Biden’s “Infrastructure” Central Planners Aim to Tear Up Earlier Central Planners’ Highways

(p. A10) As midcentury highways reach the end of their life spans, cities across the country are having to choose whether to rebuild or reconsider them. And a growing number, like Rochester, are choosing to take them down.

. . .

Nearly 30 cities nationwide are currently discussing some form of removal.

. . .

The growing movement has been energized by support from the Biden administration, which has made addressing racial justice and climate change, major themes in the debate over highway removal, central to its agenda.

. . .

Congress is still haggling over Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, but experts say the proposed funding for highway removal represents a shift in the way the government approaches transportation projects.

“As recently as a decade ago,” said Peter D. Norton, a transportation historian at the University of Virginia, “every transportation problem was a problem to be solved with new roads.” Now, the impacts of those roads are beginning to enter the equation.

For the full story, see:

Nadja Popovich, and Denise Lu. “Can Removing Highways Fix America’s Cities?” The New York Times (Saturday, May 29, 2021): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The online version, but not the print version, lists Josh Williams as the second co-author.)

Cuban Communists Ban “Patria y Vida”

I highlighted the spirit and courage of those who sang the “Patria y Vida” song in my blog entry on February 22, 2021.

(p. A1) The protesters pouring into streets across Cuba have a common rallying cry: “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life.” The phrase comes from a hip-hop song released a few months ago by dissident Cuban artists who set out to challenge the government—and in the process helped spark a wave of protests against the 62-year communist regime.

In the demonstrations that began Sunday, Cubans have called for an end to the regime, protesting the scarcity of food and medicine amid a surge of coronavirus cases. For Cuba’s frustrated youth in particular, “Patria y Vida” has become a danceable protest anthem and a viral sensation, with nearly six million views on YouTube.

. . .

(p. A8) The Cuban regime has banned any playing of “Patria y Vida.” The lyrics respond to Cuba’s revolutionary motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death,” with lines like: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Fatherland or Death’ but ‘Fatherland and Life.’ ”

. . .

Messrs. Castillo, Otero and about 20 others created the San Isidro Movement to challenge the government by taking art from the galleries and music studios to the street, making performances public and organizing independent exhibits. The name came from the neighborhood where Messrs. Castillo and Otero live in Old Havana.

. . .

“It’s your fault that a whole nation is suffering,” sang Mr. Castillo in a song titled “Because of You, Sir,” and directed to Fidel Castro. The video juxtaposes images of the famed revolutionary leader next to rundown scenes of Havana, with hungry and hopeless residents looking through garbage.

Weeks after the release of “Patria y Vida,” police attempted to arrest Mr. Castillo near Mr. Otero’s home, but hundreds of angry San Isidro residents forced them to retreat. Video that was later shared widely captured him strutting on the street shirtless with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrist, while hundreds in the crowd sang “Patria y Vida” . . . .

For the full story, see:

Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba. “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “‘Patria y Vida’: The Dissident Rappers Helping Drive Cuba’s Protests.” The online version of the article says the print version had the title “The Artists Rattling Cuba’s Regime,” but my print version had the title “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” I think I receive the Central edition, but can’t find where that is stated.)

India’s Tata “Paid a Harsh Price” for Keeping Distance from Government

(p. A15) Mr. Raianu, a historian at the University of Maryland, is guilty of no hype when he titles his book “Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism.”

. . .

No other company has dominated the history of its national commerce and industry quite as much as the house of Tata in India, where it is one of the few major businesses still regarded as unstained by overt corruption. Although family-run for most of its existence—the stubborn Indian norm for merchants—the Tata company was from an early date “unusual” among India’s corporate groups (Mr. Raianu says) in employing professional executives and “talented nonrelatives.” The company also “kept its distance from the state” in both colonial and postcolonial times. It gave only lukewarm support to the Indian National Congress, which meant that the Tatas had few political chips to cash when the Congress party came to govern a free India. It paid a harsh price for this aloofness when Air India—the Tatas’ thriving aviation arm—was nationalized by Prime Minister Nehru in 1953.

. . .

The Parsi character of the company has, in many ways, helped it to transcend the mud pit of Indian business. The Parsis are a minuscule community, numbering around 57,000 Indians today. Practitioners of Zoroastrianism, they fled to India in the eighth century when Persia came under the sway of Islam. They embraced Western ways more readily than other Indians and, as a result, thrived under the British. Parsis, writes Mr. Raianu, “typified the religious minority exempt from ritual restrictions of caste and guild systems, much like European Jews.” And so they were more ready to look outward—to foreign opportunities—than the hidebound Indian business castes.

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “BOOKSHELF; From Homestead to Hegemony.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book under review is:

Raianu, Mircea. Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak

(p. A4) YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Patients with unexplained pneumonias started showing up at hospitals; within days, dozens were dead. The secret police seized doctors’ records and ordered them to keep silent. American spies picked up clues about a lab leak, but the local authorities had a more mundane explanation: contaminated meat.

It took more than a decade for the truth to come out.

In April and May 1979, at least 66 people died after airborne anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab in the Soviet Union. But leading American scientists voiced confidence in the Soviets’ claim that the pathogen had jumped from animals to humans. Only after a full-fledged investigation in the 1990s did one of those scientists confirm the earlier suspicions: The accident in what is now the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg was a lab leak, one of the deadliest ever documented.

Nowadays, some of the victims’ graves appear abandoned, their names worn off their metal plates in the back of a cemetery on the outskirts of town, where they were buried in coffins with an agricultural disinfectant. But the story of the accident that took their lives, and the cover-up that hid it, has renewed relevance as scientists search for the origins of Covid-19.

It shows how an authoritarian government can successfully shape the narrative of a disease outbreak and how it can take years — and, perhaps, regime change — to get to the truth.

“Wild rumors do spread around every epidemic,” Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel-winning American biologist, wrote in a memo after a fact-finding trip to Moscow in 1986. “The current Soviet account is very likely to be true.”

Many scientists believe that the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic evolved in animals and jumped at some point to humans. But scientists are also calling for deeper investigation of the possibility of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There is also widespread concern that the Chinese government — which, like the Soviet government decades before it, dismisses the possibility of a lab leak — is not providing international investigators with access and data that could shed light on the pandemic’s origins. Continue reading “Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak”

Communists Imprisoned Lu Yuyu for Four Years for Posting Online Data on Protests in China

(p. A1) On a summer day in 2016, a posse of men surrounded Lu Yuyu on a street in China’s southwestern city of Dali. He said they wrestled him into a black sedan and slid a shroud over his head. His girlfriend was pushed into a second car, screaming his name.

Mr. Lu had for years posted a running online tally of protests and demonstrations in China that was closely read by activists and academics around the world, as well as by government censors. That made him a target.

While China’s Communist Party has long punished people seen as threats to its rule, government authorities under Chinese leader Xi Jinping have engaged in the most relentless pursuit of dissenters since the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, according to academics and activists.

“Over the past eight years under Xi, authorities have become hypersensitive to the publicizing of protests, social movements and mass resistance,” said Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“Lu’s data provided a window into social trends in China,” Mr. Wu said, and that made him a threat to the party. China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based group that promotes worker rights, used Mr. Lu’s posts as the primary source for its “Strike Map,” an interactive online graphic tallying worker unrest.

Mr. Xi’s crackdown has snared women planning protests against sexual harassment, human-rights lawyers once given leeway and Marxist students advocating workers’ rights. Many have endured lengthy detentions and various forms of psychological pressure.

“Their goal is to make you feel helpless, hopeless, devoid of any support, and break you down so you begin to see activism as something foolish that doesn’t benefit anyone, and gives pain to everyone around you,” said Yaxue Cao, a Washington-based activist who runs China Change, a news and commentary website advocating for human rights. “In so many cases, they are successful.”

After Mr. Lu was snatched off the street, he spent four years in custody, his girlfriend left him, and, since his release in June [2020], he said he has been kept under close watch by police. He struggles to find steady work, he said, and suffers from depression. His landlord recently asked him to move, he said, citing pressure from authorities.

The experience keeps him far from his past documentation work. “If you’re lucky, they’d detain you within a month, or if you’re unlucky, within a week,” said Mr. Lu, 43 years old. “There’s no point.”

For the full story, see:

Chun Han Wong. “In Xi’s China, There Is Little Room Left for Dissent.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020): A1 & A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 24, 2021, and has the title “‘Their Goal Is to Make You Feel Helpless’: In Xi’s China, Little Room for Dissent.” The online version says that the print version had the title “Xi’s China Ramps Up Drive to Squelch Dissent.” My Central Edition of the print version had the title “In Xi’s China, There Is Little Room Left for Dissent.”)

Warburg Focused on Cancer’s “Ravenous” Metabolizing of Sugars

(p. A15) Hours before Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, SS leader Heinrich Himmler convened a perplexing meeting. He and his minions put aside preparations for the offensive to chitchat about a gay biochemist of Jewish descent in Berlin. Not to rage about the man, or plot his downfall—to the contrary, the Nazis believed this scientist could save the Reich, by ridding it of a threat they feared every bit as much as Jews, homosexuals and communists—the scourge of cancer.

That scientist, Otto Warburg, is the subject of “Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer–Diet Connection,” an eye-opening work by journalist Sam Apple.

. . .

There’s no doubt Warburg was brilliant—the greatest biochemist of his day—and in the 1930s he focused on cancer, a major concern of the Nazis. Cancer deaths skyrocketed 287% in Germany between 1876 and 1910, “making a quiet mockery of the extraordinary march of German science,” Mr. Apple notes. From the Führer down, Nazi leaders trembled at the disease, and they enacted surprisingly modern measures to fight cancer. They railed against cigarettes, encouraged women to examine their breasts for lumps and worked to eliminate pesticides and artificial preservatives in food.

In his lab, Warburg made seemingly fundamental discoveries about how cancer worked.

. . .

The second half of “Ravenous” shifts into the (somewhat tenuous) links between Warburg’s research and our modern understanding of cancer. The biochemical complexities get a bit gnarly—there’s a dizzying amount of detail, making it hard to follow the main thread on occasion. Among other things, Warburg discovered that cancer cells gobble up far more glucose (a sugar) than their nonmalignant neighbors—“eating like shipwrecked sailors,” Mr. Apple writes. Oddly, cancer cells also metabolize sugars through fermentation, in a manner analogous to yeast cells. Biochemically, fermentation is normally a backup power generator for human cells, used only when oxygen runs low. Warburg found that cancer cells were running the backup generator all the time.

. . .

. . ., it’s not clear how much credit Warburg deserves. I walked away from “Ravenous” thinking of Otto Warburg as a sort of Sigmund Freud of cancer research. Freud got One Big Thing right—that the unconscious drives much of human behavior. But he was wrong on nearly every detail. Similarly, Warburg explicitly rejected good evidence for the insulin-cancer link during his lifetime, among other blunders, making it tricky to uphold him as a pioneer of modern cancer research.

Nevertheless, history will show that Otto Warburg always insisted that cancer was intimately tied to metabolism. As one latter-day biologist noted, marveling over Warburg’s rehabilitation, “We found out that son of a bitch was right.”

For the full review, see:

Sam Kean. “BOOKSHELF; Untangling a Disease.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 16, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 15, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Ravenous’ Review: Untangling a Disease.”)

The book under review is:

Apple, Sam. Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2021.

To Extort U.S. Firms, Xi Passes Laws that Firms Cannot Obey

(p. B1) Doug Guthrie spent 1994 riding a single-speed bicycle between factories in Shanghai for a dissertation on Chinese industry. Within years, he was one of America’s leading experts on China’s turn toward capitalism and was helping companies venture East.

Two decades later, in 2014, Apple hired him to help navigate perhaps its most important market. By then, he was worried about China’s new direction.

China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, was leaning on Western companies to strengthen his grip on the country. Mr. Guthrie realized that few companies were bigger targets, or more vulnerable, than Apple. It assembled nearly every Apple device in China and had made the region its No. 2 sales market.

So Mr. Guthrie began touring the company with a slide show and lecture to ring the alarm. Apple, he said, had no Plan B.

“I was going around to business leaders, and I’m like: ‘Do you guys understand who Xi Jinping is? Are you listening to what’s going on here?’” Mr. Guthrie said in an interview. “That was my big calling card.”

His warnings were prescient. China has taken a nationalist, au-(p. B3)thoritarian turn under Mr. Xi, and American companies like Apple, Nike and the National Basketball Association are facing a dilemma. While doing business in China often remains lucrative, it also increasingly requires uncomfortable compromises.

That trend raises the question of whether, instead of empowering the Chinese people, American investment in the country has empowered the Chinese Communist Party.

. . .

Mr. Guthrie’s career arc and evolving view of China tell the story of Western industry’s complicated dance with the country over the past three decades. Mr. Guthrie and many executives, politicians and academics had bet that Western investment in China would lead the country to liberalize. It is now clear that they miscalculated.

“We were wrong,” said Mr. Guthrie, who left Apple in 2019. “The wild card was Xi Jinping.”

In recent years, China shut down Marriott’s website after it listed Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries in a customer survey. It suspended sign-ups to LinkedIn after the site failed to censor enough political content. And the Communist Party urged a boycott of Western apparel companies that criticized forced-labor practices in Xinjiang, a Chinese region where the government is repressing Uyghurs, the country’s Muslim ethnic minority.

. . .

In 2014, China’s so-called dispatch labor law went into effect, limiting the share of temporary workers in a company’s work force to 10 percent. From Day 1, Apple and its suppliers were in violation.

At a Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, China, the world’s biggest iPhone factory, temporary workers made up as much as half of the work force, according to a report by China Labor Watch, an advocacy group. After the report, Apple confirmed that the factory broke the law.

Apple executives were concerned and confused, Mr. Guthrie said. They knew the company couldn’t comply because it needed the extra workers to meet periods of intense demand, such as the holidays.

. . .

“‘This is the point. You are supposed to be out of compliance,’” he said he had told them. “‘Not so they can shut you down, but so you’ll figure out what they want you to do and figure out how to do it.’”

Mr. Guthrie, who is often tucking his long, graying hair behind his ears, began giving his lecture on Apple’s risk in China around that time. Its extreme reliance on the country left it with little leverage to resist.

Apple continued to grapple with demands from the government.

. . .

To measure the success of their lobbying, Apple executives looked to the government’s annual corporate social responsibility scores, a proxy for the Communist Party’s view of a company.

. . .

Apple’s score steadily improved. From 2016 to 2020, its ranking among all companies in China rose from No. 141 to No. 30.

Apple didn’t always successfully resist the government’s demands. Over that period, Mr. Cook had agreed to store his Chinese customers’ private data — and the digital keys to unlock that data — on computer servers owned and run by the Chinese government.

For the full story, see:

Jack Nicas. “A Warning On China Is Prescient For Apple.” The New York Times (Friday, June 18, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 17, 2021, and has the title “He Warned Apple About the Risks in China. Then They Became Reality.”)

“We Demand the Right to Have Rights”

(p. A9) An alliance of hip-hop musicians, writers, internationally known artists and Black activists has emerged as a driving force against censorship and government repression in Cuba, prompting a rare Communist government action: to hold talks about freedom of expression.

Hundreds of Cubans, many of them young artists from elite schools, protested in front of the country’s stately neoclassical Ministry of Culture in Havana’s upscale Vedado district, overnight on Friday. Protests of any sort are very rare in Cuba.

“We demand the right to have rights…. The right of free expression, of free creation, the right to dissent,” said Katherine Bisquet, a young poet, reading the activists’ manifesto by the light of cellphones outside of the ministry where streetlights were turned off. Videos posted on social media showed Ms. Bisquet saying that she spoke for all Cuban citizens.

. . .

Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser-designate, in a tweet Sunday said that Mr. Biden supported the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty, called for the government to release peaceful protesters and said Cubans must be allowed to exercise “the universal right to freedom of expression.”

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez. “Cuba’s Creative Class Crafts United Protest Against Censorship.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 1, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 30, 2020, and has the title “Cuban Leadership Confronts a Rare Dissident Movement.” Where the wording in the last quoted paragraph is slightly different between the online and print versions, the passage quoted above follows the online version.)

Chinese Local Governments Run Up $6 Trillion in Debt, Partly to Build Giant Statues and a Full-Size Replica of Titanic

(p. B1) To officials in her corner of China, the statue of Yang Asha, a goddess of beauty, serves as a tribute to the rich culture of the local people and, they hope, a big draw for sightseers and their money. To many others in China, she is another white elephant in a country full of expensive monuments, gaudy tourist traps and wasteful vanity projects that draw money away from real problems.

Those critics point to the statue of Guan Yu, a general from antiquity, in the city of Jingzhou, where he also towers higher than the Statue of Liberty and wields an enormous polearm called the Green Dragon Crescent Blade.

They point to the Jingxingu Hotel, a 24-story wooden building with lots of empty balconies and open spaces but few actual rooms — and it has not accepted guests beyond a few tourists who come to gawk.

They point to the construction of a full-size, $150 million replica of the Titanic in a reservoir deep in China’s interior, 1,200 miles from (p. B5) the ocean.

. . .

Singling out the $38 million Jingxingu Hotel and the $224 million Guan Yu project, which also included an elaborate base and surrounding park, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development ordered on Sept. 29 [2020] that communities may not “blindly build large-scale sculptures that are divorced from reality and the masses.”

Chinese government officials have long prized big projects. China now has four-fifths of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, more miles of ultramodern expressways than the American interstate highway system and a bullet-train network long enough to span the continental United States seven times. Those projects have employed millions of people and helped fuel the country’s breakneck growth.

But local officials borrowed heavily to fund those projects. Estimates put the amount of local debt as high as $6 trillion, raising fears of financial bombs lurking in the ledgers of far corners of the country.

Beijing has doubled down on further investment spending this year in an initially successful bid to shake off an economic hangover from the outbreak of coronavirus in China last winter.

Yet with each passing year, as projects are built in ever-more-remote places, the economic kick from each project becomes less and less. China is on track this year to add debt equal to four months’ economic output while its economy grows by an amount equal to less than two weeks’ output.

Local government borrowing “is still out of control,” said Gary Liu, an independent economist in Shanghai.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher. “As China Battles Poverty, Colossal Projects Draw Ire.” The New York Times (Fri., Nov. 27, 2020): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 26, 2020, and has the title “A Soaring Monument to Beauty in China Is Stirring Passions. Mostly Anger.”)

Li Wenliang Was Not an Outlier: Chinese Communists Punished at Least 587 for Speaking Out on Covid-19

(p. A6) At least seven people over the past week have been threatened, detained or arrested after casting doubt over the government’s account of the deaths of Chinese soldiers during a clash last year with Indian troops. Three of them are being detained for between seven and 15 days. The other four face criminal charges, including one man who lives outside China.

“The internet is not a lawless place,” said the police notices issued in their cases. “Blasphemies of heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”

Their punishment might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for an online database of speech crimes in China. A simple Google spreadsheet open for all to see, it lists nearly 2,000 times when the government punished people for what they said online and offline.

The list — which links directly to publicly issued verdicts, police notices and official news reports over the past eight years — is far from complete. Most punishment takes place behind closed doors.

Still, the list paints a bleak picture of a government that punishes its citizens for the slightest hint of criticism. It shows how random and merciless China’s legal system can be when it punishes its citizens for what they say, even though freedom of speech is written into China’s Constitution.

. . .

(p. B3) Perhaps the most depressing items are those about people who were punished for what they said about the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of the list is Dr. Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded on Jan. 1, 2020, along with seven others for trying to warn the country about the coronavirus. He died of the virus in early February last year and is now remembered as the whistle-blower who tried to warn the world about the outbreak. But the spreadsheet lists 587 other cases.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “Spreadsheet on Censorship Shows China’s Human Toll.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 27, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 26, 2021, and has the title “China Persecutes Those Who Question ‘Heroes.’ A Sleuth Keeps Track.”)

Xi Jinping Only Pays “Mere Lip Service” to “Private Enterprise and Innovation”

(p. A23) Ant Group, China’s biggest fintech conglomerate, was preparing last November for its initial public offering. Analysts projected it would raise $34 billion, the largest sale of shares in history. The company, founded by Jack Ma, had become synonymous with financial innovations, which are often risky.

In the run-up to the I.P.O., Chinese regulators trying to assess financial risks on Ant’s books had been brushed off by Mr. Ma. In an audacious speech, he criticized regulators as too cautious and pilloried state-owned banks for their “pawnshop” mentality of providing loans only to borrowers who could post collateral.

Even oblique attacks on China’s government rarely go unpunished. This was a direct provocation. Yet such was Mr. Ma’s aura, and his apparent imperviousness to government strictures, that domestic and foreign investors were unconcerned.

. . .

Then it all fell apart. Two days before Ant’s shares were to begin trading on the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges, the government blocked the I.P.O.

. . .

It seemed that, in bringing the hammer down on the company, the government aimed to limit its growing economic and political power.

But in so doing, the government spooked investors. Suddenly, President Xi Jinping’s pledges to encourage private enterprise and innovation looked like mere lip service.

For the full commentary, see:

Eswar Prasad. “Jack Ma Paid for Taunting China.” The New York Times (Friday, April 30, 2021): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 28, 2021, and has the title “Jack Ma Taunted China. Then Came His Fall.”)