Archive for the ‘Institutional development’ Category

Ferguson versus Perugia

November 27, 2014

Ferguson 2

 

 

 

 

 

Ferguson 3

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As Ferguson, Missouri smoulders (literally and figuratively) following the decision not to indict a police officer who shot an unarmed black man dead, it is interesting to read Joshua Rozenberg’s opinion piece about the systemic failings of the arcane grand jury system that is still used in around 20 American states. It was a grand jury that decided not to indict the police officer.

What leaps out at me are the similarities between the functioning of grand juries (which only decide if there is a case to answer) and the functioning of Italy’s actual court system, as seen in the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, about which I have blogged a great deal (see the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab).

The basics of a grand jury are that the prosecutor decides which witnesses to call and which witnesses to grant immunity from potential prosecution. There is no screening of jurors for potential bias and no objections can be raised about the choice of jurors. Proceedings, framed by the prosecutor who asks the questions (there is a theoretical right for jurors to ask questions at the end of testimony), are held entirely in secret and the grand jury decision is final. A longer outline of grand jury rules is here. Mostly it is the good ole boys of the south who still use grand juries, but a good number of supposedly more liberal states in the north-east do too; see here.

Well, if you look at the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, several things that shocked me were: no capacity to screen jurors for bias, prosecution framed by the prosecuting magistrate (Giuliano Mignini) without any independent oversight, and jury deliberations framed and overseen in camera by the presiding judge rather than taking place independently. I am not saying this is a perfect analogue, but the excessive power granted to prosecutors and the lack of transparency do appear to be commonalities.

Of course in America the problem afflicts the indictment system in some states. In Italy it afflicts the entire national judicial process.

 

Later:

Here is another recent grand jury, in New York, failing to indict police officers over the death of a black man who was put in a choke-hold, and kept in one despite saying ‘I can’t breathe’. It was all captured on video. Coverage from the FT (sub needed). And here is coverage from The Guardian of protests in many US cities against the decision not to indict; again, the video of the police action is embedded.

Vacuous China

November 21, 2014

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign shows no sign of abating, with admirals and generals fearing for their futures as much as mere civilian bureaucrats and Party cadres. Meanwhile Xi’s vicious clamp-down on dissent goes on apace, with more human rights lawyers being themselves tried on trumped-up charges and Internet censors now firing blunderbusses at great swathes of the webosphere. Today, Ilham Tohti’s life sentence has been confirmed by an appeal ‘court’ that held its ‘hearing’ inside his detention centre.

So, what better time to discover a video of Chinese rich kid students in California flaunting their Bentleys, Maseratis, Porsches and more?

Are you watching, Mr Mao?

 

10 seconds of unprovoked HK police brutality

October 3, 2014

See here. HK policeman swings around a middle-aged, passive protester so he can spray pepper spray directly into his face and eyes.

Anti-protest thugs have been attacking the Occupy movement in Causeway Bay (HK island) and Mong Kok (Kowloon) today. Police not responding to/unable to cope with this. Looks like Beijing United Front / state security people up to no good. Old-fashioned Italian-style ‘Strategy of Tension’ that allows government to sell itself as the good guys riding to the rescue amid civil chaos. Except that in Italy the protesters included terrorists who were killing people. In Hong Kong it is just kids who clean up after themselves. People on the ground in Hong Kong say students so far not reacting, moving away. Student leaders have called on those in Mong Kok to leave and come to the government offices area in Admiralty where international press is concentrated and numbers are larger.

Key link:

Here is the livestream feed from HK. Not looking good UK 1330/HK 2030.

More:

This video purports to show Hong Kong police handing out blue, anti-protest ribbons to anti-protesters in a police station. Pretty appalling if true.

Hemlock is singing a similar tune to me re. the tycoons. The point he quotes from Nicholas Bequelin is brilliantly incisive.

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

 

What is not to like?

July 31, 2014

Summer in Taiwan. I came out two weeks ago with two kids and flew on to Penghu — the ‘Pescadore’ islands between Taiwan and China. Fortunately not on the flight that crashed that week. Clean air, clean beaches, and a diet of oysters and the odd beer.imageimageimage

Then we moved back to Taipei. Fantastic public transport, reasonably priced Chinese language summer camp, sitting in the hot springs at Beitou with a bunch of old boys and girls with flannels on their heads, wandering through night markets and shooting balloons with air pistols, chewing the fat with thoughtful, relaxed, helpful people. Chinese people at ease with themselves. Imagine that!

They tell me they lost the development race with Korea. Not really, I say. You lost the economic development race. But you won the overall development race. In Seoul they are all pissed out of their heads from Monday till Sunday, working 50 hours a week. Here, people are drinking fresh fruit juice and iced tea, eating the best food in east Asia, going to the temple or church, planning a holiday in Laos or Myanmar (it is striking how many people are wholly uninterested in visiting the mainland), reading a good book.

To be sure, I exaggerate for effect. But I honestly suspect that Taiwan is presently the most liveable place in east Asia. The parks, the public pools, the transport system, the schools all work in the general interest. Taipei retains the architectural charm of Tokyo because there are narrow streets but little high-rise construction, but it is more interesting because the Chinese are always up to something. It’s individuality with social responsibility. The losers are males of working age who are compelled to go to the mainland for work. But everyone else is here having a nice time. And there are pleasantly few gweilos of the irritating sort, because they have moved to China, or else stayed in Hong Kong or Singapore in order to better pool their wisdom and thereby earn their clients less money than the market index pays.

image image

Thinking back to Indonesia and Jokowi, if he wants to see what a manufacturing-plus-infrastructure strategy could do for his country, he should pop up here before he assumes the presidency. This is south-east Asia with dignity, built by small-time manufacturers like Jokowi. The Vietnamese, who are the only south-east Asian state on track to replicate this model, might also come over to remind themselves of the future. It ain’t too shabby.

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

Visibility on Xi / Heineken government

July 17, 2013

Xi Jinping close

There has been a lot of good quality think-tank and media stuff in the past few weeks about what the new Chinese president Xi Jinping may be thinking and planning. Since what his government implements in the next two to three years will largely decide how far China can go with its developmental project, I am posting some highlights here.

The big lacuna, for me, is that there is no similar debate about what premier Li Keqiang may be thinking and planning and what his capacity to act (semi-) independently of Xi may be. Premiers are also important in the Chinese system and, from time to time, you get ones like Zhao Ziyang or Zhu Rongji who define an era more than the president. Anyhow, the Li side of things is not much addressed here.

 

The background

Recall that Obama did two days of unscripted discussions with Xi in California in June in an effort to find out what is happening in Xi’s head. My sense is that Obama didn’t get a very clear view.

 

1. Francois Godemont’s essay Xi Jingping’s China, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations. Godement has Xi as the new Chinese Big Man, streamlining the bureaucracy and limiting corruption but doing almost zero at the institutional development level. I found this sort of interesting but not compelling in the sense of really giving visibility.

The blurb says Godement argues that:

  • Xi has accumulated more power and more personal authority than any leader since Mao Zedong. His top-down approach will probably leave little room for major political reform or economic liberalisation; his “hardline modernisation” approach seeks instead to combat behaviour such as corruption and loose credit.
  • The economy is the one area where Xi doesn’t seem fully in control. The price he has paid for broad support from party elders and conservatives is also an endorsement of major vested interests, which will constrain those arguing for major economic reform.
  • Xi is ignoring his predecessors’ “low profile” approach to foreign policy, and claims a role for China as a global power. Xi seeks strategic parity with the US while its regional approach is based upon China’s superior strength.

“Xi Jinping is pursuing a neighbourhood policy based on strength in which China subjugates small countries while building a “big power” relationship with the US. Xi seems to want to combine 19th century geopolitics with 20th century Leninist politics, in order to gain the upper hand in the globalised 21st century world.” François Godement

….

2. Here is a resume of what Tim Summers at Chatham House in London thinks we know so far. Again, the expectation seems to be that we are not going to get significant institutional reform or indeed incremental moves in the direction of political pluralism. However the author sees moves in social policy areas like environmental degradation as some sort of half-way house between pure economic reform and more politically sensitive reform. This would have some echoes in 1970s Japan or 1980s Korea. (There is a reference to me at the end. I don’t know Mr Summers.)

China’s Current Reform Agenda

by Dr Tim Summers, Senior Consulting Fellow, Chatham House

There is an ongoing debate about reform in China which centres around questions of how far and how fast reform – political and economic – might go.Political reform – at least in most western discussions – encapsulates the possibility of changes to China’s political system. Under the country’s new leaders there is little sign of fundamental shifts so far, though there are campaigns to clean up the bureaucracy and make the Party-state more responsive.Economic reform is often reduced to greater marketization and a reduction in the state’s role in the economy. This has been prompted partly by a sense that state-owned enterprises have become too powerful, that the private sector has insufficient space to develop, and that factor markets are still too much in the hands of government officials.

Reform in motion

The coming months will see further debate, inside and outside China, about what sort of reforms China’s new leadership might consider. President Xi Jinping confirmed to Barack Obama in California in June that the Party machine was working on a medium and long-term policy plan for comprehensive economic reforms, and precedent suggests that this will be unveiled at this autumn’s Party Plenum.In fact, the new leadership has already set in train some elements of a reform programme. At the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March it was agreed that the railways ministry would be reduced to a policy administration and its operations would be fully corporatized. Other changes to government structure included the establishment of a new, stronger agency for food safety, symbolic of the desire to respond to growing popular concerns.After a meeting of the State Council (cabinet) in May, a subsequent policy document set out the most comprehensive statement of government priorities for economic reform this year since the NPC. Some of these are economic: reforms to the fiscal system, financial sector reform such as further marketization of interest rates and internationalization of the currency, encouraging more private and flexible investment, and freeing up the pricing of resources. There do not appear to be plans to shake up state-owned enterprises. Other points address livelihood issues, such as low income protection, ensuring food and medicine safety, and dealing with the environment.The highlight so far is administrative reform, in particular reducing government approvals needed in certain areas and devolving other responsibilities from the centre to the provinces. These reforms amount to making the government more responsive and efficient, but without changing the fundamental political structures. Part of the motivation is to help stimulate innovation and economic efficiency, but there is also a social element in the suggestion that these reforms could improve the delivery of public services.Social element

Less noticed is the extent to which social and livelihood issues feature. Even when it comes to resource pricing, for example, there are aims to differentiate pricing in electricity, water and gas (planned for some time) to support livelihoods.

Indeed, the ‘economic reform’ document for 2013 has as its guiding principle dealing with the state’s relationship not just with the market, but also with society. A reference to ‘reform dividends’ benefiting people ‘more justly’ highlights the social element. This is not a manifesto for economic efficiency alone.

Social issues have also been prominent on the agenda of the State Council, under new Premier Li Keqiang. According to official accounts of its meetings, major issues discussed over recent months include air pollution, developing the solar panel industry, safety in (industrial) production, providing safe and high quality milk powder, managing the agricultural sector to ensure supply and stable prices, and dealing with the earthquake which hit Sichuan in April.

A social policy emphasis makes a lot of sense. While economists and investors have stressed their desire for market-oriented economic reforms to improve efficiency, from a political perspective the most pressing issues the leadership faces are social and popular concerns.

There were hints of this as soon as Xi Jinping took over from Hu Jintao as head of the Chinese Communist Party back in November. Xi’s first public comments highlighted people’s desire for ‘better education, stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions and a better environment’.

All of this suggests we should rethink the way we understand ‘reform’ in the Chinese context. Social, or livelihood, issues are at the forefront of Chinese policy making. And economic reform does not just mean the economics of efficiency (to borrow a phrase from Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works), but also addressing social and livelihood issues through the economics of equity.

3. Kerry Brown, once of Chatham House, now based in Australia, has some nice bullets on what we may know about Xi. The final bullet is one I think I would have gone for. What interests me most is to understand the mechanics of the political tendency to increasing consensus and conservatism in fast-developing states. Is it just the effect having more money that encourages politicians to buy off constituencies and avoid confrontation for as long as possible?

The New Leadership in Beijing: Political and Economic Implications

Evidence to Parliament
Kerry Brown, July 2013

This is a submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, on 2 July 2013.

  • China’s new leadership is one of political scientists, historians, economists, lawyers and social scientists. The era of the technocrats has come to an end.
  • This is a leadership set up for a domestic agenda and that will resist attempts to pull it more deeply into international affairs, which are seen as lying beyond what the elite define as in China’s national interests (preservation of stability, building up economic strength, safeguarding sovereignty), despite the very real pressures that will be put on it to that effect.
  • They view international relations in a more emboldened way than their predecessors, and show their awareness of their country’s new economic status and how this needs to be reflected in how the world talks to and engages with China.
  • Underneath the bolder presentation of reformist intention towards corruption, economic policy and use of political language, the Chinese Communist Party in the 21st century lives with the paradox that a movement founded in revolution has become, in its seventh decade in power, self-preserving, highly cautious, led by people with remarkably little diversity, and extremely conservative.

4. Michael Komesaroff is a thoughtful commodities specialists who writes the Metal Man column in the China Economic Quarterly. I am not posting his presentation because you should register at his Urandaline site in order to get it. However it, and other useful things he posts, are free. Who said that Australians are tighter than Scots? Here is his blurb.

After Hu: More of the same, is the title of a presentation I made in April to the Sydney based clients of UBS. The presentation develops a theme I have been articulating for sometime, namely that Western observers of China are likely to be disappointed in the reforms they seem to be expecting from China’s new leadership.The presentation includes a positive forecast on China’s need to import greater quantities of iron ore, but this is offset by changes in market power so thermal coal is less attractive. After Hu: More of the same can be found here.

You are receiving this e-mail because some time back you registered at my websitewww.urandaline.com.au to receive notification when additions were made to the site.  At the time of registration these are the log in parameters you chose:

5. A macro-economic aside. In terms of the raw economic problem that the new government faces, this graph from Gavekal Dragonomics is useful. It shows how much nominal growth banking lending produces — in other words a proxy for a pure Incremental Capital Output Ratio. The point is that chucking money around is producing diminishing returns, as one would expect at this stage of development, and so structural adjustment and institutional change are suddenly very important as means to improve Chinese bang-for-buck.

The question is whether Xi and Li do only economic structural adjustment — such as interest rate reform, a revision to the centre-provincial fiscal arrangements in place since 1994, more action on welfare transfers and inequality — or whether they add any institutional medicine from education system to legal system to media to political pluralism modernisation.

….

6. More media-type stuff now. This is an op-ed from Russell Leigh Moses, Dean of Academics and Faculty at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, who is writing a book on the Chinese political system.

Xi Jinping’s Rare Scolding of Top Party Leaders (Wall Street Journal)

By Russell Leigh Moses

After telling the lower ranks of the Communist Party to shape up and make a clean break from past practice, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has taken aim at a new target:  the Party leadership itself.

And he’s done so with authority and openness from the highest pulpit of politics in China–the Politburo, the very place where the senior leaders sit and make policy.

In a speech at the conclusion of a three-day special meeting that was covered across Party media and took up nearly half of the evening newscast on Tuesday evening, Xi proclaimed that senior members of the Party needed “to play an exemplary role,” and that they had to be “broad-minded enough to reject any selfishness…to adhere to self-respect, self-examination and self-admonition” in their work (in Chinese).

It’s extremely rare for Politburo proceedings to be spoken of in such detail and openness.  And it’s unprecedented in modern times for the Party boss to start taking swings at his colleagues at the top by so directly reminding them of their responsibilities—a move that suggests he might be planning something even stronger soon.

Having just admonished lower-level cadres in a salvo last week, some observers might think that Xi is simply putting on a show here. After all, it’s difficult to demand improvement in the work-styles of the rank and file without at least paying lip-service to the idea that those at the top could stand to do a little better themselves.

But the tone of Xi’s comments and the play they’ve received in the state media suggest this is far more than just rhetorical window dressing.  It wasn’t enough for high officials to “strictly abide by party discipline and act in strict accordance with policies and procedures,” Xi said. Those at the top must also “strictly manage their relatives and their staff and refrain from abuse of power.”

“The sole pursuit” of senior members of the Party, Xi insisted, should be tied to “the Party’s cause and interests” – in other words, “to seek benefits for the Chinese people as a whole.”

Whether it’s misuse of official license plates or the high-end looting of state assets (in Chinese), Xi knows that corruption is not always confined to lower-level cadres.

Xi was careful to concede that there have been some positive developments in the ways by which the Politburo and other Party bodies operate, such as “improvements in research and reporting.”  Meetings have been shortened and presentations streamlined, “enhancing the majority of party members’ and cadres’ sense of purpose, as well as the view of the masses” towards the Party leadership, he noted.

But it’s clearly morality at the top — not the way that decisions are made — that concerns Xi and his allies the most.   As Xi’s speech noted, “as long as Politburo comrades always and everywhere set an example, they can continue to call the shots, for that will have a strong demonstration effect, and the Party will be very powerful.”

But Party leaders “must follow their own strict requirements first.”

Xi’s reprimand seems to imply that some of them are not.  His predecessors talked about the general threat to Party rule from the evils of corruption; but in nearly every case they chose to scold officials in the abstract, instead of smacking them around.  As with so many other efforts, Xi’s being different.

Indeed, such comments raise the very real possibility that Xi has someone specific in mind – that he could be about to strike against one or more of the conservatives who populate the Politburo and who might be standing in the way of further reforms.

Whatever form the next round of fighting takes, Xi and his reformist colleagues are clearly interested in creating a fresh sort of politics, even at the very top of the system.  This is risk-taking and resolution of a high order–and it brings a real political showdown with opponents of Xi’s brand of reform all the closer.

7. And this is an op-ed from Ching Cheong, the venerable Straits Times journalist who was locked up in China for three years accused (among other things) of spying for Taiwan. It talks about Xi’s encounter with Hu Dehua, which was referenced above.

海峡时报 (新加坡)

Opinion  |   Others  |   By Ching Cheong, Senior Writer  2013-06-28

Outspoken China princeling takes on President Xi 

 CHINESE President Xi Jinping’s conservative stance on political reform has led to a major split within the princeling community, whose members share a common interest in preserving the ruling status of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Mr Hu Dehua, the third son of the late party chief Hu Yaobang, openly criticised Mr Xi at a seminar held by the liberal magazine Yan Huang Chunqiu in mid-April. It was by far the most severe criticism lodged against Mr Xi since the latter became CCP general secretary last November.

Mr Hu Yaobang was the CCP general secretary from 1982 to 1987. He was known for “liberating” thousands of senior CCP officials purged by CCP founder Mao Zedong. For this reason, he wielded considerable moral strength within the party. Mr Hu Yaobang’s death in 1989 triggered a massive democracy movement in Tiananmen Square that was put down bloodily.

Thanks to his legacy, his two sons, Deping and Dehua, stood out as symbols of political reform amongst the princelings.

Before Mr Xi became CCP chief last November, he let it be known that he paid a visit to Mr Hu Deping and had a long chat with him. Many considered this an attempt by Mr Xi to build an image as an enlightened leader.

Now, however, Mr Xi has been taken to task by Mr Hu Dehua.

He started with Mr Xi’s speech to party colleagues during his southern tour early this year. In it, the President stated that the Soviet Union collapsed because the party had disarmed itself by allowing the army to be loyal to the country rather than the party. “One lesson to draw is that we should forever grasp firmly the gun and not to disarm ourselves,” the President said.

Mr Xi also lamented that when the country faced disintegration, given the size of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), there was no one “man enough” to come to its defence.

To refute him, Mr Hu Dehua cited Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov’s view that the Soviet Union collapsed because the CPSU had monopolised resources, political power and truth. “If this was the case, then there was nothing to regret if the Soviet Union or the CPSU collapsed,” he said.

Mr Hu Dehua then hinted that Mr Xi had misread the reason for the collapse of the CPSU. Mr Hu cited a CCP document of July 14, 1964, entitled On Khrushchov’s Phoney Communism And Its Historical Lessons for the World, saying that there emerged in the Soviet Union a privileged class represented by the CPSU.

“The members of this pivileged stratum have converted the function of serving the masses into the privilege of dominating them. They are abusing their powers over the means of production and of livelihood for the private benefit of their small clique,” the document said.

“The members of this privileged stratum appropriate the fruits of the Soviet people’s labour and pocket incomes that are dozens or even a hundred times those of the average Soviet worker and peasant. They not only secure high incomes in the form of high salaries, high awards, high royalties and a great variety of personal subsidies, but also use their privileged position to appropriate public property by graft and bribery. Completely divorced from the working people of the Soviet Union, they live the parasitical and decadent life of the bourgeoisie,” said the document.

Mr Hu Dehua pointed out that this was the real reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Turning to present-day China, which was plagued with problems similar to the Soviet Union’s, he said pointedly: “We blame everyone else, but never try to find problems from within. Is this a correct attitude?

“Why can’t we learn from the Kuomintang (in Taiwan), reform ourselves and get elected, basing our legitimacy on people’s authorisation and not on guns and cannon?” Mr Hu Dehua asked.

He then queried Mr Xi’s remark that no one was “man enough” to save the CPSU. “What does it mean by ‘man enough’?” he asked.

“Driving third-generation battlefield tanks against your own people is ‘man enough’? Or resisting orders to kill your own people and opt to face martial court instead?” he asked.

“When the ruling party faces a crisis, there are two options: to suppress the opposition or to reach reconciliation with the people,” Mr Hu Dehua said.

“We should learn from the experience of Chiang Ching-kuo (the late Taiwanese President who scrapped martial law). Be bold enough to reflect on the Feb 28, 1947 incident (where demonstrators were bloodily suppressed) so that historical pains could be redressed without bloodshed, revenge or purges.”

Clearly, Mr Hu Dehua was referring to the Tiananmen incident.

He then turned to Mr Xi’s latest assertion that one should not use post-reform history to negate the pre-reform years.

Mr Hu argued that without turning its back on the traumatic Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), the CCP could not embrace reform and open the door to usher in a period of prosperity.

“If one should not negate the first 30 years, does it mean that we still have to uphold the Cultural Revolution, uphold Mao Zedong’s purges of senior cadres, including his remark that Mr Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a counter-revolutionary who used novels as a weapon to conduct anti-CCP activities?”

This last question put the Chinese President in an extremely awkward position.

Mr Hu decided recently to release the transcript of his speech on the Web.

Mr Chen Ziming, a dissident branded as the black hand behind the 1989 Tiananmen incident, speculated that the recent salvos of propaganda attacking constitutionalism might have prompted Mr Hu to take Mr Xi to task.

Mr Hu’s open criticism of Mr Xi also suggests that the princeling community is sharply divided over how to preserve the ruling status of the CCP, especially over whether rampant corruption and widespread unrest can be dealt with without political reform.

Do you feel enlightened? I feel very slightly less in the dark. Rather like thousands and thousands of Chinese cadres, not to mention the general population, who are waiting to find out what Xi4Li3 (a homonym of Heineken’s Chinese name Xi3Li4 – you heard it here first) are actually going to do. I don’t mind a bottle of Heineken. But is that all this nation of 1.3 billion can offer us?

Snowden

June 19, 2013

This guy (below) from City University in Hong Kong knows what he is talking about, relates Snowden’s place in US society to the development of institutions in Hong Kong.

I’ll be in the US next week and look forward to asking various government people what they plan to do about the fact that James Clapper lied to congress. I am not clear why it is taking so long to prepare the warrant for his arrest. (Have a look at the Guardian on this,  and the Washington Post.)

It’s pretty clear what Obama needs to do: pardon Manning and Snowden and put Clapper in the can for six months to send a message to anyone else having Nixon-like ideas about how to run America. He don’t even need a cigarette on the roof of the White House to think this one through. Of course Obama should also send the message that any more leaks are likely to lead to decades of prison. The big cats on Iraq and cyber surveillance are probably already out of the bag.

What Snowden can teach the Occupy Central movement

Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Surya Deva
Surya Deva says civil disobedience has a rightful place in the democratic playbook, and Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement can learn a thing or two from Snowden’s approach

Since Edward Snowden first broke cover in Hong Kong, many people have been puzzled about his choice of this city to take on the US government. Despite being wedded to the rule of law and having independent courts, Hong Kong is not a “safe haven” against extradition to the US by any means. Nor is the Hong Kong government known for treating asylum claims or refugees very humanely.

Snowden’s initial explanation that he chose Hong Kong because of its “strong tradition of free speech” also could not be the tipping point; there are many other jurisdictions with similar or even higher levels of protection of free speech.

If used properly, civil disobedience can achieve what judicial reviews and elections may not accomplish

So why Hong Kong? Was it to embarrass the US about its own human rights record? After all, human rights defenders – like the blind activist Chen Guangcheng – have looked to the US for protection from repressive and authoritarian regimes.

Snowden’s recent interview with the Post brings more clarity on his rationale for choosing Hong Kong. He said: “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”

What Snowden is seeking to do resonates clearly with civil disobedience, and Hong Kong is not a bad place to practise this. The idea of civil disobedience has been popularised here of late by the Occupy Central proposal. Nevertheless, the debate in the media about its propriety has generally shown a lack of a clear understanding of this concept.

Over the years, many renowned thinkers and political activists – from Henry Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin – have articulated the contours of civil disobedience or practised them. Although their ideas vary, in my view the following six key conditions should determine whether civil disobedience is a justified device in a democracy:

  • It must challenge an unjust action (a law, decision or policy) of the government. The action may be regarded as “unjust” with reference to a higher authority, such as one’s conscience, or furthering justice, human rights or any other core constitutional value.
  • The unjust action should be a matter of wider public interest, rather than affecting the interests of only a selected few. This condition will, in turn, imply a certain degree of public support.
  • Civil disobedience should be pursued with the objective of pressuring the government to change the unjust action.
  • Civil disobedience aimed at challenging an unjust action should be announced openly and publicly with advance notice.
  • It is vital that civil disobedience is peaceful and the people taking part are willing to bear all legal consequences of breaking what is perceived to be an unjust action.
  • Finally, civil disobedience should generally be employed as a last resort.

When considered within these boundaries, civil disobedience can strengthen the rule of law and constitutionalism, rather than being a threat to them. In fact, it is arguable that people in a democracy not only have a right but also a duty to resist unjust, albeit legal, measures taken by the government in certain circumstances.

I believe Snowden’s action and rationale fall within the above contours of civil disobedience. It appears that the National Security Agency has been exercising sweeping surveillance powers without many checks and balances. This, in turn, has unreasonably curtailed several human rights.

In view of the extraterritorial reach of the surveillance measures, the matter is of global public interest. Snowden’s disclosures are apparently driven by a desire to change the status quo rather than securing monetary benefits or cheap publicity. There can hardly be any doubt about the peaceful nature of his actions.

By declaring his identity and whereabouts, Snowden is willing to face the consequences of breaching US laws if a fair trial can be guaranteed. Nevertheless, it is legitimate for him to seek asylum under international law and/or contest before the local courts his extradition to the US to avoid persecution for political reasons.

It is true that Snowden did not give advance public notice of his disclosures. But is it reasonable to expect advance notice in such special circumstances? Perhaps not.

Could Snowden have tried something else first? It is unlikely he could have succeeded in exposing (and potentially changing) the surveillance system while remaining in the US or by complaining to higher authorities. The US courts have not proved to be a robust guardian of human rights amid the “war on terror”.

What could the Occupy Central organisers learn from Snowden? First, they need to identify more clearly the unjust action the proposed civil disobedience seeks to assail. They should also engage the public in diverse settings and without setting artificial limits on their participation.

On this front, too, Snowden played a master stroke by expressing his intention to rely not merely on the courts, but also on “people of Hong Kong to decide [his] fate”. Snowden is trying to secure what is necessary for successful civil disobedience: mass support for a public cause.

Moreover, the Occupy Central organisers should articulate exactly what it wants to achieve, how people would benefit and why the fears expressed by the pro-establishment camp are groundless. Apart from ensuring the peaceful nature of the movement, the organisers have to explain which other means they considered to achieve genuine universal suffrage before embarking on the Occupy Central path.

The civil disobedience discourse also has advice for governments. Dworkin, for example, argues that the government should show tolerance and act with caution. If there are prosecutions, Rawls contends that courts should take into account “the civilly disobedient nature” of the protest and reduce or suspend legal sanctions.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said Occupy Central is likely to be unlawful and non-peaceful. In other words, the government will not tolerate it.

It is time to recognise that civil disobedience, within well-defined boundaries, can play a constructive role in controlling power and furthering constitutional objectives. In fact, if used properly, it can achieve what judicial reviews and periodic elections may not accomplish.

How the Hong Kong government and its courts deal with any US extradition request for Snowden, and how they treat people participating in Occupy Central, will define not only the future of Hong Kong’s autonomy, but also its status as the bastion of freedoms and the rule of law within China.

Surya Deva is an associate professor of the school of law, City University of Hong Kong

More:

The only thing I have written about Manning.

Here is the best-known signature campaign to pardon Snowden. 85,000 signatures already. 15,000 more by July 9 and Obama will have to make some kind of formal response. I am not signing at this point because I think it ought to be 100,000 Americans who sign (Be helpful and post a comment if you know whether non-Americans can sign).

The manning signature campaign has been less well organised, less well-worded. Here it is.

Pilling frames the moral debate in the FT (sub needed).

Spare Ball

May 26, 2013

Astana1 Astana2 Astana3 Astana4 Astana5 Astana6

An interesting couple of days in Astana in Kazakhstan at what I initially dubbed ‘Davos in the desert’.

Except that the steppe around Astana is surprisingly fertile, and the new capital that has been constructed there sits on a large river. They spent a lot of money.

I wasn’t sure about coming. A ‘World Anti-Crisis Conference’ run by a low-population petro-state with a developing onshore financial centre structure didn’t seem the obvious place to address the world’s problems.

Kazakhstan’s global image is largely defined by the Borat movie, Prince Andrew selling his home to a Kazakh politician for what was reported to be a lot more than the asking price (he is also patron of the British-Kazakh society), the loucheness of Astana’s nightclubs, and the generally hedonistic behaviour that goes on.

In the end it took a fee to get me there, although less than I get from multinationals, brokerages and industry associations (so that’s ok, then). I don’t know what the assorted economics Nobel laureates and politicians were being paid, but I had a pretty good turnout for a talk organised by UNCTAD on the theme of ’50 years of development: what have we learned?’ This next link should connect you to my official statement to the conference based on what I said.

Joe Studwell Astana Statement final

I thrust copies of the statement into the hands of Romano Prodi, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Saudi development minister, the Chinese Under-Secretary General of the UN, Domingo Cavallo and Edward Prescott. Well, what’s the point in going, otherwise? Mr Prescott, I am afraid, moved swiftly into poll position as the single most historically illiterate Nobel laureate in economics I have met. Note that the sample size is only 4. In his remarks about Japan’s 20-year economic hiatus, Prescott ‘explained’ that Japan developed through policies of free trade and then, from the early 1990s, ‘started to subsidise everything’ (my italics). I kid you not.

Finally, a bit of cultural fun. Standing in line at an event at this conference, someone started telling me about the very popular Kazakh game of kokpar. It is a kind of polo, played with a dead goat as the ball. This guy claimed the animal is decapitated before play commences although I didn’t have time to check. Two teams wrestle this dead goat, drop it, lean out of the saddle to pick it up, ram each other’s horses and so on, all in an effort to dunk the goat into a pile of tyres at either end of the field that is the goal. But what really took me is that sometimes the goat carcass gets eviscerated or otherwise damaged beyond a limit acceptable for play. The teams therefore have a spare ball, in the form of a live goat shackled at the side of the pitch. That must be one very unhappy spectator.

More:

Apparently I am among the world’s greatest minds.

The trip to the Kazakh embassy in London made me think about where comedians get their ideas from. I went to the Kazakh embassy in South Kensington, but unfortunately they had moved it to Pall Mall. They just forgot to change the web site. That was half a day gone, so I didn’t feel so bad about the fee. (I see that now, 26 May, they have changed the site.)

Filling out the form, I read that:

‘Wrong filling of application form can become a cause of refuse in issue of entry visa.’

Thank gog my submission accurate was.

Still, the thing was a lot more worthwhile than I expected and if it keeps getting better it could even be important.

When Britain was like Italy

April 21, 2013

A day in London allows for a few minutes talking about How Asia Works on CNBC here, and a longer discussion on the UK’s Monocle Radio ‘Globalist’ programme, (beginning at the 16 minute mark).

In between I decide to spend a couple of hours wandering the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, as the large building that contains the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal on The Strand is confusingly called. The place is of interest to anyone who wants to understand the need to constantly reform institutions. In particular, Italians should visit this building. It was constructed in the late 19th century to stop the British justice system being what Italy’s is today.

Law Royal Courts panorama

Before anyone enters, the essential book to read is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, probably his greatest, which centres on a legal case that has multiplied and gone on for so long that no one can really remember exactly what the case is about, or quite why it started. People just attend hearings because the case(s) has(ve) taken on life(ves) of its(their) own. All that is clearly remembered is that the whole, huge, expensive, draining, painful affair concerns the Jarndyce family, which is enshrined in the case name, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The different sides of the Jarndyce family just do what the lawyers tell them, and the case does not end until it has consumed all the family’s money, and caused the death of a sympathetic character, because the system makes it possible for cases never to end.

Things were so bad in the British legal system by the 1860s — students of development should note that this had not stopped the British economy growing and becoming the world’s most powerful — that there was eventually a cross-party consensus that radical reform was necessary. A royal commission (essentially an independent review) was set up to consolidate a morass of different legal institutions under one roof, streamline procedures and simplify judicial processes so that the system worked. The Royal Courts of Justice, which opened with their 18 (now 88) courts in 1882, shunted Britain on from the world of Bleak House. Opening the court, Queen Victoria’s speech stated the aim was to ‘conduce to the more speedy and efficient administration of justice’.

Almost always, you can just wander in to a court here and sit down and listen to what is going on. I spent half an hour observing the goings on in each of two randomly selected courtrooms. In Italy, I haven’t seen courtrooms beyond the provincial level (except on television). But some very loose points of comparison can be offered. Here in London there is no chatting during court proceedings, no playing around with mobile phones, no lawyers saying hello to their friends and colleagues in court while ignoring their clients, no male lawyers dedicating their working day to trying to flirt with any woman in sight. And everything is taped. When I once asked to tape record proceedings in an Italian court the judge grudgingly acceded, but with a look that suggested I was proposing a coup d’etat.

Unlike Italian courts, the Royal Courts give a sense of being places where stuff gets done. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty wrong with the justice system in the UK. However, compared with Italy, this is the modern world. The Royal Courts are a living museum of institutional development that is well worth a visit. For the kids, there is a room displaying all the silly outfits that judges and lawyers have worn over the years — and thankfully wear less of these days. The grown-up exhibit is the institutional progress captured in quite a beautiful building with its varied, interesting and business-like courtrooms.

Could Italy have the same thing in the foreseeable future? One way to consider this is to remember that the leaders who made the British reforms of the 1870s possible were Gladstone and Disraeli, working in concert. Would you consider that any of the putative ‘reformers’ of contemporary Italian politics — Monti,Berlusconi, Bersani, or Grillo — is in their league?

More

Imagine this in Italy: Edwin Wilkins Field, one of the key reformers and the Secretary to the royal commission of 1865 on the Royal Courts of Justice, declined remuneration!

Evolution continues: didn’t have time to go see it, but the latest addition to the Royal Courts is the Rolls Building, opened in 2011.


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