Main


September 13, 2014

Under Communism People Felt They Had No Control Over Their Lives



(p. C4) "When people have to talk about Communism," they tend to employ passive, impersonal constructions, as if they "had no influence on anything and were unwilling to take personal responsibility," he notes in one typically observant passage. "Thus, in a situation where someone ought to say: 'I was afraid to talk about it,' 'I hadn't the courage to ask about it,' or 'I had no idea about it,' they say: 'There was no talk about it.' 'Nothing was known about it.' 'That wasn't asked about.' "


For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Understanding the Land Where 'Kafkaesque' Was Born." The New York Times (Mon., June 23, 2014): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 22, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Szczygiel, Mariusz. Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2014.






September 8, 2014

Zionists "Risk Their Lives for an Idea"



(p. C1) . . . , without hesitation or (for the most part) complaint, proudly responding to the call-up, Israelis stand ready to defend their nation. They risk their lives for an idea.

The idea is Zionism. It is the belief that the Jewish people should have their own sovereign state in the Land of Israel. Though founded less than 150 years ago, the Zionist movement sprung from a 4,000-year-long bond between the Jewish people and its historic homeland, an attachment sustained throughout 20 centuries of exile. This is why Zionism achieved its goals and remains relevant and rigorous today. It is why citizens of Israel--the state that Zionism created--willingly take up arms. They believe their idea is worth fighting for.

Yet Zionism, arguably more than any other contemporary ideology, is demonized. "All Zionists are legitimate targets everywhere in the world!" declared a banner recently paraded by anti-Israel protesters in Denmark. "Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances," warned a sign in the window of a Belgian cafe. A Jewish demonstrator in Iceland was accosted and told, "You Zionist pig, I'm going to behead you."


. . .


What is it about Zionism that elicits such loathing? After all, the longing of a dispersed people for a state of their own cannot possibly be so repugnant, especially after that people endured centuries of massacres and expulsions, culminating in history's largest mass murder. Perhaps revulsion toward Zionism stems from its unusual blend of national identity, religion and loyalty to a land. Japan offers the closest parallel, but despite its rapacious past, Japanese nationalism doesn't evoke the abhorrence aroused by Zionism.

Clearly anti-Semitism, of both the European and Muslim varieties, plays a role. Cabals, money grubbing, plots to take over the world and murder babies--all the libels historically leveled at Jews are regularly hurled at Zionists. And like the anti-Semitic capitalists who saw all Jews as communists and the communists who painted capitalism as inherently Jewish, the opponents of Zionism portray it as the abominable Other.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL B. OREN. "In Defense of Zionism." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 2, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 1, 2014.)






June 21, 2014

In China "Overwhelming Evidence of the Leaders' "Moral Vulnerability""



ThePeoplesRepublicOfAmnesiaBK2014-05-28.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/t/the-peoples-republic-of-amnesia/9780199347704_custom-d21f4e2d0281b692c74781102e750ff1e27b7cc9-s6-c30.jpg



(p. 21) During the night of June 3-4, 1989, when the Chinese Army was slaughtering demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Wang Nan, a young student, was shot in the head. As he lay dying at the side of the road, soldiers threatened to kill anyone, even some young doctors, who tried to help him. In the morning, finally dead, he was buried in a shallow grave nearby. A few days later, the smell of Wang Nan's body was so great that it was dug up and moved to a hospital.

After 10 days, his mother, Zhang Xianling, was called to the hospital to identify her son's body. It took eight months, in the face of official obstruction, for Zhang to uncover what had happened to her son. In 1998 she held a modest remembrance service on the spot where he had died. The next year, on that day, she was barred from leaving her apartment. When she met Louisa Lim, Zhang said she longed to go to the fatal place again to pour a libation on the ground and sprinkle flower petals. "However," Lim observes, ­"someone will always be watching her. A closed-circuit camera has been installed" and "trained on the exact spot where her son's body was exhumed. . . . It is a camera dedicated to her alone, waiting for her in case she should ever try again to mourn her dead son."

Until I read about that camera in "The People's Republic of Amnesia," I imagined, after decades of reporting from and about China, that nothing there could still shock me. As Lim contends, Zhang's "simple act of memory is deemed a threat to stability." Lim's overwhelming evidence of the leaders' "moral vulnerability," together with her accounts of the amnesia of many Chinese, make hers one of the best analyses of the impact of Tiananmen throughout China in the years since 1989.



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN MIRSKY. "An Inconvenient Past." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 23, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Lim, Louisa. The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.



TanksBeijingTwoDaysAfterTiananmenSquareMassacre2014-05-28.jpg "Tanks at the ready in Beijing on June 6, 1989, two days after the Tiananmen Square massacre." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.






June 1, 2014

Galeano Repudiates His Chávez-Endorsed Latin Leftist Classic



HillaryObamaChavezAndOpenVeinsBook2014-05-25.jpg "Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, handing President Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America" in 2009." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) For more than 40 years, Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America" has been the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text in that region. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's populist president, even put a copy of the book, which he had called "a monument in our Latin American history," in President Obama's hands the first time they met. But now Mr. Galeano, a 73-year-old Uruguayan writer, has disavowed the book, saying that he was not qualified to tackle the subject and that it was badly written. . . .

" 'Open Veins' tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn't yet have the necessary training or preparation," Mr. Galeano said last month while answering questions at a book fair in Brazil, where he was being honored on the 43rd anniversary of the book's publication. He added: "I wouldn't be capable of reading this book again; I'd keel over. For me, this prose of the traditional left is extremely leaden, and my physique can't tolerate it."


. . .


(p. C6) In the United States, "Open Veins" has been widely taught on university campuses since the 1970s, in courses ranging from history and anthropology to economics and geography. But Mr. Galeano's unexpected takedown of his own work has left scholars wondering how to deal with the book in class.


. . .


In the mid-1990s, three advocates of free-market policies -- the Colombian writer and diplomat Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the exiled Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Peruvian journalist and author Álvaro Vargas Llosa -- reacted to Mr. Galeano with a polemic of their own, "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot." They dismissed "Open Veins" as "the idiot's bible," and reduced its thesis to a single sentence: "We're poor; it's their fault."

Mr. Montaner responded to Mr. Galeano's recent remarks with a blog post titled "Galeano Corrects Himself and the Idiots Lose Their Bible." In Brazil, Rodrigo Constantino, the author of "The Caviar Left," took an even harsher tone, blaming Mr. Galeano's analysis and prescription for many of Latin America's ills. "He should feel really guilty for the damage he caused," he wrote on his blog.



For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Author Changes His Mind on '70s Manifesto." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 24, 2014): C1 & C6..

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 23, 2014.)


The Vargas Llosa book mentioned above is:

Mendoza, Plinio Apuleyo, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Alvaro Vargas Llosa. Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books, 2000.



GuideToThePerfectLatinAmericanIdiotBK2014-05-26.JPG

















Source of book image:
http://img2.imagesbn.com/p/9781568332369_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG






May 18, 2014

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth "to Disastrous Effect"



SmithShane2014-04-26.jpg







Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I'm actually worried, because I believe that it's going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we've already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I've said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it's almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.

Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It's our time now. Then, I don't know, it'll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.



For the full interview, see:

Staley, Willy, interviewer. " 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?': The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title "Vice's Shane Smith: 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?'.")






April 24, 2014

Little Estonia Prepares Defense Against Russia's Evil Empire



IlvesToomasEstoniaPresident2014-04-23.jpg










Toomis Hendrick Ilves, President of Estonia. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Perched alone up in eastern Baltic are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Their fear of Moscow propelled them to become the first and only former Soviet republics to seek the refuge of NATO. But now doubts are appearing. The West has responded tepidly to the Crimean aggression. Military budgets are at historic lows as a share of NATO economies. The alliance, which marked its 65th anniversary on Friday, has never faced the test of a hot conflict with Moscow.

In this new debate over European security, Mr. Ilves plays a role out of proportion to Estonia's size (1.3 million people) and his limited constitutional powers. A tall man who recently turned 60, he has the mouth of a New Jersey pol--he grew up in Leonia--and wears the bow ties of a lapsed academic. Americans may recall his Twitter TWTR -0.15% feud two years ago over Estonia's economy with economist Paul Krugman, whom Mr. Ilves called "smug, overbearing & patronizing."


. . .


Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO's blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.

"It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do," Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW KAMINSKI. "THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW; An American Ally in Putin's Line of Fire; Estonia's president, who was raised in New Jersey, on how Crimea has changed 'everything' and what NATO should do now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 5, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2014.)






April 22, 2014

Today Is 14th Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2014) is the 14th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.








March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






January 14, 2014

China's Cultural Revolution Shows Need for Rule of Law



ChenRegretsCulturalRevolution2013-12-07.jpg ""I was too scared. I couldn't stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce's hat." CHEN XIAOLU" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BEIJING -- ON the surface, at least, there is not much about Chen Xiaolu to suggest a lifetime of regret.

The son of one of Communist China's founding generals, he enjoyed privilege at an early age and then a career as a business consultant that took him around the world. Now 67, he relaxes on golf courses in Scotland and southern France and eschews the dark suits and high-maintenance black hair of most affluent Chinese men for casual shirts and a gray buzz cut.

But beneath the genial exterior is a memory that has haunted him for nearly 50 years. There he was, back in high school, a fresh-faced member of the volleyball team and a student leader in Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, ordering teachers to line up in the auditorium, dunce caps on their bowed heads. He stood there, excited and proud, as thousands of students howled abuse at the teachers.

Then, suddenly, a posse stormed the stage and beat them until they crumpled to the floor, blood oozing from their heads. He did not object. He simply fled. "I was too scared," he recalled recently in one of several interviews at a restaurant near Tiananmen Square, not far from his alma mater, No. 8 Middle School, which catered to the children of the Mao elite. "I couldn't stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce's hat."

A ripple of confessions about the Cultural Revolution from former Red Guards, most of them retired men of modest backgrounds, has surfaced in the last few months. But it was Mr. Chen's decision to step forward in August with a public apology that has drawn the most attention, raising hopes that a nation so determined to define its future might finally be moving to confront the horrors of its past.

He did so, he said, not only for personal redemption but also for profound reasons to do with China's political development that must include the rule of law.


. . .


Mr. Chen's remorse stands out because of his stature, then and now. He is quite candid that as the son of Chen Yi, a founder of Communist China and its longtime foreign minister, he was handed the mantle of immense authority during the decisive, early days of the Cultural Revolution.


. . .


THE Cultural Revolution remains largely hidden from view in China as successive governments have discouraged discussion of the turmoil and terror that Mao orchestrated to perpetuate his rule but that almost brought the country to its knees.


. . .


A particularly delicate subject for the party has been the number of people killed.

In Beijing alone, about 1,800 people died during August and September 1966, the height of the frenzy, when Mao first deployed students as Red Guards to turn against the party, according to the historians Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals. Estimates range from 1.5 million to three million dead across China from 1966 to 1976.


. . .


In a speech in early 1967, Chen Yi dared to criticize the Cultural Revolution. Mao sidelined him, and the man who had greeted every foreign leader to the new China was subjected to a humiliating self-criticism session and ordered to stay at home.



For the full story, see:

JANE PERLEZ. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Leader in Mao's Cultural Revolution Faces His Past." The New York Times (Sat., December 7, 2013): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 6, 2013.)


ChenWithZhouEnlaiInEarly1970s2013-12-07.jpg









"Mr. Xiaolu [sic], center, with Zhou Enlai, right, in the early 1970s at a funeral." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







November 3, 2013

Castro First Fired, and Then Jailed, Economist Chepe, Who Defended Capitalism



ChepeOscarEspinosaCubanEconomist2013-10-23.jpg "Oscar Espinosa Chepe in 2010." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.



(p. B15) Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a high-ranking Cuban economist and diplomat who became a vocal critic of Fidel Castro in the 1990s but chose to remain in Cuba, despite enduring harassment and imprisonment, died on Monday [September 23, 2013] . . .


. . .


Mr. Espinosa Chepe (pronounced CHEH-pay) lost his job as an official of the National Bank of Cuba in 1996 after advocating the limited restoration of capitalist principles like the right to buy and sell one's home or start a business.

He then became a journalist, writing articles for American and Spanish-language Web sites in which he used statistical data to analyze Cuba's economic problems. In March 2003 he was one of 75 activists arrested as part of a government crackdown on dissent known as the Black Spring.


. . .


Mr. Espinosa Chepe, who joined Castro's revolutionary government in the early 1960s and was once head of the powerful Office of Agrarian Reform, had frequently clashed with fellow economic planners over policies he considered overly dogmatic.

His internal critique became increasingly adamant after 1991, when the loss of the Soviet Union's financial support began taking a devastating toll on the country's economy. But his proposals for change, many of which had already been adopted in former Soviet bloc states, were labeled counterrevolutionary, said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on Cuban economic policies.



For the full obituary, see:

PAUL VITELLO. "Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Cuban Economist and Castro Critic, Dies at 72." The New York Times (Fri., September 27, 2013): B15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date September 25, 2013.)






October 26, 2013

Under Humble Austerity Policy China Builds $11.4 Million Giant Brass Puffer Fish



PufferFishStatueYangshong2013-10-22.jpg "A puffer fish statue in Yangzhong has raised ire in view of a government pledge to end spending on vanity projects." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) HONG KONG -- Chinese Communist Party leaders' vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.

The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, . . .


. . .


Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went. Construction of the fish tower began on a previously isolated and undeveloped river island in March, four months after Mr. Xi was appointed party leader.


. . .


. . . China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.

Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building "the world's biggest teapot," a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.

In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



SongQinglingSculpture2013-10-23.jpg









"A sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a founder of modern China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 16, 2013

"Burning Bush" Depicts Communists' Diabolical Harassment of Jan Palach's Family



PauhofovaTatianaInBurningBushMovie2013-10-06.jpg "BURNING BUSH; Tatiana Pauhofova in Agnieszka Holland's story of Prague under Communism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C6) The Polish director Agnieszka Holland's magnificent docudrama, "Burning Bush," is a three-part mini-series made for HBO Europe that remembers the Soviet crackdown in Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring. It begins with the death in 1969 of Jan Palach, a Czech student who set himself on fire as a political protest, and follows the diabolical attempts of the Soviet occupiers to blacken his name by portraying him as a fraud and right-wing tool. The film's depiction of the Communist regime's relentless harassment of his family and its sowing of paranoia within the student resistance recalls the 2007 film "The Lives of Others," about the Stasi's operations in East Berlin. In the sophisticated worldview of "Burning Bush," oppression may win in the short term, but the spark that ignites freedom movements, once lighted, can't be extinguished.


For the full review, see:

STEPHEN HOLDEN. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; Still Meaty, Film Festival Lightens Up." The New York Times (Mon., September 30, 2013): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 29, 2013.)






June 28, 2013

Discrete Caution Is Not Always Prudent in Corrupt China



TheLittleRedGuardBK2013-06-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) When economic reform and the seductive breeze of political liberalization come to China in the 1980s, the author's cautious father tells his children that if they want to succeed they should be discreet. He urges his son, who is at Shanghai's Fudan University, not to waste his time on useless foreign books. When the son first reads Shakespeare, he thinks that the expression "to be or not to be" is taken from Confucius. His father tells him that asking for too much freedom can land you in jail. "If you are not careful the government could crush you like a bug." Not long after this warning, the student democracy movement was smashed apart at Tiananmen Square, though Mr. Huang's father did not live to see it.

In the end, it is the father who suffers as his world collapses. Toward the end of his life he was told by the Party that he was to be rewarded for devising a money-saving program at his state factory with promotion and a better wage. Instead the promotion went to the girlfriend of the local Party secretary, and the firm's bosses split his wage rise among themselves. Embittered and exhausted, he died of a heart attack in 1988, ahead of his mother.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age In Mao's China; Death cannot be controlled by the party, but disposing of a body can. So the author's father built a coffin in secret at his mother's request.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 30, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 29, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Huang, Wenguang. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012..






June 16, 2013

Behind the Iron Curtain, Those Who Opposed "Were to Be Destroyed by "Cutting Them Off Like Slices of Salami""



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Source of book image: http://www.opednews.com/populum/uploaded/iron-curtain-20882-20130113-95.jpg



(p. 16) That Soviet tanks carried Moscow-trained agents into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany was known in the West at the time and has been well documented since. When those agents set out to produce not only a friendly sphere of Soviet influence but also a cordon of dictatorships reliably responsive to Russian orders, Winston Churchill was moved to warn, just days after the Nazis' surrender in 1945, that an Iron Curtain was being drawn through the heart of Europe. (He coined the metaphor in a message to President Truman a full year before he used it in public in Fulton, Mo.) And Matyas Rakosi, the "little Stalin" of Hungary, was well known for another apt metaphor, describing how the region's political, economic, cultural and social oppositions were to be destroyed by "cutting them off like slices of salami."

Applebaum tracks the salami slicing as typically practiced in Poland, Hungary and Germany, and serves up not only the beef but also the fat, vinegar and garlic in exhausting detail. She shows how the knives were sharpened before the war's end in Soviet training camps for East European Communists, so that trusted agents could create and control secret police forces in each of the "liberated" nations. She shows how reliable operatives then took charge of all radio broadcasting, the era's most powerful mass medium. And she demonstrates how the Soviet stooges could then, with surprising speed, harass, persecute and finally ban all independent institutions, from youth groups and welfare agencies to schools, churches and rival political parties.

Along the way, millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Hungarians were ruthlessly driven from their historic homes to satisfy Soviet territorial ambitions. Millions more were deemed opponents and beaten, imprisoned or hauled off to hard labor in Siberia. In Stalin's paranoid sphere, not even total control of economic and cultural life was sufficient. To complete the terror, he purged even the Communist leaders of each satellite regime, accusing them of treason and parading them as they made humiliating confessions.

It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror.



For the full review, see:

MAX FRANKEL. "Stalin's Shadow." The New York Times (Sun., November 25, 2012): 16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 21, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






June 15, 2013

Cuban Government Employees "Are Known for Surly Service, Inefficiency, Absenteeism and Pilfering"



(p. A10) However small, . . . , the private sector is changing the work culture on an island where state employees earn meager salaries and are known for surly service, inefficiency, absenteeism and pilfering.

Sergio Alba Marín, who for years managed the restaurants of a state-owned hotel and now owns a popular fast-food restaurant, said he was very strict with his employees and would not employ workers trained by the state.

"They have too many vices -- stealing, for one," said Mr. Alba, who was marching with his 25 employees and two large banners emblazoned with the name of his restaurant, La Pachanga. "You can't change that mentality."

"Even if you could, I don't have time," he added. "I have a business to run."



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "HAVANA JOURNAL; Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism." The New York Times (Thurs., May 2, 2013): A6 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2013.)






April 22, 2013

Today Is 13th Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2013) is the 13th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.










April 9, 2013

Marx's Contradictions Due to His Being a Reactive Journalist Instead of a Philosopher



KarlMarxBK2013-04-05.jpg
















Source of book image: http://s-usih.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/marx.jpg



(p. 14) Plenty of scholars sweated through the 20th century trying to reconcile inconsistencies across the great sweep of Marx's writing, seeking to shape a coherent Marxism out of Marx. Sperber's approach is more pragmatic. He accepts that Marx was not a body of ideas, but a human being responding to events. In this context, it's telling that Marx's prime vocation was not as an academic but as a campaigning journalist: Sperber suggests Marx's two stints at the helm of a radical paper in Cologne represented his greatest periods of professional fulfillment. Accordingly, much of what the scholars have tried to brand as Marxist philosophy was instead contemporary commentary, reactive and therefore full of contradiction.


For the full review, see:

JONATHAN FREEDLAND. "A Man of His Time." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Sperber, Jonathan. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2013.






March 30, 2013

Chinese Communists Starved 45 Million in Mao's Famine



TheGreatFamineInChinaBK2013-03-09.jpg














Source of book image: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/xun.jpg




(p. C5) It is difficult to look dispassionately at some 45 million dead. It was not war that produced this shocking number, nor natural disaster. It was a man. It was politics and one man's vanity. The cause was famine and violence across rural China, a result of Mao Zedong's unchecked drive to turn his country rapidly into a communist utopia and a leading industrial nation.


. . .


(p. C6) . . . important pieces of evidence are being covered up . . . : Some originals transcribed in Zhou Xun's chastening documentary history, "The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962" ( . . . ) have since been reclassified by the Beijing authorities and vanished once more into closed files.

In 2010, Frank Dikötter produced "Mao's Great Famine," an authoritative account of the catastrophe, written with a bravura seldom seen in Western writing on modern China. Impassioned and outraged, Mr. Dikötter detailed the destruction, the suffering and the cruelty or hubris of China's leaders. Sorting through forgotten and hidden documents with great intellectual honesty, Mr. Dikötter ended his journey pointing his finger directly at Mao, who notoriously said, as he called for higher grain deliveries from the countryside at the height of the famine: "It is better to let half the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."


. . .


As a teenager in 1959, Mr. Yang watched his father die of starvation. Years later, while working in a senior editorial post at Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency, he began his own search for the truth behind the famine. The author spent 20 years tracking down survivors across China and using his authority as a respected Communist cadre to access provincial archives. It was, in part, expiation for his shame in not questioning his father's death.


. . .


There is no memorial anywhere in China to the victims of the famine, no public monument, no remembrance day. Graves are not marked and mass burial grounds have disappeared into the landscape. The famine's very existence has been denied. The Communist Party will only admit to "food shortages" and "some difficulties" during the Great Leap Forward. They claim that these setbacks were a result of natural disasters.

Mr. Yang set about writing his book as a tombstone for his father and for every victim who had died from starvation. He was also erecting a tombstone for the system that brought about the Great Famine. First published in Hong Kong in 2008, Mr. Yang's work is banned in China. The reason is clear: The book challenges the very foundation of the Communist Party's authority.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; A Most Secret Tragedy; The Great Leap Forward aimed to make China an industrial giant--instead it killed 45 million." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 26, 2012.)



Books under review:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Zhou, Xun, ed. The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962: A Documentary History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.


The Dikötter book mentioned, is:

Dikötter, Frank. Mao's Great Famine. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.






February 26, 2013

Yang Documents How Mao Starved the Proletariat



TombstoneBK2013-01-11.jpg
















Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9780374277932_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG




(p. C12) Yang Jisheng's "Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962" exemplifies E.H. Carr's famous dictum: "Study the historian before you study the facts." Mr. Yang is not the first historian to exhume the darkest crime of the political party that still rules China but the first Chinese journalist and longtime Party member to do so. He uses the Party's own historical records and the perpetrators' own words to craft his devastatingly detailed indictment.


For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.







February 2, 2013

Eastern Europeans Were Lab Rats in Stalin's Monstrous Experiment



IronCurtainBK2013-01-11.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.cleveland.com/books_impact/photo/ironjpg-2761d5de1590effb.jpg



(p. C12) In a stunning follow-up to "Gulag," Anne Applebaum takes readers back to the events that triggered the half-century-long standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Instead of the usual aerial view, "Iron Curtain" re-creates what it was like on the ground for those who became the lab rats in Stalin's monstrous social experiment.


For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.







January 4, 2013

How Chavez Punished Those Who Opposed Him



(p. 196) In 2004, the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela distributed the list of several million voters who had attempted to remove him from office throughout the government bureaucracy, allegedly to identify and punish these voters. We match the list of petition signers distributed by the government to household survey respondents to measure the economic effects of being identified as a Chávez political opponent. We find that voters who were identified as Chávez opponents experienced a 5 percent drop in earnings and a 1.3 percentage point drop in employment rates after the voter list was released.


Source:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, Edward Miguel, Daniel Ortega, and Francisco Rodriguez. "The Price of Political Opposition: Evidence from Venezuela's Maisanta." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3, no. 2 (2011): 196-214.







December 28, 2012

Chávez Supporters Feared Losing Government Jobs



ChavezSupporter2012-12-18.jpg "A Chávez supporter. The president runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under pressure to vote for him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


After the story quoted below was published, Chávez (alas) was re-elected.


(p. A1) Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chávez packing, fed up with the country's lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits.

"I work for the government, and it scares me," said Luisa Arismendi, 33, a schoolteacher who cheered on a recent morning as Mr. Chávez's challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, drove by in this northeastern city, waving from the back of a pickup truck. Until this year, she always voted for Mr. Chávez, and she hesitated before giving her name, worried about what would happen if her supervisors found out she was switching sides. "If Chávez wins," she said, "I could be fired."


. . .


(p. A6) The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs.

Mr. Chávez runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under other pressures.

"They tell me that I have to vote for Chávez," said Diodimar Salazar, 37, who works at a government-run day care center in a rural area southeast of Cumaná. "They always threaten you that you will get fired."

Ms. Salazar said that her pro-Chávez co-workers insisted that the government would know how she voted. But experience has taught her otherwise. She simply casts her vote for the opposition and then tells her co-workers that she voted for Mr. Chávez.

"I'm not going to take the risk," said Fabiana Osteicoechea, 22, a law student in Caracas who said she would vote for Mr. Chávez even though she was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Capriles. She said she was certain that Mr. Chávez would win and was afraid that the government career she hoped to have as a prosecutor could be blocked if she voted the wrong way.

"After the election, he's going to have more power than now, lots more, and I think he will have a way of knowing who voted for whom," she said. "I want to get a job with the government so, obviously I have to vote for Chávez."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Fear of Losing Benefits Affects Venezuela Vote." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012, and has the title "Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election.")






December 6, 2012

"We Don't Need No Thought Control"



HongKongProtestrsPinkFloydPoster2012-12-01.jpg "In Hong Kong, protesters march against Beijing's introduction of 'Chinese patriotism classes' in schools." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) Consider the . . . scene in Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of parents, teachers and students protested an effort by Beijing to re-educate the inhabitants of the former British colony, which reverted to the mainland in 1997.

Hong Kong people objected to a government-funded booklet titled, "The China Model," which was supposed to educate them in the patriotic ways of the mainland. It celebrates China's one-party Communist regime as "progressive, selfless and united" while criticizing the U.S. political system as having "created social turbulence."

There is no reference to the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen Square--history also suppressed on the mainland, where the Web is largely censored. The booklet even encourages Hong Kong people to learn how to "speak cautiously," a highly unlikely development to those of us who have lived in Hong Kong with its often pungently plain-spoken citizens.

The chairman of the pro-Beijing China Civic Education Promotion Association in Hong Kong, Jiang Yudui, tried to defend the booklet by saying, "If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients."

This led the Hong Kong education secretary to back away, assuring that, "Brainwashing is against Hong Kong's core values and that's unacceptable to us." Meanwhile, Hong Kong's sophisticated protesters carried banners that included lyrics from British rock group Pink Floyd, "We don't need no thought control."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Brainwashing in the Digital Era." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 6, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 5, 2012.)






November 27, 2012

Entrepreneurial Capitalism Offers the Best Chance "for a Life of Engagement and Personal Growth"



(p. 228) Edmund S. Phelps explores "Refounding Capitalism." "One has to conclude that 'generation of wealth' is not special to capitalism. Corporatist economies are quite good at that. . . . A merit of a well-functioning capitalism (again: I do not mean free-market policy: low tax rates, etc.) is the economic freedoms it offers entrepreneurs, managers, employees and consumers--freedoms that socialist, corporatist and statist systems do not provide. . . . Ordinary people, if they are to find intellectual growth and an engaging life, have to look outside the home: these (p. 229) things can be found only at work, if anywhere. And for these rewards to be available for large numbers of people, the economy must be modern. And as a practical matter, that requires that it be based predominantly on a well-functioning capitalist system. Thanks to the grassroots, bottom-up processes of innovation, capitalism at its best can deliver--far more broadly than Soviet communism, eastern European socialism, and western European corporatism can--chances for the mental stimulation, problem-solving, exploration and discovery required for a life of engagement and personal growth."


Nobel-Prize winner Edmund Phelps as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The original source of the Phelps quotes is:

Phelps, Edmund S. "Refounding Capitalism." Capitalism and Society 4, no. 3 (2009).






October 29, 2012

China's State-Owned Enterprises Lose Money and Slow Growth



NoAncientWisdomNoFollowersBK2012-10-12.jpg














Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-UU147_mcgreg_DV_20121001022644.jpg





In the passages quoted below "SOE" means "state-owned enterprise."



(p. B1) If the U.S. needs another wake-up call, it will get one this week with the publication of a bracing account of the danger that China's state capitalism poses to global business--and to China itself. James McGregor's new book, "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism," dissects the complex policies and state structures that produced China's novel system. And it describes the limited recourse the U.S. and other nations have. (Full disclosure: Mr. McGregor is a friend and former colleague at the Journal.)

"The Communist Party of China has two unwavering objectives: Make China rich and powerful and guarantee the Party's political monopoly," Mr. McGregor writes. "At the center of this are behemoth state-owned enterprises that dominate all key sectors and have been instrumental to the country's current success.

"As China's global reach expands, this one-of-a-kind system is challenging the rules and organizations that govern global trade as well as the business plans and strategies of multinationals around the globe. At the same time, the limits of authoritarian capital-(p.B2)ism are increasingly evident at home, where corruption is endemic, the SOEs are consuming the fruits of reform, and the economic engine is running out of gas."

Born in the 1950s when 10,000 Soviet advisers helped China organize central planning, the state-owned enterprises quickly became bloated extensions of the Party's patronage and power.


. . .


The enterprises themselves, meanwhile, crowded out private competition. SOEs account for about 96% of China's telecom industry, 92% of power and 74% of autos. The combined profit of China Petroleum & Chemical and China Mobile in 2009 alone was greater than all the profit of China's 500 largest private firms, Mr. McGregor writes.

An independent Chinese study, he adds, says that if you subtract government subsidies from the biggest SOEs they actually lose money.

Mr. McGregor believes pressures are building within China for change--the result of SOEs that don't innovate enough, slowing growth, an angry private sector, and a pending leadership change, among other factors. Even some top leaders say reform is needed.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Tackling the Many Dangers of China's State Capitalism." The New York Times (Fri., September 28, 2012): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 27, 2012.)


Book under discussion:

McGregor, James. No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism. Westport, CT: Prospecta Press, 2012.






August 8, 2012

The Bear Details of Belarus Communist Tyranny



BelarusTeddyBear2012-08-07ProvinceVersion.jpg "Swedish advertising agency employees Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey hold a stuffed bear that was parachuted into Belarus." Source of caption and image: http://www.theprovince.com/business/Teddy+bears+make+picnic+generals/7028460/story.html


(p. A4) The plane crossed stealthily into Belarussian airspace and headed for the capital, Minsk. At the appointed moment, the cargo doors opened, and an invasion force of tiny plush freedom fighters parachuted to the ground.

Belarus was under attack -- by teddy bears.

Three members of a Swedish advertising firm planned and carried out the operation last month, adorning more than 800 plush bears with signs promoting democracy and denigrating Belarus's authoritarian government.

Comedic touches aside, the security breach has become a major embarrassment for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has channeled his country's meager resources into maintaining a calcified police state.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ. "Teddy Bears Fall From Sky, and Heads Roll in Minsk." The New York Times (August 2, 2012): A4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 1, 2012.)






July 11, 2012

Muckraking Friend of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Was "Intrigued by Mussolini" and "Captivated by Lenin"



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Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-NV754_bkrvst_DV_20110510153656.jpg






(p. 29) As one of the original "muckrakers," Steffens wrote newspaper and magazine exposés that gave journalism a new purpose, . . .


. . .


He learned to write and to invest, and within nine years was the managing editor of McClure's, one of the most popular and prestigious magazines in the country.

He was, as usual, in the right place at the right time. Volatile Sam McClure was transforming his namesake publication into a journal that would rip the veil from American life, forcing readers to confront the corruption that had seeped into every seam of their democracy. The January 1903 issue alone featured an installment of Ida Tarbell's groundbreaking history of the Standard Oil Company; . . .


. . .


He managed to remain friends with Roosevelt and then Woodrow Wilson . . .


. . .


Intrigued by Mussolini, Steffens was captivated by Lenin, whom he interviewed briefly during the revolution. He became one of the first of that sad little band of Western intellectuals who fell head over heels for the Soviet Union. Unlike most of them, he did not deny the stories of atrocities leaking out of the workers' paradise. Even more chilling, he simply believed them necessary to bring about the great changes to come. He never wavered from his infamous first impression of the U.S.S.R., "I have seen the future, and it works." Instead, living comfortably on money he made from the stock market, he insisted that "nothing must jar our perfect loyalty to the party and its leaders," and that "the notion of liberty . . . is false, a hangover from our Western tyranny."



For the full review, see:

KEVIN BAKER. "Lincoln Steffens: Muckraker's Progress." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 15, 2011): 29.

(Note: ellipses added except for the one inside the last quoted paragraph.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 13, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Hartshorn, Peter. I Have Seen the Future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2011.






May 15, 2012

Cuban Dissident Dies after Communist Police Beat Him in Park



(p. 12) Havana

OUTSIDE the sun is blindingly hot, and in the immigration office 100 people are sweating profusely. But no one complains. A critical word, a demanding attitude, could end in punishment. So we all wait silently for a "white card," authorization to travel outside Cuba.

The white card is a piece of the migratory absurdities that prevent Cubans from freely leaving and entering their own country. It is our own Berlin Wall without the concrete, the land-mining of our borders without explosives. A wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim stares of soldiers. This capricious exit permit costs over $200, a year's salary for the average Cuban. But money is not enough. Nor is a valid passport. We must also meet other, unwritten requirements, ideological and political conditions that make us eligible, or not, to board a plane.


. . .


Thousands of Cubans have been condemned to immobility on this island, though no court has issued such a verdict. Our "crime" is thinking critically of the government, being a member of an opposition group or subscribing to a platform in defense of human rights.

In my case, I can flaunt the sad record of having received 19 denials since 2008 of my applications for a white card.


. . .


That same afternoon, as I was issued one more denial, my cellphone rang insistently in my pocket. A broken voice related to me the last moments in the life of Juan Wilfredo Soto, a dissident who died several days after being handcuffed and beaten by the police in a public park. I sat down to steady myself, my ears ringing, my face flush.

I went home and looked at my passport, full of visas to enter a dozen countries but lacking any authorization to leave my own. Next to its blue cover my husband placed a report of the details of Juan Wilfredo Soto's death. Looking from his face in the photograph to the national seal on my passport, I could only conclude that in Cuba, nothing has changed.



For the full commentary, see:

YOANI SANCHEZ. "The Dream of Leaving Cuba." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 22, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated April 21, 2012.)






April 22, 2012

Today Is Tweflth Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2012) is the twelfth anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.










March 11, 2012

"Innovation and Invention Don't Grow Out of the Government's Orders"



ZhouYouguangTrendyOldGuy2012-03-07.jpg""You can have democracy no matter what level of development. Just look at the Arab Spring."- Zhou Youguang" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BEIJING. EVEN at 106 years old, Zhou Youguang is the kind of creative thinker that Chinese leaders regularly command the government to cultivate in their bid to raise their nation from the world's factory floor.

So it is curious that he embodies a contradiction at the heart of their premise: the notion that free thinkers are to be venerated unless and until they challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.

Mr. Zhou is the inventor of Pinyin, the Romanized spelling system that linked China's ancient written language to the modern age and helped China all but stamp out illiteracy. He was one of the leaders of the Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1980s. He has written about 40 books, the most recent published last year.


. . .


His blog entries range from the modernization of Confucianism to Silk Road history and China's new middle class. Computer screens hurt his eyes, but he devours foreign newspapers and magazines. A well-known Chinese artist nicknamed him "Trendy Old Guy."


. . .


THE decade-long Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 wiped out Mr. Zhou's lingering belief in communism. He was publicly humiliated and sent to toil for two years in the wilderness.


. . .


About Mao, he said in an interview: "I deny he did any good." About the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: "I am sure one day justice will be done." About popular support for the Communist Party: "The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know."

As for fostering creativity in the Communist system, Mr. Zhou had this to say, in a 2010 book of essays: "Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don't grow out of the government's orders."

No sooner had the first batch of copies been printed than the book was banned in China.



For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time." The New York Times (Sat., March 3, 2012): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 2, 2012.)






February 16, 2012

"Human Progress Is Built on Man's Desire to Correct His Mistakes"



ChinaInTenWordsBK2012-02-04.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A17) Yu Hua is one of China's most acclaimed novelists, hugely popular in his own country and the recipient of several international literary prizes. He brings a novelist's sensibility to "China in Ten Words," his first work of nonfiction to be published in English. This short book is part personal memoir about the Cultural Revolution and part meditation on ordinary life in China today. It is also a wake-up call about widespread social discontent that has the potential to explode in an ugly way.


. . .


Mr. Yu argues that corruption infects every aspect of modern Chinese society, including the legal system. Historically, Chinese peasants with grievances could go to the capital and petition the emperor for redress. Today, Mr. Yu writes, millions--yes, millions--of desperate citizens flock to Beijing each year hoping to find an honest official who will dispense justice where the law has failed them at home. What will happen when they discover that their leaders at the national level are just as corrupt as those at the local level?

The violence and deprivations of the Cultural Revolution are by now well known, but Mr. Yu's reminiscences add color and texture to what the world has learned in recent years about that lost decade. The youthful Yu Hua is something of a wise guy and a schemer, pitting himself against bureaucratic inanities. It is sometimes impossible to know whether to laugh or cry.


. . .


As awful as the Cultural Revolution was, in Mr. Yu's telling its horrors sometimes pale next to those of the present day. The chapter on "bamboozle" describes how trickery, fraud and deceit have become a way of life in modern China. "There is a breakdown of social morality and a confusion in the value system of China today," he states. He writes, for example, about householders around the country who are evicted from their homes on the orders of unscrupulous, all-powerful local officials.

Mr. Yu's portrait of contemporary Chinese society is deeply pessimistic. The competition is so intense that, for most people, he says, survival is "like war." He has few hopeful words to offer, other than to quote the ancient philosopher Mencius, who taught that human progress is built on man's desire to correct his mistakes. Meanwhile, he writes, "China's pain is mine."



For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Cultural Lexicon; People, leader, reading, revolution, disparity, copycat and bamboozle--some words that serve as a springboard for critiques of China." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 7, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Yu, Hua. China in Ten Words. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011.






February 14, 2012

Marco Rubio's Parents Worked Hard so He Could Do Something He Loves



RubioMarco2012-02-04.jpg


Marco Rubio. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 10) Your parents came to Miami from Cuba in the 1950s. Your dad became a bartender, and your mom worked as a hotel maid, among other jobs. Was it always clear that you wouldn't follow them into a service job?

The service industry is hard, honorable work, but early on my parents drove it into us that a job is what you do to make a living; a career is when you get paid to do something that you love. They had jobs so I could have a career.


. . .


Koch Industries, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among your top career campaign contributors. What do you say to people who believe that they're investing in you so that you'll push to overhaul the tax code to their benefit?

People buy into my agenda. I don't buy into anyone's agenda. I tell people what I stand for, and the things I've stood for were the same at the very beginning, when none of those people were giving me money.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN, interviewer. "TALK; Marco Rubio Won't Be V.P." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 29, 2012): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 26, 2012.)






January 25, 2012

Vaclav Havel Fought for Freedom



HavelVaclavMourningWenceslasSquare2012-01-21.jpg"Mourning; Thousands gathered on Sunday in Wenceslas Square in Prague, some under a Czech national flag, to marke the death of Vaclav Havel." Source of caption: print version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below. Source of photo: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-PGUPpCvWzRQ/Tu9C59lXdJI/AAAAAAAAAEQ/0lcI7EfO8P4/s1600/Vaclav%2BHavel%2B3.jpg [The photo appeared on p. A10 of the print version of the obituary, but was not included with the online version.]


(p. A1) Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident whose eloquent dissections of Communist rule helped to destroy it in revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall and swept Mr. Havel himself into power, died on Sunday. He was 75.


. . .


A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation's most seductively nonconformist writers.

All the while, Mr. Havel came to personify the soul of the Czech nation.

His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the end of more than 40 years of Communist rule and the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, (p. A10) without a single shot fired.


. . .


He never stopped preaching that the fight for political freedom needed to outlive the end of the cold war. He praised the American invasion of Iraq for deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein.

He continued to worry about what he called "the old European disease" -- "the tendency to make compromises with evil, to close one's eyes to dictatorship, to practice a politics of appeasement."



For the full obituary, see:

DAN BILEFSKY and JANE PERLEZ. "VACLAV HAVEL, 1936-2011; Czechs' Dissident Conscience, Turned President." The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated December 18, 2011, and had the title "VACLAV HAVEL, 1936-2011; Vaclav Havel, Former Czech President, Dies at 75.")





November 27, 2011

Karl Marx "Had Engels Embezzle Money for Him from His Father's Firm"



(p. 419) One of the few figures who actively sympathized with the plight of the poor was also one of the most interestingly improbable. Friedrich Engels came to England at the age of just twenty-one in 1842 to help run his father's textile factory in Manchester. The firm, Ermen & Engels, manufac-(p. 420)tured sewing thread. Although young Engels was a faithful son and a reasonably conscientious businessman - eventually
he became a partner - he also spent a good deal of his time modestly but persistently embezzling funds to support his friend and collaborator Karl Marx in London.

It would be hard to imagine two more improbable founders for a movement as ascetic as Communism. While earnestly desiring the downfall of capitalism, Engels made himself rich and comfortable from all its benefits. He kept a stable of fine horses, rode to hounds at weekends, enjoyed the best wines, maintained a mistress, hobnobbed with the elite of Manchester at the fashionable Albert Club - in short, did everything one would expect of a successful member of the gentry. Marx, meanwhile, constantly denounced the bourgeoisie but lived as bourgeois a life as he could manage, sending his daughters to private schools and boasting at every opportunity of his wife's aristocratic background.

Engels's patient support for Marx was little short of wondrous. In that milestone year of 1851, Marx accepted a job as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, but with no intention of actually writing any articles. His English wasn't good enough, for one thing. His idea was that Engels would write them for him and he would collect the fee, and that is precisely what happened. Even then, the income wasn't enough to support his carelessly extravagant lifestyle, so he had Engels embezzle money for him from his father's firm. Engels did so for years, at considerable risk to himself.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 2, 2011

Reagan Fought "Tyranny" of Big Government



London-statue-of-Reagan-2011-08-10.jpg


















Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and London statue of Ronald Reagan. Source of photo: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2011/7/4/1309780763409/London-statue-of-Reagan-u-001.jpg



The McCarthy mentioned in the passage quoted below is a California representative who also serves as majority whip.


(p. A9) The statue of a smiling Reagan, dressed in a crisp suit, was paid for by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation as part of a worldwide effort to promote his legacy, according to the organization's executive director.


. . .


Though Mrs. Thatcher is in poor health and did not attend, she provided a statement that was read by Mr. Hague. "Through his strength and conviction," she wrote, "he brought millions of people to freedom as the Iron Curtain finally came down."

In a speech, Mr. McCarthy described Mr. Reagan's fight not only against the forces of Communism, but against the "tyranny" of debt and big government. He and Mrs. Thatcher, he said, "did not move to the center to gather votes, they moved the center to them."



For the full story, see:

RAVI SOMAIYA. "Finding a New Perch, Americana Takes a Stand in London." The New York Times (Tues., July 5, 2011): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 4, 2011 and has the title "Statue of Reagan Is Unveiled in London.")





September 24, 2011

Chinese Boom Financed by Government Debt and "Clever Accounting"



EmptyLotForWuhanTower2011-08-08.jpg "An empty lot in Wuhan, China, where developers intend to build a tower taller than the Empire State Building in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) . . . the Wuhan Metro is only one piece of a $120 billion municipal master plan that includes two new airport terminals, a new financial district, a cultural district and a riverfront promenade with an office tower half again as high as the Empire State Building.


. . .


The plans for Wuhan, a provincial capital about 425 miles west of Shanghai, might seem extravagant. But they are not unusual. Dozens of other Chinese cities are racing to complete infrastructure projects just as expensive and ambitious, or more (p. A8) so, as they play their roles in this nation's celebrated economic miracle.

In the last few years, cities' efforts have helped government infrastructure and real estate spending surpass foreign trade as the biggest contributor to China's growth. Subways and skyscrapers, in other words, are replacing exports of furniture and iPhones as the symbols of this nation's prowess.

But there are growing signs that China's long-running economic boom could be undermined by these building binges, which are financed through heavy borrowing by local governments and clever accounting that masks the true size of the debt.

The danger, experts say, is that China's municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt -- a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation's economic growth for years or even decades to come. Just last week China's national auditor, who reports to the cabinet, warned of the perils of local government borrowing. And on Tuesday the Beijing office of Moody's Investors Service issued a report saying the national auditor might have understated Chinese banks' actual risks from loans to local governments.

Because Chinese growth has been one of the few steady engines in the global economy in recent years, any significant slowdown in this country would have international repercussions.



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload." The New York Times (Thurs., July 7, 2011): C8.

(Note: online version of the article is dated July 6, 2011 and has the title "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 16, 2011

Castro's Communist Goons Impound Cuba Libre



SanchezYoaniCubanBlogger.jpg "Her writing, said Yoani Sánchez, above in her Havana apartment, describes "the sentiments of one person but sums up the reality of many people."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) Like any other first-time author, Yoani Sánchez was looking forward to receiving copies of her book, "Cuba Libre," after it was published last year. But when the package sent from Buenos Aires by her publisher arrived in Havana, the Cuban customs service impounded the parcel and, after she complained, sent her a notice explaining its action.

"The content of the book entitled 'Free Cuba' transgresses against the general interests of the nation, in that it argues that certain political and economic changes are necessary in Cuba in order for its citizens to enjoy greater material well-being and attain personal fulfillment," stated the document, which Ms. Sánchez posted on her Web site. Such positions "are extremes totally contrary to the principles of our society."

Outside her homeland, though, Ms. Sánchez's writing is free of such censorship, and she has emerged as an important new voice, both literary and political. Published in the United States in May under the title "Havana Real" (Melville House), her book draws on the same collection of sketches of daily life in Cuba -- a dreary, enervating routine of food shortages, transportation troubles and narrowed opportunity -- that she has been posting on her Web site, Generation Y (desdecuba.com/generationy), since 2007.


. . .


(p. C6) Recently Ms. Sánchez completed a second book, a manual whose title translates as "Wordpress: A Blog for Speaking to the World." A new fiber-optic cable connecting Cuba with South America has just been laid, and when it begins fully operating later this summer, it is likely to increase opportunities not just for her, but for other dissident bloggers and writers, many of whom have attended the seminars she conducted that led to the writing of the second book.

"It's interesting that we're talking not about a bearded 80-year-old man, but a sharp, fearless, skinny 35-year-old mother," said Ted Henken, an expert on Cuba and the Internet who teaches at the City University of New York and visited Ms. Sánchez in April. "That's new, and in some ways, by spreading the virus of blogging and tweeting to others, she has displaced Che and Fidel among young, progressive people."



For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "In Cuba, the Voice of a Blog Generation." The New York Times (Weds., July 6, 2011): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 5, 2011.)






July 1, 2011

500 Kinds of Hammers: Even Marx Knew that Capitalism Produces Variety



HammerDiversityBasallaPage4.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 1. Source of graphic: page 4 of the Basalla book quoted and cited aways down below.




(p. 21 of Bryson) Suddenly, for the first time In history, there was in most people's lives a lot of everything. Karl Marx, living in London, noted with a tone of wonder, and just a hint of helpless admiration, that it was possible to buy five hundred kinds of hammer In Britain. Everywhere was activity, Modern Londoners live in a great Victorian city; the Victorians lived through It, so to speak. In twelve years eight railway termini opened In London. The scale of disruption--the trenches, the tunnels, the muddy excavations, the congestion of wagons and other vehicles, the smoke, the din, the clutter--that came from filling the city with railways, bridges, sewers, pumping stations, power stations, subway lines, and all the rest meant that Victorian London was not just the biggest city in the world but the noisiest, foulest, muddiest, busiest, most choked and dug-over place the world had ever seen.

The 1851 census also showed that more people in Britain now lived in cities than in the countryside--the first time that this had happened anywhere in the world--and the most visible consequence of this was crowds on a scale never before experienced. People now worked en masse, traveled en masse, were schooled, imprisoned, and hospitalized en masse. When they went out to enjoy themselves, they did that en masse, and nowhere did they go with greater enthusiasm and rapture than to the Crystal Palace.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.



On Marx and hammers, Bryson references p. 156 of Petroski:

Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts--from Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers--Came to Be as They Are. New York: A. Knopf, 1992.


Actually, Petroski's source on Marx on hammers clearly is Basalla who he quotes on pp. 23-24:

(p. 23 of Petroski) George Basalla, in The Evolution of Technology, suggests the great "diversity of things made by human hands" over the past two hundred years by pointing out that five million patents have been issued in America alone. . . . (p. 24) He then introduces the fundamental questions of his study:

The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumb-tacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn . . . that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts. What forces led to the proliferation of so many variations of this ancient and common tool? Or more generally, why are there so many different kinds of things?

Basalla dismisses the "traditional wisdom" that attributes technological diversity to necessity and utility, and looks for other explanations, "especially ones that can incorporate the most general assumptions about the meaning and goals of life."


(Note: italics in original; first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)


Petroski then again mentions Marx on hammers on the p. 156 that is referenced by Bryson:

(p. 156 of Petroski) In spite of Marx's astonishment that five hundred different kinds of hammers were made in Birmingham in the 1860s, this was no capitalist plot. Indeed, if there were a plot, it was to not make more. The proliferation of hammer types occurred because there were then, as now, many specialized uses of hammers, and each user wished to possess a tool that was suited as ideally as possible to the tasks he performed perhaps thousands of times each day, but seldom if ever in a formal social context. I have often reflected on the value of special hammers while using the two ordinary ones from my tool chest: a familiar carpenter's hammer with a claw, and a smaller version that fits in places the larger one does not. The tasks I've applied them to have included driving and removing nails, of course, but also opening and closing paint cans, pounding on chisels, tacking down carpets, straightening dented bicycle fenders, breaking bricks, driving wooden stakes, and on and on.



The Basalla book is:

Basalla, George. The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.


On p. 2 of Basalla, he writes:

(p. 2 of Basalla) The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumbtacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn, as well he might have been, that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts . . .

(Note: ellipsis added.)


In Basalla's notes to this chapter, the only Marx he mentions is the first volume of Capital. Searching volume one of Capital in Google Books for "hammer," one discovers the relevant passage on p. 375:

(p. 374 of Marx) Manufacture is characterized by the differentiation of (p. 375) the instruments of labour--a differentiation whereby implements of a given sort acquire fixed shapes, adapted to each particular application, and by the specialisation (sic) of those instruments, giving to each special instrument its full play only in the hands of a specific detail labourer. In Birmingham alone 500 varieties of hammers are produced, and not only is each adapted to one particular process, but several varieties often serve exclusively for the different operations in one and the same process. The manufacturing period simplifies, improves, and multiplies the implements of labour, by adapting them to the exclusively special functions of each detail labourer.


The Marx book is:

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. New York: Modern Library, 1906 [first German edition in 1867].




HammerDiversityBasallaPage5.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 2. Source of graphic: page 5 of the Basalla book quoted and cited somewhere above.






June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."


. . .


Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.


. . .


A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.


. . .


Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")





June 9, 2011

"Progress Depended on the Empirical Habit of Thought"



In the passage below from 1984 Orwell presents an underground rebel's account of why the authoritarian socialist dystopia cannot advance in science and technology.


(p. 155) The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward. In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly, and efficient--a glittering (p. 156) antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete--was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society.



Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





June 1, 2011

Orwell's Indictment of Life Under Communism



(p. 52) He meditated resentfully on the physical texture of life. Had it always been like this? Had food always tasted like this? He looked round the canteen. A low-ceilinged, crowded room, its walls grimy from the contact of innumerable bodies; battered metal tables and chairs, placed so close together that you sat with elbows touching; bent spoons, dented trays, coarse white mugs; all surfaces greasy, grime in every crack; and a sourish, composite smell of bad gin and bad coffee and metallic stew and dirty clothes. Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to. It was true that he had no memories of anything greatly different. In any time that he could accurately remember, there had never been quite enough to eat, one had never had socks or underclothes that were not full of holes, furniture had always been battered and rickety, rooms underheated, tube trains crowded, houses falling to pieces, bread dark-coloured, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient--nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin. And though, of course, it grew worse as one's body aged, was it not a sign that this was NOT the natural order of things, if one's heart sickened at the discomfort and dirt and scarcity, the interminable winters, the stickiness of one's socks, the lifts that never worked, the cold water, the gritty soap, the cigarettes that came to pieces, the food with its strange evil tastes? Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different?


Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].


By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





April 22, 2011

Today Is Eleventh Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Today (April 22, 2011) is the eleventh anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.


(p. 7A) MIAMI (AP) - When federal agents stormed a home in the Little Havana community, snatched Elian Gonzalez from his father's relatives and put him on a path back to his father in Cuba, thousands of Cuban-Americans took to Miami's streets. Their anger helped give George W. Bush the White House months later and simmered long after that.


. . .


Elian was just shy of his sixth birthday when a fisherman found him floating in an inner tube in the waters off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving 1999. His mother and others drowned trying to reach the U.S.

Elian's father, who was separated from his mother, remained in Cuba, where he and Fidel Castro's communist government demanded the boy's return.

Elian was placed in the home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, while the Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles went to court to fight an order by U.S. immigration officials to return him to Cuba. Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general and a Miami native, insisted the boy belonged with his father.

When talks broke down, she ordered the raid carried out April 22, 2000, the day before Easter. Her then-deputy, current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has said she wept after giving the order.

Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz captured Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who had found the boy, backing into a bedroom closet with a terrified Elian in his arms as an immigration agent in tactical gear inches away aimed his gun toward them. The image won the Pulitzer Prize and brought criticism of the Justice Department to a frenzy.


. . .


The Cuban government, which tightly controls media access to Elian and his father, said neither is willing to give an interview. A government representative agreed to forward written questions from the AP to Elian, but there has been no response.

Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said his group predicted in 2000 that Elian would become a prop for the Castro government if he were returned. It was one reason, he said, the group fought for him to be kept in the U.S. and would do it again today, although behind the scenes to avoid negative publicity for the Cuban-American community.

"We knew what this kid was going to be subjected to," Hernandez said. "And time has proven us right."



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





April 21, 2011

To "Rejuvenate" Communist Party, Castros Pick New Number Two



MachadoJoseRamonNewCubanNumberTwo2011-04-20.jpg"A Cuban Leader Not Named Castro. After talk about the need for rejuvenation, President Raúl Castro of Cuba selected José Ramón Machado, left, 80, for the party's second-highest post." Source of caption: p. A1 of the print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (The photo appeared at the top of p. A1 and referred the reader to the related article on p. A11.)




(p. A11) HAVANA -- Cuba on Tuesday made the most significant change to its leadership since the 1959 revolution, naming someone other than the Castro brothers for the first time to fill the second-highest position in the Communist Party and possibly setting the stage for their eventual successor.

The appointment, at the party's first congress in 14 years, coincided with a blizzard of changes opening the way for more private enterprise. Taken together, the actions were meant to pull the revolution, at 53, out of a midlife crisis that has led to a sinking economy and, even in the estimation of President Raúl Castro, stagnant thinking.

But Mr. Castro, for all his talk about the need to rejuvenate the system, in the end stuck with the old guard, many of them fellow military officers, for now.

"The rebel army is the soul of the revolution," he said, quoting Fidel Castro, his brother.

President Castro, 79, had hinted that he might select a young up-and-comer to guide a post-Castro era. Instead, he tapped a party stalwart, José Ramón Machado, 80, who fought at his side in the mountains during the rebellion.



For the full story, see:

RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. "Cuba Lays Foundation for a Post-Castro Leader." The New York Times (Weds., April 19, 2011): A11.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 19, 2011 and has the title "'Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader.")





April 17, 2011

Monster Mao



RealMaoBK2011-03-11.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/chinesepolitics/chang-halliday_files/changUS.jpg



(p. 11) After Mao comes to power, Chang and Halliday show him continuing his thuggery. This is more familiar ground, but still there are revelations. Mao used the Korean War as a chance to slaughter former Nationalist soldiers. And Mao says some remarkable things about the peasants he was supposed to be championing. When they were starving in the 1950's, he instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." In Moscow, he offered to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time, and in 1958 he blithely declared of the overworked population: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die."

At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."

Chang and Halliday recount how the Great Leap Forward led to the worst famine in world history in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and how in 1966 Mao clawed his way back to supreme power in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the most fascinating material involves Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, who comes across as a complete toady of Mao, even though Mao tormented him by forcing him to make self-criticisms and by seating him in third-rate seats during meetings. In the mid-1970's, Zhou was suffering from cancer and yet Mao refused to allow him to get treatment - wanting Zhou to be the one to die first. "Operations are ruled out for now" for Zhou, Mao declared on May 9, 1974. "Absolutely no room for argument." And so, sure enough, Zhou died in early 1976, and Mao in September that year.

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths.



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF. "The Real Mao." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 23, 2005): 22.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Norte: the online version of the review has the title "'Mao': The Real Mao.")


Book reviewed:

Chang, Jung , and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Knopf, 2005.





January 25, 2011

Cuban Government Gets Billions by "Exporting" Doctors; Some Defect



RamirezFelixCubanDoctor2011-01-21.jpg "Dr. Felix Ramírez in Gambia in 2008." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) Felix Ramírez slipped into an Internet cafe in the West African nation of The Gambia, scoured the Web for contact information for U.S. diplomats, then phoned the U.S. embassy in Banjul, the capital.

He told the receptionist he was an American tourist who had lost his passport, and asked to speak to the visa section. As he waited to be connected, he practiced his script: "I am a Cuban doctor looking to go to America. When can we meet?"

Dr. Ramírez says he was told to go to a crowded Banjul supermarket and to look for a blond woman in a green dress--an American consular official. They circled one another a few times, then began to talk.

That furtive meeting in September 2008 began a journey for the 37-year-old surgeon that ended in May 2009 in Miami, where he became a legal refugee with a shot at citizenship.

Dr. Ramírez is part of a wave of Cubans who have defected to the U.S. since 2006 under the little-known Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program, which allows Cuban doctors and some other health workers who are serving their government overseas to enter the U.S. immediately as refugees. Data released to The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, through Dec. 16, 1,574 CMPP visas have been issued by U.S. consulates in 65 countries.

Cuba has been sending medical "brigades" to foreign countries since 1973, helping it to win friends abroad, to back "revolutionary" regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in (p. A12) 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams--revenue that Cuba's central bank counts as "exports of services"--vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year. Many Cubans complain that the brigades have undermined Cuba's ability to maintain a high standard of health care at home.



For the full story, see:

JOEL MILLMAN. "New Prize in Cold War: Cuban Doctors." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JANUARY 15, 2011): A1 & A12.


CubanDefectingDoctorsGraph2011-01-21.jpg















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.







January 20, 2011

Economic Importance of Inarticulate Knowledge Undermines Case for Central Planning



(p. 78) . . . the intelligence of humans, though immensely strengthened by articulation, nonetheless contains a large component of tacit understanding by individuals who know more than they can say. If this is also true with respect to the sorts of knowledge relevant to our economic activities, then no comprehensive planning agency could obtain the sort of knowledge necessary for economic planning, for it would lie buried deep in the minds of millions of persons.


Source:

Lavoie, Don. National Economic Planning: What Is Left? Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1985.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






January 13, 2011

Witch Tax Rebellion in Romania: "We Do Harm to Those Who Harm Us"



(p. 16A) MOGOSOIA, Romania--Everyone curses the tax man, but Romanian witches angry about having to pay up for the first time are planning to use cat excrement and dead dogs to cast spells on the president and government.

Also among Romania's newest taxpayers are fortune tellers--but they probably should have seen it coming.


. . .


Romanian witches from the east and west will head to the southern plains and the Danube River on Thursday to threaten the government with spells and spirits because of the tax law, which came into effect Jan. 1.

A dozen witches will hurl the poisonous mandrake plant into the Danube to put a hex on government officials "so evil will befall them," said a witch named Alisia. She identified herself with one name--customary among Romania's witches.


. . .


. . . spiritualism has long been tolerated by the Orthodox Church in Romania, and the late Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, had their own personal witch.

Queen witch Bratara Buzea, 63, who was imprisoned in 1977 for witchcraft under Ceausescu's repressive regime, is furious about the new law.

Sitting cross-legged in her villa in the lake resort of Mogosoaia, just north of Bucharest, she said Wednesday she planned to cast a spell using a particularly effective concoction of cat excrement and a dead dog, along with a chorus of witches.

"We do harm to those who harm us," she said. "They want to take the country out of this crisis using us? They should get us out of the crisis because they brought us into it."



For the full story, see:

ALISON MUTLER. "Witches Curses Over Paying Tax." The Denver Post (Thurs., January 6, 2011): 16A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Curses! Romania's witches forced to pay income tax.")


If you prefer a briefer version of the witch story, you may consult:

The Associated Press. "A Tax on Witches? A Pox on the President." The New York Times (Fri., January 7, 2011): A9.

(Note: the online version of the NYT article is dated January 6, 2011.)





January 5, 2011

Chinese Communist Oligarchs Unfriend the World



ChinaFacebookLightMap2011-01-02.jpg "The Facebook friendship map, created by Paul Butler." Source of caption and map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B7) The contrast between Facebook's spreading global network of users and its effective absence from China is starkly illustrated by a map, produced by a Facebook intern and flagged on the Economist's website earlier this month, that has lately become a point of fascination of the Chinese Internet.

Described by its creator Paul Butler as "a social graph of 500 million people," the map represents the worldwide volume of Facebook friendships across geographic locations using lines of varying intensity. Butler's methodology is interesting in its own right, but what appeared to most interest China's netizens was how China appears on the map. Or, rather, how it doesn't.


. . .


Since Facebook is blocked in China, the number Facebook friendship lines flowing in and out of the country is essentially negligible, making China almost impossible to see."



For the full story, see:

Josh Chin. "Facebook Gets Back Into China (Sort of...)." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 21, 2010): B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Facebook Gets Back Into China (Sort of...)" and includes paragraphs at the end that were not in the print version.)





January 3, 2011

Not Long on Dong---Vietnam's Proletariat Use American Dollar Instead



HanoiBlackMarketMoneyExchange2010-12-29.jpg "A black-market money exchange in Hanoi trades dong for dollars." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


They say that for children, 'a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.' Maybe for adults, a spoonful of irony helps the zeitgeist go down?

America lost the war in Vietnam to the Communist Vietcong. Now, the Vietnam government, consisting of the linear descendants of the Communist Vietcong, has so run their currency (the dong) into the ground, that Vietnam's proletariat are choosing to use the American dollar instead of the Vietnamese dong.


(p. C1) HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam--At a time when many emerging markets are trying to stem a destabilizing rise in their local currencies against the dollar, up-and-coming Vietnam is grappling with a rather different problem: Residents can't get enough of the U.S. greenback, as their own currency, the dong, threatens to spiral lower.


. . .


. . . the Communist-run government's determination to hit persistently high growth targets, coupled with state-directed lending growth of more than 30% annually in recent years, have flooded Vietnam's economy with money and created a raft of problems for the local currency. The excess capital has triggered a sharper uptick in inflation than has been seen in other emerging markets, stripping confidence in the dong as residents doubt their government can manage rising costs in the months ahead.


. . .


. . . , the government is projecting an inflation rate of at least 7% a year for the next five years, far higher than its neighbors, in a sign that it intends to pursue its target-driven, growth-at-all-costs policies.

"This isn't a sustainable way to run an economy," says Nguyen Quang A, an economist who ran Vietnam's only independent economic think tank until its founders opted to close it amid tightening government censorship.



For the full story, see:

JAMES HOOKWAY. "Vietnam Battles Dark Side of Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., DECEMBER 16, 2010): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 15, 2010; the last couple of sentences (starting with "the government") appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)





December 2, 2010

Castro's Reform: Private Restaurants May Now Have Up to 20 Seats



CubanRestaurant2010-11-14.jpg "Restaurants, . . . , offer limited menus." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A18) HAVANA--A package of capitalist reforms from President Raúl Castro is creating something new for many Cubans: uncertainty.

Since 1959, when Fidel Castro rode into Havana atop a tank, the Cuban state has promised its people the certainty of a job, food, education and health care. No one expected to get rich under the arrangement; the old joke here is that people pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay them.


. . .


On the island, where many Cubans have taken to using the word "changes," rather than "reforms," to refer to the restructuring, people remain cautious. Some suspect that once the economy recovers and small businesses begin to grow, the Cuban government will tighten the noose on entrepreneurs with stricter regulation and steep taxes.

A restaurant on Calle Animas offers an example of such frustrations. Opened in 1996 after an effort by Fidel Castro to jump-start the domestic economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has never expanded, because of a law that limits privately owned restaurants to only 12 seats. "It's the rules, you live by them," the owner says.

Prices are high--about $20 for a lunch with fish from the fixed menu--largely, the owner says, because she can't find ingredients anywhere except in underground markets, where prices are steep. Under the new rules, private restaurants will be permitted to have up to 20 seats. Still, the owner complains that state-run restaurants in the tourist district, which don't face such restrictions, have many more than 20 seats.




For the full story, see:

A WSJ Staff Reporter. "Cubans Dip a Toe in Capitalist Waters; As State Cuts Half a Million Jobs, Future Looks Murky to Some; 'We're Being Left to Fend for Ourselves'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 6, 2010): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)






November 6, 2010

Chinese Government Fines BYD and Seizes BYD Factory Site



WangMungerBuffettBYD2010-10-23.jpg"BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu, left, at a celebration last month in Shenzhen city with Berkshire Hathaway's Charles Munger, center, and Warren Buffett." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) BEIJING--China's central government ordered BYD Co. to surrender land in a zoning dispute, a decision that is likely to slow the Chinese battery and auto maker's push to expand in the nation's growing auto market.

China's Ministry of Land and Resources also hit BYD with a 2.95 million yuan ($442,000) fine, the ministry said on its website Wednesday. The ministry confiscated 121 acres of land in the central Chinese city of Xian, where BYD executives said the company has been building a car assembly plant. BYD had hoped to start production at the complex as early as next year.

The ministry said zoning for the land was "illegally adjusted" to industrial use from agricultural use but didn't elaborate. The decision comes as some government officials have shown concern about excess capacity in the auto industry.


. . .


Mid American Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owns 10% of BYD.



For the full story, see:

NORIHIKO SHIROUZU. "China Deals a Setback to BYD." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCTOBER 14, 2010): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Beijing Halts Construction of BYD Auto Plant.")





October 15, 2010

What Cuba Must Do to Welcome Entrepreneurs



BlancoSerafinCuban2010-0.jpg"Serafin Blanco is the owner of Ñooo! ¡Que Barato!, a huge discount store in Hialeah, Fla., where recent arrivals stock up on $1.99 flip-flops and other items for relatives to resell in Cuba." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) "Things move very slowly in Cuba be-(p. A9)cause they are very, very concerned about breaking the balance of power with economic reforms," said Jorge Sanguinetty, president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, a research group. "This is the reality. They don't want to emulate Gorbachev when he started making reforms in Russia and the whole thing came down."

Mr. Sanguinetty, who served as a senior economic official with the Cuban government until he resigned in June 1966, said that Cuba might be just beginning the long, painstaking process of rebuilding the most basic economic relationships. He noted that Cuba even eliminated accounting schools in the first decade after the 1959 revolution because officials thought money would be unnecessary, and that many Cubans had no experience with credit cards, banks or checks. Now, he said, the government must move forward -- with import-export licenses, with clearer communication about rules -- if it hopes to make entrepreneurs a vital element of the economy.



For the full story, see:

DAMIEN CAVE. "Near to Cuba, Wary Kin Wait for Proof of a New Path." The New York Times (Weds., September 22, 2010): A6 & A9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 21, 2010 and has the slightly different title "Near Cuba, Wary Kin Wait for Proof of a New Path.")





October 6, 2010

China's Continued Growth Requires Reliance on Private Enterprise



(p. A21) No country in the modern world has managed persistent economic growth without considerable reliance on private enterprise and decentralized private markets. All centrally planned economies failed to achieve sustained development, including the Soviet Union before its collapse, China before market reforms began in the late 1970s, and Cuba since Castro's revolution in the late 1950s.

China's private sector has led its dominance in textiles, electronics, and other consumer and producer goods. It's followed the model of the "Asian Tigers"--Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan--and relied heavily on exports produced with cheap labor. In the process, China has accumulated enormous reserves, as Taiwan, Japan and other rapidly growing Asian economies did in past decades.

Poorer countries like China need not get everything "right" to grow rapidly through exports to richer countries. They need only have some strong sectors that use world markets to fuel overall growth. Japan's rapid growth from the 1960s-1980s was led by a highly efficient manufacturing sector. Yet at the same time Japan also had a large and inefficient service sector, and an agricultural sector that was riddled with subsidies and inefficient incentives.

Similarly, China's economy still has a glut of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) with excessive employment and low productivity. Their importance has fallen over time, but Chinese economists estimate that they still control about half of nonagricultural GDP. One crucial example is the state-controlled financial sector that makes cheap loans to other large, inefficient and unprofitable state enterprises. China's economy also suffers from extensive price controls, restrictions on migration, and many other structural barriers to efficient growth.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER. "China's Next Leap Forward; The jump from middle-income to rich status is much harder to achieve than the ascent from poverty. But there are plenty of reasons to believe China's growth prospects remain strong." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 29, 2010): A21.






October 5, 2010

Cuban Communists to Fire Half a Million Workers, But Will Allow Them to Become Piñata Salesmen



CubanStateStreetSweeperInHavana2010-10-01.jpg"A Cuban State worker (center) sweeps the streets in Havana." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Cuba will lay off more than half a million state workers and try to create hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs, a dramatic attempt by the hemisphere's only Communist country to shift its nearly bankrupt economy toward a more market-oriented system.

The mass layoffs will take place between now and the end of March, according to a statement issued Monday by the Cuban Workers Federation, the island nation's only official labor union. Workers will be encouraged to find jobs in Cuba's tiny private sector instead.

"Our state can't keep maintaining...bloated payrolls," the union's statement said. More than 85% of Cuba's 5.5 million workers are employed by the state.


. . .


(p. A15) Cubans who decide to go into business for themselves will find a series of obstacles, including very high taxes, lack of access to credit and foreign exchange, bans on advertising, limits on the number of people they can hire, and a litany of small-print government regulations, experts say.

Cuba's government has a list of 124 "authorized" activities for people who want to employ themselves. Among them: Toy repairman, music teacher, piñata salesman and carpenter. Carpenters are allowed only to "repair existing furniture or make new furniture upon the direct request of a customer." They cannot make "furniture to sell to the general public."



For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Nicholas Casey. "Cuba Unveils Huge Layoffs in Tilt Toward Free Market." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 14, 2010): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added between paragraphs; ellipsis internal to paragraph was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Cuba to Cut State Jobs in Tilt Toward Free Market.")



CastroPinata2010-10-01.jpg














This particular piñata model is expected to be a hot seller for the new piñata salesmen. Source of photo: http://cdn.smosh.com/smosh-pit/4/pinata-7.jpg






October 3, 2010

First Castro on "The Simpsons" Repudiated Communism; Now the Real Castro Does the Same






The clip is from the "embed" option of YouTube, and is apparently from The Simpsons episode "The Trouble with Trillions" which Wikipedia says ". . . is the twentieth episode of the ninth season of the animated television series The Simpsons, which originally aired April 5, 1998."


After viewing the above clip from YouTube, and reading the quote below from the NYT, you may be excused for concluding that the best way to learn what Castro is really thinking is to watch the Simpsons:


(p. A6) Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in his blog for Atlantic magazine that he asked Mr. Castro, . . . , last week if Cuba's model of Soviet-style Communism was still worth exporting to other countries. "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," Mr. Castro said, according to the report. Mr. Goldberg said that Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, thought Mr. Castro's answer was an acknowledgment that the state played too big a role in the economy. The comment appeared to reflect Mr. Castro's support for the economic reforms instituted by his younger brother, President Raúl Castro.


For the full story, see:

REUTERS. "Cuba: Communist Economic Model Loses a Stalwart Defender." The New York Times (Thurs., September 9, 2010): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 8, 2010.)


I ran across the Simpson Castro clip on ("The Lede; Blogging the News With Robert Mackey.")





August 28, 2010

Cuban Health Care Checkup



(p. A17) . . . it's a good time to check in on the state of the Cuban health-care system. That's just what Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, does in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.


. . .


Slightly more than half of all Cuban physicians work overseas; taxed by the Cuban state at a 66% rate, many of them wind up defecting. Doctors who remain in the country earn about $25 a month. As a result, Ms. Garrett writes, they often take "jobs as taxi drivers or in hotels," where they can make better money. As for the quality of the doctors, she notes that very few of those who manage to reach the U.S. can gain accreditation here, partly because of the language barrier, partly because of the "stark differences" in medical training. Typically, they wind up working as nurses.

As for the quality of medical treatment in Cuba, Ms. Garrett reports that hospital patients must arrive with their own syringes, towels and bed sheets. Women avoid gynecological exams "because they fear infection from unhygienic equipment and practices." Rates of cervical cancer have doubled in the past 25 years as the use of Pap tests has fallen by 30%.

And while Cuba's admirers love to advertise the country's low infant mortality rate (at least according to the Castro regime's dubious self-reporting) the flip-side has been a high rate of maternal mortality. "Most deaths," Ms. Garrett writes, "occur during delivery or within the next 48 hours and are caused by uterine hemorrhage or postpartum sepsis."



For the full commentary, see:

BRET STEPHENS. "Dr. Berwick and That Fabulous Cuban Health Care; The death march of progressive medicine." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 13, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Reference to the Garrett article:

Garrett, Laurie A. "Castrocare in Crisis; Will Lifting the Embargo Make Things Worse?" Foreign Affairs 89, no. 4 (July/August 2010): 61-73.





August 25, 2010

Lux et Veritas




japan_korea_lights2010-08-05.jpgSource of photo: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/EarthPerspectives/


What is the extended island-country on the right side of the photo above?

OK, if you got that one, here's a harder question: What is the smaller island-country to the left of the extended island-country?

Stumped? Well it's a trick question. The island-country to the left is South Korea.

But, you say, South Korea is no island.

You are right. (But then ponder why it looks like an island.)



Credits:

I first saw a version of the above photo, and heard a version of the above interpretation, in a wonderful presentation by Tony Woodlief at the MBM University at Wichita in July 2010.

The photo is a satellite composite from NASA.

"Lux et Veritas" is the motto of Yale University and is Latin for "Light and Truth." (Three years of high school Latin pay off again---thank you Miss Noble and Miss Rohrer!)





July 16, 2010

Statue of Mass Murderer Finally Removed from Gori's Central Square



StalinStatueRemoved2010-06-29.jpg "Georgian authorities, seeking to purge their country of Soviet monuments, on Friday removed a statue of Stalin from the central square of Gori, Stalin's birthplace. It had stood there for 48 years." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A4) GORI, Georgia -- In the predawn darkness on Friday, Georgian authorities carried out a clandestine operation in Gori's central square. Wrapping thick cables around Stalin's neck and under one of his armpits, they hoisted him off the pedestal where he has stood for 48 years and set him nose-first on the back of a flatbed truck.


. . .


On Friday, the culture minister, Nikolos Rurua, dismissed reports that the removal was intentionally kept quiet, pointing out that several camera crews were present. He said the vast majority of Georgians shared his view of Stalin as "a mass murderer and a political criminal."


. . .


Last summer vandals painted the statue's base with the phrases "Get off your pedestal!" and "Your place is in the museum!"

Mikheil Jeriashvili, a 19-year-old medical student, said that he was delighted at the news and that he would be happier if the authorities "removed this statue completely, or burned it or something."

"I would prefer if he had been born in another town altogether," he said.




For the full story, see:

SARAH MARCUS and ELLEN BARRY. "Georgia Knocks Stalin Off His Pedestal." The New York Times (Sat., June 26, 2010): A4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 25, 2010.)

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 2, 2010

Cellphones in North Korea Promote Free Speech



NorthKoreanDefectorCellphone2010-05-20.jpg"Mun Seong-hwi, a North Korean defector, speaking to someone in North Korea to gather information at his office in Seoul." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I have long believed, but cannot prove, that on balance technology improves human freedom more than it endangers it.

The case of cellphones in North Korea supports my belief.


(p. A1) SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea, one of the world's most impenetrable nations, is facing a new threat: networks of its own citizens feeding information about life there to South Korea and its Western allies.

The networks are the creation of a handful of North Korean defectors and South Korean human rights activists using cellphones to pierce North Korea's near-total news blackout. To build the networks, recruiters slip into China to woo the few North Koreans allowed to travel there, provide cellphones to smuggle across the border, then post informers' phoned and texted reports on Web sites.

The work is risky. Recruiters spend months identifying and coaxing potential informants, all the while evading agents from the North and the Chinese police bent on stopping their work. The North Koreans face even greater danger; exposure could lead to imprisonment -- or death.



For the full story, see

CHOE SANG-HUN. "North Koreans Use Cellphones to Bare Secrets." The New York Times (Mon., March 29, 2010): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 28, 2010.)





April 23, 2010

April 22nd Was Tenth Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elian Gonzalez



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Yesterday (April 22, 2010) was the tenth anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.


(p. 7A) MIAMI (AP) - When federal agents stormed a home in the Little Havana community, snatched Elian Gonzalez from his father's relatives and put him on a path back to his father in Cuba, thousands of Cuban-Americans took to Miami's streets. Their anger helped give George W. Bush the White House months later and simmered long after that.


. . .


Elian was just shy of his sixth birthday when a fisherman found him floating in an inner tube in the waters off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving 1999. His mother and others drowned trying to reach the U.S.

Elian's father, who was separated from his mother, remained in Cuba, where he and Fidel Castro's communist government demanded the boy's return.

Elian was placed in the home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, while the Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles went to court to fight an order by U.S. immigration officials to return him to Cuba. Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general and a Miami native, insisted the boy belonged with his father.

When talks broke down, she ordered the raid carried out April 22, 2000, the day before Easter. Her then-deputy, current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has said she wept after giving the order.

Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz captured Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who had found the boy, backing into a bedroom closet with a terrified Elian in his arms as an immigration agent in tactical gear inches away aimed his gun toward them. The image won the Pulitzer Prize and brought criticism of the Justice Department to a frenzy.


. . .


The Cuban government, which tightly controls media access to Elian and his father, said neither is willing to give an interview. A government representative agreed to forward written questions from the AP to Elian, but there has been no response.

Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said his group predicted in 2000 that Elian would become a prop for the Castro government if he were returned. It was one reason, he said, the group fought for him to be kept in the U.S. and would do it again today, although behind the scenes to avoid negative publicity for the Cuban-American community.

"We knew what this kid was going to be subjected to," Hernandez said. "And time has proven us right."




For the full story, see:

JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





March 20, 2010

Brin Plays Google's "Ethical Trump Card"



BrinSergey2010-03-16.jpg "Co-founder Sergey Brin has been active in Google's dealings with China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) As a boy growing up in the Soviet Union, Sergey Brin witnessed the consequences of censorship. Now the Google Inc. co-founder is drawing on that experience in shaping the company's showdown with the Chinese government.

Mr. Brin has long been Google's moral compass on China-related issues, say people familiar with the matter. He expressed the greatest concern among decision makers, they say, about the compromises Google made when it launched its Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, in 2006. He is now the guiding force behind Google's decision to stop filtering search results in China, say people familiar with the decision.


. . .


The move is the clearest manifestation yet of a tension that has always existed at Google.

The Internet company, on one hand, is analytical: It built its core search business on algorithms that determine the relevance of Web sites and has tried to apply quantitative analysis to traditionally subjective parts of a business, such as hiring decisions. On the other hand, Mr. Brin and co-founder Larry Page have passionately touted Google's ability to spread democracy through access to information, and adopted the unofficial and now-famous motto, "Don't Be Evil."

"At its best, Google is data-driven with an ethical trump card," said Larry Brilliant, who headed up the company's philanthropic efforts until 2009. Always it was the founders, Messrs. Brin and Page, who could play that card, he added.



For the full story, see:

BEN WORTHEN. "Soviet-Born Brin Has Shaped Google's Stand." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 13, 2010): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article had the date MARCH 12, 2010 and has the slightly longer title "Soviet-Born Brin Has Shaped Google's Stand on China.")





March 19, 2010

"A Regime that Survived through Myth and Fear"



(p. 4) It's an old Soviet joke.

Three Russians are in the gulag. The first one says, "What are you in for?"

The second one replies, "I called Zbarsky a revolutionary."

"That's funny," the first one says. "I called Zbarsky a counterrevolutionary."

"That's funny," the third one says. "I'm Zbarsky."

Vern Thiessen's new play, "Lenin's Embalmers," which starts on Wednesday at the Ensemble Studio Theater in Clinton, opens with the ghost of Lenin telling this joke as a parable of the mordant doom pervading the Communist state he created.

In real life the joke wasn't specifically about Zbarsky. You could insert any of Stalin's thousands of lackeys turned victims. Certainly Zbarsky would do. Boris Zbarsky was a real person, one of the two biochemists who, after Lenin died in 1924, were ordered by the Kremlin to devise a way of preserving his body forever.

He and his colleague, Vladimir Vorobiev -- the play's main characters -- succeeded spectacularly, won fortune and power, then fell from grace into the terror, like many others who served a regime that survived through myth and fear.


. . .


The new work, written as a stylized dark comedy, takes only a few liberties with history. It has Zbarsky and Vorobiev arrested after they're tricked into betraying each other. In fact Mr. Vorobiev died in a hospital, under mysterious circumstances, in 1937. Mr. Zbarsky was arrested in 1952; he was freed two years later, after Stalin's death, and died of a seizure soon after. Still, betrayals and trumped-up confessions were common in the era.




For the full review, see:

FRED KAPLAN. "He's Had Work: Preserving the Face of a Revolution." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., February 28, 2010): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 23 (sic), 2010.)





January 7, 2010

"Today You Can Be What You Want to Be"



CzechDemonstrator1989-11-25.jpg"In this Nov. 25, 1989, file photo a Czech demonstrator overcome by emotion after hearing about the resignation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Prague." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A16) . . . Mirek Kodym, 56, a ponytailed former security guard who published illegal political and literary tracts before 1989 and marched on Tuesday as he had 20 years ago, said the Velvet Revolution had been a seminal moment in which a beleaguered nation had finally tasted freedom.

"Today you can be what you want to be and do what you want to do, and no one will interfere," he said. "The nostalgia for the past is a stupid thing."




For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "Celebrating Revolution With Roots in a Rumor." The New York Times (Weds., November 18, 2009): A16.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 17, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)



CzechVelvetRevolutionCandles2009-12-20.jpg"The former Czech Republic's president Vaclav Havel, background center, with a red scarf, placed a candle at a commemoration of the so-called Velvet Revolution, in Prague on Tuesday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






January 3, 2010

Castro Agents Beat Up Cuban Blogger



SanchezYoaniCubanBlogger2009-12-19.jpg"Blogger Yoani Sánchez speaks at home in Havana on Monday, days after she says she was beaten by Cuban agents." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) Yoani Sánchez, Cuba's most prominent dissident blogger, was walking along a Havana street last Friday along with two other bloggers and a friend when two men she says were Cuban agents in civilian clothes forced her inside an unmarked black car and beat her, telling her to stop criticizing the government.

The assault, believed to be the first against the growing blogger movement on the island, has cast a spotlight on the country's record of repression, highlighting how little change there has been in political freedoms during the nearly three years since Raúl Castro took over as president from retired dictator Fidel Castro.

A decline in tourism revenues from the global recession and damage from several hurricanes last year have prompted the island's government to clamp down even harder on dissent and freedom of speech, according to a recent report by the Inter American Press Association, a watchdog group.

The group said Cuba currently has 26 journalists in jail, and it cited 102 incidents against Cuban journalists in the past year, including beatings, arbitrary arrests and death threats.




For the full story, see:

DAVID LUHNOW. "Beating Rattles Cuban Bloggers." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., NOVEMBER 11, 2009): A14.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated NOVEMBER 12, 2009.)





January 1, 2010

Castro's "Absolute Personal Dictatorship" Denounced By Former Member of Cuban Inner Circle



AutobiographyOfFidelCastroBK.jpg















Source of book image:
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2575/4095461227_09463c5680.jpg



(p. C1) The plethora of dictators, despots and revolutionaries-turned-authoritarians south of the border has spawned a genre of literature that might be called the Latin American Strongman Novel -- a genre that includes harrowing novels based on real historical figures, like Mario Vargas Llosa's dazzling "Feast of the Goat" (which depicted Rafael Trujillo's devastating rule over the Dominican Republic) and more mythic creations, like Gabriel García Márquez's "Autumn of the Patriarch," that have employed the sorcery of magical realism to conjure larger-than-life fictional tyrants in a panoply of ruthlessness, audacity and corruption.

The latest in this tradition of books is Norberto Fuentes's fascinating new novel, "The Autobiography of Fidel Castro," which purports to tell the longtime Cuban leader's story in his own words. The "self-portrait" that emerges from these pages is that of a Machiavellian survivor: an egomaniac who identifies himself with the revolution but who is loyal not to a cause, not to an ideology, not to his compatriots, but only to his own ambition.

This Fidel is narcissistically longwinded, like his real-life counterpart. He is also a self-mythologizing change agent who succeeds in making himself "the neurological center of an entire nation" -- a wily Nietzschean operator who believes in the force of his own will, while sensing that "the chameleon is going to last longer under his rock than the lion, despite its roaring and lean muscles." He is a cynical master of manipulation and strategic maneuvering, a skilled practitioner of the black arts of propaganda and gamesmanship who always wants "to keep people guessing."

A journalist and Hemingway (p. C7) scholar, Mr. Fuentes was once a cheerleader of the revolution and part of Mr. Castro's inner circle himself. He grew disillusioned with the Cuban leader, however, after two army officers were executed in 1989 on what many believe were trumped-up charges. Mr. Fuentes fell out of favor, came under government surveillance and was detained after a failed attempt to flee Cuba by boat. After a hunger strike and the intervention of Mr. García Márquez, he was allowed to leave the country in 1994, and has since denounced Mr. Castro for his "absolute personal dictatorship" and willingness "to do anything necessary to stay in power."




For the full story, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "Books of The Times; Fiction Trying for Truth in Novel's View of Dictator." The New York Times (Tues., December 15, 2009): C1 & C7.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Mon., December 14, 2009.)



FuentesNorberto2009-12-19.jpg





"Norberto Fuentes" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 30, 2009

"When the Sons of the Communists Themselves Wanted to Become Capitalists and Entrepreneurs"



JanicekJosefPlasticPeople2009-12-19.jpg"Josef Janicek, 61, was on the keyboard for a concert in Prague last week by the band Plastic People of the Universe." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) PRAGUE -- It has been called the Velvet Revolution, a revolution so velvety that not a single bullet was fired.

But the largely peaceful overthrow of four decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia that kicked off on Nov. 17, 1989, can also be linked decades earlier to a Velvet Underground-inspired rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. Band members donned satin togas, painted their faces with lurid colors and wrote wild, sometimes angry, incendiary songs.

It was their refusal to cut their long, dank hair; their willingness to brave prison cells rather than alter their darkly subversive lyrics ("peace, peace, peace, just like toilet paper!"); and their talent for tapping into a generation's collective despair that helped change the future direction of a nation.

"We were unwilling heroes who just wanted to play rock 'n' roll," said Josef Janicek, 61, the band's doughy-faced keyboard player, who bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon and still sports the grungy look that once helped get him arrested. "The Bolsheviks understood that culture and music has a strong influence on people, and our refusal to compromise drove them insane."


. . .


In 1970, the Communist government revoked the license for the Plastics to perform in public, forcing the band to go underground. In February 1976, the Plastic People organized a music festival in the small town of Bojanovice -- dubbed "Magor's Wedding" -- featuring 13 other bands. One month later, the police set out to silence the musical rebels, arresting dozens. Mr. Janicek was jailed for six months; Mr. Jirous and other band members got longer sentences.

Mr. Havel, already a leading dissident, was irate. The trial of the Plastic People that soon followed became a cause célèbre.

Looking back on the Velvet Revolution they helped inspire, however indirectly, Mr. Janicek recalled that on Nov. 17, 1989, the day of mass demonstrations, he was in a pub nursing a beer. He argued that the revolution had been an evolution, fomented by the loosening of Communism's grip under Mikhail Gorbachev and the overwhelming frustration of ordinary people with their grim, everyday lives. "The Bolsheviks knew the game was up," he said, "when the sons of the Communists themselves wanted to become capitalists and entrepreneurs."




For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "Czechs' Velvet Revolution Paved by Plastic People." The New York Times (Mon., November 16, 2009): A10.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 15, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 28, 2009

Nationalizing Health Care: Communists Seized Pharmacy Owned By Ayn Rand's Father



AynRandBooksBK.jpgSource of book images: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C6) Ayn Rand poses theatrically in her signature cape and gold dollar-sign pin on the cover of a groundbreaking new biography. Rand also poses theatrically in this same Halloween-ready costume (Rand impersonators have been known to wear it) on the cover of another groundbreaking new biography. The two books are being published a week apart. And both have gray covers that make them look even more interchangeable. Yet Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences, loathed the very idea of grayness. She preferred dichotomies that were strictly black and white.


. . .


Ms. Heller's book is worth its $35 price, which is not the kind of detail that Rand herself would have been shy about trumpeting. When Russian Bolshevik soldiers commandeered and closed the St. Petersburg pharmacy run by Zinovy Rosenbaum, they made a lifelong capitalist of his 12-year-old daughter, Alissa, who would wind up fusing the subversive power of the Russian political novel with glittering Hollywood-fueled visions of the American dream.


. . .


Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand's popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the "Who is John Galt?" slogan from "Atlas Shrugged," to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns's words) "reports of Ayn Rand's death are greatly exaggerated."



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand." The New York Times (Thurs., October 21, 2009): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





November 26, 2009

Vicente Locay, Rest in Peace



My friend Luis called yesterday (11/24/09) to tell me that his father, Vicente Locay had passed away.

Vicente was not a tall man, but he stood tall at key moments in his life.

Over the years, Luis told many stories about what Vicente said and did in Cuba. One of my favorites was that Vicente, not being particularly religious, had no plans to have Luis christened. But when Castro outlawed public displays of Catholicism, Vicente changed his mind, and made sure that Luis had the benefits of a public christening.

When it became increasingly clear what was in store for Cuba under Castro's dictatorship, Vicente managed to get his family on a rickety plane, and escape.

In Cuba, Vicente had owned several small businesses. In the U.S., he started over, without ever mastering English. He worked hard remodeling houses to support his family.

For many years, I had hoped that Vicente would outlast Fidel, and would return in triumph to a post-Fidel Havana.

It's too late for that to happen. The best we can do is to acknowledge and salute a man of courage and strength, who chose freedom.





November 9, 2009

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall



(p. 4) The border guards, bereft of instruction from the command system that had trained them to defend this barrier with their lives, plainly did not know what to do. Some stood silent, others engaged in conversation with the crowd; what they did not do was what they ordinarily would have done: Drive them away.

Eventually, the good-natured crowd -- "we just want to go and drink a beer over there; tomorrow we'll be at work!" shouted one man -- was allowed into a forecourt. West Berlin seemed tantalizingly close. But then the commander of the Eastern checkpoint sent them away, saying they would have to get visas the next morning from local police stations.

By contrast, I was spotted by the commander taking notes. Unmasked as a Western reporter working without authorization in a border area of the German Democratic Republic, I was declared persona non grata and shoved into a small corridor that led to a passport check and the door into West Berlin. And it was in that narrow passage that I met Angelika Wachs.

Whispering "Ja-a-a-a!" and smiling broadly, she had somehow squeezed in behind me, and had almost nothing of the scared reticence common to most East Germans. A pimply young man, barely in his 20s, sat at passport control. He looked at my British passport, and then at Angelika's papers, which somehow bore a rare stamp permitting her to visit West Berlin. But it was only valid Nov. 17, he objected. I urged him to consider what was happening. He shrugged. He pressed the switch to open the door. We tumbled through.

It was the only moment in my life when I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. I had just crossed Checkpoint Charlie with this stranger, a woman exactly my age, 34, a citizen of Communist East Germany.

There were only a handful of West Berliners on hand to cheer our arrival. Shouting that it was "unglaublich," or unbelievable, Angelika ran off to seek a ride to a friend who had escaped west years earlier, and I headed for a cheap bar where I glommed on to that precious commodity, a telephone.


. . .


. . . Americans, unlike Europeans, do not dwell much on the past. Tomorrow is always another day, and yesterday's lessons fade.

Not so the story of Angelika Wachs. Once I found her name in the long-lost articles, it did not take many minutes on the Internet to track her down. She e-mailed; this past Saturday, we talked. I discovered that she had that precious stamp that night because, some years earlier, her parents had fled west, and she had been granted permission to visit. When we met, she had been working in administration at the Staatsoper, the state opera; her career has continued in P.R.

Ten years ago, she met an Englishman. They married this year, she said, on the deliberately chosen date of July 4 -- "a way to mark independence, and freedom." On Nov. 16, when a conference takes me to Berlin and a gleaming hotel among the skyscrapers that now fill Potsdamer Platz, we will meet for the drink we never had 20 years ago.



For the full story, see:

ALISON SMALE. "When the Future Swung Open in Berlin." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., November 8, 2009): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Nov. 6, and has the title "Chasing the Story on a Night That Changed All .")



WachsAngelikaCheckpointCharlie2009-11-08.jpg














"20 Years; Angelika Wachs posed last week at Checkpoint Charlie, remembering the jubilation on the Wall's western side on Nov. 10, 1989." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 19, 2009

Ukrainian Memorial to the Millions Starved by Stalin's Communism



FamineMemorialKievUkraine.jpg "A memorial to the famine, right, opposite a revered cathedral, was dedicated last November in Kiev. A museum is planned there." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) KIEV, Ukraine -- A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.

Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.

The other day, as he stood before a new memorial to the victims of the famine, he recalled his decision as one turning point in a movement lasting decades to unearth the truth about that period. And the memorial itself, shaped like a towering candle with a golden eternal flame, seemed to him in some sense a culmination of this effort.

"It is a sign of our respect for the past," Professor Kulchytsky said. "Because everyone was silent about the famine for many years. And when it became possible to talk about it, nothing was said. Three generations on."


. . .


The pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power after the Orange Revolution of 2004, calls the famine a genocide that Stalin ordered because he wanted to decimate the Ukrainian citizenry and snuff out aspirations for independence from Moscow.

The archives make plain that no other conclusion is possible, said Professor Kulchytsky, who is deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History in Kiev.

Professor Kulchytsky is 72, though he looks younger, as if he has somehow withstood the draining effect of so much research into the horrors of that time.

"It is difficult to bear," he acknowledged. "The documents about cannibalism are especially difficult to read."

Professor Kulchytsky said it was undeniable that people all over the Soviet Union died from hunger in 1932 and 1933 as the Communists waged war on the peasantry to create farming collectives. But he contended that in Ukraine the authorities went much further, essentially quarantining and starving many villages.

"If in other regions, people were hungry and died from famine, then here people were killed by hunger," Professor Kulchytsky said. "That is the absolute difference."



For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD J. LEVY. "Kiev Journal - A New View of a Famine That Killed Millions." The New York Times (Mon., March 16, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





March 29, 2009

Vaclav Klaus: The Czech Republic's Free Market Crusader


KlausVaclav2009-02-15.jpg "President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic is known for his economic liberalism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) To supporters, Mr. Klaus is a brave, lone crusader, a defender of liberty, the only European leader in the mold of the formidable Margaret Thatcher. (Aides say Mr. Klaus has a photo of the former British prime minister in his office near his desk.)


. . .


As a former finance minister and prime minister, he is credited with presiding over the peaceful 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two states and helping to transform the Czech Republic into one of the former Soviet bloc's most successful economies.

But his ideas about governance are out of step with many of the European Union nations that his country will lead starting Jan. 1.

While even many of the world's most ardent free marketeers acknowledged the need for the recent coordinated bailout of European banks, Mr. Klaus lambasted it as irresponsible protectionism. He blamed too much -- rather than too little -- regulation for the crisis.

A fervent critic of the environmental movement, he has called global warming a dangerous "myth," arguing that the fight against climate change threatens economic growth.

. . .


Those who know Mr. Klaus say his economic liberalism is an outgrowth of his upbringing. Born in 1941, he obtained an economics degree in 1963 and was deeply influenced by free market economists like Milton Friedman.

Mr. Klaus's son and namesake, Vaclav, recalled in an interview that when he was 13, his father told him to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to better understand Communism's oppressiveness.

"If you lived under communism, then you are very sensitive to forces that try to control or limit human liberty," he said in an interview.



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "A Fiery Czech Is Poised to Be the Face of Europe." The New York Times (Tues., November 25, 2008): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 7, 2009

Bailouts Damage "System Based on the Premise that Risk Can Bring Failure, as Well as Rewards"


CapitalismCommunismCartoon.jpg Source of the cartoon: online version of the WSJ quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) William O. Perkins III says he turned a $1.25 million profit trading Goldman Sachs Group Inc. stock last week.

You would think that would count as a pretty good paycheck for the Houston energy trader. Instead, the experience left him so angry about the demise of capitalism that he says he has decided to spend his profits on advertisements attacking President George W. Bush's planned $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

. . .

So he says he bought Goldman Sachs at $129 a share. The stock fell, so he bought more at $100 a share. It fell again, and he bought at $90. The next day it rallied and he sold out at an average price of $130 a share, for a net gain of about $1.25 million over three days of trading, he said.

Trouble was, the stock didn't rally because of the fundamental strength of the company, Mr. Perkins said. It rallied because the federal government announced that it would rescue Wall Street from its own subprime follies, he said.

"The stock did OK because the government came in and said, 'No one can fail,'" he said. "It's capitalism on the way up and communism on the way down."

His success left him furious, and he decided that someone had to speak out about the damage such a plan would cause to a system based on the premise that risk can bring failure, as well as rewards.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS. "Trader Makes a Quick $1.25 Million on Rescue, Then Slams It." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 24, 2008): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




January 2, 2009

Economist Arrested for Speaking the Truth


SmirnovDmitrjisLatvianEconomist.gif





Detained Latvian economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) RIGA, Latvia -- Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

"All I did was say what everyone knows," says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia's Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.

Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn't been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia's banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading "untruthful information." They've ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.

Finance is a highly touchy subject in Latvia, one that the state tries, with unusual zeal, to shield from loose tongues. It is a criminal offense here to spread "untrue data or information" about the country's financial system. Undermining it is outlawed as subversion.

So, when the global financial system began to buckle this autumn, Latvia's Security Police mobilized to combat destabilizing chatter about banks and exchange rates. Agents directed their attention to Inter-(p. A19)net chat rooms, newspaper articles, cellphone text messages and even rock concerts. A popular musician was taken in for questioning after he cracked a joke about unstable Latvian banks at a performance.

Just one problem: Much of the speculative buzz now turns out to ring true.

. . .

In Latvia's Soviet past, officials routinely blamed their problems on saboteurs or other scapegoats. "This is part of our political culture," says Sergei Kruks, a media-studies lecturer. "If the state doesn't have a solution, it has to find someone to blame."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "How to Combat a Banking Crisis: First, Round Up the Pessimists; Latvian Agents Detain a Gloomy Economist; 'It Is a Form of Deterrence'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 1, 2008): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




December 19, 2008

Rosenberg Spying Shows "United States Had (and Has) Real Enemies"


RosenbergSympathizers1952.jpg





"DOOMED. In 1952, sympathizers gathered near the prison where the convicted spies awaited execution." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 6) You could choose to ignore, or somehow explain away, the Hitler-Stalin pact, or be wedded to the original Port Huron Statement instead of the "compromised second draft," but if you seriously considered yourself fiercely loyal to the far left, you believed that the Rosenbergs were not guilty of espionage. At least you said you did.

For more than 50 years, defending Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was an article of faith for most committed American leftists. That the couple was framed -- by officials intent on stoking anti-Soviet fervor and embarrassed by counterespionage lapses that allowed Russian moles to infiltrate the government -- was at the core of a worldview of Communism, the Korean War and the ensuing cold war, and an enduring cultural divide stoked by McCarthyism.

Now, that unshakeable faith has been rattled seismically. Not for the first time, of course; in the 1990s, secret Soviet cables released by Washington affirmed the spy ring's existence. But this time, the bedrock under that worldview seemed to transmogrify into clay.

The rattler was Morton Sobell, 91, the case's only living defendant. He admitted in an interview that he and Julius Rosenberg had indeed spied for the Soviet Union. His admission prompted the Rosenbergs' sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol -- self-described magnets for global anguish over their parents' execution in 1953 -- to publicly accept, for the first time, that their father committed espionage. Ronald Radosh, co-author of "The Rosenberg File," a comprehensive account of the trial, declared that "a pillar of the left-wing culture of grievance has been finally shattered."

"The Rosenbergs were Soviet spies," he said in an op-ed article in The Los Angeles Times, and "it is time the ranks of the left acknowledge that the United States had (and has) real enemies and that finding and prosecuting them is not evidence of repression."



For the full commentary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Ideas & Trends; A Spy Confesses, and Still Some Weep for the Rosenbergs." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., September 21, 2008): 6.





December 17, 2008

"The Truth is More Important Than Our Political Position"


RosenbergSons1953.jpg "Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's sons, Robert, 6, left, and Michael, 10, looking at a 1953 newspaper. They still believe their parents did not deserve to die." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A22) They were the most famous orphans of the cold war, only 6 and 10 years old in 1953 when their parents were executed at Sing Sing for delivering atomic-bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Then they were whisked from an unwanted limelight to urban anonymity and eventually to suburban obscurity.

Adopting their foster parents' surname, they staked their own claim to radical campus politics in the 1960s. Then in 1973, they emerged to reclaim their identities as the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, determined to vindicate their parents.

Now, confronted with the surprising confession last week of Morton Sobell, Julius Rosenberg's City College classmate and co-defendant, the brothers have admitted to a painful conclusion: that their father was a spy.

"I don't have any reason to doubt Morty," Michael Meeropol said after several conversations with Mr. Sobell over the weekend.

Their conclusions, in separate interviews, amount to a milestone in America's culture wars and the culmination of the brothers' own emotional and intellectual odyssey.

It began in July 1950, when F.B.I. agents arrested Julius Rosenberg in the family's Lower East Side apartment, thrusting the boys onto a global stage as bit players in their parents' appeals, in the government's efforts to extract their parents' cooperation, and in Soviet propaganda campaigns to cast the Rosenbergs as martyrs.

Their journey became public again nearly a generation later when the brothers proclaimed that their parents were framed to feed cold war hysteria and compensate for America's counterespionage lapses. Amid the Watergate-era revelations of criminal conspiracies and cover-ups, they began a legal battle to release all the government records in the case.

While they were vested in a single outcome, they insisted all along that they would follow the facts, wherever they led.

"We believed they were innocent and we tried to prove them innocent," Michael Meeropol said on Sunday. "But I remember saying to myself in late 1975, maybe a little later, that whatever happens, it doesn't change me. We really meant it, that the truth is more important than our political position."



For the full story, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Rosenbergs' Sons Sadly Accept That Father Was a Spy." The New York Times (Weds., September 17, 2008): A22.

(Note: the online title is the slightly different "Rosenbergs' Sons Accept Conclusion That Father Was a Spy.")

RosenbergSons2003.jpg "Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol rehearsing in 2003 for a commemoration of the execution in 1953 of their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




December 15, 2008

Sobell Admits He and Julius Rosenberg Really Were Spies for the Soviets



SobellMortonAtAge91.jpg "Morton Sobell, 91, at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx." Source for caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The left has long chastised the right, for having wrongly persecuted the Rosenbergs. Score one for the right:


(p. A1) In 1951, Morton Sobell was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges. He served more than 18 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, traveled to Cuba and Vietnam after his release in 1969 and became an advocate for progressive causes.

Through it all, he maintained his innocence.

But on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, 91, dramatically reversed himself, shedding new light on a case that still fans smoldering political passions. In an interview, he admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy.

And he implicated his fellow defendant Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.

In the interview with The New York Times, Mr. Sobell, who lives in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, was asked whether, as an electrical engineer, he turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II when they were considered allies of the United States and were bearing the brunt of Nazi brutality. Was he, in fact, a spy?

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that," he replied. "I never thought of it as that in those terms."

Mr. Sobell also concurred in what has become a consensus among historians: that Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed with her husband, was aware of Julius's espionage, but did not actively participate. "She knew what he was doing," he said, "but what was she guilty of? Of being Julius's wife."



For the full story, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "57 Years Later, Figure in Rosenberg Case Says He Spied for Soviets." The New York Times (Fri., September 12, 2008): A1 & A14.

(Note: all of the part quoted above, appeared on p. A1.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets.")




November 5, 2008

Boris Yeltsin's "Laissez-Faire Populism"


YeltsinBK.jpg








Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. E1) Yeltsin's grievance against the Communists began before he was born, in an all-too-common history of family heartbreak that Mr. Colton pieces together with a good deal of original reporting. The Yeltsins were dispossessed for the bourgeois crime of having built a farm, mill and blacksmithing business. Yeltsin's grandfather died a broken man. His father was charged with the catch-all crime of "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" for grousing at his job on a construction site, and sent to a forced-labor camp for three years.

When Yeltsin joined the Communist Party, it was not out of devotion to the professed ideals but because a party card was a requirement for promotion to chief engineer in the construction industry. And when he moved into the hierarchy, he was already a man who chafed at party orthodoxy. No radical, he "nibbled at the edges of what was admissible," Mr. Colton writes, pushing for market prices in the local farm bazaars, encouraging entrepreneurial initiative in the workplace, complaining that the top-down system smothered self-reliance.



For the full review, see:

BILL KELLER. "Books of The Times; The Making of Yeltsin, His Boldness and Flaws." The New York Times (Weds., May 7, 2008): E1.


(p. 222) For Yeltsin's contemporaries, deliverance from Marxist scripture and Soviet srtuctures took many forms. For him, it was an ease with the market and recoil against the overbearing state. Mikhail Fridman, who became one of Russia's first billionaires as a banker and oilman, makes the point well:

Yeltsin as an individual who had inner freedom . . . instinctively moved toward the market as the end. That is because . . . as my namesake Milton Friedman says, "Capitalism is freedom." . . . [Yeltsin thought] it was necessary to give people freedom and they would make out well. How exactly to do that he did not know. [But he did know] that it was necessary to free people from control: We were squeezing them dry. He thought that if we let them go they could move heaven and earth. . . . This is the level on which he thought about it. . . . He took a dim view of all these [Soviet] controls. [He felt that] the controllers had long since believed in nothing.

. . .

(p. 525) Stewart, working as a photojournalist, taped Yeltsin's remarks on August 24, 1990, in Dolinsk. She calls them "laissez-faire populism."



Source:

Colton, Timothy J. Yeltsin: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

(Note: ellipses and bracked words in Fridman (sic) quote were made by Colton; other ellipses were added by me.)

(Note: the quote from p. 525 is from endnote number 38.)




November 3, 2008

"We Will Stay a Laissez-Faire Economy"


AnsipAndrusEstonianPrimeMinister.jpg








"Andrus Ansip, leader of Estonia, an ex-Soviet Republic." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

An earlier entry suggested that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's support for Steve Forbes' flat tax, had helped Estonia achieve a high rate of growth.

Apparently there is some sentiment in Estonia to stay the course:

(p. B6) TALLINN, Estonia -- For nearly two decades, Estonia embraced capitalism with such gusto that it seemed to be channeling the laissez-faire philosophy of Milton Friedman. From its policies meant to attract foreign investors to its flat tax and freewheeling business culture, it stood out as the former Soviet republic most adept at turning post-Communist chaos into a thriving market economy.

Now Estonians, and some of their Baltic neighbors, are slogging through their first serious economic downturn since liberation from the Soviet grip in the early 1990s.

. . .

Whatever happens, government officials say there will be no betrayal of Friedman's philosophy. "We will stay a laissez-faire economy," said Juhan Parts, Estonia's minister of the economy.

. . .

"I'm an optimist," said Marje Josing, director of the Estonian Institute for Economic Research. "Fifteen years ago things looked bad, but they managed. A little real-life pressure won't hurt."

Indeed, so far the downturn has done little to discourage Estonia's ambitious entrepreneurs. If anything, it has made them look more avidly elsewhere for growth.

"Estonia may be a small country," Tarmo Prikk, chief executive of Thulema, an office furniture maker, said with a laugh. "But my ego is bigger."



For the full story, see:

CARTER DOUGHERTY. "Estonia's Let-It-Be Economy Is Rattled by Worldwide Distress." The New York Times (Fri., October 10, 2008): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




October 3, 2008

McCraw on Communist Versus Capitalist Imperialism


From McCraw's summary of an article entitled "The Function of Entrepreneurs and the Interest of the Worker" that Schumpeter published in 1927 in a labor magazine :

(p. 384) By the end of the war, every nation in Eastern Europe and most in Central Europe had fallen under the control of the Soviets. They stripped industrial machinery, works of art, gold, and other movable assets from many of those countries and shipped them all to Russia. The total amount stolen equaled in value the aid to Western Europe under the American-sponsored Marshall Plan, the largest foreign aid program in history.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 14, 2008

Cubans Skeptical of Their Government


CubanCellPhone.jpg "Cubans used a cellphone to take photos in Havana recently after Cuba's government lifted some restrictions on consumer items." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) MEXICO CITY -- A rare study conducted surreptitiously in Cuba found that more than half of those interviewed considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country.

"Almost every poll you ever see, even those in the U.S., goes to bread-and-butter issues," said Alex Sutton, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute, which conducted the study. "Everybody everywhere is interested in their purchasing power."

The results showed deep anxiety about the state of the country, with 35 percent of respondents saying things were "so-so" and 47 percent saying they were going "badly" or "very badly." As for the government's ability to turn things around, Cubans were skeptical, with 70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country's biggest problem in the next few years.

The study, to be released on Thursday, was conducted from March 14 to April 12, after Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency.



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "In Rare Study, Cubans Put Money Worries First." The New York Times (Thurs., June 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: the order of some of the article content differed in the print and online versions; the version above is consistent with the print version.)




August 25, 2008

Castro's Legacy Is Fear


CastroPhotosOnWall.jpg "A NATION'S PHOTO ALBUM. The prospect of life without Fidel Castro is unsettling to many Cubans, who are wary of drastic change." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) We arrived not at the fine new airport in Havana I've used many times as a correspondent, but at a smaller, more crowded one that Cuba uses for these family visits, as if to rebuke exiles for having left.

Our reunion was delayed, however, by the surprise announcement last Tuesday that Fidel Castro -- whose revolution had torn the family apart -- was too ill to return to power. Suddenly, I was at work.

. . .

Still, what most surprised us was how little Cubans clamored for drastic change. Dictator or hero, Mr. Castro's grip on power was ending, and no one seemed to care. Miriam was disappointed that the streets of Matanzas, Havana, San Agustín and Guanabacoa, the working class city across Havana Bay where she grew up, were tranquil, as if nothing at all had happened.

Of course we understood that things are not always as they seem, and that became clear when the maid in our 133-year-old hotel came to mop up the mess caused by a leaking pipe. Hearing the lilt of Miriam's Spanish put her at ease. After chatting for a few minutes, she poked her head into the hallway to check for supervisors and shut the door. Only then did she speak from the heart.

"Nobody says it, but everybody knows that someone new could be worse than what we have now," she whispered. It was the kind of dec-(p. 8)laration I've learned to trust because it stems from neither fear nor a desire to curry favor.

Despite having plenty of motivation to demand change -- the frequent shortages, the decrepit housing, the cruelty of having one currency for tourists and another with far less buying power for Cubans -- she said she feared change more than she feared the status quo. Then she checked the hallway again.

. . .

Truth is, things have changed since my first trip to Cuba in 1978. The heavy presence of the Soviet Union then is a faint shadow now, reflected in blue-eyed Cubans named Yuri. There seem to be more new cars on the roads, more fast food on the street, and more buildings undergoing repair. There even seem to be more buses and fewer people waiting for them since Fidel's younger brother and temporary replacement, Raúl, publicly demanded that something be done about the pitiful mass transit system when I was here just a year ago.

But much has not changed, or has gotten worse. More families live two or three generations in the same cramped apartments. Detention, interrogation and other troubles still descend on people who dissent in ways as small as wearing a plastic wrist band embossed with the word "cambio," which means change. The press is still controlled, and disloyalty to the Communist Party still raises the suspicion of neighbors that can lead to the loss of a job or a house. Dissidents remain enemies of the state.

. . .

The revolution itself has left many Cubans, including our relatives here, fed up with promises of change. They long ago tired of sacrificing for an ideal tomorrow; when we finally got together, three days after Fidel's announcement, Miriam's stepbrothers and sisters told me their main concerns are getting enough to eat, getting shoes for their children and getting to work on time each day.



For the full commentary, see:

ANTHONY DePALMA. "Future to Wince At." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., February 24, 2008): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 19, 2008

Chavez Nationalizes Cement in Venezuela


(p. A13) Venezuela said it will take majority stakes in the local units of Cemex SAB, Lafarge SA and Holcim Ltd. as it divulges the first details of a nationalization plan that will affect the world's biggest cement producers.

The nationalization, announced last week, is designed to deflect criticism that the socialist government of Hugo Chávez isn't delivering on its promises of new housing and other infrastructure projects, experts said.

"The Venezuelan state will take control of these companies. We told them all three will be subject to this [nationalization] measure," Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on state television.

. . .

Mr. Chávez's nationalizations have resulted in efficiency declines in the past. For instance, Venezuelan oil production has fallen since major foreign oil-field operators were nationalized.



For the full story, see:

JOEL MILLMAN, RAUL GALLEGOS and DARCY CROWE. "Venezuela Will Take Control of Top Cement Producers." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the title of the online version is "Venezuela Will Take Control of Top Cement Producers.")




July 18, 2008

Global Warming Alarmists "Want Us to Sacrifice Liberty"


KlausVaclavCzechPresident.jpg








President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In addition to his insights into global warming, Vaclav Klaus is an advocate of the work of Joseph Schumpeter.

(p. A9) Mr. Klaus is . . . interested in the politics of global warming. He has written a book, tentatively titled "Blue, Not Green Planet," published in Czech last year and due out in English translation in the U.S. this May. The main question of the book is in its subtitle: "What is in danger: climate or freedom?"

He likens global-warming alarmism to communism, which he experienced first-hand in Cold War Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite. While the communists argued that we must all sacrifice some freedom in pursuit of "equality," the "warmists," as Mr. Klaus calls them, want us to sacrifice liberty -- especially economic liberty -- to prevent a change in climate. In both cases, in Mr. Klaus's view, the costs of achieving the goal, and the impossibility of truly doing so, argue strongly against paying a price of freedom.

. . .

In Europe, Mr. Klaus has the reputation of a firebrand, if not a loose cannon. This is a president, after all, who calls global warming "alarmism" a "radical political project" based in a form of "Malthusianism" that is itself grounded on a "cynical approach [by] those who themselves are sufficiently well-off."

"It is not about climatology," he insists. "It is about freedom."



For the full article, see:

BRIAN M. CARNEY. "The Weekend Interview with Vaclav Klaus; The Contrarian of Prague." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 8, 2008): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




June 28, 2008

Raúl Castro Decrees that Cubans May Now Buy DVD Players, Computers, and Cell Phones


HavanaDVDplayer.jpg "Cubans in Havana recently bought DVD players, among newly available appliances." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) HAVANA -- Can a rice maker possibly be revolutionary?

There they were, piled up one atop another, Chinese-made rice makers selling for $70 each. Beside them, sleek DVD players. Across the well-stocked electronics store were computers and televisions and other household appliances that President Raúl Castro recently decreed ought to be made available to average Cubans, or at least those who could afford them.

Since finally succeeding his ailing 81-year-old brother, Fidel, in February, Mr. Castro, 76, who appeared before hundreds of thousands of Cubans at a May Day rally on Thursday here in the capital, has been busy with a flurry of changes. In the last eight weeks he has also opened access to cellphones, lifted the ban on Cubans using tourist hotels and granted farmers the right to manage unused land for profit.

More is on the horizon, government officials say, like easing restrictions on traveling abroad and the possibility of allowing Cubans to buy and sell their own cars, and perhaps even their homes. Each of these changes may be microscopic in contrast to the outsize problems facing Cuba. But taken together, they are shaking up this stoic, time-warped place.


For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Stores Hint at Change Under New Castro." The New York Times (Fri., May 2, 2008): A1 & A8.




June 15, 2008

Over-generalizing from Our Recent Experience


Rosenberg and Birdzell (1986) mention that Marx over-emphasized the centrality of factories to capitalism, because of the prominence of factories in the period of capitalism during Marx's adulthood. They suggest that factories are only one phase, albeit an important one, in the development of capitalism.

And Schumpeter and Rosenberg may have done the same in his believe that large corporate labs would be able to routinize innovative entrepreneurial activity.

One relevant passage:

It is understandable that Marx, writing in 1848, should speak of modern industry as already a century old, for many of the institutions of industry in 1848 were already that old. Yet the greatest advances in the output of the capitalist engine of production, and the greatest changes in its modes of organization, still lay ahead. (1986, p. 184.)

Also relevant is the earlier:

In all Western countries, the inventory of physical facilities for economic production changes. The inventory at any given moment is unquestionably important, but it is like a single frame of a movie; taken alone, it misses all the action, and it is the action that we need to understand and that holds the promise of economic advance to non-Western countries. (1986, p. 144.)

Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




June 10, 2008

Stark Artistic Depiction of Chinese Communism


BloodlineTheBigFamily.jpg "Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) BEIJING -- Sotheby's sold $51.77 million worth of Chinese contemporary art in three auctions in Hong Kong on Wednesday, allaying concerns that the global economic slowdown would depress the prices.

. . .

The star of that auction was a 1995 painting by Zhang Xiaogang, one of China's most prominent artists, which sold for just over $6 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a Chinese contemporary artist.

That oil on canvas, "Bloodline: Big Family No. 3," depicts a family of three during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution in China, when children were sometimes led to denounce their parents. Three collectors bid feverishly for the piece, which sold for far above its high estimate, about $3.4 million.


For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Chinese Art Continues To Soar at Sotheby's." The New York Times (Thurs., April 10, 2008): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 4, 2008

Which Economic System Protects Us from 'Natural' Disasters?


CommunistPartyBossOnKnees.jpg "Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) One man shouted, "Was this a natural disaster or a man-made disaster?" In unison, the parents shouted back: "Man-made!"

For the full story, see:

JAMES T. AREDDY. "Reporter's Notebook; Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children's Deaths." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A10.


(p. A1) DUJIANGYAN, China -- Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.

On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.

"We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building," he shouted. "Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth."

The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.

Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school's 900 students came out alive, parents said. "The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head," said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.

Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.

The next day, the Communist (p. A10) Party's top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.

Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.

The protests threaten to undermine the government's attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People's Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident.

. . .

. . . all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China's population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.


For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "Parents' Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials." The New York Times (Weds., May 28, 2008): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)


ChinaMotherSon.jpg
"A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




January 10, 2008

Putin's Russia Portrays Stalin, Not as Monster, But as Strong Ruler

(p. 5)  STALIN has undergone a number of transformations of his historical image in Russia, interpretations that say as much about the country’s current leaders as about the dictator himself.

In the West, Stalin is remembered for the numbers of his victims, about 20 million, largely his own citizens, executed or allowed to die in famines or the gulag. They included a generation of peasant farmers in Ukraine, former Bolsheviks and other political figures who were purged in the show trials of the 1930s, Polish officers executed at Katyn Forest, and Russians who died in the slave labor economy. Stalin’s crimes have been tied to his personality, cruelty and paranoia as well as to the circumstances of Russian and Soviet history.

While not denying that Stalin committed the crimes, a new study guide in Russia for high school teachers views his cruelty through a particular, if familiar, lens. It portrays Stalin not as an extraordinary monster who came to power because of the unique evil of Communism, but as a strong ruler in a long line of autocrats going back to the czars. Russian history, in this view, at times demands tyranny to build a great nation.

The text reinforces this idea by comparing Stalin to Bismarck, who united Germany, and comparing Russia in the 1930s under the threat of Nazism to the United States after 9/11 in attitudes toward liberties.

The history guide — titled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006” — was presented at a conference for high school teachers where President Vladimir V. Putin spoke; the author, Aleksandr Filippov, is a deputy director of a Kremlin-connected think tank.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "WORD FOR WORD | NEW RUSSIAN HISTORY; Yes, a Lot of People Died, but ..."  The New York Times , Week in Review section  (Sun., August 12, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipsis in title in original.)

 




December 4, 2007

Cuba's Best Doctors Not Blind to Incentives Offered by "Communist" Government

 

   "Patients at the Ramón Pando Ferrer eye hospital in Havana."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4)  Cuban doctors abroad receive much better pay than in Cuba, along with other benefits from the state, like the right to buy a car and get a relatively luxurious house when they return. As a result, many of the finest physicians have taken posts abroad.

The doctors and nurses left in Cuba are stretched thin and overworked, resulting in a decline in the quality of care for Cubans, some doctors and patients said.

 

For the full story, see:   

JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.  "Havana Journal;  A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs."  The New York Times   (Tues., November 20, 2007):  A4. 

 




November 28, 2007

Communist China's "Greatest Folly": Renewable Energy Dam

 

  "Liu Jun leaving his home in Miaohe, China, near the Three Gorges Dam.  All of the village's residents are being relocated."  Source of caption:  p. A1 of print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  JIANMIN VILLAGE, China — Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel. Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people made the list as record No. 10.

Today, the Communist Party is hoping the dam does not become China’s biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first.

The rising controversy makes it easy to overlook what could have been listed as world record No. 11: The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s biggest man-made producer of electricity from renewable energy.

. . .

(p. A12)  The Communist Party leaders who broke ground on the Three Gorges project in 1994 had promised that China could build the world’s biggest dam, manage the world’s biggest human resettlement and also protect the environment.

. . .

(p. A13)  In the isolated mountain villages above the reservoir, farmers have heard nothing about a new resettlement plan. For many farmers, the immediate concern is the land beneath their feet. Landslides are striking different hillsides as the rising water places more pressure on the shoreline, local officials say.  . . .

. . .

Around daybreak on June 22, Lu Youbing awoke to the screams of her brother-in-law and the sickening sensation of the earth collapsing. Her mountain farmhouse in Jianmin Village buckled as a landslide swept it downhill. In all, 20 homes were demolished. Five months later, Ms. Lu is living in a tent, fending off rats and wondering where her family can go.

“We have nothing left,” she said. “Not a single thing.”

Winter is approaching, and she is trying to block out cold air — and rats — by pinning down the tent flaps with rocks. Villagers have been told that more landslides are possible. Ms. Lu lives with her second husband and their two children. They are too poor to buy an apartment in the city or to build a new home on higher ground. Local officials gave them the tent. Villagers have donated clothes.

The tents are pitched on the only available flat land — a terrace with a monument celebrating efforts by local officials to improve the environment.

“We don’t know about winter,” she said. “This is the only option we have. What else can we do?”

 

For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY.  "At China's Dams, Problems Rise With Water."   The New York Times  (Mon., November 19, 2007):  A1, A12-A13. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  online the title of the article is "Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs.")

 

   "The Three Gorges Dam is projected as an anchor in a string of hydropower “mega-bases” planned for the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




November 1, 2007

Pulling Teeth Slowly

 

   Source of book image:  http://mitpress.mit.edu/images/products/books/0262113023-f30.jpg

 

Many years ago, I read János Kornai's The Road to the Free Market, which gave Kornai's advice on how Eastern Europe could best make the transition from communism to the free market.  What I remember most from the book, is his discussion of whether it is more humane for the transition to be quick or gradual.  He answers the question by asking another:  if you need to have a tooth pulled, is it more humane for it to be pulled quickly or gradually?

 

(p. B15) . . .,  Mr. Kornai's books and lectures in Europe, North America and Asia established him as one of the leading scholars of socialist economics and an expert on the difficult transitions that many countries face when they move from socialism to a more democratic and capitalist system.   . . .

At one point in 1974, under the more relaxed rule of János Kádár, when Hungary was the "most cheerful barrack in the camp," Mr. Kornai and his wife decided to build their own home. Over the course of several months, they personally confronted the corruption, endemic shortages and shoddy construction materials that were so common in Eastern Europe. A year later, on a trip to India, Mr. Kornai was faced by idealistic young Maoists whose concern for the desperately poor reinforced their support for socialism. Mr. Kornai responded to them by arguing, as he puts it here, that "rationing systems that spread misery equally may assuage feelings of injustice for a while, but they will not solve anything."

 

For the full review, see:

JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN.  "BOOKS; Critic Behind the Curtain."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 30, 2007):  B15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

The book reviewed, is: 

János Kornai.  By Force of Thought.  (MIT Press, 461 pages, $40)

 

The earlier book by Kornai, that I read and liked, is:

Kornai, Janos. The Road to a Free Economy: Shifting from a Socialist System, the Example of Hungary. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

 




October 22, 2007

Helping Russians Remember the Truth About Communism

 

BalabanovAlexeiRussianDirector.jpg  Some of the crew of Gruz 200, including the director Alexei Balabanov, who is second from the left.  Source of the photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. B1)  The film is named "Gruz 200" (Cargo 200) after the zinc-lined coffins in which dead Soviet soldiers were shipped home from the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan. Messrs. Balabanov and Selyanov say they made the movie as an antidote to what they describe as rising nostalgia in Russia for the Soviet period.

"I show what filth we lived in," said Mr. Balabanov, a director sometimes described as Russia's Quentin Tarantino. "Society was sick from 1917 onwards," he added, referring to the year the Bolsheviks took power.

The film -- a graphically violent story of the sexual abuse of a teenage girl at the hands of a sadistic Soviet policeman -- paints a relentlessly negative picture of a time that many Russians recall with warm nostalgia. The filmmakers hope to release the movie overseas but haven't yet signed up a foreign distributor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who restored Russia's Soviet-era national anthem, has called the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," and polls show a majority of Russians regard the period as one of relative prosperity, stability and national pride. 

. . .

(p. B2)  Mr. Balabanov says "Gruz 200" is based on his own experiences while traveling across the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as well as on stories he heard second-hand.

Mr. Selyanov says he believes it is his "duty" to remind people of what the Soviet Union was really like and combat the rising warmth for the period. "We have to fight this nostalgia," the producer says.

But the film has been dogged by controversy since even before it opened. Mr. Balabanov says three prominent actors who had played in his previous films refused parts once they read the script. "They were scared," he said. The director was forced to use largely unknown actors.

. . .

Russian TV networks, controlled by the state, have balked at even late-night showings -- critical to financial success for Russian movies.

"We don't have the courage to put something like this on the air," said Vladimir Kulistikov, head of the No. 3 NTV network, in a statement.  

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW OSBORN.  "From Russia, Without Love: New Movie Slams Soviet Union."  The Wall Street Journal By  (Thurs., June 21, 2007):  B1 & B2.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Gruz200PoliceCaptain.jpg   The sadistic police captain is portrayed by Alexei Poluyan.  Source of the photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




September 2, 2007

The End of "the Road to Socialism"

 

     The frenetic pace of productive work at a Chavez socialist farm cooperative in Santa Barbara, Venezuela.  Souce of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  Mr. Chávez’s supporters have formed thousands of state-financed cooperatives to wrest farms and cattle ranches from private owners.  Landowners say compensation is hard to obtain.  Local officials describe the land seizures as paving stones on “the road to socialism.”

. . .

(p. A10)  But while some of the newly settled farming communities are euphoric, landowners are jittery.  Economists say the land reform may have the opposite effect of what Mr. Chavez intends, and make the country more dependent on imported food than before.

The uncertainties and disruptions of the land seizures have led to lower investment by some farmers.  Production of some foods has been relatively flat, adding to shortages of items like sugar, economists say.  

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Clash of Hope and Fear As Venezuela Seizes Land."  The New York Times  (Thurs., May 17, 2007):  A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 




June 4, 2007

Chinese Restaurant Entrepreneur: "A Citizen's Legal Property Is Not to Be Encroached Upon"

 

CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks the confrontation drew attention from people all across China, as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news, of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France, in the middle of a vast excavation.

Newspapers dived in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media after the government, bloggers here said, decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

. . .

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How did this owner, a woman no less, manage? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which on meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people try to use public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities. 

. . .  

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China such things shock the common mind.”

. . .  

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached on.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house is perched, he said with a wink, “Magic.”  

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "CHONGQING JOURNAL; Homeowner Stares Down Wreckers, at Least for a While."  The New York Times  (Tues., March 27, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

ChinaHomeDefenderWuPing.jpg ChinaChonqingMap.jpg   On left, Wu Ping, with her tall brother in the background.  On right, a map showing the location of Chongqing in China.  Source of photo and map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




June 2, 2007

Communist Dictator Chavez Destroys Freedom of the Press in Venezuela

 

   Supporters of freedom in Venezuela protesting communist dictator Chavez's shutting down the television network that dared to criticize him.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article that is quoted and cited below. 

 

My Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, used to say that political freedom ultimately depended on economic freedom:  how could you depend on a socialist government to provide a printing press to those who seek to undermine socialism?

(In his article "The Case for Economic Freedom" published in his Can Capitalism Survive? Rogge gives credit for the argument to his friend Milton Friedman in his Capitalism and Freedom, which was based on lectures given at Wabash.)

Well, if there is a heaven, I can imagine Rogge there, reading the following passages, and reacting with his sad, knowing, half-smile.

 

(p. A3)  CARACAS, Venezuela, May 27 — With little more than an hour to go late Sunday until this country’s oldest television network was to be taken off the air after 53 years of broadcasting, the police dispersed thousands of protesters by firing tear gas into demonstrations against the measure.

. . .

The president has defended the RCTV decision, saying that the network supported a coup that briefly removed him from office in 2002.

RCTV’s news programs regularly deride Mr. Chávez’s Socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society. “RCTV lacks respect for the Venezuelan people,” said Onán Mauricio Aristigueta, 46, a messenger at the National Assembly who showed up to support the president.

Mr. Chávez has left untouched the operations of other private broadcasters who were also critical of him at the time of the 2002 coup but who have changed editorial policies to stop criticizing his government. That has led Mr. Chávez’s critics to claim that the move to allow RCTV’s license to expire amounts to a stifling of dissent in the news media.

“The other channels don’t say anything,” said Elisa Parejo, 69, an actress who was one of RCTV’s first soap opera stars. “What we’re living in Venezuela is a monstrosity,” she said at RCTV’s headquarters on Sunday, as employees gathered for an on-air remembrance of the network’s history. “It is a dictatorship.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Dueling Protests Over Shutdown of Venezuela TV Station."  The New York Times  (Mon., May 28, 2007):  A3.

(Note: the excerpts above are from the updated online version of the article that appeared online under the title: "Venezuela Police Repel Protests Over TV Network’s Closing.")

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

On 5/28/07 CNN broadcast a Harris Whitbeck report on students protesting the Chavez censorship under the title "Hear No Evil, See No Evil."

 

   Monica Herrero protests Chavez closing down the television network that dared to criticize his government.  Source of photo:  screen capture from the CNN report at http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/world/2007/05/28/whitbeck.chavez.tv.affl

 




May 10, 2007

Communist Hugo Chávez: Is He Loco to Fight Inflation with the Locha?

 

   Hugo Chávez expects to end inflation by bringing back the "locha" 12 ½-cent coin (held in this picture by coin dealer Antonio Allesandrini).  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.   

 

(p. 8)  CARACAS, Venezuela, March 17 — Of all the startling measures announced by President Hugo Chávez this year, from the nationalization of major utilities to threats of imprisonment for violators of price controls, none have baffled economists quite like his venture into monetary reform.

First, Mr. Chávez said the authorities would remove three zeroes from the denomination of the currency, the bolívar. Then he said the new bolívar, worth 1,000 old bolívars, would be renamed the “bolívar fuerte,” or strong bolívar.

Finally, at the behest of Mr. Chávez, the central bank said this week that it would reintroduce a 12.5-cent coin, a symbol of Venezuela’s prosperity in the 1960s and 1970s before freewheeling oil booms ended in abrupt devaluations, after three decades out of circulation.

Mr. Chávez champions these ideas, which will take effect in January, as ways to combat inflation, which in recent weeks crept up to 20 percent, the highest in Latin America.  . . .

. . .

“We’re witnessing policy in the form of window dressing, all carried out at the whim of one man whose strong point is not economics,” said Hugo Faría, an economist at the Institute of Higher Management Studies, a private business school here. “Anyone who sees a 12 ½-cent coin as a remedy for this country’s problems isn’t thinking too clearly.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Venezuelan Lender Sets Siights on Currency Valuation."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., March 18, 2007):  8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the title is the slightly different, "Venezuela to Give Currency New Name and Numbers.")

 




May 3, 2007

Reuniting the Victims of Communism

RussianSiblingsReunited.jpg   "Sergei and Pyotr Leontiev are reunited on the Russian TV show, 'Zhdi Menya.'"  Source of the caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  MOSCOW -- In a television studio here, two old brothers hug and weep -- reunited on prime time 60 years after Stalin's terror tore them apart.

They are stars on "Zhdi Menya," or "Wait for Me," one of the most popular TV shows in Russia. With its mission to reunite loved ones, the program probes Russia's 20th-century history and the scars it left on the lives of ordinary people. It has become a must-watch for Russians still trying to make sense of their tortured past.

The brothers in this episode, Sergei and Pyotr Leontiev, were separated in 1941 when their mother was sent to a prison camp 1,800 miles east of Moscow. She took with her Sergei, then 2 months old, but left behind seven other children whom she never saw again. Meanwhile, Pyotr and his sisters left home, taking jobs at factories in nearby towns.

Since its launch in 1998, "Zhdi Menya" has brought together 30,000 people sundered by Stalin's purges, war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's earned it a unique, and cherished, place in popular culture.

"We reconstruct the real history of this country," says Igor Kvasha, the program's host. "Not the garbled version in the text books."

Yet the program is ostensibly unpolitical. A tear-jerking cross between Jerry Springer and the History Channel, it recounts the crimes of communism without apportioning blame. That makes it palatable to Russia's leaders, for whom Soviet-era might is still a political touchstone.

. . .

(p. A12)   This focus on the victims of the communist regime contrasts with most mainstream media, which these days tend to humanize Soviet-era leaders and gloss over their crimes. A TV drama, "Stalin.Live," has been panned by critics for portraying Stalin as a sympathetic old man.

"There's a lot of pseudo-historical stuff on TV these days," says Irina Petrovskaya, a television critic. "'Zhdi Menya' is different because it's totally authentic. That's why it's so popular."

Pyotr Leontiev wrote to the program in 2001 in search of his brother. He had spent years trying to trace him through official channels, but was rebuffed at every turn.

The Leontiev family had been devastated by war and terror. Their father, drafted in 1941, was declared missing in action in 1943. Their mother was arrested on charges of "speculation" -- neighbors informed on her for selling a few pounds of tobacco and she was packed off to the Gulag with Sergei, her youngest son, still a babe in arms. His siblings had only his cradle to remember him by.

Researchers at "Zhdi Menya" contacted police in Karaganda, Kazakhstan -- the site of the mother's prison camp -- and after trawling archives they found a Sergei Leontiev whose records matched Pyotr's description. Within weeks they had tracked down Sergei, a retired carpenter. After a childhood in orphanages in Karaganda, he'd spent most of his life, impoverished, in workers' barracks.

In the studio, Pyotr told his story: "The tragedy that befell our family wasn't unique." He described how his mother was wrenched from her children, how their last sight of her and baby Sergei was on a prison train bound for the steppes. "We never heard from them again." The children, raised by a 19-year-old sister, were lucky: Children of "enemies of the people" were often separated, their names changed, and sent to orphanages thousands of miles apart.

To the strains of Mozart's Requiem, Mr. Kvasha spoke to the audience: "It's hard to imagine how many stories there are like this. They didn't just take away people's husbands, wives and parents. They deliberately destroyed archives, concealed people's names. They took away their memory."

In a heart-rending moment, he led Pyotr Leontiev to his brother, who was sitting weeping in the audience. The two embraced.

Pyotr had mixed feelings about the encounter. The joy of seeing Sergei was clouded by the revelation that his mother had been worked to death in 1943. "It was very hard, a very sad day," says Pyotr.

The two men broke down and looked deeply into each other's eyes. "We survived," Pyotr said to his brother. "We survived."

 

For the full story, see: 

GUY CHAZAN  "Family Viewing: TV Show Reunites Russian Siblings; Sundered by Stalin, Long-Lost Brothers Embrace on Prime Time."  The Wall Street Journal  (By  March 9, 2007):  A1 & A12.

 

 KvashaIgor.gif   The actor who hosts "Zhdi Menya" ("Wait for Me").  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




April 21, 2007

Castro's Legacy of "Death, Tears and Blood"

Like thousands of other Cubans, I was arrested in the middle of the night. Fidel Castro's police raided my parents' home, stuck a machine gun in my face and took me away. It was 1960 and I was 22 years old.

The news that the Cuban dictator is gravely ill floods my mind with memories of my years spent in captivity. I believe that those of us who were political prisoners know his legacy better than anyone. For 22 years, I was an inmate in his vast prison system, mostly confined to an island gulag, for crimes I did not commit.

. . .

The legacy of Castro for Cuba will be much like that of Stalin in Russia, Pol Pot and Ieng Sari in Cambodia and Hitler in Germany. It will be the memories of the unknown numbers of victims, of concentration camps, torture, murder, exile, families torn apart, death, tears and blood. Castro will go down in history as one of the cruelest of all dictators -- a man who tormented his own people.

But his poisonous legacy will also include the double standard by foreign governments, intellectuals and journalists who fought ferociously against the unspeakable violations of human rights by right-wing dictatorships, yet applauded Castro. To this day many of these intellectuals serve as apologists and accomplices in the subjugation of the Cuban people. Rafael Correa, the recently inaugurated president of Ecuador, has declared that in Cuba there is no dictatorship. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, considers Castro his mentor and has already shown that he is willing to silence his own critics at the point of a gun. Venezuela, once a democracy, is the new Cuba, replete with a growing population of political prisoners.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ARMANDO VALLADARES.  "Castro's Gulag." The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A16.

 




March 8, 2007

Communists Import Giant Rabbits to End Starvation in North Korea

 

Apparently the North Korean Communist government's plan to end starvation in North Korea, is to import and breed giant German rabbits.  If they were really serious, they would do better by respecting property rights, and embracing the free market.

 

EBERSWALDE, Germany -- Few people raise bigger bunny rabbits than Karl Szmolinsky, who has been producing long-eared whoppers since 1964.  His favorite breed, German gray giants, are the size of a full-grown beagle and so fat they can barely hop.

Last year, after the retired chauffeur entered some of his monsters in an agricultural fair, word of his breeding skills spread to the North Korean Embassy in Berlin.  Diplomats looked past the cute, furry faces with the twitching noses and saw a possible solution to their nation's endemic food shortage:  an enormous bunny in every Korean pot.

The North Koreans approached Szmolinsky in November and asked whether he'd advise them on how to start a rabbit breeding program to help "feed the population," the 67-year-old pensioner recalled in an interview at his home in Eberswalde, an eastern German town a few miles from the Polish border.  Sympathetic to the Koreans' plight, he agreed to sell some of his best stock at a steep discount and volunteered to travel to the hermetic nation as a consultant.

. . .

In December, Szmolinsky stuffed six of his rabbits into modified dog carriers and took them to the airport in Berlin, where they boarded a flight for Pyongyang, via Frankfurt, Germany, and Beijing.  Robert, a 23-pounder, was the largest of the bunch, which included four female rabbits and one other male carefully selected for their breeding potential.

How, exactly, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea intends to parlay the small herd of German Flopsies into hunger relief for its 23 million citizens is unclear.

 

For the full story, see: 

Craig Whitlock.  "A Colossal Leap of Faith In Fight Against Famine North Koreans See Potential in German Breeder's Giants."  The Washington Post  (Friday, February 2, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 RabbitGiantGerman.jpg   A giant German rabbit.  Source of photo:  http://www.spiegel.de/img/0,1020,774187,00.jpg

 




January 19, 2007

At Screen Actors Guild, Communists Threatened to Disfigure His Face

ReaganAnAmericanStoryBK.jpg   Source of book image: http://www.shopaim.org/assets/images/large/458i.jpg

 

There are better books on Reagan.  But Bosch's book has a few illuminating anecdotes.  Here is one:

(p. 63)  Reagan first learned about Communists and their intentions as a member of a Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  He had been introduced to the Screen actors Guild by his wife Jane Wyman and had quickly risen to become a member of the Guild's board.  As a SAG Board member, and later as its president, he mediated a dispute between two rival unions.  One of the unions, the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), was led by a suspected Communist, Herb Sorrell.

. . .  

(p. 64)  Sorrell and Reagan went head to head.  When Reagan crossed a picket line outside Warner Brothers, Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies.  Reagan was called a fascist.  An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again.  He began to carry a gun and accepted police protection.  He became an informant for the FBI 

"These were eye-opening years for me," he later wrote.  "Now I knew form first-hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit, violence, or any other tactic that suited them to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism."

 

Source: 

Bosch, Adriana.  Reagan: An American Story.  TV Books Inc., 1998.

 




January 7, 2007

Gates Foundation Will Not "Rule With a Dead Hand"

MelindaAndBillGates.gif  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below. 

 

When he was discussing with Pierre Goodrich the rules for Goodrich's Liberty Fund, my late-lamented mentor Ben Rogge tried to convince Goodrich to set some date by which the foundation would be required to spend all of its funds.  Rogge would quote Smith against the practice sometimes called 'ruling with a dead hand' by which the dead try to put restrictions on the living.  Rogge thought the dead had a right to restrict the future use of their money; its just that he thought it would become increasingly hard for them to do so effectively, the further out into the future you go.

There were at least a couple of reasons.  One of them was that as you go out into the future, it is increasingly hard to make sure that those supervising the money will remain true to the donor's intent.  Another reason was that as you go further out, and conditions change, it becomes increasingly hard to know what the donor would have wanted done.  (Rogge used to jest that probably, evenually Liberty Fund would end up spending libertarian Goodrich's money on making films promoting the beliefs of communist Anna Rosenberg.)

On this issue, it appears that Bill and Melinda find Adam Smith more persuasive, than did Pierre:

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend all its assets within 50 years of the death of its last trustee, a decisive move in a continuing debate in philanthropy about whether such groups should live on forever.

. . .

The decision is expected to influence other charities to consider following suit.  . . .

. . .

The Gates decision will add fuel to a debate about whether foundations should live in perpetuity, a longtime model used by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and Carnegie Corp.

 

For the full story, see: 

SALLY BEATTY.  "Gates Foundation Sets Its Lifespan; All Assets Are to Be Spent Within 50 Years of Death of the Remaining Trustee."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., December 1, 2006):  A10.

 




November 28, 2006

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.  Toffler's view was that choice was stressful---visualize the Robin Williams' Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here's my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don't value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator's Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.

   




October 13, 2006

Hernando de Soto Creates Buzz in Clinton Hallways

DeSotoClinton.jpg  Hernando de Soto and Bill Clinton at the second annual Clinton Global Initiative.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

. . . the buzz in the hallways centered on a topic that until recently most philanthropists all but ignored:  registering poor people's property so they could borrow against it to build businesses, pay taxes or for other purposes.  Many citizens of developing countries don't formally have title to their land, and many economists -- including Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, another conference attendee -- see this as a key source of urban poverty.  According to Mr. de Soto's research, the value of unregistered land in developing countries totals over $9 trillion.  Mr. Clinton told the audience that these assets "cannot be converted into collateral for loans -- wealth locked-up and locked-down -- keeping people in grinding poverty instead of being an asset that can lift them up."  Up to 85% of urban land parcels in the developing world are unregistered, Mr. Clinton said, citing Mr. de Soto's research.

But standing in the way of widespread land-ownership records are insufficient legal frameworks, confusing procedures and corrupt property registries.  And establishing land ownership is all but impossible in communist and socialist countries, where property usually is owned by the state, said John Bryant, chief executive of Operation Hope, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that provides financial services to the poor.

 

For the full article, see: 

SALLY BEATTY. "GIVING BACK; Helping the Poor Register Land." Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 29, 2006): W2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)




September 22, 2006

"Free to Choose" Turns Estonia into "Boomtown"


  Source of book image:  http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/imageviewer.asp?ean=9780156334600

 

If, like Mr. Laar, you are only going to read one book in economics, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, is not too bad a choice:

(p. A23) Philippe Benoit du Rey is not one of those gloomy Frenchmen who frets about the threat to Gallic civilization from McDonald's and Microsoft.  He thinks international competition is good for his countrymen.  He's confident France will flourish in a global economy -- eventually.

But for now, he has left the Loire Valley for Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the economic model for New Europe.  It's a boomtown with a beautifully preserved medieval quarter along with new skyscrapers, gleaming malls and sprawling housing developments:  Prague meets Houston, except that Houston's economy is cool by comparison.

Economists call Estonia the Baltic tiger, the sequel to the Celtic tiger as Europe's success story, and its policies are more radical than Ireland's.  On this year's State of World Liberty Index, a ranking of countries by their economic and political freedom, Estonia is in first place, just ahead of Ireland and seven places ahead of the U.S. (North Korea comes in last at 159th.)

It transformed itself from an isolated, impoverished part of the Soviet Union thanks to a former prime minister, Mart Laar, a history teacher who took office not long after Estonia was liberated.  He was 32 years old and had read just one book on economics:  ''Free to Choose,'' by Milton Friedman, which he liked especially because he knew Friedman was despised by the Soviets.

Laar was politically naïve enough to put the theories into practice.  Instead of worrying about winning trade wars, he unilaterally disarmed by abolishing almost all tariffs.  He welcomed foreign investors and privatized most government functions (with the help of a privatization czar who had formerly been the manager of the Swedish pop group Abba).  He drastically cut taxes on businesses and individuals, instituting a simple flat income tax of 26 percent.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "New Europe's Boomtown."  The New York Times  (Tues., September 5, 2006):  A23.

 




August 23, 2006

Cuban Bureaucrats Fooled by Castro Impersonator

CastroImpersonator.jpg  Castro impersonator Eddy Calderón.  Source of photo:  online version of WSJ article cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  Mr. Calderón says the work can be risky.  Once, he recalls, a woman whose relative had been executed by the revolution hurled a dinner plate at his head.  At a recent gig, a tiny, white-haired lady shouted at him:  "Why did you ruin the country?" Mr. Calderón, as Fidel, answered that she should thank him because if it hadn't been for him, she'd be stuck in Cuba instead of living well in Miami, "where you can buy hair dye and dentures."

After the Aug. 13 performance, a ballroom attendant, Armando Montes de Oca, approached Mr. Calderón while he was still in his Castro beard and told him:  "If I didn't know you were Calderón behind that beard, you would never leave (p. A9) this room alive."

"Thank you," Mr. Calderón replied.

Mr. Calderón has been doing his imitation of Fidel for about a dozen years.  He became a local superstar two years ago when a cable-TV channel started weekly broadcasts of a skit called "La Mesa Retonta," or "The Idiots' Table," a takeoff on a weekly "Meet the Press"-style show Mr. Castro has done in Cuba, called "La Mesa Redonda," or "The Roundtable."

Mr. Calderón's Fidel voice is so good that on about 50 occasions, he has telephoned Cuban bureaucrats in Havana or Cuban diplomats abroad and fooled them into thinking they were on the line with the man himself.  Mr. Calderón taped the calls, which he still often plays on a Miami radio show.

Two years ago, Mr. Calderón held a 12-minute conversation with Cuba's deputy construction minister, ordering him to build a giant retractable roof over Havana's Latin American stadium, as a way to improve conditions for Cuban baseball players and dissuade them from defecting.

"We need a revolutionary roof to uphold the pride of the Cuban Revolution," said Mr. Calderón during the taped telephone call, in a dead-on imitation of Mr. Castro's edgy, high-pitched, nasal voice.

"I am your unconditional soldier," replied the hapless minister, who promised to get the job done.

That same year, Mr. Calderón telephoned a luxury hotel at Cuba's Varadero beach resort and ordered the hotel manager to provide a week-long all-expense-paid vacation for one of Cuba's leading dissidents, whose movements are shadowed by the secret police, to show the government's good will.  Before hanging up, the hotel manager, Mr. Calderón says, promised to make the reservation.

A year earlier, Mr. Calderón as Fidel told transport official Gumersindo Gómez to round up 200 scarce buses for an outing of some 700 priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, and to find room for their sacrificial goats and chickens.  Make sure the buses don't have any graffiti saying "down with You-Know-Who," he added.

"Fatherland or death," Mr. Calderón said.

"Onwards to victory," replied Mr. Gómez, according to the tape of the phone call.

 

For the full story, see:

JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA.  "Fidel Castro's Illness Has Impersonators Scrambling to Adapt In Miami; Mr. Calderón Does El Jefe's Voice Perfectly; New Role for Brother Raúl."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., August 18, 2006):  A1 & A9. 




August 22, 2006

Eleven-Year-Old Crippled for Life by Mao Supporters


  Source of book image:  http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/henryholt/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=1524294


(p. B29) This improbable journey, from Maoist orthodoxy to the entrepreneurial quasicapitalism officially described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is the main theme of “Chinese Lessons,” but Mr. Pomfret, a reporter for The Washington Post, gives his tale a twist.  He tells it not only through his own experiences as a student and journalist but through the life stories of five university classmates, who suffered through the Cultural Revolution as children, found inspiration and hope in the growing democracy movement and lived to see a China that neither they nor their parents could have imagined.  . . .

All the lives Mr. Pomfret explores are extraordinary, and each sheds its own light on recent Chinese history.  Perhaps the most endearing of his characters is Guan Yongxing, better known as Little Guan, who as an 11-year-old suffered social ostracism after accidentally using a piece of paper with “Long Live Chairman Mao!” on it to wipe herself in the bathroom.

After classmates threw her to the ground, no doctor would treat her dislocated shoulder, leaving her crippled for life.  Her father’s job as a schoolteacher made the Guan family a prime target for abuse, and Little Guan, rather than endure ridicule and torment at school, picked cotton and sprayed fertilizer on the fields, her back constantly burned by chemicals leaking from the tank on her back.  Tough, determined and highly intelligent, she survives and eventually prospers in the new China.

. . .

Zhou Lianchun, called Book Idiot Zhou by a contemptuous Communist Party official, meted out insults and torture as part of a Red Guard brigade.  “I did what I was told and, being 11, I liked it,” he tells Mr. Pomfret.

. . .

More even than sex, students want just a little bit of the good life that seems to be in reach as China’s rulers relax their economic policies.  To get it they master a strange kind of doublethink, pledging allegiance to the party and Communist ideals while scheming to start a business.

Book Idiot Zhou, a history teacher by day, jumps into a business partnership to process urine for the pharmaceutical industry.  “Several days a week, he taught Marxism, Leninism and Maoist thought and railed against the exploitation of the capitalist class,” Mr. Pomfret writes.  “The rest of the time he spent as a budding entrepreneur, employing dozens at rock-bottom wages, working the system to enrich himself, his partners and his family.”

. . .

His classmates have done well.  But their lives, and the China described in “Chinese Lessons,” bear a heavy load of suppressed grief, terrible compromises and boundless cynicism.  At a new drive-in called the Happy Auto Movie Palace, Mr. Pomfret notices something strange about the concrete slabs underneath his feet.  They show the marks of tank treads.  The drive-in owner bought them after the government repaved Tiananmen Square.

This strikes Mr. Pomfret as bizarre, but not the owner.  “It was a good deal,” he says.

 

For the full review, see: 

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times; Twisting Along China’s Sharp Curves." The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  B29.

(Note: ellipses added.) 





July 5, 2006

Russians Try to Steal Rocker's Vacuum Tube Factory

Mike Matthews holding one of the vacuum tubes produced in the Russian factory he owns.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  SARATOV, Russia — Mike Matthews, a sound-effects designer and one-time promoter of Jimi Hendrix, bought an unusual Russian factory making vacuum tubes for guitar amplifiers.  Now he has encountered a problem increasingly common here: someone is trying to steal his company.

Sharp-elbowed personalities in Russia's business world are threatening this factory in a case that features accusations of bribery and dark hints of involvement by the agency that used to be the K.G.B.

Though similar to hundreds of such disputes across Russia, this one is resonating around the world, particularly in circles of musicians and fans of high-end audio equipment.

Russia is one of only three countries still making vacuum tubes for use in reproducing music, an aging technology that nonetheless "warms up" the sound of electronic music in audio equipment.

"It's rock 'n' roll versus the mob," Mr. Matthews, 64, said in a telephone interview from New York, where he manages his business distributing the Russian vacuum tubes.  "I will not give in to racketeers."

Yet the hostile takeover under way here is not strictly mob-related.  It is a dispute peculiar to a country where property rights — whether for large oil companies, car dealerships or this midsize factory — seem always open to renegotiation.  It provides a view of the wobbly understanding of ownership that still prevails.

. . .

(p. C4)  If the tube factory dies, so will the future of a rock 'n' roll sound dating back half a century, the rich grumble of a guitar tube amplifier — think of Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" — that musicians say cannot be replicated with modern technology.

"It's nice and sweet and just pleasing sounding," Peter Stroud, the guitarist for Sheryl Crow, said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.  "It's a smooth, crunchy distortion that just sounds good.  It just feels good to play on a tube amp."

He added:  "It would be a catastrophe for the music industry if something happened to that plant."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "From Russia, With Dread; American Faces a Truly Hostile Takeover Attempt at His Factory."  The New York Times   (Tuesday, May 16, 2006):  C1 & C4.

 

The transistor disrupted the vacuum tube, a case that would usually be described as an episode of creative destruction.  One secondary lesson from the story above is that there may be a previously unremarked symmetry to the process of disruption.  A disruptive technology typically appeals only to a niche in the market, while the incumbent technology dominates the mainstream.  But after the disruptive technology improves sufficiently to capture much of the mainstream market, maybe there often will remain a niche market that still prefers the older disruptive technology?

To use Danny DeVito's example in "Other People's Money," the car may have disrupted horse-and-buggies.  But for some nostalgic "jobs" the horse-and-buggy may still be the better product, so there will likely remain some demand for buggy whips.

To the extent that this phenomenon is significant, it might serve to ease the labor market transition when one technology leapfrogs another.

 

VacuumTubeBox.jpg A vacuum tube used in guitar amplifiers, that was produced in the factory that Mike Matthews owned.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




June 29, 2006

An Unintended Use of Shipping Containers

Source of top image:  online version of NYT article cited below.  Source of bottom image:  http://www.2odessa.com/wiki/index.php?title=Seventh-Kilometer_Bazaar

 

SEVENTH-KILOMETER MARKET, Ukraine, May 16 - Most of the shops here on the airport road outside Odessa are neither buildings nor stalls.  They are shipping containers, stacked two high in rows long enough to be called streets, though these are little more than overcrowded alleys.

From their steel gates spills a consumer abundance of inexpensive clothes, shoes and toys, kitchenware, hardware and software, cosmetics, sporting goods and various sundries -- virtually everything, in short, in a part of the world that not long ago was used to getting by with virtually nothing.

. . .

''They were growing wheat here when I came,'' said Aleksandr Sedov, who once programmed computers for the Soviet space program and now sells, mostly, suspenders and women's blouses.  ''Now this place is called the field of wonders.''

It was also a dump and a garbage incinerator -- paved over and torn down, respectively -- when the last Soviet city fathers of Odessa expelled the pioneers in a previously unknown free market from the city, banishing them to a 10-acre spot seven kilometers, or about four miles, from the city's limits, hence the name.  That was in 1989, as the Soviet Union itself was unraveling, and what has since emerged is Europe's most extraordinary and, some say, largest market.

 

For the full story, see: 

Steven Lee Myers.  "Seventh-Kilometer Market Journal: From Soviet-Era Flea Market to a Giant Makeshift Mall."  The New York Times  (Fri., May 19, 2006):  A4.

 




June 1, 2006

"Everybody wants to be like Bill Gates"

Vietnamese university students hoping to see Bill Gates.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/world/asia/27vietnam.html?ex=1303790400&en=255d4d4996b1a9a6&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

 

HANOI, Vietnam, April 26 — It was Lenin's birthday.  The most important Communist Party meeting in five years was under way. And the star of the show was the world's most famous capitalist, Bill Gates.

The president, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister all excused themselves from the party meeting on Saturday to have their pictures taken with Mr. Gates, who has more star power in Vietnam than any of them.

When people heard he was in town, hundreds climbed trees and pushed through police lines to get a glimpse of him.  He was the subject of the lead article in the next day's newspapers.

This is where Vietnam stands today, moving cautiously toward a new version of communism while the people and their leaders lunge eagerly for the brass ring of capitalist development.

"That was very symbolic," said Le Dang Doanh, an official in the Ministry of Planning, speaking of the reception for Mr. Gates.  "It is a very clear sign of the new mood of society and the people.  Everybody wants to be like Bill Gates."

 

For the full story, see:

SETH MYDANS.  "Communist Vietnam Lunges for Capitalism's Brass Ring."  The New York Times (Thurs., April 27, 2006):  A3.

Note:  the version of the article above corrects an error in the print version that had misidentified the day of Lenin's birth, and Gates visit as a Sunday (it was a Saturday).




May 28, 2006

Hunter-Gatherers Prefer Civilization

Source of photo:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A13) The newly arrived Nukak do not provide much detail about why they left.  They just say that "the Green Nukak," a possible reference to Marxist guerrillas, who wear camouflage, told them to leave.

"The Green Nukak said we could not keep walking in the jungle, or else there would be problems," explained Va-di, another Nukak man, whose words were translated from Nukak by Belisario.  "The Green Nukak told us to go where it is safe."

 . . .

In Aguabonita, the scene on a recent day was full of commotion and laughter.  Naked children tugged at the shirts of two foreign journalists, offering big smiles and hugs.  The men quickly welcomed the visitors into a makeshift shelter, where they laughed at some of the questions and, it seemed, wholly innocently at their own odd predicament.

Are they sad?  "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter.  In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier.  Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most?  "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors.

Ma-be added, "Rice, sugar, oil, flour."  Others said they loved skillets.  Also high on the list were eggs and onions, matches and soap and certain other of life's necessities.

"I like the women very much," Pia-pe said, to raucous laughs.

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still.  "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."

The men still go into the jungle, searching for monkeys, a delicacy the Nukak cannot seem to live without.  Monkeys are grilled, dismembered and boiled, then eaten piece by piece.  The women still spend their time carefully weaving intricate wristbands and hammocks, using threads from palm leaves.

All live in shelters now, enjoy constant medical attention and, on weekends, stroll into town to take in the sights.  "Nukak life is hard in the jungle," Dr. Maldonado said.  "You wake up thinking about food and you go hunt, you go search for nuts.  So when they see us they think their food problems are over."

That is not to say the Nukak do not have plans.

Ma-be explained that the idea is to grow plantains and yucca and take the crops to town.  "We can exchange it for money," he said, "and exchange the money for other things."  But first they need to learn how to cultivate crops.  The Nukak say they would like their children to go to school.  They also say they do not want to lose traditions, like hunting or speaking their language.  "We do want to join the white family," Pia-pe said, speaking of Colombian society, "but we do not want to forget words of the Nukak."

 

For the full story, see:

JUAN FORERO.  "Leaving the Wild, and Rather Liking the Change."  The New York Times (Thurs., May 11, 2006):  A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 28, 2006

"Damn it Fidel! What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?"

 

   Source of image of book:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586483242/qid=1145298612/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-9985403-1047968?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

 

Fernando Cardosa is the former Brazilian President who is best known for having temporarily tamed Brazil's runaway inflation.  Although not a principled believer in the free market, Cardoso made some efforts to reduce the damage the Brazilian government was doing to the economy.  The following startling passage is from a useful review of a new memoir by Cardoso:

 

. . . ,  Mr. Cardoso mentions a telling moment at a 1999 summit meeting in Havana.  When the heads of state were alone at a luncheon, one said to Castro:  "Damn it Fidel!  What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?   We're sick of apologizing for you all the time, Fidel.  It's getting embarrassing."   The anecdote shows how disingenuous Latin governments can be when they remain silent about the Cuban dictatorship.

 

For the full review, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY.  "A Leader Who Got Real."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 6, 2006):  D8.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Here is the full reference to Cardoso's memoir:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique.  The Accidental President of Brazil:  A Memoir.  PublicAffairs, 2006.  [with Brian Winter;  291 pages;  $26.95]

 




April 27, 2006

Chernobyl Accident Cannot Occur In U.S. Type Reactors


Twenty years ago (April 25, 1986), the Chernobyl nuclear accident sent a plume of radiation into the air above Ukraine.  The word "Chernobyl" remains the most emotionally charged argument used by the opponents of nuclear energy.  But if examined carefully, the main lesson from Chernobyl may be that what happened there cannot occur in the better designed light water reactors used in the United States, and most of the rest of the world.  William Sweet, the author of the commentary below, has also authored Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.

 

(p. A23) . . . , though it went unnoticed at the time and has been inadequately appreciated since, Chernobyl also cast into relief the positive features of the reactors used in the United States and most other advanced industrial countries.

The reactor at Chernobyl belonged to a class that was especially vulnerable to runaway reactions.  When operating at low power, if such reactors lost water, their reactivity could suddenly take off and very rapidly reach a threshold beyond which they could only explode.  Making matters worse, surprisingly little more pressure than normal in the machine's water channels would lift its lid, snapping the vital control rods and fuel channels that entered the reactor's core.

On the night of April 25, 1986, poorly trained and supervised plant operators conducted an ill-conceived experiment, putting the machine into the very state in which reactivity was most likely to spike.  Within a fraction of a second, the reactor went from being barely on to power levels many times higher than the maximum intended.

This kind of accident cannot happen in the so-called light water reactors used in the United States and most of Western Europe and Asia.  In these reactors, the water functions not only as a coolant but as a "moderator": self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions cannot take place in its absence.  This is a very useful passive safety feature.  If coolant runs low, there is still a danger of a core meltdown, because the fuel retains heat; but the reactor will have automatically and immediately turned itself off.

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM SWEET.  "The Nuclear Option."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A23.

 

The reference to Sweet's related book is:

Sweet, William.  Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.  Columbia University Press, 2006.


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0231137109/sr=8-1/qid=1146071688/ref=sr_1_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8






March 18, 2006

The Centrally Planned Economy: "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"

WuhanHeatless.jpg

Li Qiao tries to stay warm in unheated apartment in Wuhan. Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited below.

(p. B1) WUHAN, China -- As a winter wind howled through this central Chinese city, university lecturer Li Qiao settled down in his two-bedroom apartment for what should have been a cozy evening of reading. Around his apartment were signs of China's new prosperity: a color television, refrigerator, washing machine and air conditioner. The only thing missing: heating.

Even though winter temperatures in Wuhan dip into the 30s with occasional snow, virtually none of the city's homes are heated. "The cold is cutting into my bones," lamented Mr. Li, who was bundled up in a down coat and a quilt, with an electric heater blowing warm air toward him. "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"

Mr. Li isn't the only one asking. Heating systems are one of the last areas that remain under China's former centrally planned economy, with government regulators still setting the thermostat for homes, classrooms and offices across the country. Under the policy, which dates back to Mao Zedong in the 1950s, the government provides heat in the northern half of China, and, to save money, it provides no heat in the southern half. As a result, northerners often wilt in steaming apartments, while those in southern provinces shiver through the winter.

With no heat, even residents of modern cities like Shanghai spend much of the winter trying to get warm.

. . .

(p. B2) Mr. Li, the university teacher, and his wife ward off the cold air that seeps into their apartment at the university with an electrical heater, a hot-air fan and a wall unit air-conditioner that also blows out heat. At night, they wriggle into long underwear before piling under two sets of thick quilts. Although he has a three-hour lunch break, Mr. Li seldom goes back to his apartment, opting instead to hole up in his heated office.

His students aren't so lucky. Classrooms aren't heated, so they listen to his lectures swathed in down jackets, caps and gloves. Some students even carry hot-water bottles to keep their hands warm and cushions to place on the icy chairs.


For the full story, see:

Cui Rong. "China's Winter of Discontent; Mao-Era Policy Provides Heat Up North but None in South; Shivering Citizens Are Fed Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 14, 2006): B1 & B2.


Source of graphic: online version of WSJ article cited above.




February 16, 2006

Hayek Was Right: Free Speech is Fragile, When Property Can be Seized


For those who doubt the central message of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, something to ponder:

 

(p. 351) The Sandinistas called coffee farmers who cooperated with them "patriotic producers." Anyone who questioned their politics or policies was labeled a capitalist parasite. Throughout most of the 1980s, any farms that did not produce sufficiently, or whose owners were too vocal, were confiscated by the government.

 

Source: 

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.





February 10, 2006

Solzhenitsyn Endures: The Return of "The First Circle"


    Source of book image:   Amazon.com.


I remember Ben Rogge recommending The First Circle, decades ago when it first appeared in English. It is a powerful, courageous, wise work, bearing many lessons. As you read the book, you keep hoping you can find someone to blame for the evil that is happening. But as Solzhenitsyn works his way up the bureaucracy, each bureaucrat has a plausible motive for his part in evil; one motive, for example, is the protection of the bureaucrat's family. Only when you reach Stalin, do you find someone who you can really despise. But he seems borderline crazy, so even he is not a totally satisfying villian.

The book can be seen as illustrating a point that Rogge often made: socialism is not bad because it is run by bad people; it is bad because it provides ordinary people incentives to do bad things. (These are not his words, but I believe they capture his point.)



Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Source of image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) MOSCOW, Feb. 8 -- A grandfatherly figure, his bearded face wrinkled into a smile, peers down from billboards around town.

It is surprise enough that the man is Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the once-exiled writer, Nobel Prize winner and, of late, octogenarian scold. It is even more so that the billboards advertise his adaptation -- broadcast on state television, no less -- of one of his fiercely anti-Soviet novels, "The First Circle."

Solzhenitsyn has been called the conscience of the nation, but his reputation has risen and fallen as tumultuously as Russia itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "First Circle" has once again placed him on the national stage, reaching an audience that would have been inconceivable to him four decades ago, when he smuggled the book out of the Soviet Union.


For the full article, see:

STEVEN LEE MYERS "Toast of the TV in Russian Eyes: It's Solzhenitsyn." The New York Times (Thurs., February 9, 2006): A1 & A3.



A scene from the Russian mini-series version of The First Circle. Source of image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




January 28, 2006

Private Property Rights Would Help American Indians

(p. W11) The main problem with Indian reservations isn't, as some argue, that they were established on worthless tracts of grassland. Consider the case of Buffalo County, S.D., which Census data reveal to be America's poorest county. Some 2,000 people live there. More than 30% of the homes are headed by women without husbands. The median household income is less than $13,000. The unemployment rate is sky high.

Just to the east of Buffalo County lies Jerauld County, which is similar in size and population. Yet only 6% of its homes are headed by women without husbands, the median household income is more than $30,000, and the unemployment rate hovers around 3%. The fundamental difference between these two counties is that the Crow Creek Indian Reservation occupies much of Buffalo County. The place is a pocket of poverty in a land of plenty.

Maybe we should give land back to the rez-dwellers, so that they may own private property the way other Americans do. Currently, the inability to put up land as collateral for personal mortgages and loans is a major obstacle to economic development. This problem is complicated by the fact that not all reservations have adopted uniform commercial codes or created court systems that are independent branches of tribal government -- the sorts of devices and institutions that give confidence to investors who might have the means to fund the small businesses that are the engines of rural economies.

. . .

. . . the real tragedy is that reservations, as collectivist enclaves within a capitalist society, have beaten down their inhabitants with brute force rather than lifting them up with opportunity. As their economies have withered, other social pathologies have taken root: Indians are distressingly prone to crime, alcoholism and suicide. Families have suffered enormously. About 60% of Indian children are born out of wedlock. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by because so many arrangements are informal, Indian kids are perhaps five times as likely as white ones to live in some form of foster care. Their schools are depressingly bad.

Even if casino revenues were able to address these soul-crushing problems -- a doubtful proposition -- most reservations are too isolated geographically to profit from big-dollar gambling. Yet the rise of the casinos may help point the way forward: Their ability to flourish contradicts the tenured Marxists in ethnic-studies departments who claim that communitarian Indian cultures aren't compatible with market capitalism. After all, it takes entrepreneurship to run some of the world's biggest casinos.

What's more, this modern-day entrepreneurship is part of a long tradition: Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) described the Chinooks as "great hagglers in trade." I once visited Poverty Point, a 3,000-year-old set of earthen mounds in Louisiana; the museum there displayed ancient artifacts found at the site, including copper from the Great Lakes and obsidian from the Rockies. These prehistoric Americans were budding globalizers, and there's no reason why their descendants should remain walled off from the world economy.



For the full story, see:

JOHN J. MILLER. "The Projects on the Prairie." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 27, 2006): W11.(Note: ellipses added.)





August 3, 2005

Palmer House Communists




On July 1-3, 2005, the Communist Party held their Quadrennial Conference in Chicago's plushly decadent Palmer House Hotel, as if to say: "Proletariat? We don't need no steenking proletariat!"




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