Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

NYT headline just about captures it

November 8, 2020

The curiosity for me is that with all Trump’s antics, in recent days, and ongoing, and indeed in the context of the death of George Perry Floyd Jr. six months ago, no one that I have seen in the media has mentioned Joseph McCarthy, US Senator for George Floyd’s state from 1947-57.

I remember the subject of McCarthyism coming up in a conversation with a clever American when I was in China and him saying: ‘Yeah, that was our Cultural Revolution.’ Well, America may just have avoided another Cultural Revolution. So here’s something uplifting from the estimable Chuck D.

Followed by Obama springing a Presidential Medal with Distinction on Joseph Biden. Biden couldn’t stop crying…

Giving the Democrats just one more chance…

November 4, 2020

The last 24 hours have taken about two years off my life. A long walk this morning trying to understand how, after four years of watching Trump, more people would vote for him than in 2016. Piketty was a name that came to mind as I ruminated.

In the end, it seems that, like the Blues Brothers, Joe Biden has charmed just about enough north-eastern white Boomer males to keep the tour on the road.

In the morning, if we are lucky, we will find that the proto-fascists are once again in the river.

Can’t say it more eloquently than Cohen

November 3, 2020

Welcome to Tuesday 3 November 2020.

The Economist at its best

October 30, 2020

I’d forgotten why I ever wanted so much to work for the Economist Group, different bits of which I toiled for for years. This week I was reminded. What a great Leader the below is. Fair but satisfyingly hard:

The Economist

October 29

THE COUNTRY that elected Donald Trump in 2016 was unhappy and divided. The country he is asking to re-elect him is more unhappy and more divided. After almost four years of his leadership, politics is even angrier than it was and partisanship even less constrained. Daily life is consumed by a pandemic that has registered almost 230,000 deaths amid bickering, buck-passing and lies. Much of that is Mr Trump’s doing, and his victory on November 3rd would endorse it all.

Joe Biden is not a miracle cure for what ails America. But he is a good man who would restore steadiness and civility to the White House. He is equipped to begin the long, difficult task of putting a fractured country back together again. That is why, if we had a vote, it would go to Joe.

King Donald
Mr Trump has fallen short less in his role as the head of America’s government than as the head of state. He and his administration can claim their share of political wins and losses, just like administrations before them. But as the guardian of America’s values, the conscience of the nation and America’s voice in the world, he has dismally failed to measure up to the task.

Without covid-19, Mr Trump’s policies could well have won him a second term (see first Briefing). His record at home includes tax cuts, deregulation and the appointment of benchloads of conservative judges. Before the pandemic, wages among the poorest quarter of workers were growing by 4.7% a year. Small-business confidence was near a 30-year peak. By restricting immigration, he gave his voters what they wanted. Abroad, his disruptive approach has brought some welcome change (see second Briefing). America has hammered Islamic State and brokered peace deals between Israel and a trio of Muslim countries. Some allies in NATO are at last spending more on defence. China’s government knows that the White House now recognises it as a formidable adversary.

This tally contains plenty to object to. The tax cuts were regressive. Some of the deregulation was harmful, especially to the environment. The attempt at health-care reform has been a debacle. Immigration officials cruelly separated migrant children from their parents and limits on new entrants will drain America’s vitality. On the hard problems—on North Korea and Iran, and on bringing peace to the Middle East—Mr Trump has fared no better than the Washington establishment he loves to ridicule.

However, our bigger dispute with Mr Trump is over something more fundamental. In the past four years he has repeatedly desecrated the values, principles and practices that made America a haven for its own people and a beacon to the world. Those who accuse Mr Biden of the same or worse should stop and think. Those who breezily dismiss Mr Trump’s bullying and lies as so much tweeting are ignoring the harm he has wrought.

It starts with America’s democratic culture. Tribal politics predated Mr Trump. The host of “The Apprentice” exploited it to take himself from the green room to the White House. Yet, whereas most recent presidents have seen toxic partisanship as bad for America, Mr Trump made it central to his office. He has never sought to represent the majority of Americans who did not vote for him. Faced by an outpouring of peaceful protest after the killing of George Floyd, his instinct was not to heal, but to depict it as an orgy of looting and left-wing violence—part of a pattern of stoking racial tension. Today, 40% of the electorate believes the other side is not just misguided, but evil.

The most head-spinning feature of the Trump presidency is his contempt for the truth. All politicians prevaricate, but his administration has given America “alternative facts”. Nothing Mr Trump says can be believed—including his claims that Mr Biden is corrupt. His cheerleaders in the Republican Party feel obliged to defend him regardless, as they did in an impeachment that, bar one vote, went along party lines.

Partisanship and lying undermine norms and institutions. That may sound fussy—Trump voters, after all, like his willingness to offend. But America’s system of checks and balances suffers. This president calls for his opponents to be locked up; he uses the Department of Justice to conduct vendettas; he commutes the sentences of supporters convicted of serious crimes; he gives his family plum jobs in the White House; and he offers foreign governments protection in exchange for dirt on a rival. When a president casts doubt on the integrity of an election just because it might help him win, he undermines the democracy he has sworn to defend.

Partisanship and lying also undermine policy. Look at covid-19. Mr Trump had a chance to unite his country around a well organised response—and win re-election on the back of it, as other leaders have. Instead he saw Democratic governors as rivals or scapegoats. He muzzled and belittled America’s world-class institutions, such as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. As so often, he sneered at science, including over masks. And, unable to see beyond his own re-election, he has continued to misrepresent the evident truth about the epidemic and its consequences. America has many of the world’s best scientists. It also has one of world’s highest covid-19 fatality rates.

Mr Trump has treated America’s allies with the same small-mindedness. Alliances magnify America’s influence in the world. The closest ones were forged during wars and, once unmade, cannot easily be put back together in peacetime. When countries that have fought alongside America look on his leadership, they struggle to recognise the place they admire.

That matters. Americans are liable both to over- and to underestimate the influence they have in the world. American military power alone cannot transform foreign countries, as the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proved. Yet American ideals really do serve as an example to other democracies, and to people who live in states that persecute their citizens. Mr Trump thinks ideals are for suckers. The governments of China and Russia have always seen American rhetoric about freedom as cynical cover for the belief that might is right. Tragically, under Mr Trump their suspicions have been confirmed.

Four more years of a historically bad president like Mr Trump would deepen all these harms—and more. In 2016 American voters did not know whom they were getting. Now they do. They would be voting for division and lying. They would be endorsing the trampling of norms and the shrinking of national institutions into personal fiefs. They would be ushering in climate change that threatens not only distant lands but Florida, California and America’s heartlands. They would be signalling that the champion of freedom and democracy for all should be just another big country throwing its weight around. Re-election would put a democratic seal on all the harm Mr Trump has done.

President Joe
The bar to Mr Biden being an improvement is therefore not high. He clears it easily. Much of what the left wing of the Democratic Party disliked about him in the primaries—that he is a centrist, an institutionalist, a consensus-builder—makes him an anti-Trump well-suited to repair some of the damage of the past four years. Mr Biden will not be able to end the bitter animosity that has been mounting for decades in America. But he could begin to lay down a path towards reconciliation.

Although his policies are to the left of previous administrations’, he is no revolutionary. His pledge to “build back better” would be worth $2trn-3trn, part of a boost to annual spending of about 3% of GDP. His tax rises on firms and the wealthy would be significant, but not punitive. He would seek to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, give more to health and education and allow more immigration. His climate-change policy would invest in research and job-boosting technology. He is a competent administrator and a believer in process. He listens to expert advice, even when it is inconvenient. He is a multilateralist: less confrontational than Mr Trump, but more purposeful.

Wavering Republicans worry that Mr Biden, old and weak, would be a Trojan horse for the hard left. It is true that his party’s radical wing is stirring, but he and Kamala Harris, his vice-presidential pick, have both shown in the campaign that they can keep it in check. Ordinarily, voters might be advised to constrain the left by ensuring that the Senate remained in Republican hands. Not this time. A big win for the Democrats there would add to the preponderance of moderate centrists over radicals in Congress by bringing in senators like Steve Bullock in Montana or Barbara Bollier in Kansas. You would not see a lurch to the left from either of them.

A resounding Democratic victory would also benefit the Republicans. That is because a close contest would tempt them into divisive, racially polarising tactics, a dead end in a country that is growing more diverse. As anti-Trump Republicans argue, Trumpism is morally bankrupt (see Lexington). Their party needs a renaissance. Mr Trump must be soundly rejected.

In this election America faces a fateful choice. At stake is the nature of its democracy. One path leads to a fractious, personalised rule, dominated by a head of state who scorns decency and truth. The other leads to something better—something truer to what this newspaper sees as the values that originally made America an inspiration around the world.

In his first term, Mr Trump has been a destructive president. He would start his second affirmed in all his worst instincts. Mr Biden is his antithesis. Were he to be elected, success would not be guaranteed—how could it be? But he would enter the White House with the promise of the most precious gift that democracies can bestow: renewal.

Oz and China go head to head

September 22, 2020

China’s relationships with all sorts of countries are, to say the least, fraying. Much of the coverage in this respect focuses on Sino-US relations. But more interesting from a fight-lover’s perspective is a confrontation such as Australia versus China. A nation of 25 million, heavily dependent on trade with the Middle Kingdom, squares up against a nation of 1.3 billion.

Without going into the background of why the Aussies are ready to deck Beijing, this article about personal experience highlights how ugly the fight is getting. A journalist describes a threat to put his 14-year-old daughter in prison and his family’s flight from China.

To my understanding, although the minimum age of legal responsibility in China is 14, it would not be easy under Chinese law to put a 14-year-old in prison for a non-violent crime (probably easier to lock up the parents and put the child in an orphanage — a favourite tactic in Tibet and spectacularly unpleasant). But the fact that Foreign Ministry and police employees threatened prison in this case tells you something about what is going on.

It is also a reminder of how un-Chinese the Chinese Communist Party is becoming. Respect for kids is one of the more reliable and charming aspects of Chinese culture. Just not in this case.

Institutional racism in America

August 31, 2020

Here is an interesting article about the role that the Senate plays in institutionalising racism in the United States.

There is also growing controversy about the role of the second chamber in the UK. However, the UK’s House of Lords has little real power and the reason to object to it is that it is stuffed with people who are being rewarded for financial contributions to political parties and other shenanigans that add no value to our society. The US Senate, by contrast, is an active enforcer of racism.

By Jonathan Chait.

In a time when institutions across the country have undergone a searching self-examination, the reckoning has only begun for the most powerful source of institutional racism in American life: the United States Senate. It is not merely a problem of legacy and culture — though the Senate’s traditions are deeply interwoven with white supremacy, as Joe Biden inadvertently confessed when he touted his cooperation with segregationists — but of very-much-ongoing discrimination. Quite simply, achieving anything like functional racial equality without substantially reforming the Senate will be impossible.

The Senate’s pro-white bias is a problem the political system is only beginning to absorb. When Barack Obama urged his party to honor John Lewis’s civil-rights legacy by passing a bill to guarantee democratic reforms like voting rights, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C., and an end to the filibuster, which he called a “relic of Jim Crow,” the mere suggestion was met with a scorching response from the right. “The door to radicalism is getting busted wide open,” warned a Wall Street Journal editorial. John Podhoretz described Obama’s plan as “a degree of norm-shattering in service of the partisan interests of the Democrats that will, quite simply, tear this country asunder.”

Measured against the backdrop of modern Washington tradition, Obama’s proposal would indeed constitute a radical break with long-standing norms. But measured against the standard of simple political equality, his notion is quite modest. It would leave standing, albeit in altered and less distorted form, an institution that stands as a rebuke to democracy. The Senate is a bulwark of white power.

The Senate was not designed to benefit white voters — almost all voters were white when the Constitution went into effect — but it has had that effect. The reason is simple: Residents of small states have proportionally more representation, and small states tend to have fewer minority voters. Therefore, the Senate gives more voting power to white America, and less to everybody else. The roughly 2.7 million people living in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota, who are overwhelmingly white, have the same number of Senators representing them as the 110 million or so people living in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, who are quite diverse. The overall disparity is fairly big. As David Leonhardt calculated, whites have 0.35 Senators per million people, while Blacks have 0.26, Asian-Americans 0.25, and Latinos just 0.19.

The Senate is affirmative action for white people. If we had to design political institutions from scratch, nobody — not even Republicans — would be able to defend a system that massively overrepresented whites. And yet, while we are yanking old 30 Rock episodes and holding White Fragility struggle sessions in boardrooms, a massive source of institutionalized racial bias is sitting in plain sight.

The Senate’s existence is not the product of divine inspiration by the Founders, as schoolchildren have been taught for generations, but the ungainly result of hardheaded political compromise between people who believed in some version of what we’d call “democracy” and people who didn’t. The Founders mostly hated the idea of a one-state, one-vote chamber. They grudgingly accepted it as (in James Madison’s formulation) a “lesser evil,” needed to buy off small states like Delaware.

Obviously, the Constitution contained lots of political compromises. In most cases, the system has evolved toward the principle of one-person, one-vote: The Electoral College has transformed from a group of elites using independent judgment to pick a president to a pass-through entity; the vote was extended to non-landholders, women, and black people (first in theory, and only a century later, in practice).

The Senate has oddly evolved in the opposite direction. The disparity in size between states has exploded. When the Constitution was written, the largest state had less than 13 times as many people as the smallest. Today, the largest state has nearly 70 times as many people as the smallest. As absurd as the likes of Madison and Hamilton considered a legislative chamber equalizing a 13-to-1 disparity, the absurdity is now fivefold. And it continues to grow.

The Senate has also evolved a routine supermajority requirement, which the Founders did not contemplate. The Constitution requires a supermajority in a handful of expressly defined circumstances, like treaties and removing a president from office. The filibuster evolved in the 19th century, first requiring unanimous agreement, then was reduced first to two-thirds in 1917, and then three-fifths in 1975. Custom used to dictate that filibusters were rarely used tools to register unusually strong disagreement (most frequently by southerners, against civil-rights legislation). Its evolution into a routine supermajority requirement is recent.

And so the Senate now has the function of allowing the minority of the country to thwart the majority, to a degree even its critics never imagined. Arguing against the Senate, Hamilton warned, “It may happen that this majority of States is a small minority of the people of America; and two thirds of the people of America could not long be persuaded, upon the credit of artificial distinctions and syllogistic subtleties, to submit their interests to the management and disposal of one third.” The filibuster, combined with the disproportionate growth of the largest states, allows a far more dire tyranny of the minority than this. A filibuster could be maintained by senators representing a mere 11 percent of the public.

In reality, it’s impractical to line up every small state on the same side. (Democrats do have small states.) But in the current Senate, Republicans who represent just a quarter of the population would have enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Even if Democrats win a landslide election in 2020, following another landslide win two years before, Republicans will easily be able to maintain a filibuster against any bill subject to one.

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Since the Senate is inscribed into the Constitution, measures to curtail its distorting effect have centered on abolishing the filibuster and admitting Puerto Rico and D.C. (stripped of the federal areas, which would remain the District of Columbia, and its residential areas constituted as a new state, perhaps called “Douglass Commonwealth.”) The process for admitting new states is just like passing laws.

The addition of D.C. and Puerto Rico, with four new senators between them, would partially offset the Senate’s massive overrepresentation of whites and Republicans. It would not, however, eliminate that advantage completely — or even come all that close to doing so. A Data for Progress analysis found, a 52-state Senate would still give whites decided overrepresentation, but it would ameliorate the injustice.

Podhoretz complains that admitting Puerto and D.C. would “violate democratic norms,” because “the last grants of statehood,” Alaska and Hawaii, did not alter the Senate’s partisan balance. He is implying, without saying outright, that states have always been admitted in Democrat-Republican pairs.

But this is not remotely true. In the 19th century, statehood was a partisan weapon, used mostly by Republicans, who admitted states not on the basis of population but in an open attempt to “stack the Senate.” After they added Montana, Washington, and split Dakota territory into two states (adding another pair of senators) in 1889, “President Harrison’s son crowed that the Republicans would win all the new states and gain eight more senators,” according to historian Heather Cox Boushey.

Alas, it is not just conservatives who believe that states must always be admitted in partisan pairs. Two years ago, Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, confessed not to care at all about D.C. statehood: “I don’t have a particular interest in that issue. If we got one one-hundredth in Rhode Island of what D.C. gets in federal jobs and activity, I’d be thrilled.” And,he said,while he sympathized with Puerto Rico’s case, he opposed it because it would help his party. “Puerto Rico is actually a better case because they have a big population that qualifies as U.S. and they are not, as D.C. is, an enclave designed to support the federal government,” Whitehouse said. “The problem of Puerto Rico is it does throw off the balance so you get concerns like, who do [Republicans] find, where they can get an offsetting addition to the states.”

Offsetting? Who says it has to be offsetting? If Democrats refuse as a general principle to alter a “balance” that massively overrepresents white and Republican voters, they are consigning themselves to permanent minority status in the chamber.

The catch in admitting states is that Republicans could filibuster a statehood bill. But Republicans would filibuster any measure, however watered down, that increases Democratic voting power. (Mitch McConnell has even denounced a bill making Election Day a national holiday as a sinister “power grab.”)

In practice, therefore, any bill to admit new states would require eliminating the filibuster as well, which is why Obama took care to add that his party should change the rules to accomplish it. If Democrats gain 50 senators and the presidency, they would have it within their means to eliminate the filibuster and pass a bill expanding voting protections and admitting D.C. and Puerto Rico as states.

And it is the filibuster that poses the most formidable obstacle to passing any democratic reform. The Senate is shot through with institutionalists, who cling tightly to its traditions and relish the special status the chamber confers on its members. The objective of eliminating the legislative filibuster has gained adherents, but many of the chamber’s older Democrats remain stubbornly attached to it.

Democrats who support the filibuster make two arguments: one self-interested, the other principled. The self-interested argument concedes that yes, it would be helpful for Democrats to pass laws with a majority, but what happens when Republicans have a majority? “I think it would be a short-term advantage and a long term difficulty,” frets Maine senator Angus King. “You know, what concerns me is that this place changes.” Joe Biden, who has hedged on his previous pledges to maintain the filibuster forever, has said, “The filibuster has also saved a lot of bad things from happening too.”

It’s true that the filibuster sometimes stops conservative laws. Over the long run, however, liberals enact more changes than conservatives. This is almost definitional. Looking back over the last 20, 50, or 100 years, most major legislative changes have a progressive cast rather than a reactionary one. What makes the case for reform even stronger is that Republicans can already accomplish most of their goals without overcoming a filibuster. Senate rules allow the confirmation of judges and changing levels of taxation and spending with just a majority. Trump passed his tax cuts with 50 votes, and nearly passed his Obamacare repeal with 50 votes. (King’s warning, “If we didn’t have the 60-vote rule today, the ACA would be gone,” is flatly false.) The filibuster has played hardly any role at all in limiting his agenda.

What’s left of the filibuster primarily inhibits Democrat proposals. Given that the chamber’s one-state, one-vote makeup already favors Republicans, it is bizarre that Democrats would accept a handicap atop another handicap.

Even if none of this were true, and the filibuster thwarted both parties in equal measure, it is difficult to understand why it would be necessary. Many political systems allow a single national vote to constitute a working majority: The Parliamentary majority elects its leader and enacts the agenda it ran on, and if voters don’t like it, they elect a new government. The American system already requires controlling three separately elected bodies — House, Senate, and president — to enact any new law. Why does the system need yet another obstacle to change?

Here is where the principled invocation of the filibuster comes into play. The filibuster forces the two parties to work together. “The whole intention of Congress is basically to have a little bit of compromise with the other side,” argues Joe Manchin, expressing his fervent opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster. “Our job is to find common and cooling ground, if you will, to make something work that makes sense.”

The simplest rebuttal to this claim is look around you. Do you see a lot of legislative compromise? How many reforms of any importance have amassed 60 Senate votes over the past 30 years? It is odd that senators can still wax idealistic about the filibuster promoting good old-fashioned bipartisanship when its absence is so obvious. Indeed, the same senators who most loudly decry the decline of bipartisanship are also the most convinced that the filibuster enables bipartisanship. Manchin himself has loudly grumbled about his disdain for the chamber, decried its uselessness, and threatened to quit repeatedly. Maybe he should consider the possibility that the rules he seems so attached to aren’t working.

It seems much more likely that the filibuster’s impact on moderation is just the opposite. The Senate’s arcane anti-democratic character enables extremism. By thwarting sensible liberal reforms, it emboldens left-wing radicals who paint the party as hopelessly inept, unable to deliver its promises, and unequal to the challenges of American life. If Biden’s Senate allies allow Republicans to thwart his promises, the left’s takeover of the party will accelerate.

More important, it has enabled the Republican Party’s long rightward lurch. Why should conservatives compromise their principles when they can use their counter-majoritarian power to block change? The Republican Party’s strategic response to a country that is moving demographically against it is not to adapt to the electorate but instead to thwart its will.

The defenses of the filibuster offered by the Senate’s traditionalists have a creepily familiar tone. Here are old, white, comfortable men, hesitant to make a (very small) amount of space in their elite institution for minorities. Whatever wan arguments they can offer for the status quo reek of the musty scent of clubbiness and nostalgia. They can hardly make the case that the system works, but it surely works for them.

Several years of heavy use have dulled the sharp edge of the word “reckoning.” But if there is any institution in American life that needs a reckoning, it is the U.S. Senate.

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The original article is here.

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.

Essential viewing for Johnson, Hancock and Trump

August 19, 2020

Just in case the leaders of Britain and the United States want to know what competent management of Covid looks like, Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang explains how the island identified the Covid threat early and used, built and modified technical systems to deal with it effectively.

The leaders of Britain and the United States are warned that the content is a bit ‘sciency’ and ‘experty’ and they may find it harder to follow than Love Island. However, it is well worth watching.

Ms Tang’s explication begins at 12 minutes.

She explains the advantages of attentive research and using your brain after minute 14.

She explains the advantages of trusting your population around minute 16.

She explains the advantages of being honest, open and transparent about levels of PPE supply after minute 17.

She explains how to counter idiotic misinformation and establish facts after minute 23.

She talks about data privacy and quarantine monitoring after minute 26. And again at minute 39.

She explains why masks are important and offers to share the technology to make millions of them every day after minute 49. After minute 56 she again stresses the point that masks stop you touching your mouth and nose with potentially infected hands.

She makes several points about false dilemmas that may be presented in relation to Covid after minute 58.

She notes that mainland Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang likely saved the lives of many people in Taiwan (because Taiwan was paying attention) and reminds us that what is most different about Covid-19 is asymptomatic transmission, after minute 63.

As of today, Taiwan has had just 486 recorded cases of Covid and seven deaths. Here are ongoing data.

Unfortunately Ms Tang’s slides do not appear on the video below.

Good luck Boris, Matt and Donald!

The end of Hong Kong

August 10, 2020

What could be more symbolic of the end of freedom in Hong Kong than a huge police raid on the offices of the leading Chinese-language tabloid newspaper and the arrest of executives including its owner, Jimmy Lai? The raid took place today and was conducted by a police unit created under the new Beijing-imposed national security law. One of the alleged crimes is reported to be ‘foreign collusion’, a new mainland-style catch-all offence that can lead to years in prison.

The national security law is only a few weeks old and we don’t know exactly how it will be applied. However, it makes bail unlikely. Whether court sessions will even be open to the public is unclear. Police already barred several media organisations from a press conference following the arrests.

What amazes me is how the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police force have entirely come on side for the new security law and seemingly flipped into an authoritarian police state without even a murmur.

The Communist Party of China hates Jimmy Lai. He escaped from the mainland as a child by sneaking across the Hong Kong border. His tabloid publications are the absolute antithesis of what the Party thinks the press should be. And he doesn’t give a fuck. He has been the victim of numerous attacks, including fire bombings, that are almost certainly Party-sanctioned or Party-condoned. But now the Party doesn’t need to use thugs to deal with Jimmy Lai because it has its national security law and a pliant, Vichy-style administration.

Here is the Washington Post coverage.

Here is a CBC interview with Jimmy Lai a few days ago.

Here is some coverage in long-form Chinese.

Here is the Twitter feed of Mark Simon, an American media executive who has worked for Jimmy Lai for decades.

Here is the Twitter feed of my old Hong Kong friend and rabid misanthrope Hemlock. I wonder which prison they’ll put him in? That said, he does know more Chinese history than the average paid-up Party member. Maybe they will create a prison library for him.

 

More, later:

Jimmy Lai was given police bail. That doesn’t mean he will get bail when he is charged which, as I wrote, the National Security Law (NSL) presumes against. What this means is that the police — or rather the people who are telling the police what to do — haven’t yet decided what to charge Lai with. However, the game looks distinctly mainland China in the way it is being played. In addition to NSL charges the police have also mentioned a fraud inquiry. This leaves the classic Chinese fallback of doing him for some trumped-up ‘economic crime’ if the powers that be decide that international (and local Hong Kong) reaction to a national security conviction will be unacceptably strong at this time. Whatever happens, what people from less brutal societies understand by rule of law is out of the window in Hong Kong.

 

Here is a short new piece about Jimmy Lai from the New Yorker.

Sub-Greece

April 23, 2020

Tony Blair’s ignorance-driven, religion-undergirded arrogance cost many more lives when he backed George W. Bush’s Second Iraq War, but Boris Johnson’s band of chancers is the crappiest British government of my lifetime. Indeed, it would require competence to kill more than the thousands who are dying needlessly in the UK from COVID-19 as a result of this shambolic government’s non-conduct.

One of the more succinct commentaries on the Johnson administration’s performance to date was posted to a Financial Times comments board today in the form of comparative timelines for the UK and Greece:

Greece
24 February: All school trips to Italy cancelled.
26 February: First coronavirus case in Greece, a woman returning from Milan. The school her child attends closes for 14 days.
27 February: Carnival celebrations and international school trips abroad cancelled.
3 March: Schools with pupils who have come into contact with coronavirus patients are closed.
4 March: Schools, sports facilities, theatres and cinemas in affected areas close.
8 March: Conferences and large public gatherings across the country banned, community centres for the elderly closed. Sports events held without spectators.
11 March: All schools, cinemas, theatres, courthouses, gyms and nightclubs close. Independence day parades cancelled.
13 March: Nationwide lockdown implemented. All shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, bars, cinemas, libraries and museums closed. Only essential shops open. Flights to/from Italy stop.
23 March: All non essential travel banned.

UK
January 29: First coronavirus cases in UK, two Chinese visitors staying in York. Heathrow airport screens all arrivals from Wuhan.
March 11: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid goes ahead, with 3,000 fans from Madrid attending.
March 15: The elderly and vulnerable are advised to practise social distancing.
March 16: Boris Johnson advises everyone in the UK to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres, non essential travel and to work from home where possible.
March 16-19: Cheltenham festival goes ahead, with an attendance of 251,684
March 18: Schools close to children of non essential workers.
March 20: All bars, restaurants, cafes and gyms ordered to close.
March 23: Nationwide lockdown implemented.

Greece: lockdown 17 days after first case. Total cases on 23 April: 2,463. Total deaths: 125 (population 11 million).

UK: lockdown 52 days after first case. Total cases on 23 April: 138,078. Total deaths: 18,738 (population 66 million).


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