Saturday, September 29, 2012

The rule of law proves evasive in China

Washington Post
September 29, 2012

A glance at the news from China on Friday might suggest a political system reacting properly to high-level wrongdoing. The former boss of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, once one of China’s most powerful regional figures, was expelled from the Communist Party and, according to official news media, faces charges of corruption. Earlier, Mr. Bo’s wife was convicted and given a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman. Mr. Bo is a son of one of the party’s revolutionary founders, so his punishment must have been an agonizing decision for the secretive party clique that rules China.

But does the official version of events in Chongqing match what really happened? Given China’s opaque court system and controlled media, there’s no way to know. A more useful lesson of how law is used in China is provided by a decision that came Thursday from Beijing’s No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court.

The court rejected a second and final appeal by dissident artist Ai Weiwei against a $2.4 million fine for tax evasion. In the appeal, Mr. Ai accused the tax bureau of violating laws in handling witnesses and gathering evidence in his case. The court dismissed those claims in a ruling delivered abruptly to Mr. Ai by telephone. Mr. Ai, who was incarcerated for 81 days last year in a crackdown on dissidents, has long maintained the tax fine is retaliation for his outspoken criticism of China’s abuse of human rights. The authorities have retained Mr. Ai’s passport, preventing him from attending exhibitions of his work abroad, but he has refused to be silenced.

“What surprises me is that this society, which is developing at such a rapid rate today, still has the most barbaric and backward legal system,” he said. “I think it’s a bad omen.”


First Amendment Affront

Wall Street Journal
September 28, 2012

In his address to the United Nations earlier this week, President Obama condemned "the crude and disgusting video [that] sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world." Some 48 hours later, police in California arrested the man behind the film "Innocence of Muslims," and a federal judge on Thursday night ordered Nakoula Basseley Nakoula held in jail without bond.

Mr. Nakoula allegedly used the alias Sam Bacile to produce and post an amateurish clip of the film, which may not exist in full, on YouTube. The government has charged him with eight counts of violating parole. In 2010, he was convicted of bank fraud and served a year of a 21-month sentence. His use of the Internet is restricted.

We're not privy to the specific parole terms to be able to pass judgment on the technical merits of the government's case. A judge will sort it out. But the decision to pursue him in the first place was a discretionary call by the government.

We doubt that every Web surfer on similar probation gets hauled back to prison. Or gets denied bail by a judge who called Mr. Nakoula "a flight risk," though it's hard to imagine he'd want to return to his native Egypt, the scene of the first violent protests on September 11, or go anywhere else. A minister in the Pakistani government has put a $100,000 bounty on his head.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Eπιτρέπεται η απαγόρευση πολιτικού κόμματος;

του Νίκου Κ. Αλιβιζάτου

23 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Στις συζητήσεις που προκάλεσε η φασιστική δράση της Χρυσής Αυγής έρχεται και επανέρχεται το ερώτημα: ώς πότε η δημοκρατία μας θα ανέχεται τις βίαιες πρακτικές του νεοναζιστικού αυτού κόμματος; Γιατί δεν το θέτει εκτός νόμου;

Δυστυχώς, η σχετική συζήτηση πήρε γρήγορα ηθικές και πολιτικές διαστάσεις. Υπάρχει καλή και κακή βία; Και αν ναι, ποιο είναι το κριτήριο της διάκρισης; Η ιδεολογία όσων την υποστηρίζουν; Το αν αυτή βλάπτει πολλούς ή λίγους; Το αν τους βλάπτει σοβαρά ή όχι; Ή μήπως τα κίνητρα όσων τη μετέρχονται;

Υπό τις σημερινές περιστάσεις, θεωρώ ότι η συζήτηση αυτή δεν έχει νόημα. Σε ένα κράτος δικαίου, όπως ευτυχώς παραμένει ακόμη η Ελλάδα, η βία είναι καταδικαστέα, απ’ οπουδήποτε και αν προέρχεται, όποιο χρώμα και αν έχουν οι σημαίες όσων την υποστηρίζουν. Διότι η δημοκρατία μας θα αυτοκαταργούνταν αν ανεχόταν άλλα μέσα πολιτικής δράσης, εκτός από την ψήφο των πολιτών και από την άσκηση των δικαιωμάτων που αναγνωρίζει κάθε φιλελεύθερη και δημοκρατική έννομη τάξη. Με άλλα λόγια, με όρους ποινικού δικαίου, η «ευγένεια» των όποιων προθέσεων θα μπορούσε να ληφθεί υπ’ όψιν, όχι βέβαια για τον αποκλεισμό του αδίκου, αλλά το πολύ πολύ ως ελαφρυντική περίπτωση, για την επιμέτρηση της ποινής (άρθρο 84 Π.Κ.).

Γιατί λοιπόν δεν απαγορεύονται κόμματα που όχι μόνο δεν καταδικάζουν τη βία, αλλά τη χρησιμοποιούν συστηματικά, ήδη από σήμερα, ως μέσο πολιτικής δράσης;

Μετά τις φρικαλεότητες του φασισμού και του ναζισμού, τα Συντάγματα πολλών δημοκρατικών χωρών προβλέπουν τη δυνατότητα απαγόρευσης «ανατρεπτικών» κομμάτων, συνήθως με δικαστικές εγγυήσεις. Γνωστότερα από αυτά είναι το γερμανικό και το τουρκικό. Οπως έχει κρίνει το Δικαστήριο του Στρασβούργου, η απαγόρευση αυτή, όταν θεμελιώνεται σε πράξεις και επίσημες διακηρύξεις και όχι σε μεμονωμένα περιστατικά, δεν προσκρούει στη Σύμβαση της Ρώμης (ΕΣΔΑ). Οι Αρχές, πάντως, δεν μπόρεσαν να εμποδίσουν την ανασύσταση των κομμάτων που απαγορεύτηκαν. Κάτι που λέει πολλά για τη μικρή αποτελεσματικότητα του θεσμού της απαγόρευσης, υπό καθεστώς δημοκρατίας.


Η Δημοκρατία και τα άκρα

του Νίκου Μαραντζίδη

23 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Είναι σαφές πως τα τελευταία χρόνια οι αντιπροσωπευτικοί θεσμοί της χώρας δέχτηκαν ισχυρό κλονισμό. Για πολλούς λόγους, σημαντικό τμήμα των πολιτών όχι μόνο στέκεται αδιάφορα έναντι της κοινοβουλευτικής δημοκρατίας αλλά δείχνει κιόλας πως δεν έχει πρόβλημα να αναζητήσει άλλους δρόμους. Το γεγονός αυτό μας φέρνει ξανά μπροστά σε κρίσιμα ερωτήματα: κινδυνεύει, πράγματι, η δημοκρατία από τα άκρα ή πρόκειται απλώς για προπαγάνδα των φιλελεύθερων υποστηρικτών της; Διαφέρει ουσιωδώς η αντισυστημική συμπεριφορά της άκρας δεξιάς από αυτήν της άκρας αριστεράς; Εντέλει, υπάρχουν δύο πολιτικά άκρα ή μόνον ένα;

Η συζήτηση εντάθηκε με τις περίφημες συγκεντρώσεις των «Αγανακτισμένων» στο Σύνταγμα. Οι «Αγανακτισμένοι» ανέδειξαν ένα μείγμα «φαιοκόκκινων» ιδεών και αξιών, ανάμεσα στις οποίες ειδικό βάρος είχαν ο αντιφιλελευθερισμός και ο αντικοινοβουλευτισμός. Βεβαίως, η δυναμική συνύπαρξη της ακροδεξιάς κουλτούρας με την ακροαριστερή ιδεολογία υπήρξε δυνατή χάρη στη συγκολλητική δύναμη του εθνολαϊκισμού και του αντιδυτικισμού. Η συστηματική επίκληση των παραδόσεων του «αντιστεκόμενου ελληνισμού» και η ιερή αγανάκτηση ενάντια στην «άκαρδη» Δύση θύμιζε κάποιες στιγμές τις συναθροίσεις για το Μακεδονικό τη δεκαετία του ’90. Με τη διαφορά πως, τώρα, η αριστερά είχε προσθέσει μεγαλύτερη δόση από το δικό της υλικό στο εθνολαϊκιστικό μείγμα.

Είναι αλήθεια πως, κρίνοντας αποκλειστικά από το περιεχόμενο των ιδεολογιών τους, τίποτε κοινό δεν υπάρχει ανάμεσα στα δύο πολιτικά άκρα. Αν η άκρα αριστερά πρεσβεύει έναν ισοπεδωτικό και διεθνιστικό εξισωτισμό, η άκρα δεξιά ευαγγελίζεται έναν ρατσιστικά δομημένο εθνικισμό. Ταξική πάλη και διεθνισμός από τη μια, φυλετισμός και εθνικισμός από την άλλη. Αρκεί όμως αυτή η «ανάλυση περιεχομένου» για να προσδιορίσει τη στάση των άκρων έναντι της φιλελεύθερης δημοκρατίας; Ασφαλώς όχι. Αν μέναμε εδώ θα επρόκειτο για μια ρηχή και αφελή ανάγνωση των σχέσεων της ανοικτής κοινωνίας με τους εχθρούς της.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

U.S. Economic Freedom Plunges

by Ben Powell

Huffington Post
September 19, 2012

The United States is rapidly losing its status as one of the freest economies in the world. Economic freedom has decreased in the United States substantially since 2000 and lately its ranking among countries is plunging downward even faster. This spells trouble since economic freedom promotes growth and a higher standard of living.

Economists James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall publish an economic freedom of the world report annually. Their latest report, released this week, shows that the United States, which was ranked the second freest economy in 2000, now ranks 18th. Economic freedom increased from 1980 to 2000 in the United States while it was generally ranked behind Hong Kong and Singapore as the third freest economy in the world. Today it ranks behind European welfare states like Finland and Denmark, and places traditionally more hostile to economic freedom like Qatar.

The declines in freedom have occurred because the federal government has grown larger and more intrusive. It has been a non-partisan affair. Approximately two thirds of the decline in economic freedom occurred during Bush's presidency. But pace of decline doubled during the first two years of Obama's presidency. In fact, the new index is based off of data from 2010. If the rate of decline has remained unchanged over the last two years the United States has already fallen to 40th and ranks behind places like Romania, Sweden, and Panama. Unfortunately the data needed to investigate that is not available yet.

The decrease in economic freedom has occurred in most areas of the U.S. economy. The protection of private property rights showed the greatest decline. The decline is likely the result of the increased use of eminent domain, the ramping up of the wars on drugs and terror, and the increasingly uncertain business environment where it is unclear who the government will bail out and who will be allowed to breech contracts. The growth in the size of government and the increased scope, and administrative burden of, regulation have also decreased our economic freedom. Inflation adjusted government spending has grown by more than 50 percent since President Clinton left office.


See the Report

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The audacity of democracy

by Akhil Reed Amar

Los Angeles Times

September 16, 2012

Monday marks the 225th anniversary of the turning point of the world — the hinge of modern human history.

On Sept. 16, 1787, kings, czars, sultans, princes, emperors, moguls, feudal lords and tribal chieftains dominated most of Earth's landmass and population. Wars and famines were commonplace. So it had always been. Democracies had existed in a few old Greek and Italian city-states, but most of these small-scale republics had winked out long before the American Revolution. While Britain had a House of Commons and a broad-based jury system, hereditary British kings and lords still retained vast powers. A small number of Swiss yeomen governed themselves, and the Dutch republic was on its last legs. That was about it for democracy in the world.

Today, roughly half the planet lives under democracy of some sort. What happened to precipitate this stunning global transformation?

Here's what. On Sept. 17, 1787, a small cluster of American notables who had been meeting behind closed doors in Philadelphia went public with an audacious proposal. The plan, signed by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and 37 other leading statesmen, began as follows: "We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."


Steve Brodner


Death at Guantánamo Bay

Amnesty International
New York Times
September 15, 2012

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni citizen and one of the first detainees sent to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002, died there earlier this month. There is no official autopsy report yet, but in his decade in prison he had gone on hunger strikes and made several suicide attempts.

In 2006 and 2008, during the George W. Bush administration, and again in 2010, during the Obama administration, government officials recommended Mr. Latif for transfer out of Guantánamo as a low-level threat. But he was kept behind bars — though no formal charges were brought against him — because both administrations were wary of sending detainees back to Yemen for security reasons, and other countries were wary of accepting them.

Mr. Latif’s lawyers battled for his freedom in federal court, making him a test case for the rule of law at Guantánamo, which has been notably deficient.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Terry Jones and the First Amendment

by Geoffrey R. Stone

Huffington Post

September 14, 2012

Are those who condemn Islam and mock Mohammad protected by the First Amendment? There are two arguments one might make to support the proposition that such speech is beyond the protection of the Constitution. First, one might argue that such speech is blasphemous and, as such, is outside the boundaries of the First Amendment.

Historically, supporters of laws against blasphemy have argued that such laws are necessary to avert divine wrath, to enforce conformity with prevailing beliefs, to insulate those beliefs from the contagion of doubt, to protect the sensibilities of believers, and to avoid retaliation by believers against those who deride their beliefs.

During the Middle Ages, the penalty for blasphemy included death, imprisonment on bread and water (often causing a lingering death), cutting off the lips, and burning or tearing out the tongue. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, executions and other brutal punishments for blasphemy were inflicted throughout Europe.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Muslims Must Adjust to Mockery, Like Everyone Else

by Lisa Beyer


September 12, 2012

When Westerners mock Islam and thus run the risk of provoking Muslims to commit mayhem, it's tempting to excoriate the mockers.

That's what the U.S. Embassy in Egypt did, after word got out about a trailer on YouTube for a vulgar, amateurish U.S.-produced video depicting the prophet Muhammad as a pederast-recruiting idiot who receives the inspiration for Islam while burying his head between the thighs of a woman. The embassy condemned "misguided individuals" who "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."

It was for naught. Rioters stormed the embassy in Cairo and attempted to do the same in Tunis. Protests broke out in the Gaza Strip. In Afghanistan, the Taliban called on citizens to "take revenge" on Americans. Worst, in Libya, a rocket attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi claimed the lives of four U.S. diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The U.S. is exploring the possibility that the Benghazi attack was planned, with perpetrators exploiting outrage over the video for timing.


Friday, September 7, 2012

The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy

with Judge Richard A. Posner

Elmhurst College
The Democracy Forum

September 6, 2012

Richard Allen Posner is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit; a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School; and the author of nearly 40 books on an astonishing array of topics, including economics, jurisprudence, aging, terrorism, literature, plagiarism and sex. The Journal of Legal Studies calls him the most cited legal scholar of the last century. He now turns what The New York Times calls his "indefatigable intellect" to the ongoing economic crisis and the efforts of the "cumbersome, clotted, competence-challenged" American system of government to respond to it. A Democracy Forum Lecture.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Greece as a Precautionary Tale of the Welfare State

by Aristides N. Hatzis

Chapter from the collective volume
After the Welfare State
edited by Tom G. Palmer
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Washington, DC, 2012

Few contemporary democracies off er tales of institutional failure as startling as that of Greece. Despite a turbulent political history in the twentieth century, the Greek economy gained ground during decades of actual wealth creation, until the country’s main parties started to compete on the basis of welfare statism, based on populism and patronage. Law and economics scholar Aristides Hatzis shows how short-term pursuit of political advantage through statist policies generated corruption, indebtedness, and political collapse. Hatzis is professor of the philosophy of law and theory of institutions at the University of Athens and writes about the Greek crisis at

Modern Greece has become a symbol of economic and political bankruptcy, a natural experiment in institutional failure. It’s not easy for a single country to serve as a textbook example of so many institutional defi ciencies, rigidities, and distortions, yet the Greek government has managed it. The case of Greece is a precautionary tale for all others.

Greece used to be considered something of a success story. One could even argue that Greece was a major success story for several decades. Greece’s average rate of growth for half a century (1929–1980) was 5.2 percent; during the same period Japan grew at only 4.9 percent.

These numbers are more impressive if you take into consideration that the political situation in Greece during these years was anything but normal. From 1929 to 1936 the political situation was anomalous with coups, heated political strife, short-lived dictatorships, and a struggle to assimilate more than 1.5 million refugees from Asia Minor (about one-third of Greece’s population at the time). From 1936 to 1940 Greece had a rightist dictatorship with many similarities to the other European dictatorships of the time and during World War II (1940–1944) Greece was among the most devastated nations in terms of percentage of human casualties. Right aft er the end of the war a ferocious and devastating Civil War took place (in two stages: 1944 and 1946–1949) aft er an insurgency organized by the Communist Party. From 1949 to 1967 Greece off ered a typical example of a paternalistic illiberal democracy, deficient in rule of law, and on April 21, 1967, a military junta took power and ruled Greece until July 1974, when Greece became a constitutional liberal democracy. The economy of Greece managed to grow despite wars, insurgencies, dictatorships, and a turbulent political life.

Seven years aft er embracing constitutional democracy the nine (then) members of the European Community (EC) accepted Greece as its tenth member (even before Spain and Portugal). Why? It was mostly a political decision but it was also based on decades of economic growth, despite all the setbacks and obstacles. When Greece entered the EC, the country’s public debt stood at 28 percent of GDP; the budget defi cit was less than 3 percent of GDP; and the unemployment rate was 2–3 percent.

But that was not the end of the story.

You can read the rest of the chapter here

or you can download the entire volume (free):