“No One Wants to Take Mass Transit”

(p. A16) Across almost seven hours Thursday night [Aug. 25, 2022], the speeches grew in volume and intensity — a cacophony of New Yorkers brought together over Zoom to either praise or denounce one of the city’s most contentious transportation projects.

Transit officials held the virtual hearing to collect input on a tolling program to reduce traffic in Manhattan. But the meeting also provided the chance to swing at a favorite New York City punching bag: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway and bus network and would benefit from the proposal.

. . .

“No one wants to take mass transit. It’s not safe. Jumping turnstiles, shooting, looting, fighting, the list goes on,” Brendan Peo, a schoolteacher who lives in New Jersey, said during the hearing on Thursday. “The suggestion that more people will use mass transit instead of driving when conditions are like this in the subway is asinine.”

For the full story see:

Ana Ley. “Critics Abound at First Hearing on Tolls for Driving Into Manhattan.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022): A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 26, 2022, and has the title “At M.T.A.’s First Congestion Pricing Hearing, Critics Abound.”)

Miami Mayor Welcomes Private Enterprise with Public Safety, Low Taxes, and Few Regulations

(p. A15) On one side, we have the socialist model: high taxes, high regulation, less competition and declining public services with government imposing itself as the solver and arbiter of all social problems. On the other side, we have the Miami model: low taxes, low regulation and a commitment to public safety and private enterprise. The models present a stark choice on issues ranging from personal freedom, economic opportunity, public safety and the role of government.

. . .

In Miami, many residents have personally experienced the socialist model along with its symptoms of hyperinflation, class resentment and stagnant growth. Four years ago Miami residents elected me to pursue a different path. We reduced taxes dramatically, and our revenue base doubled. We invested in our police, and our crime rate dropped. And last week we reduced taxes to their lowest level in history—cutting costs for residents and promoting economic growth.

Miami is a place where you can keep what you earn, invest what you save, and own what you build. We are meeting the high demand of rent costs by encouraging public-private partnerships, activating underutilized land through zoning reforms, and harnessing free-market forces to build more. It works, and our new residents from New York and California can confirm it.

For the full commentary see:

Francis X. Suarez. “Miami Takes On the Socialist Model.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Aug. 22, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 21, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Maverick” Chinese Entrepreneur Zhou Hang Dares Criticize Zero Covid Policy

(p. B1) China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.

. . .

Their approach, the equivalent of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, doesn’t make sense to Zhou Hang. Mr. Zhou, a tech entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, has questioned how his peers can pretend it’s business as usual, given the political and economic upheaval. Stop putting up with the ridiculous reality, he urged. It’s time to speak up and seek change.

Mr. Zhou is rare in China’s business community for being openly critical of the government’s zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.

“The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting (p. B4) but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”

He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”

. . .

Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.

Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.

He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April [2022], he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.

A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.

Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.

“Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.

For the full story see:

Li Yuan. “A Solitary Critic on ‘Zero Covid’.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 11, 2022): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 10, 2022 and has the title “A Chinese Entrepreneur Who Says What Others Only Think.”)

Which Country’s National Anthem Ends by Questioning Its Citizens’ Bravery and Freedom?

(p. 9) Mark Clague knows everything about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” . . . .

. . .

The lyrics were composed by the lawyer, politician and amateur poet Francis Scott Key while held prisoner by the British in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.

. . .

Clague even creates a detailed military map of the engagement to demonstrate how “perilous” that fight really was. The first verse, the only one now sung, ends, as every child knows, with a question:

“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

In the complete version, Key details his relief at finally seeing the flag, and rejoices in the promise of future victories. But those three verses are rarely sung, and leaving the question unanswered might be the secret to the song’s hold on the American public. It is not an anthem that, like “La Marseillaise,” calls for our enemy’s “impure blood to water our fields.” Rather, it’s a song for a country that is still in the fight, for its existence and its ideals, and it offers an invitation to any and all — the “you” of the first line — . . .

. . .

. . ., Clague has no patience for anyone who demands . . . reverence from others, . . . . But he reveres the anthem itself, and he makes the strongest case for the song in his detailed analysis of what he calls its most successful modern rendition, Whitney Houston’s performance at the 1991 Super Bowl.

Houston’s version, though, is transformed by artistry and personality and musical genius. She has changed the time signature to 4/4, and imbues the melody with the ornamentation of jazz, blues and, most important, gospel. By the time she gets that highest “FREEEE” she not only reaches but goes above it, expressing ownership of the word and the gesture. While the lyrics may remain as written, the meaning of a crucial word in the first line — “you” — has been wrenched from past to present to be addressed, at last, to all of us.

So: Does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and home of the brave? Not yet, perhaps. But listening to a descendant of the enslaved claiming the song of a slaver, you want to believe it someday might.

For the full review, see:

Peter Sagal. “High Notes.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 3, 2022): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 22, 2022, and has the title “Our Flag Was Still There.”)

The book under review is:

Clague, Mark. O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of “the Star-Spangled Banner”. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022.

Regulations Hurt Immigrant Home Cooks in Gig Labor Market

“In the kitchen of her apartment in Green point, Brooklyn, Juliet Achan stirs up dishes from her Surinamese background.” Source of photo: online version of the NYT article cited below. Source of caption: print version of the NYT article cited below.

(p. B1) Several days a week, Jullet Achan moves around the kitchen of her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, stirring up dishes from her Surinamese background: fragrant batches of goat curry, root vegetable soup and her own take on chicken chow mein.

She packages the meals, and they are picked up for delivery to customers who order through an app called WoodSpoon.

“Joining WoodSpoon has made a huge difference during the pandemic, giving me the flexibility to work safely from home and supplement my income,” Ms. Achan said in a news release from the company in February.

However, in the state of New York, there are no permits or licenses that allow individuals to sell hot meals cooked in their home kitchens. And WoodSpoon, a three-year-old start-up that says it has about 300 chefs preparing foods on its platform and has raised millions of dollars from investors, including the parent company of Burger King, knows it.

“It’s not legally allowed,” said Oren Saar, a founder and the chief executive of WoodSpoon, which facilitated the interviews with Ms. Achan and other cooks. “If someone is on our platform and they’re selling food they cooked in their own kitchens, that’s against our platform policy. But, to be completely honest, we think that those rules are outdated.”

Ms. Achan said she had become aware from her own research that cooks were not allowed to sell foods cooked in their homes, but said she continued to do so. “The food needs to be prepared in a clean kitchen, and it needs to be done correctly,” she said. “I’ve been cooking for my family for years, and that’s how I prepare meals for my customers.”

. . .

(p. B4) Legislation was introduced last year that would allow individuals to sell hot meals from their own kitchens, but it is still pending.

Mr. Saar said WoodSpoon, which started in 2019, couldn’t wait for the laws to catch up when the pandemic hit. “With Covid and all of the people who were reaching out to us to work on the platform, all of the people we thought we could work with, it was not right for us to wait to launch,” he said.

He estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the chefs on the platform are using licensed commercial kitchens, meaning the bulk are not. He said WoodSpoon helped home cooks obtain the proper permits and licenses, provided safety training and inspected the kitchens, but ultimately the onus is on the individuals selling on the platform to follow the proper rules. A spokesman later added in an email that the company was working to make commercial kitchens available to its chefs.

“We are ahead of the regulators, but as long as I keep my customers safe and everything is healthy, there are no issues,” Mr. Saar said. “We believe our home kitchens are safer than any restaurants.”

When asked if WoodSpoon would remove any chefs it knew were cooking from kitchens in their homes, Mr. Saar demurred, saying, “It was a good question.” He noted that many of WoodSpoon’s cooks prepared and sold foods on social media and competing food platforms, like Shef.

For the full story, see:

Julie Creswell. “Illegally Delicious. Probably.” The New York Times (Monday, April 18, 2022): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2022, and has the title “The Home Cooks (and Start-Ups) Betting on Prepared Meals.”)

Ronald Reagan, a Cuban, a Mormon, Me, and the Deauville

I recently ran across a front-page story in the New York Times about the disrepair, and likely demolition, of Miami’s famous Deauville Hotel. It brought back memories.

Toastmasters International was going to have its annual convention in Miami immediately following the Republican Convention there in 1968. My father was an officer of Toastmasters, eventually the international president. We went down early since a friend of my father was able to get us tickets to a day of the Republican Convention. We heard a speech by Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, a well-known orator.

My father was supporting Richard Nixon. In an act of minor rebellion, at age 16 I asked him if I could go to the Ronald Reagan headquarters at the Deauville Hotel and volunteer for a day. He said OK.

I reported to the head of Youth for Reagan, Dan Manion. My first job was to attend a rally to greet Reagan’s arrival at the Deauville. I remember Reagan smiling and waving as he exited his limo, while we chanted: “Give a yell, give a cheer, Ron-ald Rea-gan is here!”

For most of the day, Manion assigned me to work with a Cuban and a Mormon to haul cases of cheap wine from somewhere in Miami to the California delegation at the Deauville. (The Cuban had a pickup truck.) We were a diverse trio. I do not remember the details of our conversation, but I remember its warmth and camaraderie.

Reagan lost the nomination to Nixon, but he did not give up, and we did not give up either.

Over half a century later, I still smile when I remember that day. Dan Manion became a federal judge; I talked with him at my father’s funeral in April 2000. I never saw the Cuban or the Mormon again, and would not recognize them if I ran into them. But I hope that life has been good to them and that they remember that day as fondly as I do.

The article that I mentioned above on the decline of the Deauville Hotel is:

Patricia Mazzei. “A Historic Miami Beach Hotel Falls Prey to Neglect and Time.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 19, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “A Grand Miami Beach Hotel, and Its History, Might Be Torn Down.”)

Warren Harding Fostered Economic Growth by Reducing Government

(p. A15) Poor Warren G. Harding, burdened with the distinction of being America’s pre-eminent presidential bottom-dweller. In surveys on White House performance, Harding invariably ranks dead last, with almost no prospect that he will ever climb the rankings as others have done—Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, or Ulysses S. Grant.

Historians have variously described Harding as “a prime example of incompetence, sloth, and feeble good nature,” “the most inept president” of his century, “lazy,” “a black mark in American history” and “quite the bumbler.” Is this an accurate appraisal? Ryan S. Walters answers with a defiant no. In “The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding,” the author even indulges in a few flights of outrage at what he considers the “rumors, lies, smears, and innuendo” that have been “used to wreck” Harding’s reputation.

. . .

When Harding became president in 1921, the nation was struggling through one of its greatest crisis periods, beset by soaring inflation followed by debilitating deflation, bloody racial and labor strife, ominous episodes of domestic terrorism, and the fallout from Woodrow Wilson’s harsh wartime assaults on civil liberties. Harding’s first priority was the economy—the gross national product was down 17%, stock values were cut nearly in half, unemployment was at 12% and farmers were devastated by plunging prices. Harding reduced government spending, slashed individual taxes (the marginal rate had reached a high of 77%), increased tariff rates, and shrank the size and intrusiveness of the federal government.

All this flouted the progressivism that had dominated American politics since Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency of 1901-09. But Harding’s efforts worked, setting in motion a decade of economic expansion unequaled in American history. The economy grew at an average of 7% a year between 1922 and 1927, and the nation’s wealth soared to $103 billion in 1929 from $70 billion in 1921.

. . .

Harding was a man of little intellectual sophistication, with a gentle nature, hardly any pretense and almost no guile—in other words, the kind of man who is often underestimated and easily ridiculed. But he harbored serious convictions and a degree of common sense that served him well.

For the full review, see:

Robert W. Merry. “BOOKSHELF; A President Revisited.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 4, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 3, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Jazz Age President’ Review: Correcting the Record.”)

The book under review is:

Walters, Ryan S. The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding. Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2022.

Large Retailers Chartered Ships to Avoid the Most Crowded Ports

(p. A1) Global supply-chain delays are so severe that some of the biggest U.S. retailers have resorted to an extreme—and expensive—tactic to try to stock shelves this holiday season: They are chartering their own cargo ships to import goods.

Port delays, Covid-19 outbreaks and worker shortages have snarled the flow of products between Asia and North America, threatening the supplies of everything from holiday decorations and toys to appliances and furniture. It is taking roughly 80 days to transport goods across the Pacific, or twice as long as before the pandemic, retail and shipping executives said.

Walmart Inc., Home Depot Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Target Corp. —some of the biggest U.S. retailers by revenue—are among the companies that are paying for their own chartered ships as part of wider plans to mitigate the disruptions, a costly and unattainable option for most companies.

For the full story, see:

Sarah Nassauer and Costas Paris. “Retailers Charter Ships to Ensure Supplies.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, October 11, 2021): A1 & A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 10, 2021, and has the title “Big U.S. Retailers Charter Private Cargo Ships Amid Port Delays.”)

Feds Impede Consumer Choice by Going Back to Incandescent Ban

(p. A16) In 2019, the Trump administration blocked a rule designed to phase out older incandescent bulbs, calling it unnecessary and an impediment to consumer choice.

With the move, the administration heeded to both industry demands as well as free market proponents who have long railed against tougher efficiency regulations for consumer appliances and goods, like energy-saving bulbs or water-saving dishwashers, as governmental overreach.

“The new bulb is many times more expensive, and I hate to say it, it doesn’t make you look as good,” Donald J. Trump, the former president, quipped at a White House meeting in 2019, referring to an early common complaint that LEDs emit a harsher light, though recent LED lights come in warmer hues. “We’re bringing back the old light bulb,” he later told a rally in Michigan.

The Biden administration has moved to reinstate the standards. But in a letter to the Department of Energy last year, NEMA, the industry group, urged federal rules to allow companies to manufacture and import inefficient bulbs for at least another year, followed by another year or more to sell out stockpiled inventory.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “Obsolete Bulbs Fill the Shelves At Dollar Stores.” The New York Times (Monday, January 24, 2022): A1 & A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 23, 2022, and has the title “Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores.”)

Identifying as “Taiwanese,” They “Love the Freedom”

(p. A1) CHIAYI, Taiwan — When Li Yuan-hsin, a 36-year-old high school teacher, travels abroad, people often assume she is Chinese.

No, she tells them. She is Taiwanese.

To her, the distinction is important. China may be the land of her ancestors, but Taiwan is where she was born and raised, a home she defines as much by its verdant mountains and bustling night markets as by its robust democracy. In high school, she had planted a little blue flag on her desk to show support for her preferred political candidate; since then, she has voted in every presidential election.

“I love this island,” Ms. Li said in an interview. “I love the freedom here.”

Well over 90 percent of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinct from that of their Communist-ruled neighbor. Beijing’s strident authoritarianism — and its claim over Taiwan — has only solidified the island’s identity, now central to a dispute that has turned the Taiwan Strait into one of Asia’s biggest potential flash points.

. . .

(p. A8) When nearby Hong Kong erupted in anti-government protests in 2019, Ms. Li, the schoolteacher, followed the news every day. She saw Beijing’s crackdown there and its destruction of civil liberties as evidence that the party could not be trusted to keep its promise to preserve Taiwan’s autonomy if the sides unified.

Ms. Li’s wariness has only grown with the pandemic. Beijing continues to block Taiwan from international groups, such as the World Health Organization, a clear sign to her that the Communist Party values politics above people. Taiwan’s success in combating the coronavirus, despite these challenges, had filled her with pride.

. . .

“We are Taiwanese in our thinking,” she said. “We do not need to declare independence because we already are essentially independent.”

That emerging confidence has now come to define Taiwan’s contemporary individuality, along with the island’s firm embrace of democracy. To many young people in Taiwan, to call yourself Taiwanese is increasingly to take a stand for democratic values — to not, in other words, be a part of Communist-ruled China.

Under its current president, Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwan government has positioned the island as a Chinese society that is democratic and tolerant, unlike the colossus across the strait. As Beijing has ramped up its oppression of ethnic minorities in the name of national unity, the Taiwan government has sought to embrace the island’s Indigenous groups and other minorities.

Taiwan “represents at once an affront to the narrative and an impediment to the regional ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party,” Ms. Tsai said last year.

. . .

Growing up in the 1980s, Ms. Li was faintly aware of the divide between the Taiwanese and mainlanders. She knew that going to her “mainlander” grandparents’ house after school meant getting to eat pork buns and chive dumplings — heavier, saltier food than the Taiwanese palate of her maternal grandparents, who fed her fried rice noodles and sautéed bitter melon.

Such distinctions became less evident over time. Many of Taiwan’s residents are now proud of their island’s culinary offerings, whether it is the classic beef noodle soup — a mix of mainland influences unique to Taiwan — or bubble milk tea, a modern invention.

. . .

Ms. Li points to Beijing controls on speech and dissent as antithetical to Taiwan.

She compares Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which she visited in 2005 as a university student, with public spaces in Taipei. In the Chinese capital, surveillance cameras loomed in every direction while armed police watched the crowds. Her government-approved guide made no mention of the Communist Party’s brutal crackdown in 1989 on pro-democracy protesters that she had learned about as a middle school student in Taiwan.

She thought of Liberty Square in Taipei, by comparison, a vast plaza where people often gather to play music, dance, exercise and protest.

“After that trip, I cherished Taiwan so much more,” Ms. Li said.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Amy Chang Chien. “‘We Are Taiwanese’: A Rising National Identity.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 19, 2022): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “‘We Are Taiwanese’: China’s Growing Menace Hardens Island’s Identity.”)

Communist China Pays World Bank for Higher Ranking in “Doing Business” Report

(p. A1) The World Bank canceled a prominent report rating the business environment of the world’s countries after an investigation concluded that senior bank management pressured staff to alter data affecting the ranking of China and other nations.

The leaders implicated include then World Bank Chief Executive Kristalina Georgieva, now managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and then World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

The episode is a reputational hit for Ms. Georgieva, who disagreed with the investigators’ conclusions. As leader of the IMF, the lender of last resort to struggling countries around the world, she is in part responsible for managing political pressure from nations seeking to advance their own interests. It was also the latest example of the Chinese government seeking myriad ways to burnish its global standing.

(p. A10) The Doing Business report has been the subject of an external probe into the integrity of the report’s data.

. . .

The World Bank was in the middle of difficult international negotiations to receive a $13 billion capital increase. Despite being the world’s second largest economy, China is the No. 3 shareholder at the World Bank, following the U.S. and Japan, and Beijing was eager to see its power increased as part of a deal for more funding.

In October 2017, Ms. Georgieva convened a meeting of the World Bank’s country director for China, as well as the staff economists that compile Doing Business. She criticized “mismanaging the Bank’s relationship with China and failing to appreciate the importance of the Doing Business report to the country,” according to the investigative report’s summary of the meeting.

. . .

Ultimately, the team identified three data points that could be altered to raise China’s score, the investigative report said. For example, China had passed a law related to secured transactions, such as when someone makes a loan with collateral. The World Bank staff determined it could give China a significant improvement to its score for legal rights, citing the law as the reason.

World Bank employees knew the changes were inappropriate but “a majority of the Doing Business employees with whom we spoke expressed a fear of retaliation,” the investigative report said.

Although the data-gathering process for the 2018 report was finished, the World Bank’s economists reopened the data tables and altered China’s data, the investigative report said. Instead of ranking 85th among the world’s countries, China climbed to 78th due to the alterations.

For the full story, see:

Josh Zumbrun. “World Bank Cancels Report After Investigation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 17, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 16, 2021, and has the title “World Bank Cancels Flagship Report After Investigation.”)