“MSNBC’s Business Model . . . Is Flaying Trump 24 Hours a Day”

Maureen Dowd, a leading opinion columnist at The New York Times, is left-wing but sometimes refreshingly blunt, as in some of her comments from right after the Iowa Republican caucuses.

(p. 2) . . . MSNBC refused to carry Trump’s victory speech at all and CNN cut away from the 25-minute remarks after 10 minutes. Fox News, of course, played it all.

Rachel Maddow said her network’s decision was “not out of spite.” It’s not personal — it’s strictly business, as Michael Corleone said. MSNBC’s business model, after all, is flaying Trump 24 hours a day.

For the full commentary, see:

Maureen Dowd. “Can the MAGA Shrew Be Tamed?” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, January 21, 2024): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 20, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Shih Ming-teh Spent 20 Years in Prison for Arguing That Taiwan Should Be Free from Communist China

(p. B10) Shih Ming-teh, a lifelong campaigner for democracy in Taiwan who spent over two decades in prison for his cause and later started a protest movement against a president from his former party, died on Jan. 15, [2024] his 83rd birthday, in Taipei, the island’s capital.

. . .

Mr. Shih helped lead a pro-democracy protest in 1979 that was brutally broken up by the police and that is now viewed as a turning point in Taiwan’s journey from authoritarianism to democracy. When he stood trial over the confrontation, he smiled defiantly to the cameras, although his original teeth had been shattered years before under police torture, and delivered a groundbreaking argument for Taiwan’s independence from China, an idea banned under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek and then his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

. . .

“I could see that he was working like a man on fire to challenge the authoritarian rule,” Linda Gail Arrigo, an American scholar and pro-democracy campaigner in Taiwan, who was married to Mr. Shih from 1978 to 1995, said in a recent interview with the Formosa Files podcast. “He expected to die in prison — by execution.”

. . .

Many of his colleagues were quickly arrested, but Mr. Shih eluded the police for nearly a month before being captured and tried with seven others. An arrest photo showed his jaw covered in bandages, the result of a hasty attempt at plastic surgery to alter his appearance.

The trial drew yet more attention to their calls for democracy, especially because the government — eager to prove its case to the Taiwanese public and the wider world — let journalists and international observers into the courtroom. Tall and lean, Mr. Shih smiled for the cameras, his hands tucked in his pockets, in what he said was an effort to convey insouciant confidence.

He used the trial to attack the Nationalist government’s position that Taiwan was part of China. Instead, he argued, Taiwan had been separated from China for decades and had in effect become independent, even if Taiwan’s rulers would not accept that reality. That argument would enter the island’s political mainstream.

“Nowadays these claims seem nothing out of the ordinary, but at the time they were a breakthrough,” Mr. Shih wrote in an account of the trial published in 2021. “My smile and my political counterattack were the reason that the tyrants did not dare to execute me.”

For the full obituary, see:

Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien. “Shih Ming-teh, 83, Defiant Activist for a Democratic Taiwan, Dies.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 25, 2024): B10.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 24, 2024, and has the title “Shih Ming-teh, Defiant Activist for a Democratic Taiwan, Dies at 83.”)

Communist Dictators Tremble When Their Subjects Lose Their Fear

(p. 13) It all began with a beauty pageant. There were multiple outfit changes, from evening gowns to bathing suits to national costumes. There were behind-the-scenes looks at the contestants’ lives. There were question-and-answer periods. And by the end of the 2023 Miss Universe competition last month, Sheynnis Palacios of Nicaragua emerged victorious.

People celebrated in Nicaragua’s streets, singing the national anthem and waving the country’s blue and white flag. It was the first time a contestant from the Central American nation of nearly seven million people had claimed the Miss Universe crown.

“It was as if someone had won the World Cup,” said Gioconda Belli, a well-known Nicaraguan poet and novelist.

Then came the government crackdown.

In what has felt like a script from a television drama, the authoritarian government claimed that the director of the Miss Nicaragua contest, which had chosen Ms. Palacios to represent the country at the global competition, was part of an “anti-patriotic conspiracy” to overthrow President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

. . .

“Ortega has a problem,” said Arturo McFields Yescas, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States who resigned and denounced the Ortegas last year.

“What he can’t control, he robs or destroys,’’ he said. “The baseball or boxing champions, for example, have to pay tribute to the regime. If they don’t, they become targets. Sheynnis has something — she came from the bottom, she doesn’t owe anything to the dictatorship — and that makes her someone dangerous.”

Ms. Palacios, who grew up roughly an hour south of Managua, the capital, was raised by a single mother. While at college — which was closed by the Ortega government this year — she helped her mother make buñuelos, fried dough treats, to sell to help pay for school.

The day after Ms. Palacios won Miss Universe, the Nicaraguan government said the country was celebrating “its queen” with “legitimate pride and joy.”

But the authorities shifted their tone soon after large numbers of people took to the streets, waving the Nicaraguan flag. Public demonstrations are effectively prohibited and the government promotes the red and black Sandinista flag over the blue and white national one.

“People lost the fear,” Mr. McFields said, “and that’s the part that scared the dictatorship the most.”

For the full story, see:

James Wagner. “Once She Won Crown, Nicaragua Saw Her as a Threat.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 17, 2023): 13.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2023, and has the title “She Was Crowned Miss Universe. Then Her Government Cracked Down.” The online version says that the title of the print version is “Nicaragua Sees a Threat Behind a Beauty Pageant” but my national edition of the print version had the title “Once She Won Crown, Nicaragua Saw Her as a Threat.”)

“Sí Se Puede”

(p. 21) A center-right candidate appeared headed to victory in Venezuela on Monday in a primary election to choose an opposition candidate to compete in presidential elections next year — a vote that could prove pivotal to the fate of a country that has endured a decade of economic crisis and authoritarian governance.

. . .

At a polling station in a parking lot in Catia, a poor neighborhood in Caracas, voters began lining up at 7 a.m. only to encounter a problem: a group of pro-government civilians was threatening to burn the cars in the parking lot if voting proceeded.

But a woman who lived nearby, Margarita Fuenmayor, offered a solution: She would lend her house as a makeshift voting station.

“My parents died without medical attention in this country,” said Ms. Fuenmayor, 52, as a crowd of voters pushed and shoved to try to enter her home. “I think we need a change.”

All the while the line of voters outside grew. As voters left, they shouted “Sí se puede” or “Yes we can.’’

In another Caracas neighborhood, tables ordered by election volunteers never arrived. Instead the workers set voting boxes on chairs that neighbors had brought out from their houses. Hundreds of people stood in line, holding umbrellas against the rain.

Jesús Abreu, 68, voted and then stayed on as a volunteer. He said he lived on a pension of about $3.70 a month.

“I am here today because we are agonizing in life,’’ he said. “The government is slowly killing us.”

Ms. Machado is a veteran politician nicknamed “the iron lady” because of her adversarial relationship with the governments of Mr. Maduro and Mr. Chávez. She is viewed by some supporters as courageous for staying in Venezuela when many other politicians have fled political persecution.

. . .

“I ask you to remember how many people believed that this was impossible and we have overcome all the obstacles, overcome the hurdles and here we are,” Ms. Machado said as she voted Sunday morning in a middle-class Caracas neighborhood.”

For the full story, see:

Isayen Herrera and Genevieve Glatsky. “Venezuelans Bet on a Challenger to Maduro.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 24, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Oct. 23, 2023, and has the title “Maduro Antagonist on Track to Win Venezuela Primary.”)

Lower-Middle-Class Chinese Risk the Darién Gap to Seek Opportunity and Freedom in the U.S.

(p. B1) Mr. Gao said he felt he had no choice but to leave China.

“I think we will only be safe by coming to the U.S.,” he said, adding that he believed that Xi Jinping, China’s leader, could lead the country to famine and (p. B4) possibly war. “It’s a rare opportunity to protect me and my family,” he said.

A growing number of Chinese have entered the United States this year through the Darién Gap, exceeded only by Venezuelans, Ecuadoreans and Haitians, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.

. . .

Their flight is a referendum on the rule of Mr. Xi, now in his third five-year term. Boasting that “the East is rising while the West is declining,” he said in 2021 that China’s governance model had proved superior to Western democratic systems and that the center of gravity of the world economy was shifting “from West to East.”

Every immigrant I interviewed this year who passed through the Darién Gap — a journey known as zouxian, or walking the line, in Chinese — came from a lower middle-class background. They said that they feared falling into poverty if the Chinese economy worsened, and that they could no longer see a future for themselves or their children in their home country.

In Mr. Xi’s China, anyone could become a target of the state. You could get in trouble for being a Christian, Muslim, Uyghur, Tibetan or Mongolian. Or a worker who petitions for back pay, a homeowner who protests the delayed completion of an unfinished apartment, a student who uses a virtual private network for access to Instagram or a Communist Party cadre who is found with a copy of a banned book.

. . .

Another migrant I spoke with who crossed the Darién Gap, Mr. Zhong, who wanted to use only his family name for fear of retribution, has a background similar to Mr. Gao’s.

. . .

The trouble for Mr. Zhong, now in his early 30s, started last December [2022] when police officers stopped his car for a routine alcohol test and saw a copy of a Bible on the passenger seat. They told Mr. Zhong that he believed in an evil religion and tossed the Bible on the ground and stomped on it. The officers then took his phone and installed an app on it that turned out to have software that would track his movements.

On Christmas Day, four police officers broke into a home where Mr. Zhong and three fellow Christians were holding a prayer service. They were taken to the police station, beaten and interrogated.

Like Mr. Gao, Mr. Zhong came across social media posts about the Darién Gap. He borrowed about $10,000 and left home on Feb. 22 [2023].

. . .

Mr. Zhong soon moved to a town of 30,000 people in Alabama. He had grown up near Chengdu, a city of 20 (p. B5) million. Now he felt truly alone. He works at a Chinese restaurant 11 hours a day, he said, and is unwilling to take a day off. He has learned to cook General Tso’s chicken and other Chinese American dishes. The pay is much better than in China, and he can send more money home. Every Sunday, he joins an online religious service, hosted by a church in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, another community with a large population of Chinese immigrants.

He told me a joke over the phone: “Why did you go to the United States?” someone asks a Chinese immigrant. “Aren’t you satisfied with your pay, your benefits and your life?” The immigrant responds: “Yes, I’m satisfied. But in the U.S., I will be allowed to say that I’m not satisfied.”

“I can live like a real human being in the U.S.,” he said.

. . .

. . . Mr. Gao got his work permit, bought a car and started delivering packages for an e-commerce company. He makes $2 per package. The more he delivers, the more he makes.

. . .

On one Wednesday in November [2023], Mr. Gao said, he woke at 4 a.m., delivered more than 100 packages and didn’t get home until after 9 p.m.

He took the next day off. When the motorcade of Mr. Xi, who was in San Francisco for a meeting with President Biden, drove by, Mr. Gao joined other protesters on the sidewalk, chanting in Chinese, “Xi Jinping, step down!”

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Why More Chinese Are Risking Danger in Southern Border Crossings to U.S.” The New York Times (Monday, December 4, 2023): B1 & B4-B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 3, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Context Switching Is the Mindkiller”

(p. B7) “My mind often feels…like a very wild storm,” Musk said Wednesday in the same interview. “I’m a fountain of ideas. I mean I have more ideas than I could possibly execute. So I have no shortage of ideas. Innovation is not a problem, execution is a problem.”

He was speaking at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday [Nov. 29, 2023] in New York City, a high-profile event run by one of the media juggernauts he has been openly needling.

He was only there, Musk said, because of his friendship with the host, Andrew Ross Sorkin. Or, as Musk called him on stage, “Jonathan.”

“I’m Andrew,” Sorkin said.

. . .

“Context switching is the mindkiller,” he tweeted the day after Thanksgiving, a favorite axiom of his that mixes a quote from the sci-fi book “Dune” with computer lingo for multitasking.

In “Dune,” fear is the mindkiller—the idea that the primal reaction to fear is to recoil rather than go forward. In essence, fear is an obstacle to be overcome to reach success. For Musk, the challenge to overcome is being able to handle switching between rockets and tweets and cars and brain computers and drilling machines and superhuman artificial intelligence.

. . .

In the moment that ricocheted around the world, Musk told advertisers unhappy with him to go f— themselves, saying he was unwilling to pander to their “blackmail” and warned they threatened to bankrupt the social-media platform he acquired slightly more than a year ago. And if they were successful, he warned, “See how Earth responds to that.”

. . .

To Musk, the likes of Disney are trying to squelch his freedom of speech. To others, they are simply exercising their rights to walk away.

“Go. F—. Yourself,” Musk said on stage to a stunned audience. “Is that clear? I hope it is. Hey, Bob, if you’re in the audience.”

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Storm in Musk’s Mind Casts Shadow on Vehicle Launch.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 4, 2023): B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 2, 2023, and has the title “The Storm Brewing Inside Elon Musk’s Mind Gets Out.” The 7th, 8th, and 9th sentences quoted above, appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the commentary. Also, the online version of the sentence on being able to handle switching, contains seven added words of detail.)

The science-fiction Dune book mentioned above is:

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Deluxe ed. New York: Ace, 2019 [1st ed. 1965].

Cancel Culture Makes It Tougher to Be “Intellectually Interesting”

(p. B6) John Cleese is “not bothered about getting cancelled.”

. . . while he is too “old” and established to worry about it, he admitted if he was just starting his career he’d be more hesitant about his writing.

. . .

“Cancel culture tends to make people less broad in their thinking, more literal-minded. It is tougher to make funny — or intellectually interesting — associations.

When The Life of Brian was released in 1979, the Monty Python troupe faced calls for it to be banned or censored, and John, 84, thinks they were “early targets” of cancel culture.

For the full story, see:

Bang Showbiz. “Cleese ‘Too Old’ to Worry about Being Canceled.” Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

As Freedom Left Hong Kong, So Did Hundreds of Billions of Dollars and 100,000 Citizens

(p. B1) This summer, when Hong Kong’s stock market rout seemed to have no end in sight, the city’s financial chief, Paul Chan, jumped into action, creating a task force to inject confidence into a market that was being pummeled by global investors wary of China.

Hong Kong cut taxes on trading, and Mr. Chan went on a roadshow to Europe and the United States, promising measures to “let investors feel optimistic about the outlook.” Investors were anything but sanguine, however, and the city’s stock exchange is among the world’s worst-performing stock markets this year.

. . .

Hundreds of billions of dollars flowed out this year as money managers and pension funds reduced their holdings in Hong Kong, which has long been a gateway for foreign investors wanting to put money into mainland China. The outflows were largely driven by an economic downturn in China and mounting pressure on American investors to sell their (p. B3) exposure to Chinese companies.

. . .

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 with a pledge that it would maintain a high degree of self-governance under a policy called “one country, two systems.” For two decades, this allowed Hong Kong to define itself as unique and distinct from the rest of China, while offering financial access to the world’s second largest economy.

But after citywide protests in 2019, Beijing imposed the national security law, which has silenced political debate and stifled civic activity.

More than 100,000 residents have left Hong Kong over the last few years, in part because of the security law and tough pandemic restrictions. Many young Hong Kong professionals who are still there have expressed a desire to leave, making it a challenge to recruit the talent that has helped the city function as a financial center.

Once a major hub for Wall Street banks, Hong Kong had a drought of initial public offerings this year. Companies raised the lowest amount of money since 2001, resulting in layoffs at financial institutions citywide.

Many international companies have stopped hiring for new positions in Hong Kong. With less money coming into the exchange and fewer transactions, dozens of brokerages have also closed.

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson. “Hong Kong Stock Market Ends in Loss For 4th Year.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 30, 2023): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 29, 2023, and has the title “Hong Kong Stocks Plunge to Losses for 4th Straight Year.”)

“Bow Only to the Truth”

(p. A19) Jiang Ping, a legal scholar who helped lay the foundation for China’s civil code, and whose experiences with political persecution shaped his relentless advocacy for individual rights in the face of state power, died on Dec. 19 [2023] in Beijing.

. . .

Often called “the conscience of China’s legal world,” Mr. Jiang established himself in the 1980s as a highly regarded teacher and a leading scholar, one of four professors who helped oversee the drafting of China’s first civil rights framework. His reputation was cemented during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, when as university president he publicly supported the student protesters.

After the government quashed the protests and massacred the protesters, Mr. Jiang was removed from the university presidency. But he remained wildly popular on campus. Even after his removal, law students wore T-shirts printed with one of his best-known refrains: “Bow only to the truth.”

. . .

His moral authority was augmented by his own story. In the 1950s, as a young teacher, he was denounced as anti-Communist after criticizing excessive top-down bureaucracy and ordered to be “reformed,” as the government called it, through labor. He was not allowed to teach law for two decades. And, while working, he was hit by a train, leaving him with a prosthetic leg.

. . .

He lamented the lost decades, but he was never bitter. “Adversity gave me the ability to meditate and look back, and see things calmly,” he said at a celebration of his 70th birthday. “There was nothing to believe in blindly anymore.”

Mr. Jiang rose quickly after his political rehabilitation. He oversaw the drafting not only of civil and commercial laws, but also of China’s first administrative litigation law, which gave citizens a limited right to sue official agencies for misconduct.

In 1988, he was named president of the university. The next spring, protests broke out on Tiananmen Square. Mr. Jiang, fearing bloodshed, sat on the ground at the campus gate despite his bad leg and pleaded with students not to go.

When the students went, Mr. Jiang lent his support. Along with nine other university presidents, he signed an open letter urging the government to open a dialogue with the students.

After his ouster in 1990, Mr. Jiang stayed on as a professor.

For the full obituary, see:

Vivian Wang and Joy Dong. “Jiang Ping, 92, Called ‘Conscience’ Of China’s Legal World, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 30, 2023): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Dec. 29, 2023, and has the title “Jiang Ping, the ‘Conscience of China’s Legal World,’ Dies at 92.”)

Elon Musk Is Not Antisemitic; He Is Anti the Censorship of “a Specific Jewish Group, the Anti-Defamation League”

(p. A15) Major papers like the Journal, New York Times and Washington Post report that advertisers are again fleeing the service previously known as Twitter because, these papers explain, owner Elon Musk endorsed “an antisemitic post.”  . . .

. . .  A user @breakingbaht expressed a lack of sympathy for “Jewish communities” (emphasis added) that allegedly encouraged “the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them” while supporting immigration of “hordes of minorities.”

After Mr. Musk responded “You have said the actual truth,” the New York Times cited equally undefined “Jewish groups” as detecting in the original tweet a common antisemitic trope. In one Times account, the phrase “Jewish communities” was transmuted into “Jewish people.”

. . .

The Journal examined the context and suggested Mr. Musk was really exercised about a specific Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, which has largely adopted the identitarian and censorship agendas of the progressive left.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; How Elon Became an ‘Antisemite’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipses added. In the original version, the phrase “Jewish communities” (but not the rest) is emphasized by italics.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated November 28, 2023, and has the title “BUSINESS WORLD; Opinion: How Elon Became an ‘Antisemite’.”)

Communist China’s Restriction of Citizens’ Freedom Shows Its “Fragility”

(p. A8) HONG KONG—Prominent Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow said she was exiling herself in Canada after getting her passport back from police in return for taking a patriotic trip to China, an exchange that sheds light on Hong Kong’s efforts to re-educate political opponents.

. . .

When Chow returned to Hong Kong, she said, she was instructed to write a letter thanking the police for the trip and enabling her to understand the great development of the motherland.

. . .

“I have never denied China’s economic development,” Chow wrote on Instagram. “But how can such a powerful country send people who fight for democracy to prison, restrict their freedom of movement, and even require them to go to mainland China and visit patriotic exhibitions in exchange for their passports? Is this not a kind of fragility.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Activist Flees Hong Kong After China Trip.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 5, 2023): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 4, 2023, and has the title “Activist Flees Hong Kong After Re-Education Trip to China.”)