E.U. Farm Subsidies in Central and Eastern Europe Go to Cronies of Politicians

(p. 1) CSAKVAR, Hungary — Under Communism, farmers labored in the fields that stretch for miles around this town west of Budapest, reaping wheat and corn for a government that had stolen their land.

Today, their children toil for new overlords, a group of oligarchs and political patrons who have annexed the land through opaque deals with the Hungarian government. They have created a modern twist on a feudal system, giving jobs and aid to the compliant, and punishing the mutinous.

These land barons, as it turns out, are financed and emboldened by the European Union.

Every year, the 28-country bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies intended to support farmers around the Continent and keep rural communities alive. But across Hungary and much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. The prime minister of the Czech Republic collected tens of millions of dollars in subsidies just last year. Subsidies have underwritten Mafia-style land grabs in Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Europe’s farm program, a system that was instrumental in forming the European Union, is now being exploited by the same antidemocratic forces that threaten the bloc from within. This is because governments in Central and Eastern Europe, several led by populists, have wide latitude in how the subsidies, funded by taxpayers across Europe, are distributed — even as the entire system is shrouded in secrecy.

For the full story, see:

Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo and Benjamin Novak. “Populist Regimes Siphon Millions in E.U. Farm Aid.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 3, 2019): 1 & 12.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “Populist Politicians Exploit E.U. Aid, Reaping Millions.” The title of my National edition was “Populist Regimes Siphon Millions in E.U. Farm Aid.”)

Chinese Growth Closer to 3% than to Reported 6%

(p. A1) In the second quarter of this year, official Chinese data showed economic growth of 6.2%, close to Beijing’s target and within a percentage point of what it has reported every quarter for the past 4½ years.

A few months earlier, satellites monitoring Chinese industrial hubs suggested parts of the world’s largest trading economy were contracting. An index of Chinese industrial production created by a multinational manufacturer was pointing to lower growth than official figures. And a web-search index used to gauge how many workers return to their jobs after the Lunar New Year holidays was down sharply from a year earlier.

Beneath China’s stable headline economic numbers, there is a growing belief among economists, companies and investors around the world that the real picture is worse than the official data. That has analysts and researchers crunching an array of alternative data—from energy consumption to photos taken from space—for a more accurate reading.

Their conclusion: China’s economy isn’t tanking, but it is almost certainly weaker than advertised. Some economists who have dissected China’s GDP numbers say more accurate figures could be up to 3 percentage points lower, based on their analysis of corporate profits, tax revenue, rail freight, property sales and other measures of activity that they believe are harder for the gov-(p. A10)ernment to fudge.

For the full story, see:

Mike Bird and Lucy Craymer. “Private Data Show Sharper China Slowdown.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 9, 2019): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2019, and has the title “China Says Growth Is Fine. Private Data Show a Sharper Slowdown.” )

Jailed Cuban Human Rights Dissident Fears for Life

(p. A1) MIAMI — The activist José Daniel Ferrer García made his desperate plea by hand.

“On hunger and thirst strike,” Mr. Ferrer, one of Cuba’s most well-known dissidents, scrawled on a piece of paper smuggled out of prison. “They have done everything to me.”

Mr. Ferrer, 49, has been jailed since Oct. 1 [2019] on what human rights activists say is a trumped-up assault and battery case. In his note, he described being dragged, cuffed by his hands and feet, and left in his underwear for two weeks to be nipped by mosquitoes and the morning chill.

“My life is in grave danger,” he warned.

Mr. Ferrer’s detention renews the spotlight on Cuba and the lengths it goes to against dissidents under President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Nineteen months after assuming the presidency amid high hopes for reform within Cuba and abroad, Mr. Díaz-Canel leads a government that bears a striking similarity to the Castro dynasty that preceded him, critics say.

For the full story, see:

Frances Robles. “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 3, 2019): A1 and A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2019, and has the title “Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “For Cubans, New Ways to Speak Out, but the Same Old Arrests.” The title of my National print edition was “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.”)

Lack of Property Rights in Land Keep Chinese Farmers Poor

(p. A6) XIAOXIHE, China — Every year, the message is the same: the government will fix China’s left-behind countryside through a raft of reforms. This year was no different, with measures meant to help farmers move to cities, educate their children, and invest in improving their land.

But every year, the gap between village and city remains stubbornly wide. Many blame this on the fact that farmers are not allowed to own land, a policy that goes back to one of the founding decisions of the Communist revolution.

In Xiaoxihe, a rolling eastern Chinese region of rice paddies and fishponds, farmers speak of land ownership as something so improbable that it defies imagination.

Dai Jialiang, a 69-year-old farmer, grows rice and vegetables on a small plot of land his family leases from the government. That means that Dai’s family has made a modest living off toiling the land but their gains are limited.

“Ownership is not possible in China,” Mr. Dai said. “Socialism doesn’t allow that.”

. . .

The party has long argued that one of traditional China’s main problems was that land was concentrated in the hands of landlords. After taking power in 1949 it introduced a violent campaign that killed up to two million farmers labeled “landlords.” State ownership of land became a nonnegotiable policy and farmers had to work in state-run collectives.

What farmers in this area came up with in the late 1970s was a plan to break the collectives back into the old family plots of land. Ownership stayed with the state but farmers were allowed to farm their plots as they saw fit as long as they paid a tax, usually in grain, to the government. Anything else they produced was theirs.

Suddenly motivated, farmers set records in grain production, while opening up orchards, vegetable plots and fishponds. Starvation, always a risk during the Communists’ first 30 years in power, disappeared.

National leaders endorsed this system but made sure that land stayed in the state’s hands. Farmers eventually got 30-year contracts over their land. When that ran out about a decade ago, they were extended another 30 years.

. . .

According to popular accounts of Chinese economic history, the nearby village of Xiaogang is where the household-contract system began in 1978. There, a large museum features dioramas showing how farmers almost starved to death under the Communists until they secretly subverted their policies — the unwitting implication being that only civil disobedience can effect change.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “Barred From Owning Land, Chinese Farmers Miss Spoils of Growth.” The New York Times (Friday, September 27, 2019): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on September 28 [sic], 2019, and has the title “Barred From Owning Land, Rural Chinese Miss Spoils of Country’s Success.”)

Tropical Socialist Paradise Rations Basic Food Items

(p. A7) Cuba will ration sales of basic goods, officials said, as tighter U.S. sanctions and the economic implosion of key ally Venezuela puts further pressure on the Communist regime to import food staples.

Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz on Friday [May 10, 2019] said the government would ration items including eggs, cooking oil, chicken, sausage and soap amid widespread shortages that have caused anxiety and panic buying.

Cuban officials blame the shortages on the Trump administration’s hardening of the trade embargo, but economists say the island’s economy has also been hit hard by reduced shipments of subsidized oil from Venezuela. The island’s agriculture sector has long been inefficient, some analysts said.

The rationing plans come as the country’s Cuba’s authoritarian regime cracks down on civil-society groups. Over the weekend, security officers blocked an unauthorized parade in Havana by gay-rights activists. Several activists were detained, Cubans said on social media.

Cuban officials acknowledged that the government had failed to meet production targets for food staples including eggs and pork, and said limits will be put on the amount of chicken and other products individuals could purchase. They urged Cubans to avoid panic buying.

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba. “Cuba to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 13, 2019): A7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2019, and has the title “Cuba Plans to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items.”)

Chinese Communist One-Child Policy Caused “Intense Suffering of Ordinary People”

(p. B12) Kay Ann Johnson, an Asian studies scholar whose adoption of an infant girl from China led her to spend years researching the impact of the country’s one-child policy on rural families, died on Aug. 14 [2019] at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

. . .

For more than 20 years, Professor Johnson focused her research on Chinese villages where birth parents found themselves in a lopsided clash with a state bent on controlling population. The policy was also applied in cities, but villagers were usually more daring about trying to resist it. Professor Johnson presented her research in often painful case studies based on interviews with birth parents who described facing the ruthless policy.

One of those parents, Jiang Lifeng, already had a son when she became pregnant. She planned to keep the child and hoped to have a daughter. She avoided detection (and possibly forced sterilization) during pregnancy tests imposed by the authorities by using a friend’s urine. She delivered a girl, Shengshi. But nine months later the infant was taken from her bedroom by seven men, presumably government representatives, and driven away in a van.

Ms. Jiang recalled that “she ‘felt the sky fall down’ on her as she staggered after them, shocked and aghast at what had just happened,” Professor Johnson wrote. Ms. Jiang somehow caught up to the van and rode with the men and Shengshi to a local birth planning office, where she and her husband, Xu Guangwen, pleaded for the girl’s return. Officials refused.

The couple were told that they could adopt her after she had been taken to an orphanage. But that, Professor Johnson said, was a lie.

“The government had taken their baby, stripped them of their parental rights, and left them heartbroken and powerless to do anything about it,” she wrote. “It had been nothing short of a kidnapping by the government, leaving them no recourse.”

In his review of “China’s Hidden Children” in Foreign Affairs magazine, Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, praised Professor Johnson for debunking the myth that Chinese parents did not value girls, and for outlining the often terrible consequences of the one-child policy.

“Johnson’s extraordinary book conveys the intense suffering of ordinary people struggling to build families against the will of an implacable bureaucracy,” Mr. Nathan wrote.

Kay Ann Johnson was born on Jan. 21, 1946, in Chicago. Her father, D. Gale Johnson, was an agricultural economist and the chairman of the economics department at the University of Chicago.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s Painful One-Child Policy, Dies.” The New York Times (Friday, August 30, 2019): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 29, 2019, and has title “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s One-Child Policy, Dies.”)

Johnson’s book, mentioned above, is:

Johnson, Kay Ann. China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Xi Suppresses Mao’s Starvation of Tens of Millions of Rural Chinese

(p. A9) Mr. Xi’s recasting of China’s history has left less and less room to reflect on traumas like the tens of millions who starved to death across the country from 1958 to 1960. That worries scholars who believe that the calamities of that time still offer lessons for China.

Harvests fell drastically short of the miraculous yields that officials had promised in the Great Leap Forward, a feverish campaign to propel China into communist plenty. As hulking collectivized farms failed, the government seized grain from peasants who were accused of hiding supplies. Starvation spread. So did persecution of peasants accused of resisting grain seizures.

Xinyang suffered worse than nearly any place in China. Out of eight million residents, about one million died of undernourishment and other abuses, according to secret official reports at the time.

In Gaodadian Village in Xinyang, two mounted stones stand etched with the names of 72 people who starved to death in this settlement of around 120 residents. The memorial, half hidden among bushes, is the only one around here, or perhaps anywhere in China, for victims of the Great Leap famine.

. . .

Mr. Wu’s son, Wu Ye, 51, helped his father build the famine memorial in their home village. He said he grasped the enormity of the suffering only after he moved to the United States and read a Chinese-language book about that era, “Man-Made Catastrophe,” published in Hong Kong in 1991.

“On the internet there’s all those people who say that it’s nonsense, that so many people couldn’t possibly have died,” the younger Mr. Wu said in a telephone interview from Buffalo. “I wanted to somehow prove that this happened.”

For the full story, see:

Chris Buckley. “Xi Lauds ‘Red’ Heritage in Land Brutalized by It.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 1, 2019): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 30, 2019, and has the title “‘Xi Extols China’s ‘Red’ Heritage in a Land Haunted by Famine Under Mao.”)