attack since the Victor Mallet case in late 2018. These actual and de-facto denial of visas for journalists since the national security law indicates how far and how fast the authorities are prepared to degrade press freedom in Hong Kong,” he added, referring to visa delays.

In an emailed response to HKFP on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Immigration did not state why the visa was denied: “Hong Kong has always adopted a pragmatic and open policy on the employment of professionals in Hong Kong, allowing those possessing special skills, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in Hong Kong to apply to come to work, including journalistic work,” they said. They added that each case was processed in accordance with the law.

‘Against press freedom’

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler told HKFP that the incident undermined the city’s free status: “Denial of a work visa to a thriving local news operation bashes the most basic promise of press freedom given repeatedly by the Hong Kong government. It also severely undermines Hong Kong’s status as an international city and financial centre, which cannot flourish unless journalists are free to do their work.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, Reporters Without Borders’ East Asia chief Cédric Alviani told HKFP that months-long delays were highly unusual: “The Hong Kong government must revert this decision that clearly goes against press freedom, a principle enshrined in the Basic Law.”

The Hong Kong government must revert this decision that clearly goes against press freedom, a principle enshrined in the Basic Law”, Alviani said adding the the rejection is another sign of the decline in press freedom following the implementation of the security law whereby “the Beijing regime allows themselves to directly intervene on the territory.” He also cited the arrest of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai this month, and the raid on the Apple Daily offices.

6-month delay

News outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and South China Morning Post have also reportedly suffered months-long delays in a process that normally takes a few weeks. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, HKFP knows of visas for professionals in other industries that have been processed within reasonable time-frames.

Local media reported earlier this month that visas for journalists are now being vetting by a new national security unit within the Immigration Department. When asked about the unit last week, Immigration did not answer directly or deny its existence, but a spokesperson said that visas were processed by the Visa and Policies Branch.

Earlier this month, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club said that highly unusual processing delays have “affected journalists of multiple nationalities and in some cases have prevented journalists from working.” It has yet to receive a response to its latest letter demanding an explanation.

Jodi Schneider, president of the press club, told HKFP on Wednesday that they were closely following the issue: “This is obviously a key concern for the media working in Hong Kong. It is a press freedom issue.”

More:

I just ordered a new board game about Hong Kong police corruption via Kickstarter. It was inspired by the legendary Hong Kong police corruption of the 1960s and early 1970s. But maybe the game is relevant today? Let’s hope it arrives! Billionaire Seargeant is sold here.

In Cambridge, friends in Cambridge?

February 26, 2019

If you are in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please come to the first of a series of parties that I am organising to raise money for the homeless. The very first party is this Saturday, 2 March. Bring friends! If you are not in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please encourage anyone you know who is in my part of the world to come along.

You can access the ticketing site directly here.

You can access the Facebook Event page here (please hit the Like and Interested buttons on Facebook whatever else you do or don’t do). Facebook also links to the ticketing.

You can download an e-invite that contains the ticketing URL and a QR code that a phone will scan to take itself directly to the ticketing site from just below these words:

The Heart of Saturday Night Poster 3

According to James Brokenshite, the Conservative housing minister, the increase in homelessness since the Global Financial Crisis has nothing to do with government policy and cuts; instead it reflects an unrelated epidemic of drug taking and family breakdowns. To be fair, Mr Gobshite did subsequently row back on his comments, saying that we ‘need to ask ourselves some very hard questions’ about why the number of homeless has increased so much. Since Mr Brokencountry appears to be intellectually lazy, however, hard questions may be difficult to answer.

The EU works. A bit. And slowly

January 25, 2019

As the Guardian reports below, the EU has finally taken down Italy’s pants and spanked both its cheeks for its grotesque, puerile, unprofessional and corrupt handling of the Meredith Kercher murder case. This is edifying and reminds us that the EU does perform a vital role in setting standards for its more backward members. If only, however, the EU would do more to enforce those standards in a uniform fashion.

Within Italy, the Sollecito-Knox case has led to zero change that I am aware of. Giuliano Mignini, the original narcissistic Italian magistrate-nut-job, continues to work as a public prosecutor in Perugia. No policeman, as far as I know, has been sanctioned for the many, many laws the police broke. And Italy still has no equivalent of the UK’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE, 1984), which makes collusion between courts and police very difficult by imposing a review layer between them — what in the UK is called the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Italy has every single one of the judicial and police problems that led to the passage of the PACE in the UK 35 years ago. But because Italy is presently masquerading as a country called Shitaly, it won’t get on and do the same thing.

 

…………………………

Amanda Knox.
 Amanda Knox. Photograph: NBC NewsWire/Reuters

Amanda Knox: European court orders Italy to pay damages

The European court of human rights has ordered Italy to pay Amanda Knox €18,400 for police failures to provide her access to a lawyer and a translator during questioning over the 2007 killing of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Perugia.

The ruling opens the way for Knox’s lawyers to challenge her last remaining conviction, for malicious accusation, in the Italian courts.

The court, in Strasbourg, declared that Italy must pay Knox €10,400 in damages plus €8,000 to cover costs and expenses.

As well as concluding authorities had twice violated her right to a fair trial, the ECHR also found they had failed to investigate her complaints she had been subjected to degrading treatment, including being slapped on the head and deprived of sleep. The court did not, however, uphold her complaint of ill-treatment.

The 31-year-old American’s convictions for murder and sexual assault were previously overturned. She was also found guilty by an Italian court of making a malicious accusation, by allegedly suggesting someone else was guilty of the murder.

The killing of Kercher, a Leeds University European Studies student on a one-year exchange course in Umbria, generated global headlines for several years as charges of sexual assault and murder were fought through the courts – exposing Italy’s justice system to international criticism.

Knox, a language student and Kercher’s flatmate, and Knox’s Italian former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were initially charged with sexually assaulting and killing her. Kercher was stabbed in the neck.

The following year Knox was also charged with malicious accusation for suggesting another person should be a suspect. Italian detectives alleged she was trying to hide her responsibility for the attack by blaming someone else. Knox wants to have that conviction quashed.

Judges at the ECHR said the Italian government had failed to show that Knox’s restricted access to a lawyer had not “irreparably undermined the fairness of the proceedings as a whole”.

Meredith Kercher.
 Meredith Kercher. Photograph: PA

“Ms Knox had been particularly vulnerable, being a foreign young woman, 20 at the time, not having been in Italy for very long and not being fluent in Italian,” the court noted.

The ECHR’s decision was “not a big surprise for me because the supreme court already said there were many mistakes,” said Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova. “That is one of the reasons that invited us to tell Amanda to go to Strasbourg. For me this is a certification of a mistake, probably the biggest legal mistake in the last years in Italy, also because the attention that this case has had.”

Dalla Vedova said of the malicious accusation conviction: “It is impossible to compensate Amanda for four years in prison for a mistake. There will be no amount. We are not looking for compensation of damages. We are doing this on principal.”

In 2009, Knox was convicted in an Italian court of falsifying a break-in at their Perugia flat, sexual assault, murder and defamation. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Sollecito was also found guilty of the attack and sentenced to 25 years.

Both appealed. In 2011, the Perugia court of appeal acquitted the pair of the more serious charges, but upheld Knox’s conviction for malicious accusation.

After nearly four years in custody, Knox was released and returned to the US. She appealed again to challenge the malicious accusation conviction. It was quashed but in 2014 she was re-convicted of both malicious accusation and murder.

The murder conviction was again annulled by the court of cassation, the country’s highest court, the following year but the malicious accusation conviction was not removed. Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede is serving a 16-year sentence for his role in the killing.

Lawyers for Knox, who lives in Seattle, then appealed to the ECHR to overturn the last remaining conviction. They argued she was denied the right to legal assistance when first interviewed by police in 2007, was not given access to a professional or independent interpreter and that she did not receive a fair hearing.

Knox has always denied any involvement in the murder.

 

More:

I wrote a ton of stuff about this case while it was going on. It ought to all be under the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab

 

Happy Christmas from China: false imprisonment and torture

December 28, 2017

The Chinese Communist Party has a long tradition of doing dirty work at Christmas, because its members think that the world is not paying attention. Some people, however, are…

……………………..

China Change, December 26, 2017

 

IMG_1551
Wu Gan on June 8, 2015, two weeks after he was arrested: ““My case is an absurd and entertaining movie. The filming has begun, and I have gotten into character.” 

 

On the morning of December 26 courts in Tianjin and Changsha announced the verdicts respectively of Wu Gan, a seminal activist, and Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer. Xie Yang was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” while Wu Gan’s refusal to cooperate led him to receive the more severe “subversion of state power.” Both were “convicted,” but Xie Yang was exempt from punishment, while Wu Gan was handed a heavy sentence of eight years.

In a live broadcast, Xie Yang was made to once again deny that he had been tortured, and to thank all parties for a “fair” trial and for “safeguarding” his rights. The first time he was forced to make this false admission was during his trial in May.

On the other hand, Wu Gan’s lawyer reported that he told the court, immediately after the sentence was announced, that “I thank the Communist Party for conferring me this high honor [subversion]. I will not forget my original aspiration, and will roll up my sleeves and work harder.” His remarks were a play on the official words of Xi Jinping; observers found it remarkable that a man who had just received such a harsh sentence would have the sense of humor, and guts, to do so.

It wasn’t until hours later that the authorities released a short clip of Wu Gan in court. Viewers will see why it took time: the authorities doctored the video, using clips of Wu Gan’s secret trial in August to show he was “contrite.” In August, Wu Gan wore a short sleeved T-shirt and read from a sheet of paper that he would not appeal, while yesterday he wore a dark, long-sleeved top.

Wu Gan’s lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) described on Twitter what the official clips purposefully omitted: Following “I admit that I have harbored thoughts of subverting state power,” Wu Gan added, “but I believe this is a citizen’s right, and my actions do not constitute crimes.”

Lawyer Ge Yongxi challenged the authorities to show the court recording in its entirety.

After Wu Gan’s sentence, his lawyers released a statement on his behalf.

 

Wu Gan’s Statement About His Sentence

For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who “subverts state power” is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights. Liang Qichao (梁启超, famous reformist at end of Qing dynasty) said that he and dictatorship were two forces inextricably opposed; I say: If I don’t oppose dictatorship, am I still a man?

They have attempted to have me plead guilt and cooperate with them to produce their propaganda in exchange for a light sentence — they even said that as long as I plead guilty, they’ll give me a three-year sentence suspended for three years. I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.

I’m optimistic despite the harsh sentence. Because of the internet, more and more people are waking up. The ranks of those ready to stand at the funeral of the dictatorship is growing stronger and larger by the day. Those who try to use jail to frighten citizens pursuing freedom and democracy, thus obstructing the progress of human civilization, won’t meet a good end. Their tyranny is based on a lack of self-confidence — a sign of a guilty conscience and fear. It’s a dead end. When the masses wake up, will the dictatorship’s end be far off?

I have been subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane treatment during my detention thus far — and it’s not an isolated occurrence, but a common phenomenon. I appeal to the international community to closely follow the deterioration of human rights in China, follow the Chinese Communist Party’s criminal detention of its own citizens, and especially of dissidents, along with the other abuses they’re subjected to, including: false charges, secret detention, forced confessions to the media, forced appointment of state-controlled defense counsel, torture and abuse in custody, and the stripping of every civil right of Chinese citizens.

I hereby name the individuals involved in persecuting, torturing, and abusing me: An Shaodong (安少东), Chen Tuo (陈拓), Guan Jiantong (管建童), Yao Cheng (姚诚), Yuan Yi (袁溢), Wang Shoujian (王守俭), Xie Jinchun (谢锦春), Gong Ning (宫宁), Sheng Guowen (盛国文), Cao Jiyuan (曹纪元), Liu Yi (刘毅), Cai Shuying (蔡淑英), Lin Kun (林崑).

Singaporean takeaway

October 27, 2014

I failed to write anything the week ending 18 October despite an interesting trip to participate in the 10th anniversary of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. (They invited you, you’re thinking. Yes, they did. As Saul Bellow once wrote: ‘There is nothing too rum to be true.’)

I also had a wonderful side-visit that week across the causeway to Johor Bahru, about which I will say nothing more than that if you have never read Han Suyin’s classic novel And The Rain My Drink, you should get on and do so. The book is particularly recommended for Chinese, Indians, Malays, Japanese and assorted gweilos, all of whom feature amid the chaos of the Emergency in Malaya/Singapore. What is more, there is a new edition, published by Monsoon Books that contains two, new short forewords; one is by Han’s former ‘liberal’ Special Branch husband; and one is by a well-known Malaysian human rights lawyer. The forewords unlock a few secrets about the writing of and background to the book. The copy I picked up in Singapore has the cover contained in the previous link; the copy available on Amazon has a different cover but an online review indicates it has (at least) the additional foreword by Han Suyin’s second husband. The book is not a bad gift.

Aside from the trip to JB (the treatment of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who cross the border for work each day is pretty shocking on both sides; waiting time is frequently hours), the week in Singapore gave me a chance to speak with a bunch of policy people and a couple of ministers, and so here are a few thoughts about a place I don’t often talk about:

 

Singapore menu du jour:

1. The Great Unwashed are becoming the Great Ungrateful. In the 2011 election, Harry Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP) got, by Singapore standards, a kicking, hit by a negative vote swing of almost 7 percentage points which took it down to 60 percent of votes cast. More and more people have had enough of the PAP’s arrogance, its brutal elitism and its lack of the common touch. On top of this there is Singapore’s hideous inequality (Gini of income inequality at a record 0.54), the out-of-control immigration (including horrific numbers of dumb, fat gweilos), and the apparently congenital inability of PAP politicians to think in terms of the population’s interests as a whole. Back in the UK, the PAP makes me think of David Cameron and George Osborne on a really bad day.

2. Never underestimate Harry, or indeed Little Harry. The PAP remains a formidable machine when it comes to co-opting Singapore’s best and brightest. A reasonable example is chipper Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, whom I had the pleasure to chat to. He is a big supporter of new PAP measures to curb real estate speculation and increase welfare transfers to the poor. It is not fundamental change, however it is change at the margin. The PAP’s logo may have been inspired by that of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, but the PAP has enjoyed considerably more success and longevity.

Oswald

Oswald

 

 

 

Harry

Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. So the big PAP trope just now is that the party is becoming much more touchy-feely and getting down with the labouring masses. At a public forum, many-times minister — most recently Foreign Minister — George Yeo, who became the most senior PAP figure since the 1960s to lose his seat in 2011 (‘arrogance’, said one of my taxi drivers), summed up the required shift in elegant philosophical terms. He said that Singapore must move on from ‘utilitarianism’ and seek policies that work for as many people as possible. In other words, the crude majority (assuming there even is one in the next election, in 2015) should no longer ride rough shod over the interests of minority groups, be they the very poor, Malays, whomever. He didn’t use the second philosophical designation, but what he meant is that Singapore needs to shift from utilitarianism to something more Pareto efficient, where policy gains for the majority do not come at the expense of other people.

4. Unfortunately I am a sceptic and I don’t believe the PAP will change its stripes – at least not fast enough to prevent even more trouble at the next election. At the same forum I commended George Yeo for calling for a move to a more mature, thoughtful policy framework. Then I asked him when he thinks Singapore will stop hanging people. (Singapore releases poor and patchy data, but in some years has had the highest per capita state execution rate in the world.) The response was interesting: no more new George/new PAP. He simply said that killing people has a deterrent effect and that most Singaporeans are in favour of it. This is the old PAP we know and love: not letting facts or logic get in the way of what it wants to do. First, there is no statistically robust evidence – and there are many studies – that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, so the claim to the contrary is disingenuous. Second, the logical case against capital punishment doesn’t hinge on the debate about deterrence anyway. Instead — at least for me — the sledgehammer argument against capital punishment is that you cannot guarantee in any legal system not to make mistakes; and when you do make a mistake, you cannot bring wrongly-hanged people back from the dead. I have looked in detail at miscarriage of justice cases in both the UK and the US, each of which has a better, more transparent legal system than Singapore. So when George offered the sop that he is open to looking for better ways to kill people, I wasn’t overly impressed. In reality of course, the PAP is sufficiently embarrassed at some level about its barbarism that the number of killings has fallen sharply as its political support has waned in the 2000s and 2010s; in 2012, the number of convictions subject to mandatory capital punishment was reduced.

Hong Kong and the Emperor… and Tohti

September 25, 2014

A pleasant, somewhat lazy, couple of weeks <working> in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Sitting on a surprisingly pleasant Shenzhen beach this week I watched the Hong Kong tycoon fraternity make its school trip to Beijing. Led by Head Boy Li Ka-shing, it was a full court press. Senior prefects Lee Shau-kee and Robert Kuok kept good order, while the dim but dependable Tung Chee-hwa explained his love of games and recited a short Ode to the Celestial Throne before the assembled Chinese leadership. A tremendous time was had by all, with the boys remarking that carpet and decor quality in the Great Hall is now almost as good as at home.

On the street of course, things are not quite so happy.

While the sixth form of St. Swag’s was up in Beijing learning how all is well in Hong Kong as is, school kids in the Special Administrative Region are boycotting classes this week to protest China’s gerrymandering of the 2017 election arrangements. If you haven’t followed it, the game is that everyone in Hong Kong will get a vote (as promised in the Basic Law), but Beijing will choose the candidates (<two or three>). It is actually a step back from the current arrangements which at least allowed the election of Henry Tang to Chief Executive to be blocked, replaced instead by the ineffectual but more brain-functional CY Leung.

Hong Kong, though it is rarely stated, is now just like Taiwan. The Taiwanese call it <Three Thirds>. In Taiwan, one third is Deep Blue (older, KMT, pro mainland integration). One third is Deep Green (younger, Democratic Progressive Party, pro independence). One third is in the middle.

So too, with only modest variation, in Hong Kong. There is no explicit pro independence camp but the generational gap is just the same. Hong Kong, like Taiwan, has entered its 1960s. And in the 1960s students on campus get beaten, and even shot if you remember, in their fight for what is right.

If you care at all, it is time to do whatever you can to prevent violence from arriving. You might write to the Chinese. But if you are a gweilo, that is likely counter-productive. Better to write to the American and British consuls in Hong Kong (emails below), and to the British and American governments, urging them to stand up for the spirit as well as the letter of the Basic Law, and to be ready to grant visas to Hong Kong students who will get arrest records, even criminal convictions, for peacefully protesting Beijing’s behaviour. It does make a difference if you have a moment.

Meanwhile, the Emperor. At the same time it is gently screwing Hong Kong, the Xi Jinping government’s decision to give a life sentence to, and seize all the assets of, the leading, non-separatist voice of Uighur nationalism, Ilham Tohti, is surely the most horrible, colonial, racist act we have seen from China for a very long time. Obama may have a lot on the Middle East, but he needs to draw some lines in the sand in East Asia. There are still plenty of rational voices in China, like there were in 1920s Japan. But the longer this stuff goes on, the harder, I think, the negotiating process becomes. I do not want to read this blog entry in 10 years time and find that some very unpleasant historical analogies going through my head were justified.

Well, enough of the misery. Tomorrow I return to Hong Kong for dinner with dear Hemlock. Back when CY Leung was elected, Hemlock had a hard-on for him, said he was going to change stuff. Not so much on the democratisation front, which would have to occur through a degree of managed confrontation, but in terms of the godfather economy and all those stitch-up oligopolies in real estate and retail and the securities markets. You gotta love Hemlock, even if he’s not as funny as he used to be. It is so heartening that after all these decades, the old boy could still be an ingenue (accent missing). It is so strange that it should turn out that I am the cynical one.

tycoons in beijing 0914

Above: Can’t get a bigger photo. Running anti-clockwise from Xi Jin-ping on the right, looks to me like Tung, K.S., Lee Shau-kee, Robert Kuok, Henry Cheng (son of Cheng Yu-tung, now decrepit), Lui, possibly Michael Kadoorie, and finally David Li of Bank of East Asia.

Saint Swag’s. September 2014 School trip to Beijing. 6th Form boys attending.

(Parents please note: the wearing of non-school uniform items such flat caps is strictly against school policy, including on school trips. Lui Senior (Cuthberts), who has already been in trouble this term for playing cards in dorm, has been fined a week’s tuck and given leaf sweeping for his transgression. This sort of thing will not be tolerated at St. Swag’s.)

Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman Li Ka-shing

Chairman of Kerry Group, Robert Kuok

Chief executive officer of Shangri-La Asia, Kuok Khoon Chen

PCCW chairman and younger son of Li Ka-shing, Richard Li Tzar-kai

K Wah Group chairman and Galaxy Entertainment Group founder Lui Che-woo

Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee and his elder son Peter Lee Ka-kit

Sun Hung Kai Properties Alternate Director Adam Kwok Kai-fai

Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po

New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun

CLP Holdings chairman Michael Kadoorie

Sino Land chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong

Harilela Group vice-chairman Gary Harilela

Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan Chichung

Shui On Land chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui

MGM China’s co-chairman and daughter of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, Pansy Ho Chiu-king

Ian Fok Chun-wan, son of the late Henry Fok Ying-tung

Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching

Asia Financial Holdings chairman Robin Chan Yau-hing

Li & Fung honorary chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king

Lai Sun Development chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok,

Oriental Press Group former chairman Ma Ching-kwan

Glorious Sun Enterprises chairman Yeung Chun-kam

Phoenix Satellite Television chairman Liu Changle

Swire Pacific director Ian Shiu Sai-cheung

Shimao Property Holdings founder and chairman Hui Wing-mau

China Grand Forestry Resources Group founder Ng Leung-ho

Goldlion Holdings deputy chairman Ricky Tsang Chi-ming

Novel Enterprises vice-chairman Ronald Chao Kee-young

HKR International managing director Victor Cha Mou-zing

Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation chief executive officer Peter Wong Tung-shun

Prof Anna Pao Sohmen, daughter of late tycoon Pao Yue-kong

Far East Consortium International chairman David Chiu Tat-cheong

Shun Hing Group vice-chairman David Mong Tak-yeung

Galaxy Entertainment Group deputy chairman Francis Lui Yiu-tung

Dah Sing Life Assurance Company chairman David Wong Shou-yeh

Far East Holdings International chairman Deacon Chiu’s son, Duncan Chiu

Bank of China International Holdings deputy chief executive officer Tse Yung-hoi

Sing Tao News Corporation chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok

More:

UK Consul General to write to about standing up for the Basic Law, granting visas, etc is Caroline Wilson. hongkong.consular@fco.gov.uk

US Consul General to write to about standing up for the Basic Law (an agreement lodged with the United Nations), granting visas, etc is Clifford Hart. hartca@state.gov

Why foreigners do have a dog in any Hong Kong fight. Re-posted NYT oped.

Op-ed about the Hong Kong situation by former Chinese political prisoners in the Wall Street Journal.

Video stream of Hong Kong student protests this week.

On why allowing everyone to vote but restricting the candidates isn’t democracy, Georgetown professor Don Clarke offers this nicely phrased US 3rd Circuit decision in a corporate voting case from 1985. Here’s the actual law library link (Durkin v National Bank of Olyphant). Of course what the Chinese are doing is just what British colonial governments did, but let’s not go there.

<We rest our holding as well on the common sense notion that the unadorned right to cast a ballot in a contest for office, a vehicle for participatory decisionmaking and the exercise of choice, is meaningless without the right to participate in selecting the contestants. As the nominating process circumscribes the range of the choice to be made, it is a fundamental and outcome-determinative step in the election of officeholders. To allow for voting while maintaining a closed candidate selection process thus renders the former an empty exercise. This is as true in the corporate suffrage contest as it is in civic elections, where federal law recognizes that access to the candidate selection process is a component of constitutionally-mandated voting rights.>

On Tohti:

Teng Biao writes in The Guardian that the guy sent down for life actually deserves the Nobel. Here is the background.

Nicholas Bequelin writes in the NYT that the treatment of Tohti will radicalise more Uighurs. This is your key piece of analysis.

English translation of Chang Ping article trying to find logic in the treatment of Ilham Tohti. See also the translated extracts from Tohti’s statement after sentencing, below.

Ilham Tohti’s statement after sentencing in Chinese. Here are some heart-rending extracts in English:

<My outcries are for our people and, even more, for the future of China.

Before entering prison, I kept worrying I wouldn’t be able to deal with the harshness inside. I worried I would betray my conscience, career, friends and family. I made it!

The upcoming life in prison is not something I’ve experienced, but it will nonetheless become our life and my experience. I don’t know how long my life can go on. I have courage; I will not be as fragile as that. If you hear news that I mutilated or killed myself, you can be certain it is made-up.

After seeing the judgment against me, contrary to what people may think, I now think I have a more important duty to bear.

Even though I have departed, I still live in anticipation of the sun and the future. I am convinced that China will become better, and that the constitutional rights of the Uighur people will, one day, be honored.

Peace is a heavenly gift to the Uighur and Han people. Only peace and good will can create a common interest.

I wear my shackles twenty-four hours a day, and was only allowed physical exercise for three hours out of eight months. My cell mates are eight sentenced Han prisoners. These are fairly harsh conditions. However, I count myself fortunate when I look at what has happened to my students and other Uighurs accused of separatist crimes. I had my own Han lawyer whom I appointed to defend me, and my family was allowed to attend my trial. I was able to say what I wanted to say. I hope that, through my case, rule of law in Xinjiang can improve, even if it is only a baby step.

After yesterday’s sentencing, I slept better than I ever did in the eight months (of my detention.) I never realized I had this in me. The only thing is don’t tell my old mother what happened. Tell my family to tell her that it’s only a five-year sentence. Last night, in the cell next door Parhat [student of Tohti’s] slammed himself against the door and cried out loud. I heard the sound of shackles, nonstop, as they were taken to interrogations. Maybe my students have been sentenced too.

(To his wife): My love, for the sake of our children, please be strong and don’t cry! In a future not too far away, we will be in each other’s arms once more. Take care of yourself! Love, Ilham.>

Only in Chinese on Hong Kong:

Wen Wei Po, Beijing mouthpiece in Hong Kong, says that Hong Kong student organiser Joshua Wong has received training from <black hands> in the US navy. I understand there is lots of this stuff doing the rounds in the official press.

Update, 29 September:

Well, it’s game on after a weekend of student-led confrontations with the police. Parts of HK island (Admiralty, Causeway Bay) are at a standstill, but Central still functioning. Speculation that Xi Jinping is going to can CY Leung, try to buy off the student leaders with small gestures. A talk-first strategy worked well with both Tiananmen in 1989 and more recently with the Falunggong protests in Beijing. But once you have lulled protesters into a false sense of security in HK, it is not so easy to send in secret police to round up the organisers, let alone send in troops. This is a whole new ball game for the CPC…

Here are the early instructions from the Propaganda Dept to mainland media outlets about handling information on the Hong Kong protests, courtesy of China Digital Times:

<All websites must immediately clear away information about Hong Kong students violently assaulting the government and about “Occupy Central”. Promptly report any issues. Strictly manage interactive channels, and resolutely delete harmful information. This [directive] must be followed precisely. (September 28, 2014)

各网站对香港学生暴力冲击政府和“占中”相关信息一定要立即清理,有问题及时报告。严格管好互动栏目,坚决删除有害信息。要严格执行。[Original text]>

At the end of this SCMP story on the protests is a 9-minute embedded video interview with student leader Joshua Wong (you will have to do some kind of registration to access this). It is well worth watching. Not only Beijing, but the HK tycoons, have a very serious young man on their hands.

28 September 2014

28 September 2014

HK 280914b

28 September 2014

28 September 2014

Cordon created by police around Tamar/Admiralty, keeping protests out of central for now. 28 September

Cordon created by police around Tamar/Admiralty, keeping protests out of central for now. 28 September

 

Weekend reading: abuse of state power special

August 25, 2013

It has been a bumper week for abuse of state power. Here are some of the highlights:

Bradley Manning goes down for 35 years. On the watch of the ‘liberal’ president, Barack Obama. The FT (sub needed) argues that Manning got off lightly and may get parole in 10 years. The Guardian takes a different view on the proportionality of Manning’s sentence, a position closer to mine.

While the reaction pieces are being penned, Manning expresses a desire for hormone treatment to assist in a desired gender reassignment. Federal prisons offer this, military ones do not. Manning has asked that she [sic] be referred to henceforth as Chelsea, with the former name Bradley reserved only for letters to the the confinement facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than writing him/her a letter of support, so why not do so?.

From, for me, the damaged but well-meaning Manning to the thoughtful, lucid and brave Edward Snowden. In the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, reveals threats from the British government, securocrats, and indirectly from David Cameron himself, to pre-emptively shut down further reporting of the Snowden cache using British legal powers of pre-emption.

It is depressing to read how the poodles in the UK government told their bosses in Washington that Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s partner David  Miranda would be detained at Heathrow, how Met police say they checked they were using anti-terrorism legislation correctly and how the police reckon they were procedurally perfect. Having taken the call from the lickspittle Brits, Washington then moved to distance itself from the Miranda detention and the seizure of his possessions, saying it wouldn’t happen in the US. As the Economist points out (sub needed), the anti-terrorism legislation under which Miranda was detained was established for the police to ascertain if a person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. To use such legislation against journalists is grotesque.

Over to China, where 70 policemen take the unusual risk of appending their thumbprints to a denunciation of the acting president of the Shanghai High Court who, they say, has been engaged in massive long-term corruption including stealing several tons of alcohol from the police booze budget each year. Court president Cui Yadong was already feeling the heat after senior Shanghai judges were recently captured on video cavorting with prostitutes. The video of the judges has had over 4 million hits.

Separately in China, the New York Times discusses ‘Document number 9’ and the alleged ‘seven subversive currents’ at large in the Chinese nation. Per my recent blog about Xi Jinping, we are starting to get more visibility on the new Chinese president and what we are seeing is not pretty. Xi’s evolving proto-Maoist approach to politics provides the background to the trial on corruption and abuse of power charges of fellow princeling Bo Xilai, which started this week. Bo was the person who invented the ‘New Red’ school of modified Maoist populism when he was running Chongqing. As Xi and pals move to crush him, the irony and hypocrisy are not lost on John Garnaut in Foreign Policy.

Here in Italy, meanwhile, we are enjoying a peculiarly Italian twist on the abuse of state power. Silvio Berlusconi, having been definitively condemned for a felony for the first time, has opted for an attack on state power that recalls, for me, Italy’s fascist past (much more so than the claims, which I previously dismissed on this site, that Beppe Grillo is proto fascist). Over the Ferragosto holiday Sil promised a programme of direct action on Italy’s beaches, with his supporters leafleting holiday makers who would otherwise be trying to catch a rest. The focus of Sil’s campaign is not so much a proposal for structural reform of the judiciary, or indeed enforcement of existing norms (which would be half the job done already), but instead a direct attack on magistrates and judges as a species. The strategy has more than a whiff of hoped-for intimidation.

Here is a lead story (in Italian) from Berlusconi’s Il Giornale during the holiday. Although the article was on the front page, it has no news content, and comprises a simple frontal assault on the judiciary, likening its perceived efforts to ‘attain political power’ over the nation to Mao Zedong’s Long March. The connection with Maoism/communism is established in the first sentence. Italy, we learn, does not have a mundanely inefficient legal system to be improved by systemic change, but an extremist, personal, visceral political conspiracy against the Italian people (to wit, Sil and his businesses).

Here are some current icons from Berlusconi’s PDL/FI site:

banner-forzasilvio pdl-logo 20ANNI-DI-CACCIA-UOMO 995980_621688441198598_1936708951_n 998453_620420304658745_378895156_n 998913_622166501150792_278588033_n 1097945_620420421325400_707118344_n slide-1-638

The manner in which Berlusconi’s personal interests, those of the Mediaset group he controls, and national politics are conflated is bewildering for anyone from the First World. But of course this is not the First World. Next month Sil will relaunch Forza Italia (FT, sub needed), his original political movement named for a football chant (in the country that now boasts the worst record of football violence and racism in western Europe). ‘Ancora in campo’ / Back on the Field is the new tag line.

To me the strategy looks more than a little fascistic, involving as it does an attack on the institutions of the state and promises of more direct action. However, as the holidays wind down I suspect that we won’t see a proto-fascist movement take hold in Italy. Instead we will see business as usual.  The main evidence of Sil’s promised campaign of direct action so far (the plan on the beaches described here in the FT, sub needed) is a few Forza Italia militants in Rome (here telling journalists they have not been paid to march, that they are ‘spontaneous volunteers’ and that they have ‘just come for Him [Sil]’) and a pisspoor little plane dragging a bit of superannuated toilet paper above a few holidaymakers. ‘Forza Italia, Forza Sil’, I think it says.

I don’t want to do you down Sil, but I’m not sure you’ve really got the fascist cojones for this thing….

Forza Italia sul ferragosto 2013

Meanwhile, my own experience with abuse of state power occurs when I stop at Sasso, the bar on the river on the way to Citta di Castelllo. Despite the fact that there were few people around when I stopped, and lots of safe parking available, a carabinieri police car was parked across the zebra crossing that leads to the children’s playground, with two wheels outside the white parking line and hence well into the road. Thinking this a bit slack, even by Italian police standards, I took a photo on my phone. Walking into the bar, I found two carabinieri eating cream buns. I bought a small bottle of cold water and went outside to drink it in the sun.

While I was doing this, it seems one of regular clients at the bar told the carabinieri I had taken a photo. One of the carabinieri came over and demanded ‘a document’. Of course, I said, handing him my EU photo driving licence. He took it away and wrote down all the details, resting on the boot of his car. Then he came back and said: ‘I have taken down all your details because you took a photo.’ I replied: ‘Yes I did take a photo because of the way you parked.’ The policeman responded: ‘You have no idea what business we are engaged on here.’ I resisted the urge to reply: ‘It looked like you were engaged in eating cream buns.’ Both policemen were standing over me, not completely in my face, but close enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

The officers then made a series of threats:

1. ‘We have your details. If that photo is published on the Internet [he only seemed concerned about the Internet] we know who you are.’ I replied that I have no problem with them knowing who I am.

2. [from the second carabinieri, thinner and younger]: ‘That is a MILITARY vehicle. Do you understand?’ I replied that I am fully aware that the carabinieri is a para-military force.

3. The first officer mentioned seizing my phone (the verb he employed was ‘sequestrare’). I remained impassive, just looked him in the eye. There were a few people around the bar (maybe 8), plus the female boss, whom I have known for years. He didn’t take the phone in the end, just saying: ‘Get rid of that photo or I will seize your phone.’ I said nothing.

2013-08-16 11.56.41

At this point the policemen appeared to run out of threats. They went back to their car, got in it, turned around, and followed me to Citta di Castello, before turning off in the direction of the police station. Should I complain to the justice system or should I launch a proto-fascist programme of direct action? Thankfully this dilemma no longer presents itself. I now live in Cambridge. I think I’ll just go home.

More:

If you would like to harass people on street corners until Silvio is let off his felony, you should be able to sign up at the site below. (Latest talk is of a general amnesty for convicted felons facing up to as much as four years’ jail time. This would be a triple triumph — saving money spent on prisons, reducing Italy’s huge trial waiting lists, and getting Sil off his fraud sentence (plus other sentences that may soon follow). The only downside would be to put a few thousand crooks, some of them violent, back on the streets. What is not to like?)

ForzaSilvio.it

Holiday reading and viewing: booze, race, nationalism

July 23, 2013

English beach

 

Since I am sort of on holiday this week, I have decided that everybody else should be too. So here is weekend reading re-dressed as holiday reading.

 

1. First up, to get us started, a great discussion of the role of alcohol, and of alcohol addiction, in writing.

Next, the serious stuff.

Here are three articles on questions of race and nationalism.

2a. Orville Schell and John Delury offer a thoughtful piece about China’s need to move on from the narrative of national humiliation that the country’s schools and politicians have fed the population ever since 1949 (and indeed longer in the case of early converts to the communist party’s cause).

2b. In the United States, Barak Obama can no longer avoid speaking out about the Trayvon Martin case.

2c. Philip Stephens in the FT (sub needed) reflects on the mindless racism of Italian politics, but ends with his ideas that just maybe Gianni Letta represents change. Would that it were so!

3. Third, a near miss. Gideon Rachman in the FT (sub needed) has a thoughtful piece on Putin’s Russia but fails to nuance it with what Putin’s government is doing to put Russia back on an economic development path — in essence, reining in the oligarchs and bringing cash flows from national mineral assets back under public control. Putin may be a revolting man, and yet may also be a revolting man whose time has come.

4. Finally, a heartening curiosity. Teach First seems to be working. It is now Britain’s single biggest recruiter. So it turns out that smart people often do care, and don’t reflexively sell their souls to a law firm or investment bank.

 

Mutual society robber barons

July 16, 2013

I have had an account at the Nationwide Building Society in the UK for 30 years. I believe that mutual societies offer the best way to serve the retail banking needs of ordinary citizens, and that they could and should do more to provide a working capital lending function for industry. I also believe that Lloyds and RBS, most of the equity in which belongs to the public as a result of the global financial crisis, should be mutualised. Sadly, no one in politics has the cojones to propose this.

Nationwide is the biggest building society in the UK, but the people who run it don’t think much like mutual society types. Mostly they impersonate bankers. Right now they are writing down hundreds of millions of pounds of bad loans from their speculation in commercial real estate activity pre-2008. Commercial real estate is a notoriously cyclical sector in which a mutual society has no business playing with its members’ money. The management is only able to pay off this folly because of the state’s provision of nearly free funds via quantitative easing, a policy that will have a fiscal cost for the whole of British society down the road when the Bank of England sells for less the bonds it has bought for more. However the people who run Nationwide are so gormless, or so self-serving, that they believe the profits that QE makes possible reflect their management genius (they being the same people who lost billions in commercial realestate speculation).

So the top boys and girls are paying themselves millions of pounds a year and jacking up their bonuses (details here). They run a bonus structure that operates over periods of 12 months and 36 months when banking cycles in the post-war era have been more like 10-15 years. Are they stupid, or just greedy? I hope they are just stupid.

Whichever, in the Nationwide AGM whose voting closes on the 22nd, I am voting against the remuneration report and the whole miserable lot of them. If you have a Nationwide account I would urge you to consider doing the same thing. If you vote online, do NOT use their immoral and deceptive ‘Quick Vote’ button which lets the chairman vote for you. The chairman, Geoffrey Howe (no relation), trousers £300,000 just for chairing the board. If you have read Asian Godfathers, you will be interested to know he is also chairman of Jardine Lloyd Thompson, which is the modern incarnation of the insurance business of the Keswick/Jardine godfather family of shafting minority shareholder fame…

Nationwide on your side


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