OLSX protesters should decamp – for their own protest’s sake

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"What do we want?" "I don't know. Just the chance to say I want something!"

Everyone has heard of this question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does the tree make a sound?” I like to think that I know the answer—it’s a no. If a tree falls in a forest, it creates vibrations in the air. An ear is needed to receive the vibrations and a brain is required to interpret them as a sound.

The “Occupy London Stock Exchange” protest, currently encamped outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London, has become that falling tree in the deserted forest—it is making no sound because its message is not being heard, even though an action has been undertaken. No one is listening to their message, not least the people whom the protesters wanted to listen. That is completely the fault of the protesters.

A protest is a form of communication, i.e. a message that requires a sender as well as a receiver. Some criticise the protest for lacking a cohesive message, but everyone understands that the protesters are sending a message about the excesses of financial capitalism. The intended recipient of the protest, however vaguely, is the people who work in the City of London, many of whom played a part, wittingly or unwittingly, in causing the world’s financial crisis.

Yet this hullaballoo about St Paul’s Cathedral has completely engulfed the protest’s message and changed the intended recipient. Two weeks on from the encampment, the message that the protesters are sending is, “We want to stay” instead of “We dislike financial capitalism”; the intended receiver of this message is the Cathedral, not the bankers.

So why are the protesters continuing to camp outside St Paul’s even though doing so changes their message and the intended recipient? The immediate trigger, I believe, is the “Arab Spring” effect. Mass occupation of public spaces was seen to be key in dislodging the dictators in North Africa. This was most dramatically displayed in the occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The current “Occupy” protestors across the rich world are hoping to mimic the Arabs’ success in revolutionising their world simply by getting together and setting up a camp.

But I think a more fundamental and worrying reason is that technology has made “communication” one-sided. People no longer have to have someone to “communicate” to. Blogs, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter all prosper on the basis that people can express themselves without a clearly defined audience. It invites people to publicise whatever they think, however trivial their thoughts are. Others can reply or ignore, but that’s not important—what is important is that a view has been expressed. The questions of “To whom?” and “To what effect?” are no longer relevant (and this blog is equally guilty).

That is where the “Occupy” protest is failing. The protesters seem to be saying that it doesn’t matter that the financial world is not reformed, as long as they have the opportunity to express their views—and it doesn’t matter who is inconvenienced in the process. That is selfish as well as stupid, and will do their message no justice. If the protesters are serious about their message, they should decamp and think of more effective ways of protest.

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香港、英國:移民的迷思

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如果問,香港與英國的歷史發展有甚麼共同之處,你可能會抓抓頭。兩個地方無論地理、歷史、文化、風俗都迥然不同,哪有共同之處?其中一樣相同的,就是歷代都是吸引大量移民。而兩地近期的移民潮不約而同地鬧起同一場風波。

英國和香港向來的都是移民的目的地。英國與歐陸有一水之隔,但這水使英國由中世紀至近代都避免了捲入許多歐陸上的戰亂,成為許多歐洲人的避難所。20世紀後期,政府曾鼓勵勞工從前殖民地移民過來,在工黨剛執政的年間,歐洲共同市場向東擴展,引發東歐移民潮,給人最明顯的印象是「波蘭藉的家傭和水電工」。許多英國人擔心低收入移民會搶奪他們的飯碗,或者要英國納稅人付錢養他們,令不少反移民,甚至種族歧視的政黨和團體冒起。英國經濟蕭條,只加重了本國人對移民的疑心。移民成為許多選民關注的題目,所以去年上任的聯合政府計劃將歐盟以外的移民率大幅縮減,由「幾十萬減至幾萬」。

香港作為殖民地時,同樣是中國大陸動盪混亂時許多人的避風港,回歸後又吸引許多大陸的經濟勞工,所引起的問題,如出一轍。港府經濟能力與英國不同,非常強勁,但本地人對移民的戒心和疑心卻沒有分別。剛剛的財政預算案宣佈將向每位成年的永久居民派發港幣6000元,卻令許多還未領取「三粒星身分證」的新移民無從享受。政府保證「人人有份」,卻激起了一場有關移民與身分的風波。在Facebook上有一個群組,名叫「新移民冇得拎六千蚊,這是永久居民獨有的福利,要有十萬個like俾班新移民睇」,不少人認為新移民好食懶做,來香港只是求福利,政府不應再向他們提供利益。

英國的移民都有不同的種族和膚色,所以移民經常與種族混為一談。香港的經驗則是「打內戰」,中國人恨中國人。其實移民所引起的問題大多都在乎經濟,可能有一點在乎文化,但絕對不會在乎膚色或種族─除非閣下是納粹主義者。理論上,絕大部份在生的英國和香港人,近代的祖先都從其他地方來,都是為了謀生才遷移的,與今日的移民無異。人怎能說:「今日的移民不能留,我們的祖先卻能留」呢?只是因為「我們」的祖先比「你們」早來幾十年嗎?哪樣一個家族的人要過多少代才算是「本地人」呢?反對移民者不能自圓其說。

再者,英國和香港在歷史上都出現過移民潮。英國人在15至19世紀因政局、經濟、社會不穩而越洋到北美洲和澳洲;香港人在1990年代因同樣的原因大舉遷移。他們走的理由不就是許多今日移民來的理由嗎?所以我一直都搞不清有人反對移民的原因。「我走就理所當然,他們來就萬萬不能」-這種自相矛盾的態度令我啼笑皆非。

話轉過來,這個問題似乎沒有完全解決的辦法。人就是喜內排外的生物,如何處理移民是許多國家的問題。甚至是最明顯以移民建國的美國,最近也為大量的拉丁美藉移民而頭痛。

理性探討問題,拒絕他人煽動,是面對的一個方法。不過,如果每人本身可以這樣做的話,就不會搞出那麼多問題了。政治只是在地上同樣的問題上兜兜轉轉,不過這也是政治有趣之處吧。唉。

預算案轉馱.唉.

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"依家政府派錢畀你,仲唔謝主隆恩"

香港的財政預算案本周出現了戲劇性的發展。財政司司長曾俊華上星期宣佈動用240億元,在每位市民的強積金戶口注資6000元。曾司長以不想刺激通脹的由,拒絕退稅或派錢。但預算案備受社會各界評擊。有經濟學者大罵「抗通脹」理由毫無根據,市民普遍認為注資強積金,「有得睇,無得使」,是官商勾結,將錢輸送給強積金管理公司,又在壓抑樓價及對抗通脹毫無幫助。民怨沸騰,特首曾蔭權更被人在公眾場合襲擊,但曾司長卻堅持預算案沒有「微調」的空間。有政黨計劃舉行「紫薇花革命」遊行反對預算案,靈感取自突尼西亞早前的「茉莉花革命」。政府見狀,急急腳會見立法會議員商討對策,在與建制派議員開會後,突然宣佈轉馱,向每位成年的永久居民派發6000元現金,更會有退稅措施,派糖金額激增至360億元。許多市民見「有錢派」,很開心,但亦有不少人因此更加遷怒政府,沒有為長期的經濟發展鋪路,原本實牙實齒講明不會微調預算案,突然反過來打倒「昨日的我」,雖宣佈派錢,但詳情細節欠奉,政府已經完全失去管治和施政的能力。

遠在英倫工作生活的我,原來理論上都合資格領錢,折合約500英鎊,可頂起我一個月的租金。雖然有點不知所謂,我卻會欣然接受!英美加澳等政府,應該叩謝港府!更好的是,拿完錢後,我大可以「拍拍屁股走人」,香港政府管治多不濟,都不關己身。但眼見家鄉的政府淪落至此,實在覺得可惜。多年來的預算案宣佈「派糖」,其實心中一直覺得有侮辱之嫌,好像政府在就:「現在港府哥哥給你們小市民派糖。領了糖就坐在一面乖乖吃,不要阻礙哥哥、財團們和爺爺business as usual。」

港府的盈餘有哪一部份不是市民的錢呢?政府收稅開支,都是用市民的血汗,不是糖,不是派了就等如政府已經盡了責,市民還應前仆後繼地謝主隆恩。香港社會有這一種態度,就已經證明政府和市民的主僕關係依舊沒有改變──政府是主,市民是僕。這樣的管治態度,難怪多年來特區政府施政毫無建樹,一塌糊塗,甚麼都遭市民謾罵。這次預算案風暴,只是一連串失誤的另一個例子。

最近席捲中東的民主革命中,許多政府為了平息民怨,都向民眾大灑金錢。難道港府已經沒有其他長遠的措施,只可以跟從中東那些暴政嗎?就算這次派錢暫時減少了社會的怨氣,下年可以嗎?後年呢?英國聯合政府的小黨自民黨因為上台後轉馱,破壞了免除英格蘭大學學費的承諾,使學費不減反增,結果在剛剛的國會議席補選中大敗,從去年5月得票第二慘跌至第六。英國人認為政府施政差,可以支持反對黨(縱然現在的反對黨也似乎沒有甚麼生氣),希望5年後可以有一番新景象。香港人卻沒有這種選擇,忍受5年後又要忍多5年。上次董建華在第三任期間,突然毫無交代就「腳痛」落台。難道這次曾蔭權又會借用「胸口受襲,病楚難忍」的藉口步董先生後塵呢?香港領導人的命運是否永遠只在乎自己的健康,不在乎市民的意願呢?

香港人還有得選擇嗎?有!Daisy Wong就在她的網誌上為港人提供兩個可能性,任君選擇:「一係移民,一係遊行」。我都不算是移民,只是學成不歸。不過如果我在香港的話,也會去遊行。

唉,香港沒落,與人無尤。

假如我是露宿者(1)-沒有地址的生活

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本系列的文章假設如果我是露宿者,我會如何生活。我在七月會從英國倫敦騎單車到法國巴黎,為英國露宿者慈善團體 The Big Issue Foundation 籌款,請踴躍支持。多多益善,少少無拘!如索詳情,請按

我每個月都等不及到最後一天,因為我這天出糧。我的銀行戶口只會在這一天顯示為正數(我正使用戶口透支),因為第二天我就要付房租和水電煤等帳單。不過我還覺得自己很幸運,因為至少我有一個地方需要我付租金和賬單。

在未來一系列的文章中,我將探討如果我是露宿者,我的生活會有什麼的困難。我首先不會研究一個實在的居所是多麼的重要,只從擁有一個地址開始。難道露宿者的地址可以寫成"某某天橋底嗎"?

想一想。你可以在以下的清單中提議更多方面的難題嗎?

如果沒有固定地址,做以下的事情,我會覺得很困難,甚至不可能:

  • 收取任何郵件
  • 在銀行開戶口
  • 申請長期的工作
  • 收取我的工資(如果我已有一分長工)
  • 領取某些(或任何)國家福利
  • 登記投票
  • 在診所註冊
  • 申請身份證明(如護照,駕駛執照)
  • 註冊超市的折扣計劃,減少生活費
  • 獲取信貸評級
  • 獲取手機合同

以上的事,有些是比較瑣碎的,其他則很重要。我會如何應付呢?你會如何處理呢?

理論上,要繞過以上所有問題有很多方法。例如,蘇格蘭銀行在2001年開展一項計劃,讓露宿者更容易取得銀行戶口,幫助他們保護管理他們的錢財。但沒有一個固定的地址可以導致生活上許多的不便。所以不要把你的地址當是理所當然的!

If I were homeless… (1) – not having an address

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This series of articles muses about what could happen if I became homeless. I’ll be cycling from London to Paris in July to raise money for the Big Issue Foundation, a charity that, in its own words, aims to give homeless people a hand up, not a hand-out. I would be most grateful for your sponsorship. Please click for details about the charity and my challenge. (中文版)

– – – – – –

Every month I can’t wait to get to the final day, because that’s when I get paid. My bank account goes above 0 for about a day (as I’m using my overdraft), then in despair I watch it fall back into the red once I’ve paid my rent and bills. But I still count myself lucky; at least I’ve got a place for which to pay rent, bills and council tax.

In a series of articles I’ll explore what it could mean to me if I became homeless. To start off, I won’t even count how important it is to have physical shelter, but how important it is to simply have an address other than, for example, “Del Monte cardboard boxes, exit 4, Elephant and Castle roundabout subway, London, SE1 (6 pm to 6 am only)”.

Have a think. See if you can add to this list.

Without a proper fixed address, I wouldn’t be able to, or at least would find it difficult to:

  • Have Christmas cards, or indeed anything, posted to me
  • Open a bank account
  • Apply for a permanent job
  • Receive my wages (if I’ve got a permanent job)
  • Claim certain (or any) benefits
  • Register to vote
  • Register with a GP
  • Acquire a proof of identity (e.g. passport, driving licence)
  • Access any discount schemes to lower the cost of living (e.g. supermarket loyalty cards)
  • Get a credit rating
  • Get a mobile phone contract

I won’t be able to, or will find it difficult to, do all of those things if I didn’t have an address. Some of the things are more trivial; others vital. How would I cope? How would you cope?

Of course, theoretically, there are ways to get around all the above problems. For example, in 2001 the Bank of Scotland began a scheme to make it easier for homeless people to acquire bank accounts to help homeless people keep their money safe or even begin saving up (click!). But simply not having a fixed address can lead to many inconveniences when leading a daily life. Don’t take your home for granted; don’t even take your address for granted!

Next time I’ll start thinking about the material goodies I’d lack without a home.

財政預算案2011:港府又一無新意傑作

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「聽我講無錯!」

香港本年的財政預算案又凸顯港府施政不濟。

全球一體化已使許多經濟體系的命脈連在一起。最近全球石油、原材料和食品物價上升,使許多國家紛紛出現通脹。在英國,1月的消費者物價指數比上月上升達4%,是14個月來高於英倫銀行的通脹目標2%。在香港,通脤同樣是大問題。

同樣面對通脤,但香港和英國的經濟處境卻有天壤之別。英國聯合政府去年5月上台時,面對龐大的公共赤字,新財相歐思邦大刀闊斧削減政府開支。在此時物價仍然高企,英倫銀行行長金麥文解釋,這是因為增值稅率剛增加,由於英國經濟仍然疲弱,通脤會在未來自動降低。

而在香港,通脹的其他誘因則比較長期,包括從大陸進口的通脤、美國聯儲局持續的低息政策和香港高企的樓價。財政司司長曾俊華最近公布了財政預算案。與英國不同的是,港府庫房「水浸」,盈餘多達700億港元。預算案前,市民都盼望政府推出各種一次性的紓困措施,俗稱「派糖」。不過,除了免收一年差餉等「舊招」外,最為市民所望的退稅,曾司長卻以「退稅會刺激通脤」為由而拒絕,取而代之的是政府這次的旗艦政策,就是在每位市民的強積退休金互口注資6,000元。當然,政府不退稅有理,因為市民現金多了,但市場貨物數量不變,通脤自然加劇。但撥資強積金作為次選卻令筆者有一點摸不著頭緒。強積金是市民退休才能支出,除了即將退休人仕,其他市民望穿秋水也未必能享受當中益處,加上基金價格可升可跌,這6,000元最後變成甚麼價值,無人能知,更無助市民解決燃眉之急。筆者認為僅有的妙計是發行與通脹率掛鉤的債券,讓市民資金保值之餘,又將資金吸離市場,紓緩通脤。

香港物價高企,外圍因素不少得,但樓價近年急升也是元兇之一。國內的暴發戶紛紛到香港置業,買的都是海景豪宅。地產商受需求影響,自然大力投資興建毫宅,只須看看西九龍新填地的「屏風樓群」就略知一二了。不過這些國內的巨賈未必會搬來香港住,反而本地的市民,負擔不起豪宅之餘,不論政府或地產商,都沒有為他們興建足夠的廉價房屋,以至許多市民根本買不起樓,需要多人同住一個小單位,形成「蝸居」一族。豪宅無人住,平樓無人起,市民住無居所。所以,許多市民對財政預算案的另一個期望是政府會加強措施壓抑樓價。但政府提出增加的單位供應的數目被市場質疑,而其他政策在社會上有彈無讚。這份預算案普遍在社會的支持度不大。

香港民怨沸騰,已不是新聞。港府最近在許多政策上連番失誤,究竟是為甚麼呢?歸根究底,港府是隻跛腳鴨,受多方制肘:既不是中央,不能行國內「嚴父」的一套;又因民意的緣故,不能名正言順公開宣佈政策被大財團控制這個公開的秘密;但又因為不是民選出來的,不可以用「眾望所歸」的理由對抗中央或大財團的懿旨和利益。香港政府無能,不是因為人材不濟,而是因為歸屬感混亂,毫無方向,結果所推行的政策經常碰壁。本年的財政預算案就可見一斑了。

英國政府大幅削減開支,怨聲四起,經濟復甦仍然疲弱。相反,香港背靠大陸,經濟強勁,社會卻不覺得比英國和諧穩定。從近期北非所發生的民主革命所見,如果政府予人的印象是「官富民窮」,社會表面的和諧持續到不多久。當然,香港發動像突尼西亞般的「茉莉花革命」的機會不大(即使有政團發起反預算案的「紫荊花革命」),因為香港有言論及遊行等自由作發洩途徑,而政改仍能依循法律進行。但要香港市民繼續忍受這樣不濟的管治,就真的辛苦他們了。一個政府不為自己的市民著想,甚麼穩定都是假。而一個政府不是被民眾選舉出來的,要其為市民著想,也有一點困難。說到尾,社會穩定最重要的元素是民眾參與。西方人是這樣,中東人是這樣,中國人沒有理由不是這樣。

Say “Yes” to AV!

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My reason for supporting AV is simple: it would create a fairer system of government that Britain deserves.

After weeks of haggling, Parliament finally passed the necessary legislation to set the stage for a referendum on changing the voting system for Britain’s general elections this coming May. A “Yes” vote would abandon the current “first past the post” (FPTP) system and adopt the “alternative vote” (AV). Both the “Yes” and “No” camps have now begun to campaign for their sides. I throw my weight—whatever its worth—behind the “Yes” camp.

There are many points of contention between the camps—how much AV would cost, whether people would understand, who in the world use it, whether it will boost or kill small parties etc. My support for AV is based solely on the belief that that would create a fairer and more contestable political system.

The current FPTP system allows electors to pick just one candidate on the ballot paper, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Simple and effective—but is it fair? British Members of Parliament serve two purposes: on a constituency level they represent the people in central Government, holding it to account; on a national level, the numbers of MPs from one party determine whether that party can form a Government.

In principle, in a constituency with three main contesting parties, under FPTP, a candidate needs to win only 34% of the vote to represent that constituency. Multiply that nationally, the winning party will not need anything close to a majority of votes to form a Government to raise our taxes, make our laws or take us to war. In 2005 Labour won 62% of seats with only 41% of the vote. Supporters of FPTP argue quite rightly that the current system allows strong Governments to be formed, but democracy is about building representative Governments, not strong ones.

AV would change that. It would allow voters to rank candidates by order of preference, and the winning candidate must garner at least 50% of the votes. More people’s votes must be counted to find a winner, rather than the 34% in the example given above. It would end the system where, for example, a Labour candidate in a constituency with an inner-city population greater than the suburban or rural population can ignore the latter’s preferences, because the suburban and rural second-preference votes can now also count against Labour. It would mean that every candidate must work harder to persuade people to vote for them, even as a second choice.

Supporters of FPTP fret that the chances of creating hung Parliaments are greater under AV, but that’s not a disaster. Politics, especially national politics, shouldn’t be about one party that hasn’t achieved a majority imposing its agenda on people who didn’t vote for it. In fact, we value compromise and consensus between stakeholders in all our social relationships—family, friends, couples. Why should national politics be any different?

FPTP supporters say that AV won’t bring the change it is intended, but stagnation in popular participation in national politics is partly due to apathetic voting culture encouraged by FPTP. Winning AV won’t change that overnight, but it would be the first step for people to re-engage with national politics. After all, it is the former that the latter is supposed to serve.

And now, you can make it happen, by voting “Yes” on 5 May.

Click for more information about the “Yes” and “No” camps.

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