Friday, March 30, 2018

Kapok: Wynn-lose or win-win?

Think about it: the viral #MeToo campaign is only five months old, and yet, it is bringing down the rich and powerful the world over!
It started in the United-States — Los Angeles, to be precise — and targeted a single individual, a despicable male who had used and abused of his position of power to act as a predator vis-à-vis female employees, actresses and secretaries alike.
Apart from the offensive and illegal acts, what made producer Harvey Weinstein even more abominable were his typical blunt demeanor and gruff appearance — out of shape to say the least — that contrasted so much with the sheer beauty (and presumed power) of some of his most famous preys.
In French, the #MeToo hashtag was converted into #balancetonporc, which was translated in English with various degrees of literal rendering as “rat on your dirty old man” (BBC), “expose your pig” (The Guardian) or “squeal on your pig” (The Guardian and CNN). In the West, for those who have spent too much time contemplating the Chinese zodiac, a pig or swine does not equate with wealth but rather with muck (scum if you prefer) and the irrepressible disgust it triggers in the one confronted with it. Actually, a swine in English also means “a contemptible person”.
The “Me Too” expression goes back further in time, and is documented as having been coined by social activist Tarana Burke as a rallying campaign on the Myspace social network back in 2006. The original idea was to empower victims of sexual abuse in underprivileged neighborhoods by triggering a movement of empathy, sympathy and ultimately solidarity. “Me too” was a liberating cry to shake isolation and break free from domination. Victims were inspired to get together in order to tilt the balance of power — imaginary or effective — to their advantage and ultimately outplay their tormentors.
The #MeToo 2.0 has proven far more potent, and thanks to the virality of social networks (Twitter this time), the momentum to expose and bring to justice abusers — and not only display empathy for and with the victims — has proven unstoppable.
Closer to us, Steve Wynn, who, in late January this year, was still boasting with confidence about the probable renewal of his casino concession in Macao come 2022 is now forced into an early retirement, and possibly much more severe penalties. First he had to relinquish his executive position with the eponymous group he had founded, and then sell his entire stake in Wynn Resorts Ltd., including 5.3 million shares to his Macao competitor Galaxy Entertainment Group. Very soon the very name of Wynn will only be but a mirage!
Allegations of repeated sexual harassment on his part are now reaching a point where the whole group (the corporation) is being investigated for gross cover up, over decades, of the misdemeanor of its founder. Even a chequebook made thicker by the recent sale of all his shares might not allow Mr Wynn to reach consecutive out of court settlements with all the victims and the ones who are guilty by association.
Just like in the case of Mr Weinstein, Mr Wynn’s downfall is a clear indication that nobody is out of reach. But contrary to October, it is the conventional press — The Wall Street Journal — that brought to the fore the allegations against Mr Wynn, and thus social networks played a very limited role. Good old fact checking by a team of journalists in the United States unraveled the story, and beyond the predator turned scapegoat, it is a whole system that is being exposed. And yet, without the widespread concern and awareness created by the social network campaign starting last year, conventional journalists might not have dedicated so much energy in looking into the matter and their editor might not have deemed such a report front-page material.
We now know that in Hong Kong more than one in ten women working in shops, bars and restaurants admit to having been sexually harassed at work and that one in seven women in the general population acknowledges having experienced sexual violence.
In Macao, the Las Vegas of the East, ignorance is still a bliss!
Published in Macau Daily Times on March 30, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

Kapok: Everyone's responsibility

Instances of censorship are pretty straightforward and rather easy to comprehend. This is the realm of “black and white,” and for some, more normatively, “good and evil.” There was a time when censorship had actually a pretty neutral connotation, as the etymology is derived from the work carried out by Roman censors, whose job was to do head counts.
Today, the word itself is overly pejorative, as it has come to mean gross and heavy-handed state encroachment over freedom of speech and more generally freedom of opinion. It is commonly associated with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, within which there can be only one opinion, the dominant and abusive one uttered by the despot for the former and the absolute and compelling one of the enlightened leader and his party in the latter.
Let’s not venture into characterizing Beijing’s regime today: even though we are rightly entitled to worry about an ever-increasing concentration of power in President Xi’s hands — now for an indeterminate length of time — Chairman Xi is no Chairman Mao, whose historical record, as far as mass-murdering one’s own population is concerned, places him in the first row in a league of dictators that includes Hitler and Stalin.
Yet, we know that censorship is everywhere in China, and not only targeting separatist advocates but also broader liberal considerations — does Document No. 9 ring a bell? Even the recording of an expressive contemptuous eye-roll exhibited during a press conference held on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress can be wiped clean in a matter of hours from the Chinese internet and cost the offending journalist her job.
In Macao we are supposed to enjoy the benefit of a different system, and this up to 2049: this is true for the economy — although sometimes one really wonders about the actual meaning of non-commend economy in the SARs — and even more so for the political landscape. Without going into the details of the Macao Basic Law (58 articles out of 145 deal with the political structure proper to the SAR), let’s just remember that according to article 5, “the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in the Macao Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
Why then the Script Road, Macao’s main literary festival, had to cancel the coming of three participants, namely Jung Chang, James Church and Suki Kim? The former, we presume, because of the very critical biography she co-authored about Mao. And the latter two, because of their writing, fiction and non-fiction, about North Korea.
First, we were told, “the authorities” — no particulars given — had deemed the presence of the three authors “inopportune,” and thus had warned that they could be refused entry at the border by Macao’s immigration services. The co-director of the festival, who is to be lauded for unravelling the story also announced that he would be resigning from his position right after the end of the 2018 edition, a fine balance between being principled and displaying respect towards invited parties and organizing staff.
Then, the local relevant authorities — the secretary for culture and social affairs as well as the secretary for security — denied any implication. Ultimately, the main director of the festival admitted that the sagacious advice had come from the Liaison Office! Now we are talking about cancelling altogether the festival next year.
I was myself confronted to this kind of advice supposedly coming from the Liaison Office: in one instance, a rector refused to cave in, and in a second instance, another rector tried to force my hand to cancel the event. But then, the director of the Liaison Office lost his job over corruption charges two years later and the second rector is still awaiting a generous intake of mainland students.
I say it loud and clear: there are enough gatekeepers supposedly representing Macao and presently sitting in the two assemblies in Beijing, and the Liaison Office — which department there? — does not necessarily reflect Beijing’s actual stance. Regarding things of the mind, losing your dignity means that you lose everything.
Published in Macau Daily Times on March 16, 2018

Friday, March 02, 2018

Kapok: Unsophisticated zealots

Some people never fail to disappoint you, or rather to meet your expectations as being the least principled human beings there are.
Former dancers incapable of uttering three sentences with the slightest sense of community-oriented interest will dress up like juvenile Chinese Communist Youth League or even communists martyrs in Jinggangshan to put a show on what it means to be a patriot.
The fact that many people in both Hong Kong and Macao came as political refugees escaping the horrors of the Great Leap Forward or the Great Cultural Revolution seems to have been forgotten (always remember that when it is “Great”, it is most probably equally destructive, especially with “Great Leaders”!), thus showing that historical memory in the low forehead of ill-intentioned individuals will never perform what it is supposed to achieve, that is to prevent — at least try to — the most hideous self-inflicted man-made tragedies.
To these patriots I say: give up your foreign passport and move to the first system; stop praising the first one while enjoying the benefits of the second whose guarantee depends on people you keep insulting (or suspending)!
Legislator Mak Soi-kun belongs to this group of unsophisticated zealots who would simply be laughable if they were not dangerous. Oh! mocking we still do, just like when Mr Mak suggested last December that the reasons presiding over the destruction brought forth by Typhoon Hato could be found in the absence of patriotic sentiment displayed by the administrators in charge of the Weather Bureau! Even his usual partners in zealotry could not support him this time, and he had to concede defeat when his motion to push for more “patriotic education” among civil servants was turned down.
This is the kind of ridiculous claim that gives the people of Jiangmen 江門, the folk group supporting Mr Mak and his simpleton second in command, Zheng Anting, its nickname of Gangmen 肛門, meaning “anus” — a homophonic pun in Cantonese. This became an online meme on social media during the massive May 2014 protests against the government, when members of the Macao Jiangmen Communal Society were herded to take part in the unique yet sparse procession supporting the government. When interviewed by TDM at the time, most of the rather elderly participants admitted not being aware as to why they were taking part in the walk.
To be honest, this is not fair to Jiangmen, as it is the one place in Guangdong that provided a lot of courageous Chinese emigrant workers who built the railroads in the US, for example. Jiangmen was itself an open city to international trade starting in the early years of the 20th century. Kaiping, the UNESCO heritage site of the dialou, is a county that is part of Jiangmen, and testifies to a unique form of rural globalization. It is said that 100,000 people in Macao can trace their ancestry to Jiangmen, and I wonder how they actually feel about such ridiculous assertions.
And then, this week Mr Mak followed up on his “patriotic” obsession, claiming that one of the main reasons why the youth in Macao was not able to properly embrace its “love for Macao and for the motherland” had to do with the lack of proper markings alluding to the People’s Republic of China, hence his proposal to add such a reference to the ID card of every citizen — the first administrative document a teenager will have in his or her possession!
When it was still possible to conduct independent surveys in Macao, then professor Bill Chou was able to show that the usually assumed patriotic nature of Macao society was most probably an overstatement whose survival depended on Chinese language newspapers filled with patriotic rhetoric and richly-endowed traditional and communal associations.
Why the need to move to a post-2049 reference in 2018 then? Is the Macao youth in line with the one in Hong Kong who majoritarily supports independence? Is it an identity problem or the growing sense of an educated civil society that not all aspects of an authoritarian regime are worth espousing?
Published in Macau Daily Times on March 2, 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Kapok: The colonial past

Reading what Lei Chan U had to say this week about the functions of the Permanent Council for Social Dialogue startled me somehow. During an oral interpellation addressed to the government, Legislator Lei raised some doubts not only about the role but also the achievements of the Council in establishing a truly constructive dialogue between employers and employees. He went even further in questioning the sincerity of the government as to its genuine intention — repeated numerous times — to use to the full this venue. After all, as we were aptly reminded, this “consultative body” is officially entrusted by the Chief Executive to help the government carve up labor-related policies and aims at providing employers and employees with a platform to establish an equal and effective dialogue.” In brief, the Council is there to kickstart social dialogue and help the parties, including the government, reach a “consensus”.
My initial dismay arose when I traced back the origins of this Council. To be completely honest, I was expecting the so-called “plate-form” to be just one among many other consultative bodies supposed to help the government in drafting sound public policies while preserving social harmony: there are 44 such advisory committees today and quite a number have been created recently — even though a few have been axed as there used to be 47 two years ago. Just like anything in Macao, most of these are populated by the same old “personalities”: back in 2016, the Chinese publication All About Macau had revealed that some 24 “happy few” had been sitting on at least three boards of public agencies and consultative committees. Paul Tse and the ever-loyal Vong In Fai totaled 7 such positions each, in total contradiction with Mr Chui Sai On’s 2015 pledge that no one could concurrently sit on more than three advisory bodies and for no more than six years in any case.
Most of these bodies are at best useless: after all, if they did not exist, we could have a real contradictory and public debate about policymaking, one in which expertise would tend to indicate the overall direction rather than vested petty interests dedicating all their efforts at preserving the status quo and very occasionally engaging in damage control.
But the Permanent Council for Social Dialogue is actually not that recent, as it was created back in 1987 under the auspices of Governor Joaquim Pinto Machado, one of the founding members of the Social Democratic Party of Mario Soares and appointed by the latter, then president of Portugal, to the position of governor in 1986. These were times when socialism and social-democracy meant something in the territory, and that also paved the way for the Chinese-backed “livelihood faction” led by Alexandre Ho Si-Him, to grow in popularity and win the 1988 legislative elections with the highest number of votes, thus allowing for three truly independent figures to get into the Assembly.
So indeed, Mr Lei Chan U is right: the Council is but a shadow of what it used to be! But he himself bears part of the responsibility as the two figures representing workers’ interests are himself and Choi Kam Fu, and both of them are from the Macao Federation of Trade Unions (FAOM), a very pro-establishment and pro-Beijing organization that has failed, for example, to simply propose a Trade Union Law in the past two decades. Mr Lei is vice-president of that organization and was elected a first-term legislator in September 2017 through indirect elections — that is to say that he ran for the position without any form of competition. And then on the side of the employers, one of the stellar figures representing “the employers” is none other than Kou Hoi In, himself also a legislator who was one of the most conservative voices in the Assembly, together with Dominic Sio, when the Labor Relations Law was amended back in 2015.

Indeed, members of these advisory bodies are today gate-keepers: they preserve the interests of their cast or corporation. The problem is, Mr Lei: you are one of them!

Published in Macau Daily Times on February 16, 2018

Friday, February 02, 2018

Kapok: Up in smoke

Back in October 2014, it was announced that in order to comply with the Environmental Protection Planning of Macao (2010-2020) and the Transport Policy of Macao (2010-2020), both of which had been designed at a time when “sunshine government” and “scientific policy-making” were the new-speak of a not-so-promising newly selected Chief Executive, a scheme to phase out highly-polluting vehicles would be put in place.
The decade-long Environmental Protection plan had rather limited ambitions, as the promise “to control the number of motor vehicles properly and continue to eliminate the high-pollutant emitting vehicles” were seen as “long-term” goals, only to be reached by 2016-2020. Thus, one could argue that the decision to eliminate from our roads highly-polluting vehicles was two years early, and moreover grounded on very solid data: according to a study released by the Environmental Protection Bureau at the time, “two-stroke motorcycles and older diesel vehicles aged 10 years and more” were the biggest culprits.
It was estimated that if two-stroke motorcycles made only 5% of the total number of vehicles on the road, they were responsible for 22% of all hydrocarbon emissions! And if diesel vehicles aged 10 years and more barely represented 1% of the total, yet their emission of fine particulates (PM2.5) accounted for 40% of the total! The calculation was that by phasing out at least 50% of these highly polluting vehicles all types of emissions would be reduced by 6 to 20%.
The scheme to phase out highly-polluting motorcycles was ultimately announced in June 2017, and owners willing to take their nefarious engines to the test for proper disposal were promised a MOP3,500 subsidy. It was announced this week that exactly 5,457 dirty-smoking two-wheelers had been scrapped and that this amounted to a whopping “slaughtering rate” of 52%, that would translate into a staggering reduction in emissions of between 2% to 11%. All seems to be going according to plan then — long-term included — except that two questions remain: where are the other 48% (that is more than 5,000 motorcycles) and what about the diesel-powered older trucks? Where is the scheme to phase these out and when is it going to bear fruits? Is 2020 still the goal? By my calculation, we are still missing 75% of the promise made in 2010…
If one now turns to the total number of vehicles on the road, there is no doubt that the 2015 tax hike on newly registered vehicles (going from 30%-50% to 40%-72% depending on the size and price of the car) decided by the government has had significant effects, despite the naysayers at the time, among which Zheng Anting and Angela Leong were the most vocal in the Assembly. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of private vehicles doubled, reaching more than 100,000. Up to 2015, it was still climbing by 5% on a yearly basis, reaching an all-time high of 112,794 light automobiles in January 2016: as of November 2017, the total number of light automobiles stood at 107,126, thus a reduction of 5%. An increase in tax coupled with measures to restrict parking spaces and punish illegal stationing have clearly been successful and could have been even more so if the whole network of public transportation had in parallel been entirely revamped and rationalized.
Yet, some figures do not add up: there were only 128 electric automobiles registered in Macao by November 2017, whereas there were 10,649 such vehicles in Hong Kong by the same month. In Macao, electric cars should be a must given the average length of travel per day and the overall network of roadways (only 324.1km), and yet they only make up 0.1% of private cars versus 1.8% in the other SAR. “To promote and encourage the development and application of renewable energies” was indeed also among the long-term goals of the Environmental Protection Planning of 2010…
Published in Macau Daily Times on February 2, 2018