Communists Punished Dr. Li Wenliang For Speaking Truth on Coronavirus

Doctor Li Wenliang. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) The Chinese public has staged what amounts to an online revolt after the death of a doctor, Li Wenliang, who tried to warn of a mysterious virus that has since killed hundreds of people in China, infected tens of thousands and forced the government to corral many of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

. . .

For many people in China, the doctor’s death shook loose pent-up anger and frustration at how the government mishandled the situation by not sharing information earlier and by silencing whistle-blowers. It also seemed, to those online, that the government hadn’t learned lessons from previous crises, continuing to quash online criticism and investigative reports that provide vital information.

Some users of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, are saying the doctor’s death resonated because he was an ordinary person who was forced to admit to wrongdoing for doing the right thing.

Dr. Li was reprimanded by the police after he shared concerns about the virus in a social messaging app with medical school classmates on Dec. 30 [2019].

Three days later, the police compelled him to sign a statement that his warning constituted “illegal behavior.”

The doctor eventually went public with his experiences and gave interviews to help the public better understand the unfolding epidemic. (The New York Times interviewed Dr. Li days before his death.)

“He didn’t want to become a hero, but for those of us in 2020, he had reached the upper limit of what we can imagine a hero would do,” one Weibo post read. The post is one of many that users say they wrote out of shame and guilt for not standing up to an authoritarian government, as Dr. Li did.

. . .

The grief was so widespread that it appeared in unlikely corners.

“Refusing to listen to your ‘whistling,’ your country has stopped ticking, and your heart has stopped beating,” Hong Bing, the Shanghai bureau chief of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, wrote on her timeline on WeChat, an instant-messaging platform. “How big a price do we have to pay to make you and your whistling sound louder, to reach every corner of the East?”

Both the Chinese- and English-language Twitter accounts of People’s Daily tweeted that Dr. Li’s death had prompted “national grief.” Both accounts deleted those messages before replacing them with more neutral, official-sounding posts.

. . .

Wang Gaofei, the chief executive of Weibo, which carries out many of the orders passed down from China’s censors, pondered what lessons China should learn from Dr. Li’s death.

“We should be more tolerant of people who post ‘untruthful information’ that aren’t malicious,” he said in a post. “If we’re only allowed to speak what we can guarantee is fact, we’re going to pay prices.”

. . .

“R.I.P. our hero,” Fan Bao, a prominent tech investor, posted on his WeChat timeline.

. . .

The hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech# was created on Weibo at 2 a.m. on Friday [February 7, 2020] and had over two million views and over 5,500 posts by 7 a.m. It was deleted by censors, along with related topics, such as ones saying the Wuhan government owed Dr. Li an apology.

“I love my country deeply,” read one post under that topic. “But I don’t like the current system and the ruling style of my country. It covered my eyes, my ears and my mouth.”

The writer of the post complained about not being able to gain access to the internet beyond the Great Firewall. “I’ve been holding back for a long time. I feel we’ve all been holding back for a long time. It erupted today.”

Talking about freedom of speech on the Chinese internet is taboo, even though it’s written into the Constitution. So it’s a small miracle that the freedom of speech hashtag survived for over five hours.

The country’s high-powered executives have been less blunt, but have echoed the same sentiments online.

“It’s time to reflect on the deeply rooted, stability-trumps-everything thinking that’s hurt everyone,” Wang Ran, chairman of the investment bank CEC Capital, wrote on Weibo. “We all want stability,” he asked. “Will you be more stable if you cover the others’ mouths while walking on a tightrope?

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “Online Revolt in China As a Doctor Is Lionized.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 8, 2020): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 7, 2020, and has the title “Widespread Outcry in China Over Death of Coronavirus Doctor.”)

Chinese Communist Officials Rewarded for Loyalty, Not for Competence or Boldness

(p. A1) The Chinese people are getting a rare glimpse of how China’s giant, opaque bureaucratic system works — or, rather, how it fails to work. Too many of its officials have become political apparatchiks, fearful of making decisions that anger their superiors and too removed and haughty when dealing with the public to admit mistakes and learn from them.

“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a best-selling author who is famous for his novels that explore the intricate workings of China’s bureaucratic politics.

“Under the high-pressure environment of an anticorruption campaign, most people, including senior government officials, only care about self-preservation,” Mr. Xu said. “They don’t want to be the first to speak up. They wait for their superiors to make decisions and are only accountable to their superiors instead of the people.”

The Chinese government appears to be aware of the problem. The Communist Party’s top leadership acknowledged in a meeting on Monday [February 3, 2020] that the (p. A9) epidemic was “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

. . .

Chinese officials are spending as much as one-third of their time on political studying sessions, a lot of which are about Mr. Xi’s speeches. Political loyalty weighs much more in performance evaluations than before. Now the rule of thumb in Chinese officialdom seems to be demonstrating loyalty as explicitly as possible, keeping everything else vague and evading responsibility at all costs when things go wrong.

. . .

On social media, low-level cadres are complaining that they are receiving so many instructions from the higher-ups that they spend most of their time filling out spreadsheets instead of getting real work done. In a social media post headlined “The Formalism Under the Mask,” the author wrote, “Most people in the system don’t do things to solve problems. They do things to solve responsibilities.”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “In China, Virus Spurred Rush of Blame Shifting.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 5, 2020): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 14 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Crisis Shows China’s Governance Failure.”)

“Senior Communist Party Leaders” Call Coronavirus “a Major Test of China’s System and Capacity for Governance”

(p. A1) Mr. Xi presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders at which they acknowledged shortcomings in policies on public health and emergency management, according to a report by China’s official news agency. The leaders called the coronavirus epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

Xinhua quoted Mr. Xi as saying that officials who resist orders and “lack boldness” could be punished– . . .

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee. “China Foresees ‘Test’ as World Shuts Its Doors.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 4, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2020, and has the title “Beijing Sees ‘Major Test’ as Doors to China Close and Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS.”)

Is Jeff Bezos Still a “Project Entrepreneur”?

In my Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, I suggest that different innovative entrepreneurs have different motives. Some mainly want money for its own sake, some mainly want fame, some mainly want to win the competition. Then there are those who mainly want to bring their project into the world. These are the project entrepreneurs, who often sacrifice for their project, forgoing conspicuous consumption in order to “make a ding in the universe.” (The phrase is due to Steve Jobs.) In my book I give Walt Disney as one example, and Jeff Bezos as another. Was I wrong? Or has Bezos changed? Or is there some other way to account for what looks like Bezos’s conspicuous consumption, as described below?

(p. B4) The national housing market has cooled, but in Los Angeles the ultrarich are still shattering price records. An heiress to the Formula One racing empire sold her home for $119.75 million last July. In December, Lachlan Murdoch paid $150 million for a home in Bel Air.

The latest buyer at the top: Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief and world’s richest person.

Setting a new high for a home sold in California, Mr. Bezos is paying $165 million for a Beverly Hills estate owned by David Geffen, the media mogul and co-founder of DreamWorks, according to two people familiar with the purchase.

That wasn’t all. In a separate transaction, Bezos Expeditions, which oversees The Washington Post and Mr. Bezos’ charitable foundation, is buying 120 undeveloped acres in Beverly Hills for $90 million, the two people said.

For the full story, see:

Candace Jackson. “Bezos Is Setting Record By Paying $165 Million To Buy Geffen’s Estate.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 15, 2020): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 14, 2020, and has the title “Jeff Bezos Buying $165 Million Estate, a California Record.”)

My book is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Progressive Opposes Job-Destroying Minimum Wage Increase

(p. A15) Seattle

This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all due to the policy change. That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment.

I work for Tom Douglas, one of the best-known restaurateurs in Seattle. Mr. Douglas is in many ways responsible for the city’s reputation as a foodie paradise, and he recently celebrated his 30th anniversary in business. He’s a great boss, and his employees tend to stay at the company for a long time.

. . .

So now, after six years working at Mr. Douglas’s restaurant Tanakasan, I need to find a new work home. My first thought was to go back to Sitka & Spruce, a restaurant where I had once worked.   . . .

As it turns out, I can’t return to Sitka & Spruce. Its James Beard Award-winning owner, Matt Dillon, is closing Sitka after 14 years, defeated by the one-two punch of rising rents and labor costs.

As a worker, you’re attracted to restaurateurs like Messrs. Douglas and Dillon because they offer job security and you know you’ll make money. That’s no longer the case here with a high minimum wage that ignores tip income.

. . .

I’m proudly progressive in my politics, but my experience shows that progressives should reconsider minimum-wage laws that hurt the very workers they’re trying to protect.

For the full story, see:

Simone Barron. “Seattle’s Wage Mandate Kills Restaurants.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 13, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 12, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

“The Traveling Loner Who Helps Locals Fight off Bad Guys”

(p. A9) The Mandalorian is an inscrutable masked mercenary who wears a blaster on his hip, rides speeder bikes and giant lizards across desert landscapes, and has a bit of mysterious theme music, like the trill that once announced Clint Eastwood’s “man with no name” gunslinger on screen. All this helped endear the spacefarer to viewers who grew up with a lot of characters from the same template.

“I enjoy the hell out of it,” says 72-year-old Dennis Burdick of Las Vegas, who has deep-seated memories of watching shows like “Have Gun Will Travel” during the peak of the genre, when 31 prime-time Westerns aired in the 1958-’59 TV season alone. “They weren’t really great guys, they were just great with their guns. Same with the Mandalorian. He’s not looking to save anybody, but he’s there, and he can and he will,” Mr. Burdick adds.

Among TV tropes, the traveling loner who helps locals fight off bad guys has been a sturdy one.

. . .

Finally: Baby Yoda. That, of course, is the nickname the internet immediately bestowed on the breakout star of “The Mandalorian” after it appeared in the first episode’s final moments. The Child, as characters in the show refer to it, is a half-century-old toddler because of the slow aging process of its species. The bounty hunter was initially paid to capture or kill it, but something beneath his chest armor melted at the sight of the wrinkly green creature in a floating baby pram. Mando broke the code of his profession and became Baby Yoda’s protector.

For the full review, see:

John Jurgensen. “Old-School TV Tactics Propel ‘The Mandalorian’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 26, 2019): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 25, 2019, and has the title “The Old-School TV Tactics That Make ‘The Mandalorian’ Tick.” The last sentence quoted above appears as in the print version, and not as in the slightly longer online version, of the article.)

Thiel Advises Zuckerberg to Defend Free Speech

(p. A5) Facebook Inc.’s senior leadership is increasingly divided over how to address criticism of the company’s effect on U.S. politics, with board member and billionaire investor Peter Thiel serving as an influential voice advising CEO Mark Zuckerberg not to bow to public pressure, according to people familiar with the matter.

One flashpoint of late: political advertisements. Mr. Thiel has argued that Facebook should stick to its controversial decision, announced in September [2019], to continue accepting them and to not fact-check those from politicians, the people said.

. . .

Some of Mr. Thiel’s views are shared by others within Facebook, including on political ads, with many current and former executives advising Mr. Zuckerberg that the company shouldn’t be in the position of deciding what claims are accurate, people familiar with the matter said.

. . .

Mr. Zuckerberg has long valued Mr. Thiel’s advice. Some people close to both men described their current relationship as an alliance, based in part on their long history together.

Mr. Thiel, 52 years old, was the first outside investor in Facebook, and ultimately made more than $1 billion on his stake. Early on, Mr. Thiel advised Mr. Zuckerberg, now 35, to focus on growing the Facebook platform’s user base rather than on making money, contrarian advice at the time that laid the groundwork for Facebook’s riches today. Mr. Thiel and his funds have since sold off most of their Facebook shares.

. . .

Mr. Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have said repeatedly that they value ideological diversity on the board, although that view isn’t shared by all of the company’s workforce.

“Mark is friends with Peter Thiel and a lot of Republicans,” said a former Facebook employee who worked in its political group. “It’s a reality people aren’t willing to accept.”

For the full story, see:

Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz. “Political Divisions Roil Facebook.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, December 18, 2019): A5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2019, and has the title “Peter Thiel at Center of Facebook’s Internal Divisions on Politics.” The last sentence quoted above appears in the online version, but not in the print version, of the article.)

In Last Decade, Extreme Poverty in World Fell from 18.2% to 8.6%

(p. A15) The 2010s have been the best decade ever. The evidence is overwhelming. Start with the United Nations Development Report. Framed as a warning about inequality, it plays down the good news: “The gap in basic living standards is narrowing, with an unprecedented number of people in the world escaping poverty, hunger and disease.”

The World Bank reports that the world-wide rate of extreme poverty fell more than half, from 18.2% to 8.6%, between 2008 and 2018. Last year the World Data Lab calculated that for the first time, more than half the world’s population can be considered “middle class.”

. . .

Rich countries use less aluminum, nickel, copper, steel, stone, cement, sand, wood, paper, fertilizer, water, crop acreage and fossil fuel every year, as Andrew McAfee documents in “More From Less.” Consumption of 66 out of 72 resources tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey is now declining.

For the full commentary, see:

Johan Norberg. “The 2010s Have Been Amazing.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:

Norberg, Johan. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. London, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2016.

The book by McAfee, mentioned in the commentary, is:

McAfee, Andrew. More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next. New York: Scribner, 2019.

Newark Charter Schools Increase Math and Reading Scores

(p. A15) In a new study for the Manhattan Institute, I find that attending a Newark charter school that participates in the city’s common enrollment system leads to large improvements in math and reading scores. The benefits are especially pronounced for students who attend a charter school run by either the KIPP or Uncommon Public Schools network, which together account for half the city’s charter-school enrollment. These national networks employ models that focus on high expectations for both academic performance and student behavior. Researchers have found similar results in Boston and Denver.

That’s significant because, thanks largely to a $100 million gift from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, Newark’s charter schools are among the most extensive and inventive in the nation, enrolling about a third of the city’s roughly 55,000 public-school students.

For the full commentary, see:

Marcus A. Winters. “Cory Booker Goes Down Fighting.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, January 15, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The “new study” mentioned above, is:

Winters, Marcus A. “Charter Schools in Newark: The Effect on Student Test Scores.” Manhattan Institute Report, January 2020.

Cities Suspend Recycling as Costs Rise and Benefits Fall

(p. A1) For decades, America and much of the developed world threw their used plastic bottles, soda cans and junk mail in one bin. The trash industry then shipped much of that thousands of miles to China, the world’s biggest consumer of scrap material, to be sorted and turned into new products.

That changed last year when China banned imports of mixed paper and plastic and heavily restricted other scrap.

. . .

The moves have caused a seismic shift in how the world deals with its waste. Long used to shipping off trash to poorer countries to sort and process, nations are now faced with the question of what recycling is worth to them.

. . .

(p. A11) For some towns, the finances don’t work. Waste collectors in Deltona, Fla., got just $5 a ton for mixed paper last year, compared with $120 a ton in 2017, while processing costs stayed flat at $80 a ton. “With the current state of the recycling market, there is little if any market for the processed collected recyclable materials,” City Manager Jane Shang said in January [2019]. The next month, Deltona suspended its recycling program.

For the full commentary, see:

Saabira Chaudhuri. “World Faces Trash Glut After China Ban.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, December 20, 2019): A1 & A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 19, 2019, and has the title “Recycling Rethink: What to Do With Trash Now That China Won’t Take It.” Where there is a slight difference in wording in the sentences quoted above, the online version is followed.)