It Has Been a Week

And by that I mean an extraordinarily busy and stressful week. Lots of catching up to do (and several different topics in this one post).

In part, I’ve been dealing with the after-effects of the death of a cousin. This particular cousin was born just two months after my mother and the two were best friends their entire lives, and by “entire lives” I mean that they were best friends for 93 years.  My father used to say that if one of them went to the toilet, she’d have to call the other and tell her about it.

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There was concern over how my mother would handle the news. I’m halfway around the world and have no brothers or sisters. Thankfully I’ve got some amazing cousins. A lot of time spent on emails and phone calls and planning to ensure that my mother would not be alone when she got the news.  Fortunately she seems to be coming through it okay, at least in the short term.

I spent a lot of time in Manila recently, very busy in terms of work and personal stuff, and staying in a hotel with really shitty Internet, basically only fast enough to deal with email. So I’m just getting caught up on all of the news of the past days now.

Friday night I went walking through the “occupied” area of Causeway Bay. It was quiet. Probably no more than a few dozen protesters camped out. It’s possible that there were more people taking pictures of the protesters than protesters themselves.

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(A replica of the giant banner that was hung from Lion Rock earlier in the week.)

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(The original banner on Lion Rock, photo from the NY Times.)

In minor news, “musician” Kenny G was photographed viewing the protesters in Admiralty earlier in the week.  Stunningly, this upset the astonishingly insecure Chinese government. Apparently they feel their country of 1.5 billion people might be threatened by images of a second rate musician who is inexplicably popular in their country looking at some students participating in a bit of nonviolent protest.

And so Mr. G hastily announced that he wasn’t showing support for the students, he was just there as a tourist. Presumably he did this because he had some upcoming concerts in China and didn’t want to see them get cancelled. Which makes one wonder – does a man who has sold more than 75 million albums around the world need an extra million or two so much that he’s willing to throw away any presumed principles to get that money? At this point he’s not already rich enough that he can’t risk getting banned in China?  Kenny G, go home.

(NY Times: Stars Backing Hong Kong Protests Pay Price on Mainland) (HKSAR Film No Top 10 Box Office: Anthony Wong: Without Dignity I Would Rather Not Eat This Bowl of Rice.)

Of course the biggest thing that happened while I was away was C.Y. Leung’s explanation that Hong Kong can’t have true democracy because Hong Kong has too many poor people and majority rule might mean that the majority gets what they want and that the minorities (translation: the rich and the super rich) would be under-represented and might somehow suffer.

It’s a tacit admission that Leung (and those who came before him) have done nothing to deal with the issues of poverty and inequality in Hong Kong. They don’t have to, because they are not elected, and so they are not accountable to the general population.

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month [HK$13,964.2],” Leung said in comments published by the WSJ, the FT and the INYT.

It’s a stunning display of ignorance of how democracy works in other countries. Because most if not all democracies will put laws in place to protect the rights of minorities (and by “minorities” I don’t mean “billionaires,” I mean ethnic, gender, religious and so on).

Let’s look no further than the United States. How do the minority rich protect their assets there? First of all, by donating massive amounts of money to finance the campaigns of the candidates they like. It works. The Koch Brothers. In the United States, huge numbers of people vote in favor of tax regulations that only benefit the rich and are actually to the detriment of the poor. The Tea Party. There’s no reason this wouldn’t work in Hong Kong.

Oh, I get it. The rich might have to spend one or two percent out of their billions that they don’t spend today in donations to candidates. But it’s something they’ve already been doing for decades one way or another. The British rich started it, the Chinese rich just follow their lead. Hmm, foreign influences? (SCMP: How Hong Kong’s business elite have thwarted democracy for 150 years.)

For once, Big Lychee says it best. “It is stunning and grotesque to see a Marxist sovereign power declare that its mission is to shield a small, mainly hereditary, landed oligarchy of hyper-wealthy from the poor (not to mention a large chunk of the in-between middle class).”

Now, a few excerpts from an interview that good ole CY did on ATV a week ago.

Leung: So we have a situation where one side wants civic nomination and the Basic Law doesn’t allow for it. And therefore some students have actually come up to say that we should amend the Basic Law. Now we all know … (Host: That’s never gonna happen.) Ever since the Basic Law was promulgated in 1990 and came into force in 1997, it has not been amended.

Which is not entirely true. There have been additional “instruments” added, reinterpretations and decisions. So the mechanism does exist to do this. I am not aware of anything that says that the Basic Law is carved in stone and cannot be amended for all eternity.

A constitutional reform of this nature and scale is pretty unprecedented in Hong Kong and the world at large, and we could expect controversies.

“Unprecedented in … the world at large”? Oh, like when women were given the right to vote in other countries? I’d say the precedent is there in every country. A constitutional amendment to free the slaves maybe? And as for the “we could expect controversies,” what’s the issue there? We don’t have a “controversy” right now? Why does avoidance of controversy take precedence over trying to get things right?

There is obviously participation by people, organisations from outside of Hong Kong, in politics in Hong Kong, over a long time. This is not the only time when they do it, and this is not an exception either.

Yes, there is documented “participation” by organizations from outside of Hong Kong. Beijing.

(NY Times: Beijing is Directing Hong Kong Strategy, Government Insiders Say)

(Yeah, I know I’m being a bit disingenuous. Hong Kong is part of China. But if Leung wants to say “outside of Hong Kong,” shouldn’t we take him at his word? And Hong Kong is, oddly anough, also part of the world. But this is all consistent with Chinese strategy, to denounce “foreign influences” when those opinions are at odds with the party line.)

Host: So you haven’t answered the question. Will there be a violent crackdown? You say multiple rounds of talks. You have to observe law and order in Hong Kong. How do you do that? Will the Police one day say, okay, enough is enough, it’s gone off for too long? How long can you tolerate this?

Leung: I shan’t use the word crackdown. 

Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, Legco panels have voted down requests to investigate C.Y. Leung’s HK$50 million pay off from an engineering firm in Australia, There was no suitable explanation of this decision, at least not in the SCMP. This despite reports that he tried to get an additional HK$37 million in payoffs from that firm.

Only one thing is clear. Beijing will not give the students what they want. And the students will not back down, at least not so far. But it has to end, one way or another. There has already been too much violence. But as cynical as I am, I remain an optimist at heart. And I am fervently hoping that this will have a peaceful conclusion. If true democracy seems to be an unattainable goal for 2017, what is the government willing to offer and what are the protesters willing to accept in order to bring this to an end? I wish I had an answer to that. I wish that anyone had an answer to that.