Thursday, June 30, 2011

China’s Political Prisoners: True Confessions?

by Jonathan Mirsky

New York Review of Books

June 30, 2011

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s ankle-deep heap of porcelain sunflower seeds bewitched recent visitors to London’s Tate Modern. But in early April Ai’s strong criticisms of the regime led to his disappearance somewhere in Beijing. On June 22, eighty-one days later, he reappeared at home. Not freed: reappeared, which can mean something closer to house arrest. A lifeguard at my local pool in London announced to me that Ai had been freed, and I fear that is what the “Sinologists”—as the China specialists in the Foreign Office like to be called—may have told Prime Minister David Cameron before his meeting on June 27 with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in London. They may also have mentioned that, according to the government’s official press agency, Ai “confessed his crimes”—though it should be noted no formal charge was ever brought against him.

“Admitting guilt” (renzui) is a well-established ritual, in which the alleged criminal is forced to sign a written statement about his supposed crimes. As the China correspondent for The Observer in the 1980s and 90s, I, too , was forced to “confess” on two occasions when I ran into trouble with the authorities, once in Lhasa, once in Beijing.

Perhaps Ai’s “freeing” and “confession” made it possible for Mr. Cameron to avoid saying anything unpleasant to his Chinese visitor. Another dissident, Hu Jia, was also released just before the Cameron-Wen press conference. Unnamed diplomats claimed that Hu’s release, like Ai’s, was a gesture of goodwill to Britain, though in fact Hu was let out on the final day of his sentence. In my experience, the British government’s “Sinologists” advise that Beijing dislikes public disagreement and prefers differences to be expressed genteelly, behind the screen. My first experience of this was in 1991 in Beijing when Prime Minister John Major assured me he had pressed Premier Li Peng hard about political prisoners. But I soon found out from another official who had been present that nothing of the sort had occurred. Not for China that thunderclap “inappropriate” proclaimed by Foreign Secretaries when a misbehaving country’s relationship with Britain is not as important, as with Syria and Bahrain, and of course, Libya.


Monday, June 27, 2011

I was wrong about same-sex marriage

by David Frum


June 27, 2011

Editor's note: David Frum writes a weekly column for A special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002, he is the author of six books, including "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again," and is the editor of FrumForum.

I was a strong opponent of same-sex marriage. Fourteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan and I forcefully debated the issue at length online (at a time when online debate was a brand new thing).

Yet I find myself strangely untroubled by New York state's vote to authorize same-sex marriage -- a vote that probably signals that most of "blue" states will follow within the next 10 years.

I don't think I'm alone in my reaction either. Most conservatives have reacted with calm -- if not outright approval -- to New York's dramatic decision.


The short answer is that the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

To Know Us Is to Let Us Love

by Frank Bruni

New York Times

June 25, 2011

In the mid-1980s, when I was in college, what concerned and frustrated my peers and me was how few states had basic statutes forbidding discrimination against gay men and lesbians: laws that merely prevented someone from being denied a job or apartment on the basis of whom he or she loved. At that point only Wisconsin and the District of Columbia provided such protection. The decade would end with just one addition, Massachusetts, to that meager list.

Same-sex marriage? I don’t recall our talking — or dreaming — much about that. We considered ourselves realists. Sometimes idealists. But never fantasists.

As it happens, we were pessimists, and underestimated our country’s capacity for change. That was my thought all week, even as it remained unclear what the endlessly dithering New York State Legislature would decide and even as President Obama, speaking at a gay gala in Manhattan, stayed the closeted pro-gay course, giving coy signals of solidarity without tying the knot. The fact that same-sex marriage was drawing such serious attention at such high levels was public proof of what I could see in my private life — in my own family. Where we are is a long way from where we were.

Outside New York, five states, along with Washington, D.C., already permit same-sex marriages. Twenty-one states, along with D.C., outlaw anti-gay discrimination. And both numbers will grow. That’s what recent polls telegraph, and that’s what the shape and flavor of the campaign for same-sex marriage in New York irrevocably demonstrated. This issue will increasingly transcend partisan politics and hinge less on party affiliation or archaic religious doctrine than on the intimate, everyday dynamics of family and friendship.


Marriage Equality and the Catholic Bishops

by Geoffrey R. Stone

Huffington Post

June 25, 2011

New York State has taken an important step forward in our nation's never-ending quest to remake ourselves as a more decent, more inclusive, more just, and more moral society. Looking back from the future, our grandchildren will surely see the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as an inspiring chapter in America's story, a story in which we have progressively abolished slavery, ended state-sponsored racial segregation, prohibited laws against inter-racial marriage, protected equal rights for women, promoted religious diversity and tolerance, and outlawed discrimination on the basis of disability. There is no doubt that, in the long run, the United States will follow the lead of New York State. The challenge, though, is to make the long run short.

The most vehement opponent of marriage equality in New York was the Catholic Church. Indeed, in the heat of the debate in the state legislature, the New York State Catholic Conference issued a ringing proclamation: "The Bishops of New York State oppose in the strongest possible terms any attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage. Marriage has always been, is now, and always will be the union of one man and one woman. Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths."

That the leaders of the Catholic Church take this position is certainly their right, but it is a sorry testament to their understanding of their Church's own history in this nation. If anything, one would expect those leaders to be leaders in the fight against bigotry and intolerance, rather than voices in support of prejudice and discrimination. After all, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. once observed, prejudice against Catholics has been one of "the deepest bias[es] in the history of the American people."


Gay marriage vote a milestone in New York

Washington Post
June 25, 2011

NEW YORK HAS become the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Not by court order, but by a vote of 33 to 29 of the state Senate. With leadership from the highest reaches of state government, gay and lesbian couples who longed for the rights and responsibilities, the dignity and respect, that come with marriage will soon be able to do so legally in the Empire State.

New York joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in allowing gays to wed. A court challenge to a 2008 amendment to the California state constitution that banned gay marriage after a state Supreme Court ruling made it legal there is wending its way through the federal appeals court process. If marriage-equality proponents succeed in the Golden State, 23.3 percent of Americans will live in states where gay couples can legally wed.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who took office in January, was a vocal proponent of legalizing same-sex marriage in New York and made passage a priority. He used the bully pulpit to garner public support around the state. He backed that up by using the power and prestige of the governor’s office behind the scenes. Cuomo was personally involved in securing votes until the very end. And a coalition of organizations also conducted the largest grass-roots effort the state had ever seen.


NYC celebrates gay marriage vote

Associated Press/Washington Post
June 25, 2011


New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law

New York Times
June 25, 2011

Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”


Friday, June 24, 2011

Why Free Trade Matters

by Jagdish Bhagwati

Project Syndicate

June 23, 2011

Contrary to what skeptics often assert, the case for free trade is robust. It extends not just to overall prosperity (or “aggregate GNP”), but also to distributional outcomes, which makes the free-trade argument morally compelling as well.

The link between trade openness and economic prosperity is strong and suggestive. For example, Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University divided developing countries into two groups: “miracle” countries that had annual per capita GDP growth rates of 3% or higher, and “debacle” countries that had negative or zero growth rates. Panagariya found commensurate corresponding growth rates of trade for both groups in the period 1961-1999.

Of course, it could be argued that GDP growth causes trade growth, rather than vice versa – that is, until one examines the countries in depth. Nor can one argue that trade growth has little to do with trade policy: while lower transport costs have increased trade volumes, so has steady reduction of trade barriers.

More compelling is the dramatic upturn in GDP growth rates in India and China after they turned strongly towards dismantling trade barriers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In both countries, the decision to reverse protectionist policies was not the only reform undertaken, but it was an important component.

In the developed countries, too, trade liberalization, which started earlier in the postwar period, was accompanied by other forms of economic opening (for example, a return to currency convertibility), resulting in rapid GDP growth. Economic expansion was interrupted in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the cause was the macroeconomic crises triggered by the success of the OPEC cartel and the ensuing deflationary policies pursued by then-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jimmy Margulies (The Record)

Yemen’s Unfinished Revolution

by Tawakkol Karman

New York Times

June 18, 2011

After more than five months of continuous protests, I stand today in Change Square with thousands of young people united by a lofty dream. I have spent days and nights camped out in tents with fellow protesters; I have led demonstrations in the streets facing the threat of mortars, missiles and gunfire; I have struggled to build a movement for democratic change — all while caring for my three young children.

We have reached this historic moment because we chose to march in the streets demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an end to his corrupt and failed regime and the establishment of a modern democratic state. On June 4, our wish for Mr. Saleh’s departure was granted, but our demand for democracy remains unfulfilled.

Following months of peaceful protests that reached every village, neighborhood and street, Yemen is now facing a complete vacuum of authority; we are without a president or parliament. Mr. Saleh may be gone, but authority has not yet been transferred to a transitional presidential council endorsed by the people.

This is because the United States and Saudi Arabia, which have the power to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy in Yemen, have instead used their influence to ensure that members of the old regime remain in power and the status quo is maintained. American counterterrorism agencies and the Saudi government have a firm grip on Yemen at the moment. It is they, not the Yemeni people and their constitutional institutions, that control the country.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Saudi Arabia’s Freedom Riders

by Farzaneh Milani

New York Times

June 12, 2011

The Arab Spring is inching its way into Saudi Arabia — in the cars of fully veiled drivers.

On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.

The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”


Friday, June 3, 2011

Planet Burma

by Jesse Walker


June 3, 2011

"Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm." Or so claims Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations writing in the June 9 New Republic. From Venezuela to Russia, he argues, regimes are sliding toward autocratic rule. Polls show public opinion turning against self-government. Freedom House, which issues annual reports on the worldwide state of democracy, says we've been heading in the wrong direction for half a decade. "The other countries were supposed to change Burma," one activist tells Kurlantzick. "Now it seems like they are becoming like Burma."

It's a dramatic story, but it isn't really accurate. We aren't on the road to Planet Burma. More likely, we're witnessing freedom's growing pains.

Kurlantzick does make some valid points. Some countries have suffered setbacks in the last few years. Surveys in several places do show a middle-class disillusionment with democracy, and such results do complicate the common assumption that popular wealth inevitably leads to louder demands for popular power. Above all, he's right that we shouldn't assume increases in freedom are irreversible and unstoppable. No social trend is inevitable. You gain liberty by winning it, not by waiting for it to fall into place.