Tycoons’ kiss of death

SCMP-90pcEven if you would really, really, deep down prefer to support the quasi-democracy being offered to Hong Kong – even if you are the most cheery and optimistic person ever born and see only the good side to everything – the government’s reform package gets harder to like by the day. The clincher for any remaining waverers must surely be the buffoonish-looking leaders of chambers of commerce, including the Real Estate Developers Association, advising us that the proposal is wonderful…

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Stan-BusinessStanleyThis is a recommendation? If these guys like it – most reasonable and fair people will naturally and instantly assume – it must stink.

This comes a few days after Beijing officials repeated the old line about protecting business interests as a reason not to change the corporate voting system that allows some company owners multiple votes in small-circle functional constituencies. This particular electoral mechanism is just one of various convoluted ways Beijing controls the results in ‘election’ or ‘nomination’ charades. But coming now, the reminder about corporate votes strengthens the impression that the political reform proposal is essentially this:

Before: Beijing chooses a person who then runs Hong Kong in the interests of the property tycoons.

After: Beijing lets the whole electorate choose a person who then runs Hong Kong in the interests of the property tycoons.

I declare the long weekend open with the question: surreal, parody or sick joke? Or is someone in officialdom secretly working for the Occupy-Umbrella movement? They LauMingWahappoint the son of a property tycoon as head of a thing called the Youth Commission (succeeding our old friend Bunny Chan). This billionaire’s heir then proceeds to give young people ‘advice’ on being able to afford the overpriced little boxes with which he and the rest of cartel turn homebuyers into mortgage-slaves. Just when you thought they must have run out of ways to be idiotically provocative…

 

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More censorship, or something, at the SCMP

For well over a decade, the Chinese authorities have increasingly mishandled Hong Kong. They have appointed idiot leaders in the city, enabled its rampant cronyism, swamped the place with Mainlanders, and undermined values and institutions like police neutrality and freedom of the press. It is hardly surprising that people have become hyper-sensitive to possible threats from Beijing.

For example, a plan to station Mainland immigration staff at the Hong Kong end of a new cross-border rail line – a common arrangement around the world – is guaranteed to cause controversy and alarm about Chinese security forces operating in the city. The closure of a university’s post-graduate ‘Creative Writing’ programme prompts panicky claims about a plot ‘plainly intended to limit free expression’.

It is inevitable that a decision by the South China Morning Post to ditch four veteran columnists will be seen as censorship.

Asia Sentinel – founded by one of the four – calls it a putsch carried out on express orders of Beijing’s Liaison Office. The Liaison Office has undoubtedly been interfering far more in Hong Kong in the last couple of years. And the SCMP ’s pro-establishment bias has been getting increasingly obvious and even clumsy. So perhaps there’s overwhelming circumstantial evidence. Asia Sentinel also mentions a familiar list of departures from the SCMP over the years, usually cited as proof of politically inspired gagging. (Though it’s a bit of a stretch, and an insult, to suggest that the loss of unfunny humorist Nury Vittachi is on a par with the axing of Willy Lam.)

On the other hand, we have to wonder what these four departures will achieve for the glorious motherland. Did the Communist cadres at the Liaison Office lie awake at night fretting about the dangerous and subversive rabble-rousing of Frank Ching’s columns? Does the Chinese Communist Party feel more secure knowing that Stephen Vines’ complaints about the challenges faced by small business and the dumbness of bureaucracy will no longer appear? The two worth reading were Kevin Rafferty, an ex-FT Asia hand SCMP-columnPBmore likely to be scathing about US policy than anything else, and Philip Bowring, a truly incisive and meticulous critic of Hong Kong government policy. Bowring’s wife is a prominent pro-democracy politician, but then Ching’s is a member of the Executive Council.

All four are 60+, if not 60++. It’s probable that as old-school hacks all expect to be paid – which isn’t the case with many SCMP op-ed columnists. The same goes for another recent departure from the paper, Howard Winn a month or so back; he has been replaced by such stuff as an astonishingly lame ‘Market Talk’ compilation of stock-related Tweets. The word is that reporters recently leaving are not being replaced.

(I know of a fifth SCMP columnist who has also been dropped. That individual doesn’t fit the profile of the above four, but the word came at the same time; the reason given was ‘redesign’. There may be others.)

So what’s happening? Search me. The newspaper industry in general struggles to keep its head above water, and the SCMP needs to put any resources it can spare into the on-line product. So it would not be surprising for them to trim costs desperately. But beyond a point this surely becomes counter-productive: Bowring’s commentary was one of the few reasons to buy the paper on a Sunday.

One of life’s greatest little amusements in Hong Kong is watching for the SCMP’s weekly gratuitous and egregious pre-emptive shoe-shine – typically an absurdly obsequious report on China’s visionary leadership. For all its faults, the paper does plenty of straight reporting, so such items stick out. This material is clearly not aimed at influencing readers, who can only heave at such ludicrous and unsubtle pap. It is obviously intended for consumption elsewhere: either the editors put this stuff in to impress the owners, the Kuok family, or the Kuoks put it in to show Mainland officials. Perhaps the Kuoks hope to impress the Liaison Office by being able to say, ‘look we got rid of these pesky foreign columnists and their lack of positive energy’.

The peskiest smart-ass foreign writer in the SCMP is Jake van der Kamp, and he survives.

Whatever is happening, we can be reasonably sure it won’t benefit the Kuoks. The old man bought the SCMP when it was one of the most profitable papers on the planet, and the share price has since shriveled. More to the point, owning a newspaper as a way to pay tribute to the emperor is a massive headache. You are petrified that by doing its job properly it will cause offense, but you are left with a bigger and bigger reader-shedding dud if you make it so bland that a Frank Ching column is too edgy. And at the end of the day, the Communist Party will kick you in the teeth anyway, because no-one’s usefulness lasts forever.

To end on a bright note, these four guys are not being censored in the actual sense of the word (which excitable people should look up in case they really need it one day). Willy Lam and Jasper Becker are writing as well as they ever did to appreciative audiences. Philip Bowring writes for other outlets, like Asia Sentinel. And if the SCMP is destined to banish what remains of its readable content, the launch of HK Free Press looks perfectly timed.

(I’m still trying to get my head around how much more amazing Shakespeare would have been if he had done a City U Creative Writing degree.)

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Exploited workers protest too much

I really was determined not to mention the South China Morning Post’s excruciating ‘Moving Forward’ epic year-long series of interviews of rich old people saying the young are crap. But today’s is irresistible. Manufacturer and Beijing-fan Eddy Li comes up with the usual blather about how the kids should quit whining and grab opportunities and (without a hint of irony) how the government should build up and promote luxury brands (he owns Mainland watch factories).

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SCMP-EddyLi2The exciting bit: the SCMP photographs him posing before a large framed picture, showing several hundred figures in rows attending a gaudy fantasy 1997 handover. All the most upstanding members of society have a copy of this painting – a fact I can prove by snapping the newspaper in front of the one we just happen to have here.

It is one of the most tawdry and putrid excuses for an artwork that I have ever seen. One curious thing about it is that all the heads of the Important Patriotic People (painted from photos) are pretty much the same size, so there’s something jarring about distance and depth in the composition. As a special treat sometime, I will photograph it in detail and highlight the best bits. Inevitably, a few of the tycoons, officials and shoe-shiners have since fallen from grace in some way or other.

Big news of the day is on the labour front.

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Civil servants’ unions do their annual ritual of mouth-frothing and freaking out over their SCMP-UnionsSeetheunacceptable pay increases. The 3-4% hikes seem unremarkable. Bear in mind that these people are also on a pay scale that goes up with length of service (independently of promotions), so this is a hike upon a hike. The 3-4% is supposedly based on private-sector adjustments, and you are supposed to think ‘fair enough’ – the two should be linked, right?

But actually that’s a distraction from the true picture, which is that when you include pensions and other perks, civil servants’ remuneration can be two or even three times the private-sector equivalent. If I were them I would seriously shut up about ‘bad morale’ and all the other baloney.

Then we have the latest complaints from Cathay Pacific cabin crew. Like cuddly furry animals and nurses and trans-gender teens who take their grandmothers to the senior prom, CX flight attendants are supposed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy because of their caring and hospitable nature and beauty-and-brains and ‘service from the heart’, etc. So when we hear that their evil employers are cutting their lunch allowance in Melbourne, our natural inclination is to be outraged at this terrible exploitation, injustice and cruelty.

The lunch allowance was cut from A$60 to A$35 and back to A$55, and is apparently in line with prices on the hotel menu. So we’re talking HK$250-300 for lunch, which doesn’t seem bad.

However, the last time I checked, what really happens with these allowances is this. The crew buy instant noodles before leaving Hong Kong (of course, they would never swipe the cup noodles from the galley because that’s company property). They prepare these delights in the hotel rooms and lustily devour them instead of going down to the coffee shop to eat. They pocket the cash, which the Hong Kong tax authorities never hear about, because it was a meal allowance, obviously. The net result, after doing this every time you overnight in an outport, is a nice tax-free 20% or more on top of your official monthly salary.

Forget the glamorous smiles and ‘Tea sir? Coffee sir?’ stuff – they’re evil and cunning, or you may think, sensible. The point is: as with the civil servants, it would probably be best for them to keep quiet about this. (Interestingly, the other thing the HK Civil Service and CX have in common apart from whiny employees who are never happy is a large surplus of applicants lining up to get jobs with them.)

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Interesting ways to sell things

Today’s South China Morning Post comes with a big stiff heavy thing inside it. It turns out to be a translucent envelope containing three booklets ‘H’, ‘M’ and ‘T’, in diminishing size…

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When you open them, you find they are interlocking. The smaller one opens onto a picture of a guy next to a swimming pool. The medium-size also opens onto the same picture of the guy next to the swimming pool…

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Also inside the booklets are various other pictures – arty black and white architectural shots, vacant-looking women, and a kid asleep with a furry white cat. No prizes for guessing where all this stuff ends up…

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What did it cost to design and print? What was its purpose? What was it trying to sell? We will never know.

At least it doesn’t make you feel ill. At the other end of the marketing/design bad-taste spectrum comes this offer to subscribers of the SCMP Online – free access to a publication called the Edge Review. Of all the magazine’s many past covers, they choose the one that will make you recoil in horror…

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What first looks like one of those shock-value pictures of a battered wife is in fact a Photoshopped image of ousted Thai Premier Yingluck Shinawatra. Presumably this is how the (apparently Malaysian) magazine doesn’t get censored by the Bangkok junta.

As it happens, anyone can see Edge Review free of charge here, if they like keeping up with a KL-biased view of the infantile squabbling that sometimes passes for intra-Southeast Asian affairs. Don’t all rush. (I think it’s Photoshopped – not sure what the generals are SCMP-PolRefPackagedoing with her right now.)

Over in the SCMP’s op-ed page, former Home Affairs Secretary Patrick Ho pens a refreshingly different sort of piece on Hong Kong’s political reform package. Rather than repeat the tired and dreary pro-reform arguments that are driving us up the wall, he criticizes officials and supporters for being so apologetic about it.

He dislikes the ‘Pocket it first’ slogan, the notion that the package is ‘the best we can do’ and the lame promise of a better deal in the future. All these imply that the proposal is somehow substandard, and this plays into the pro-democrats’ hands. Instead, he essentially says, campaigners for the package should be jumping up and down at how wonderful it is – the best possible arrangement to serve the interests of both Hong Kong and the nation.

It’s a bit late now, of course. The official communication strategy was doomed by the ham-fisted mouth-frothing psycho-act that Beijing officials put on for us last year. The superfluously restrictive conditions of the plan’s nomination process seemed to surprise even our own government leaders, leaving them scrambling for excuses. To pretend the proposal was brilliant and amazing and better than we could have imagined would have taken acting skills worthy of an Oscar – and still wouldn’t have sounded convincing. A reluctant, hand-wringing admission that the package is basically pretty crappy was probably the only credible way to go. But it’s an interesting point, Patrick. Thank you.

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A bit of reading between the lines

The South China Morning Post continues to test the reader’s gag-reflex with its embarrassing ‘Moving Forward’ series. In which, we recall, a ‘silent majority’ wax visionary about Hong Kong after the Occupy-Umbrella movement. The whole exercise seems designed to push a fantasy. This ‘silent majority’ is somehow nearly all rich, middle-aged and pro-establishment. And the premise of the project is that the Occupy-Umbrella phenomenon is oh-so over and conveniently behind us.

(Fans of ‘Moving Forward’ will note that this is the second wave of interviews, following a torrent of them a few months back. There is a third to come. And, apparently, a fourth! This is shoe-shining on steroids. Will they finish it before Umbrella Revolution II begins?)

Last week’s ‘silent majority’ included Pansy Ho, heiress to the old multi-billion Macau casino monopoly and therefore worthy of adulation befitting a Princess Diana/Einstein hybrid (it was just an extended puff-piece for tourism). Today it’s the turn of Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, head of the Jockey Club. Again, there’s plenty of toadying about the success of his organization as if it isn’t a money-printing monopoly, and the usual blather about how young people must ‘grasp opportunities’.

But, as is so often the case in a city where a million irritating problems come down to just a few basic structural flaws, a glimmer of insight manages to escape this black hole. Herr E-B states that the housing crisis is the result of the land premium that developers have to pay the government. He is oblique about this (hinting at ‘compensating people for their significant SCMP-JockeyClubinitial loss’), and the SCMP puts these remarks in a different box and isn’t going to probe. It would be easy to turn the page and forget about it. Don’t.

The land premium is a hidden, huge, up-front tax on private-sector housing. By keeping smaller developers out, it enables a property cartel to flourish. And by raising revenue in big uneven clumps, it gives bureaucrats a theoretical excuse to blow public funds on pointless infrastructure projects. But the really crazy thing is this: the more expensive housing becomes (because of supply shortages, or low interest rates), the higher the tax gets. Higher housing prices lead to higher land premiums, which means… even higher housing prices – and therefore a faster and higher, even exponential, pace at which housing becomes more unaffordable. Little wonder that most of the middle class are now priced out. The SCMP isn’t alone in sweeping this under the carpet: have you ever heard the pro-democrats make a fuss about this obscenity?

Out of the mouths of babes and innocents… Another spark of truth appears through the murky darkness in comments from Environment Under-secretary Christine Loh. She says that roadside pollution comes from traffic congestion, which is caused by unrestricted growth in private cars. This is common knowledge. She then says that the Transport Bureau is in charge here, and so inter-departmental cooperation is required. The implication is that such cooperation is not in fact happening (which we can confirm by standing on any street). Christine’s comments are bureaucrat-speak for ‘the Transport Bureau is a malevolence’, which again we all know.

And so, again, we could just turn the page. But again, don’t.

Why is the Transport Bureau keen to allow more and more cars onto our crowded streets? Part of it is pure selfishness. These officials all drive around in those ugly seven-seater things and therefore consider the 90% of the population on buses and sidewalks as a nuisance and obstruction. But the big picture is about money.

The transport and planning bureaucracy wants more traffic because it wants to build more roads. Why would it want to do that? Partly because it means more work and bigger budgets and empires for the officials. But mostly, we can be fairly sure, because of the pervasive influence of private interests, namely the engineering and construction industry. At best, we are talking about civil servants going to work for the private sector after retirement. At worst, we are, or could be, talking kickbacks. The outcome is a system that diverts public wealth (raised from those land premiums) into the pockets of construction interests, often owned by the same property tycoons who run the housing cartel.

As a government minister, Christine Loh can’t say any of this. The SCMP aren’t going to go there, either. But then again, the pro-democrats are also silent on it.

Rather than see political reform as an issue of rigged housing prices, corrupt transport and infrastructure priorities and overall governance, the pro-dems have always been fixated on the structure, theory and symbolism of democracy. Their latest high-minded arguments for vetoing Beijing’s political reforms are the most pointed and efficient yet. So confident are they in the popular accessibility of their abstract reasoning, they are planning to bombard public housing estates with these leaflets. The pro-Beijing camp’s tactic, by contrast, is to back fake democracy with fake signatures.

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Nightmare scenarios

Here’s a plan of part of a large shopping mall. There are five open-front clothing and electronics stores around a large common area, and three corridors connecting the whole space to the rest of the mall…

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Under the tenancy agreements, the store owners are allowed to use the three feet of space in the common area adjacent to their premises…

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Some – indeed most – of the stores tend to abuse this at times and use even more space in the common area. Shops 1, 2 and 5 in particular tend to claim to have some sort of right to do this, though no-one else in the mall takes them seriously.

However, the people in fast-growing and profitable Shop 1 have recently started to get particularly greedy and even threatening. Although they are a bit vague about the specifics, they pretty much insist that they own not only the whole of the common area, but even parts of the other stores’ three-foot extensions…

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The once-effective security guard who used to keep order in this area has grown fat and lazy. He seems to spend most of time right at the other end of the mall, in a zone full of energy products stores with chaotic managements. He has now started to mumble something about coming over to the clothing/electronics zone more often and essentially make it clear to Shop 1 that it can’t take over the whole public area. The owners of Shop 1, who are notoriously sensitive, are already showing signs of going into Major Foot-Stamping Tantrum Mode.

We are, of course, talking about this (and this, this, etc). There is no polite or euphemistic way to put this. In theory, this is a struggle for regional dominance between the US and an emerging China. But to some extent it is probably a three-way conflict, with the Chinese military (and maybe supportive factions) tussling for power with the Chinese government of Xi Jinping. Most likely, this time all parties concerned will step back a bit and muddle through for a while. But sooner or later something has to give, if not in the South China Sea, in one of the less extreme and outrageous of China’s expansionist claims. Ideally, the civilians in Beijing will assert control over their generals and focus on their monumental economic, environmental and demographic problems closer to home. The alternative is – not pretty.

I declare the weekend open with a non-allegorical retail clash: another look at the slowly changing neighbourhood scene, where businesses aimed at locals seem to be resurgent against the tourist-oriented outlets that threatened to eat the whole district. A flyer in my mailbox invites me to this…

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I suppose it had to happen. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, with all the dog cafes everywhere, someone opens one for kids. While it obviously sounds abominable – like something that would loom before you in a nightmare about Discovery Bay – we can at least say with confidence that this is not aimed at the Mainland and Korean visitor-pestilence. Hopefully, the business is owned by some up-and-coming plutocrat monopolist who will crush any competitors who try to break into this new and scary-sounding market. The alternative is that the concept will spread through the surrounding streets like a rat-borne plague, and we will become Asia’s Child-Themed Retail Hub from Hell.

(Do kids even drink coffee? I have no idea, but you don’t really associate the two.)

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Moving Forward, again

Yesterday was all about humongous mouth-frothing over a Communist-front group’s abuse of helpless Hong Kong school kids – luring them into expressing support for the government’s political reform package, and posting the video online for ridicule by merciless pro-democracy citizens. This outrage continues, with the Privacy Commissioner poking around, and the Federation of HK Guangxi Community Organizations bleating about how ‘heartbroken’ it is.

But the FHKGCO is not alone in this despicable practice. Another organization is preying on innocent individuals – conning them into making hackneyed pro-Beijing statements and then publishing the results for all the world to see, and of course jeer at. The institution concerned is the South China Morning Post, and their target is middle-aged, middle-class men who are suggestible and perhaps not quite worldly enough to Stan-Peo-BeJPrivunderstand when they are being used. It’s not hard to do. The newspaper sends a vivacious young mini-skirted reporterette to flatter the well-meaning gentlemen and entice them into providing near-identical quotes.

Young people today? Expect homes! Not realistic! Occupy Central? Not good! Wrong way to make a point! The reporterette crosses her legs and leans forward, eagerly jotting it all down in her notebook, or at least ticking the boxes. Put community first! Responsibility! Innovation!

So far, the SCMP have cruelly tricked: Professor ‘contribute to society’ Lo; Design Guru ‘social morality’ Kan; Fund Manager and guy-we’ve-heard-of Cheah Cheng ‘volunteer corps’ Hye; and token youth Innovator Rex ‘young are misguided in blaming politicians’ Sham.

This is yet more of a series that started a while back called ‘Moving Forward’, in which the SCMP locates and presents members of a ‘silent majority’ to spout views that – above all – absolve the national or local governments of any responsibility for last year’s Occupy-Umbrella movement. (Previously discussed here.)

Although the SCMP obviously has a pro-Beijing agenda and prods its victims into making correct noises, glimmers of reality shine through. Each interviewee mentions housing prices. The faults of young people today are numerous, and it takes time to list them all, but then this particular problem crops up. No-one dares join any dots (housing prices -> tycoons -> HK government -> Beijing), but this one issue keeps turning up in the middle of the conversation like some huge mute who won’t go away.

To be fair, Cheah Cheng Hye – co-founder of Value Partners – hints very heavily that he knows what is going on. He doesn’t call the privileged entitled elite who won’t let go ‘parasites’, but makes it plain that they and the officials who mollycoddle them are the problem. Hong Kong, he says, needs a leader who…

…emerges as a hero of the Hong Kong people, able to mobilise popular opinion directly to overcome vested interests and doubters from all sections of society, including the wealthy elite, the foreign elite, and parts of the media and the political establishment…

Wow… ‘Moving Forward’ moving a bit off-message. But relax. Still to come in this lengthy extravaganza is Jockey Club (gambling monopoly) boss Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who will presumably succumb to the SCMP reporterette’s charms and happily recite the standard, normal, non-freaky analysis of why these spoilt kids are so stroppy.

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United Front shoots self in foot, again

It has been tempting at times this year to wonder whether the Chinese government really wants Hong Kong to adopt its proposed quasi-democratic political reforms, or whether Beijing is secretly hoping that the opposition will succeed in vetoing the plan. Evidence that they are indeed determined to push the package through comes in the form of local Communist-front groups’ embarrassingly clumsy and desperate attempts to drum up support for the reforms.

Robert Chow’s Alliance for Peace and Democracy, with its glum and gruesome-looking ‘volunteers’, is on the streets conning unwary passers-by into signing its petition, even while opinion polls show – if anything – growing public disillusionment with the reform package. Their tactics range from the amusingly pathetic, like free bottles of oyster sauce, SCMP-ministerto the predictably obnoxious, like shoe-shiner bosses press-ganging their staff into signing.

The whole exercise provokes mirth and contempt among all decent people, and it is a delightful irony that both the reform proposal and its supporters would be better off without these activities. But in the Communist milieu, loyalists and grovelers scramble to be seen to do the right thing, even if the outcome is excessive and counterproductive. (Ultimate example: the pro-Beijing elements who set off deadly bombs in Hong Kong in 1967 for fear of being criticized as disloyal by the Cultural Revolution fanatics running things across the border, alienating the city for decades.)

And now along comes the Federation of Hong Kong Guangxi Community Organizations. (Any grouping with a name like ‘federation/association of associations/organizations’ is a United Front body. Typically, they are headed and bankrolled by some sort of businessman eager to get a pat on the head from Beijing officials as it might help further his slimy commercial activities on the Mainland. Guangxi, as we all know, is the exciting and important province where the funny mountains poking out of lakes are.)

The FHKGCO thought it could be clever by getting high-school students applying for a study trip to the US to make pro-reform statements on video and putting the clips online, where they attracted both positive and negative comments. The kids and their schools deny the FHKGCO’s claims that consent was given, and it has become a privacy thing, with the material hastily removed from the website, the Privacy Commissioner informed, and the Secretary of Education voicing concern.

If we are to be honest, it’s a bit silly: the United Front rabble screwed up and irritated the schools and parents. The story here isn’t the scummy behaviour of the FHKGCO, which is minor and amateurish as these things go – sort of a free bottle of oyster sauce that got out of hand. The story is the righteous indignation and fury and children being ‘emotionally disturbed’ by the trauma.

First, the criticism of the FHKGCO rests on the charge that the group exposed the kids to what is unquestioningly assumed to be widespread public dislike of the political reform. The implied unpopularity of the reform package is a given in this uproar; without it, the posting of the videos would have been benign.

Second, the eagerness with which schools, parents, media and the online hordes line up to beat the FHKGCO into a pulp over this reflects the widespread public loathing of murky United Front bodies (whose mission in Leninist theory is to win most of them over, and isolate the remaining diehards). It is a simple and clear message: Hong Kong people hate you.

The harder the Communist Party tries, the worse it gets. We have to wonder if and when Beijing will ever detect a pattern.

The South China Morning Business Post’s Chart du Jour (about Treasury Bond yields) goes into Ultimate Extreme Technical Analysis Voodoo. This time really is a parody, isn’t it?

The South China Morning Business Post’s Chart du Jour (about Treasury Bond yields) goes into Ultimate Extreme Technical Analysis Voodoo. This time really is a parody, isn’t it?

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Clash of the universes

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Stan-piechartsChina Daily reports strong backing for Hong Kong’s quasi-democracy reform proposals from the petition-signing populace and the business world. But the latest (10-day-old) opinion polls say otherwise, with support dropping from 44.8% to 42.5%. Getting obsessed with each week’s statistically insignificant blip in the numbers is of course silly – except you can be sure everyone is taking it extremely seriously.

In the Standard’s report, pro-democracy politician Emily Lau attributes the apparent trend to the government’s embarrassingly lame promotional campaign, with such gimmicks as waving from a balloon-clad open-top bus. Few would dispute that these stunts failed and backfired – except that government loyalists have no choice. Thus pro-Beijing lawmaker Ip Kwok-him blandly maintains that officials’ community visits did not make things worse.

What we are seeing is a clash not just between ideologies, but between two different universes. The pan-dems perhaps form the rational and passive ‘reality-based community’ fighting the Chinese Communist Party’s faith-based and menacing system of fake truths. When you are asked to choose between these two, the ultimately unsolvable pros and cons of the political reform package itself are completely irrelevant. Fiercer public rejection of Beijing’s vision for Hong Kong would translate into further declines in support for the reforms.

Not looking good for the proposals!

One way or another, there will be some sort of Chief Executive quasi-election exercise in 2017. CY Leung will be eligible for a second term. Another name that crops up is former Financial Secretary Antony Leung, apparently backed by the Our Hong Kong think-tank founded by ex-CE Tung Chee-hwa (which is attracting hefty donations from tycoons, presumably shoe-shining and hedging their bets). And there’s former Security Secretary Regina Ip, who – a tad vulgarly, you might think – has founded a think-tank to support herself. With a dreary mix of predictable business and Beijing-linked associates, it is undertaking a study of Hong Kong’s ‘competitiveness’ that will end in September 2016, which is around the time wannabes will be declaring themselves up for nomination.

So far, so depressing. (If the choice is to be among the above three, you almost hope it’ll be CY, because the other two would just drag things out for ages, while with him we can probably go straight to the popular uprising, and then have the PLA tanks roll in and get this whole thing over with.)

The Standard’s editorial today introduces a couple more names.

First is Peter Woo, scion-in-law of the Wharf real-estate empire. Those of us with long Stan-2017pointsmemories will recall that he played the role of make-believe rival candidate in the 1996 ‘selection’ of Tung. For a decade or so after, he occasionally popped up with awkward ‘statesman-like’ speeches and op-ed pieces, which hinted at a mindset both clueless and reactionary. Then he seemed to realize that this was some mid-life-crisis fantasy, and the CE job wasn’t going to happen.

That must remain the case – 68-year-old Woo is a prime target for the tycoon-owned Standard’s pathological shoe-shining after some recent basketball-playing and a Tatler appearance. The problem is that some people who inherit a money-printing machine and seat on the city’s property cartel imagine that they have genius and insight, when a chimpanzee could have made the billions just as easily. If necessary, someone will no doubt tap him on the shoulder and break the news to him.

Second is Financial Secretary John Tsang, the classic Hong Kong bureaucrat who gets his budget forecasts massively wrong year after year, and regurgitates the same idiotic ad-hoc handouts, oblivious to any notion of reform or vision or beliefs. A hapless buffoon, many might think, and yet compared with the above alternatives, enough to make you fall to your knees and weep with gratitude. Among the many, many ideas he seems to lack are such concepts as censorship, intimidation, politically directed courts and gulags (he doesn’t even seem to get gut-wrenchingly sickening and deluded self-promotion).

John Tsang – glimmer of hope. It’s getting to this.

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Election Committee ‘stuffed with puppets’ shock claim

SCMP-The300The South China Morning Post ‘reveals’ the tycoons and others who have an inordinate say in the quasi-elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. It is in fact all on the public record. But the numbers are interesting, if not faintly ludicrous.

A quarter of Election Committee members have been on the body for at least a decade. (The Committee has grown in size over time, so that quarter would have been a bigger proportion in the past.) This group of veterans are mostly either delegates to China’s rubber-stamp national assemblies or tycoons – mostly of the aging, property-cartel variety. They get their seats either automatically as delegates, or in uncontested polls in which the voters are not humans but corporations (many of which have the same owners, so these old tycoon guys vote for themselves, multiple times).

The more representative ‘sectors’ have more frequent turnover of Committee members, the paper notes. To which our response is basically ‘so what?’, as it means nothing of any consequence. The only thing you need to know about the Election/Nomination Committee is that its composition is carefully and minutely arranged. If you went through the 1,200 names one-by-one, it would work out something like 15% pro-democrats, 34% tycoons and shoe-shiners likely but not totally certain to do Beijing’s bidding, and 51% puppets directly controlled by Beijing’s officials. The SCMP, like so much of the media, perpetuates the untruth that, in its small-circle way, the body exercises a free and open vote – one that could go one way or could go another. This is completely false: the result is decided in the Politburo first, then the ‘vote’ takes place.

Gluttons for this sort of thing also get an in-depth look at the Sports sub-sector guy, who says ‘it may be inappropriate’ to let all members of a football club vote.

In public, all pro-establishment Committee members maintain the fiction that they are taking part in an unrigged process. Amusingly, a few of the most easily flattered seem to believe it. As if the Chinese Communist Party would allow someone else to choose. It’s almost charming.

Still, the article accentuates the rottenness of the system, and deserves an audience if only to make people angry. For example, whatever happened to the CCP that went around killing landlords?

For [faithful patriot] Ann Chiang Lai-wan, who served on all four committees before becoming a lawmaker, no cap should be placed on the number of terms of membership. She said: “Imagine if Li Ka-shing ceased to be on the committee – that’d be a matter of concern.”

Needless to say the reporter asks ‘to whom?’ and ‘why?’ and ‘what about when he dies?’

Just kidding – of course he doesn’t. Any more than he admits that it’s irrelevant how long anyone is on the Committee.

In fairness, the SCMP did provide 'semi-amusing juxtaposition of the weekend' winner.

In fairness, the SCMP did provide ‘semi-amusing juxtaposition of the weekend’ winner.

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