Russian Soldiers See Free Ukrainians Flourish

(p. A18) In early April [2022] I walked into Andriivka, a village about 40 miles from Kyiv, with my battalion in the Ukrainian territorial defense forces. We were among the first Ukrainian troops to enter the village after a Russian occupation that had lasted about a month. . . .

The Russians killed civilians in Andriivka, and they ransacked and looted houses. The locals told us something else the Russians had done: One day they took mopeds and bicycles out of some of the yards and rode around on them in the street like children, filming one another with their phones and laughing with delight, as if they’d gotten some long-awaited birthday present.

A few days earlier we were in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv that was subjected to an infamously brutal occupation. The people there told us that when the first Russian convoy entered the town, the troops asked if they were in Kyiv; they could not believe that such idyllic parks and cottages could exist outside a capital. Then they looted the local houses thoroughly. They took money, cheap electronics, alcohol, clothes and watches. But, the locals said, they seemed perplexed by the robotic vacuum cleaners, and they always left those.

One resident, who told me that she was taken hostage by the Russian soldiers in her house, said they could not get over the fact that she had two bathrooms and kept insisting that she must have more people living with her.

This war is Vladimir Putin’s fatal mistake. Not because of economic sanctions and not because of the huge losses of troops and tanks but because Mr. Putin’s soldiers are from some of the poorest and most rural regions of Russia. Before this war, these men were encouraged to believe that Ukrainians lived in poverty and were culturally, economically and politically inferior.

. . .

Ten years ago Ukrainians could drink beer with Russians after the European Championship soccer matches, but we didn’t realize then that Ukraine was moving forward and Russia was moving in the opposite direction. Ukraine was trying to build a path to freedom, and Russia was building a path back to the Soviet Union with Kremlin TV and petrodollars.

For the full commentary see:

Yegor Firsov. “Russian Troops See That Ukrainians Live Better Than They Do.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022): A18.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 23, 2022, and has the title “Ukraine’s Russian ‘Liberators’ Are Seeing That We Live Better Than They Do.”)

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.)

Officers in Russian Military Are Rewarded for Following Orders, Not for Nimbly Taking Initiative

(p. A1) This war has exposed the fact that, to Russia’s detriment, much of the military culture and learned behavior of the Soviet era endures: inflexibility in command structure, corruption in military spending, and concealing casualty figures and repeating the mantra (p. A7) that everything is going according to plan.

. . .

The scripted way the military practices warfare, on display in last summer’s exercises, is telling. “Nobody is being tested on their ability to think on the battlefield,” said William Alberque, the Berlin-based director of the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Instead, officers are assessed on their ability to follow instructions, he said.

. . .

Rampant corruption has drained resources. “Each person steals as much of the allocated funds as is appropriate for their rank,” said retired Maj. Gen. Harri Ohra-Aho, the former Chief of Intelligence in Finland and still a Ministry of Defense adviser.

. . .

“It is impossible to imagine the scale of lies inside the military,” Mr. Irisov said. “The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money.”

One out of every five rubles spent on the armed forces was stolen, the chief military prosecutor, Sergey Fridinsky, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, in 2011.

For the full story see:

Neil MacFarquhar. “Soviet-Era Tactics Hobble Russia on Battlefield.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 17, 2022): A1 & A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 16, 2022, and has the title “Russia Planned a Major Military Overhaul. Ukraine Shows the Result.”)

“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.”)

If a 6-Year-Old Cannot Jump-Rope in Communist China, Her Future Is Bleak

Photo of Art Diamond in first or second grade, finally succeeding at jump-rope. Source: photo by my first and second grade James Monroe School teacher, Miss Helen Kuntz.

My first and second grade teacher was Miss Helen Kuntz. I had a lot of trouble learning how to jump-rope. So when I finally succeeded, Miss Kuntz was so excited that she took my picture, which she mailed me several decades later from a nursing home. If I had been born and raised in Communist China my life would have been much different.

(p. A1) BEIJING—Chinese parents spend dearly on private tutoring for their children to get a jump on national math and language exams, the gateway to advancement and a better life.

Susan Zhang, a 34-year-old mother in China’s capital, is among a smaller group forking out big bucks for jump-rope lessons. She said she couldn’t understand why her 6-year-old daughter Tangtang couldn’t string together two skips in a row after three months of trying. The girl needed professional help.

More than playground prowess was at stake. In 2014, Chinese authorities introduced physical-education require-(p. A10)ments that included a national jump-rope exam for boys and girls from first through sixth grades.

To pass, students must complete minimum numbers of skips a minute, and failure can trip up an otherwise promising academic trajectory. Top officials see the activity as an accessible, low-cost way to help build national sports excellence, a priority of China’s leader Xi Jinping.

For the full story, see:

Jonathan Cheng. “China Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated September 27, 2021, and has the title “In China, Even Jump-Rope is Competitive—So Parents Pay for Lessons.” The online edition says that the title of the print version is “Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors,” but my National print version had the title “China Exam Draws Jump-Rope Tutors.”)

Chinese Communists Are Extending Covid Controls to Use Against “Hostile Political Forces”

(p. 1) The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.

His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.

Then his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.

“The Chinese Communist Party has found the best model for controlling people,” he said in a telephone interview in December. This month, the police detained Mr. Xie, a government critic, accusing him of inciting subversion and provoking trouble.

The pandemic has given Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a powerful case for deepening the Communist Party’s reach into the lives of 1.4 billion citizens, filling out his vision of the country as a model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.

Emboldened by their successes in stamping out Covid, Chinese officials are turning their sharpened surveillance against other risks, including crime, pollution and “hostile” political forces. This amounts to a potent techno-authoritarian tool for Mr. Xi as he intensifies his campaigns against corruption and dissent.

For the full story, see:

Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang, and Keith Bradsher. “China’s Strict Covid Controls May Outlast Covid.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, January 30, 2022): 1 & 14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Living by the Code: In China, Covid-Era Controls May Outlast the Virus.”)

During Pandemic, Delayed Medical Procedures Rose from 4.6 to 6 Million in England’s Socialized Healthcare System

(p. A8) LONDON — Lara Wahab had been waiting for more than two years for a kidney and pancreas transplant, but months had passed without any word. So last month she called the hospital, and got crushing news.

There had been a good match for her in October [2021], the transplant coordinator told her, which the hospital normally would have accepted. But with Covid-19 patients filling beds, the transplant team could not find her a place in the intensive care unit for postoperative care. They had to decline the organs.

“I was just in shock. I knew that the N.H.S. was under a lot of strain, but you don’t really know until you’re waiting for something like that,” she said, referring to the National Health Service. “It was there, but it sort of slipped through my fingers,” she added of the transplant opportunity.

Ms. Wahab, 34, from North London, is part of an enormous and growing backlog of patients in Britain’s free health service who have seen planned care delayed or diverted, in part because of the pandemic — a largely unseen crisis within a crisis. The problems are likely to have profound consequences that will be felt for years.

The numbers are stark: In England, nearly 6 million procedures are currently delayed, a rise from the backlog of 4.6 million before the pandemic, according to the N.H.S. The current delays most likely impact more than five million people — a single patient can have multiple cases pending for different ailments — which represents almost one-tenth of the population. Hundreds of thousands more haven’t been referred yet for treatment, and many ailments have simply gone undiagnosed.

For the full story, see:

Megan Specia. “In Britain, an Ever-Growing Backlog of Non-Covid Care.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 27, 2022): A8.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated January 27, 2022, and has the title “‘I Feel Really Hopeless’: In U.K., Millions See Non-Covid Health Care Delayed.”)

Calcutta Commuters Avoid Slow Unreliable Trams Because “People Want to Move Fast”

(p. A4) “You get all the flavors of Calcutta here, so it’s the best way to travel,” said a medical student, Megha Roy, riding the tram with two friends. She used the Anglicized version of Kolkata, which residents deploy interchangeably with its current spelling and pronunciation.

The three friends had jumped onboard spontaneously, with no clear idea of where the tram was going, or when it was scheduled to get there. But it didn’t really matter. The ride itself was an unexpected treat.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Ms. Roy said.

. . .

. . . the authorities say that while trams should remain a part of the transit mix, buses and the city’s metro system better serve 21st-century riders in the city of some 15 million people.

. . .

“Scientifically, economically, environmentally, there is no reason to convert the tramways for buses,” said Debasish Bhattacharyya, president of the Calcutta Tram Users’ Association.

But the scene at one tram stop suggested commuters may feel differently. Fewer than half a dozen people were waiting for the tram, while nearby, hundreds were piling onto buses that sagged under the weight of so many passengers, belching black plumes of diesel exhaust as they careened over the tram’s tracks and onto the street.

Admittedly, neither speed nor punctuality are hallmarks of the trams, which must contend with a mélange of traffic on their routes: trucks, buses, cars, vintage yellow Ambassador taxis, rickshaws manual and electric, pedestrians, herds of goats and the occasional cow.

“Nobody knows when the next car will come,” Mr. Bhattacharyya said. “They say this is the control room, but nothing is controlled, everything is scattered,” he said, gesturing to a hub of the tram system in central Kolkata.

. . .

Aboard a tram crawling along Lenin Sarani, one of central Kolkata’s main thoroughfares and named in honor of the Russian revolutionary, Sumit Chandra Banerjee, a ticket taker, said he looked forward to mandatory retirement when he turned 60 in October [2021].

. . .

Many of Kolkata’s urban landmarks — from cinemas and bookstores to museums and hospitals — were built near the tracks. One of those institutions was Das Gupta Books, founded in 1886.

Aranda Das Gupta, the shop’s fourth-generation managing director, called the tram a “beautiful journey,” while acknowledging that it takes “maximum time.”

“Nowadays,” he said, “people want to move fast.”

For the full story, see:

Emily Schmall. “INDIA DISPATCH; Kolkata Is Letting Its ‘Fairy Tale’ Trams Waste Away.” The New York Times (Friday, September 3, 2021): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 2, 2021, and has the title “INDIA DISPATCH; Kolkata’s ‘Fairy Tale’ Trams, Once Essential, Are Now a Neglected Relic.”)

In 1984, Orwell Showed “Judgment, Courage and Clarity”

(p. C10) Mr. Taylor, a novelist, critic and biographer, more ably balances the cultural footprint of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” with the story of its writing.

. . .

Orwell used his newspaper columns to flesh out the ideas that his novel—tentatively titled “The Last Man in Europe”—would explore. In one article, writes Mr. Taylor, Orwell suggested that “totalitarianism’s most terrifying quality is not only that it instigates atrocities, but that it seeks to control ‘the concept of objective truth’ and thereby manipulates both past and future.” This theme would take form in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” when Oceania periodically shifted from fighting one of its two enemies to fighting the other. Past alliances and rivalries instantly disappeared: “Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.”

. . .

George Orwell possessed three signal virtues, each of them rare and almost unheard of in concert. They are judgment, courage and clarity. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in “Why Orwell Matters,” Orwell’s judgment was right on the great political questions of the 20th century: imperialism, fascism and communism. He had the courage to say so, even when it meant breaking with his countrymen (imperialism) and his comrades (communism). And Orwell had the talent to make his arguments in prose as clear as a windowpane, with his biases and flaws on display for all to judge.

For the full review, see:

Michael O’Donnell. “An Enduring Vision of Tyranny.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 19, 2019): C10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 18, 2019, and has the title “‘The Ministry of Truth’ and ‘On Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Review: An Enduring Vision of Tyranny.”)

The book under review in the passages quoted above is:

Boucheron, Patrick. Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear. Translated by Willard Wood. New York: Other Press, 2020.

Socialist Mayor’s Environmental Bicycles Turn Paris Streets into Risky Chaos

(p. 4) PARIS — On a recent afternoon, the Rue de Rivoli looked like this: Cyclists blowing through red lights in two directions. Delivery bike riders fixating on their cellphones. Electric scooters careening across lanes. Jaywalkers and nervous pedestrians scrambling as if in a video game.

Sarah Famery, a 20-year resident of the Marais neighborhood, braced for the tumult. She looked left, then right, then left and right again before venturing into a crosswalk, only to break into a rant-laden sprint as two cyclists came within inches of grazing her.

“It’s chaos!” exclaimed Ms. Famery, shaking a fist at the swarm of bikes that have displaced cars on the Rue de Rivoli ever since it was remade into a multilane highway for cyclists last year. “Politicians want to make Paris a cycling city, but no one is following any rules,” she said. “It’s becoming risky just to cross the street!”

The mayhem on Rue de Rivoli — a major traffic artery stretching from the Bastille past the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde — is playing out on streets across Paris as the authorities pursue an ambitious goal of making the city a European cycling capital by 2024.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is campaigning for the French presidency, has been burnishing her credentials as an ecologically minded Socialist candidate. She has earned admirers and enemies alike with a bold program to transform greater Paris into the world’s leading environmentally sustainable metropolis, reclaiming vast swaths of the city from cars for parks, pedestrians and a Copenhagen-style cycling revolution.

For the full story, see:

Liz Alderman. “PARIS DISPATCH; Europe’s New Cycling Capital, or a Pedestrian’s Nightmare?” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021): 4.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Oct. 4, 2021, and has the title “PARIS DISPATCH; As Bikers Throng the Streets, ‘It’s Like Paris Is in Anarchy’.”)

China’s “Surveillance State” Is “the Perfect Rendition of George Orwell’s 1984”

(p. C13) Kai Strittmatter, the author of “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State,” lived in China first as a student and then as a journalist. Full of interesting anecdotes, his book vividly depicts China as the perfect rendition of George Orwell’s “1984” via its implementation of “Smart Cities,” where surveillance cameras and AI algorithms watch and modify every citizen’s every action.  . . .   If we let China run the world, we may all be harmonized.

For the full review, see:

Desmond Shum. “12 Months of Reading; Desmond Shum.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021): C13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 10, 2021, and has the title “Who Read What: Business Leaders Share Their Favorite Books of 2021.”)

The book praised by Shum is:

Strittmatter, Kai. We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State. New York: Custom House, 2020.