On one side: Chen Guangcheng, the charismatic, blind, self-taught lawyer and protester of forced abortions; his family and friends; a network of dissidents, in China and abroad. On the other: the officials of Shandong Province who put him in jail, then house arrest; the goons who threatened and beat him and his loved ones if they tried to move; behind them, the might of the largest despotism in history. Last month Chen managed to scale the wall of his house, breaking his foot in the process, and make his way to the American embassy in Beijing, on the eve of a visit from Secretaries Clinton and Geithner. The embassy let Chen out, under a deal whereby he could live in China unmolested; then Chen feared the deal would not be honored; a new deal apparently will let him study overseas (New York University is offering Chen a berth). What awaits his helpers is repression, what the Chinese, with grim understatement, call “settling of accounts” after “the autumn harvest.” The pettiness and cruelty of the Chinese state is matched only by the bravery of those who resist it. Lincoln said it long ago: “They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other is the divine right of kings.”
British prime minister David Cameron is suffering a bad case of midterm blues. His poll numbers have never been lower. He and his circle of friends and advisers are widely mocked as “posh boys.” The government is pursuing left-wing economic and social policies designed to placate its coalition partners from the minority Liberal Democrats, while at the same time bound to drive Conservative backbenchers to protest. Local elections have thrown up condign punishment, as is only to be expected. Out of about 5,000 contested council seats, the Tories lost more than 400, about a third of those they previously held. Numbers for the Liberal Democrats are even more dire. Making these huge gains, the opposition Labour party claims to be recovering the electorate’s trust. Against the trend, Boris Johnson was reelected mayor of London, but this may alarm Cameron as much as console him. Outspoken, consistent, and witty as well, Mayor Johnson is undoubtedly the most popular Conservative in the country, and there is much muttering that he ought to be prime minister. Coalition government is looking ever more like a poisoned chalice.
Pity poor Portugal. It hit its peak five centuries ago and ever since has grown increasingly marginal in Europe, geographically and politically. Once a great sea power, it clung to a few of its colonies well into the 20th century, but now even those are gone. And while EU membership provided an initial boost, membership in the euro and the single market is becoming more of a straitjacket than a lifeline. Meanwhile those old African colonies are dripping with oil wealth. The result, writes the British journalist Allister Heath: “Five hundred years after Vasco de Gama first landed in Mozambique, impoverished Portuguese are turning up in droves, begging for work permits. . . . 100,000 Portuguese have moved to Angola, four times more than the traffic in the opposite direction.” (Angola has about twice Portugal’s population.) From prosperous Western economy to supplier of cheap labor to the Third World: They did always say the EU would transform the country.
Delegates to the convention of the United Methodist Church recently voted down two proposals to divest from several American companies that supply the Israeli military. A few weeks earlier, speaking for the Episcopal Church, its presiding bishop said the church does not endorse divestment even from Israel itself. Can it be that the leadership of the mainline Protestant churches is finally catching up with the faithful in the pews? Most American Christians support Israel. For decades, church elites have talked over them, blithely mouthing faculty-club rhetoric about apartheid and waving the flag of the DBS (divestment, boycott, sanctions) movement against the only reliable democracy in the Middle East. But the persistence of the quiet majority appears to be paying off.