Five Best Wednesday Columns

On Obama's visit to Puerto Rico and the real gay girls in Damascus

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Maritza Stanchich on Obama in Puerto Rico In today's New York Times Maritza Stanchich observes the excitement surrounding President Obama's visit to Puerto Rico this week, the first presidential visit since John F. Kennedy's fifty years ago, and asks, "but how much do we have to celebrate?" Puerto Ricans are split over whether to see "independence, statehood or the status quo." But, as "banners along the expressway criticizing the government's policies were moved before [Obama's] arrival; and he mingled mainly with the bigwigs...(though to his credit, he also met with an opposition leader)," Stanchich doesn't expect that Obama knows "much about what the residents of this island--who can't vote for him in a general election anyway--care about." Instead, she surmises, "his visit is mostly aimed at winning votes stateside--where there are some 4.6 million Puerto Rican, compared with 3.7 million on the island." Stanchich, a University of Puerto Rico professor, suggests that "even if the president's visit changes little about life in Puerto Rico, it may, at least, endear him more to those who live here." Remembering Obama's "speech in Selma, Ala., in March 2007, when he poignantly recalled his grandfather living under British colonial rule in Kenya," the author wonders "what Mr. Obama's grandfather would have thought about the still-colonial status of the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico."

Stephen Stromberg on Getting Green Policy Through  There's serious opposition right now not just to green policy but to the idea of its necessity in the Republican party. The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg suggests a way to "persuade Republicans to support serious green policies now: compromise." He insists that "if [Democrats] want results soon, they not only have to ditch the cap-and-trade label but also have to persuade Republicans to assent to green-energy policies that many in the GOP don't believe in and would rather not pass. They might be able to do that if negotiations about long-term budgets get serious and the parties engage in some real dealmaking." Stromberg warns that "Democrats would have to agree to reform Medicare more than they say they are willing to do" and concede to Republicans' lower tax demands. "In return, Democrats--backed by the budget math--will insist on new taxes and the maintenance of federal spending at higher levels than Republicans would like"--a good place for green taxes. "Republicans who worry about the economic effects of such a tax would feel more comfortable if it were offset in a package that lowers corporate taxes, payroll taxes or something else they care about," Stromberg predicts.  He admits that "this is a long shot. But it may be the only chance strong green-energy policy has in Congress anytime soon."

Martha Davis on How the Law Discriminates Against Men  Martha Davis points out that the Supreme Court justices were evenly split this week on whether to "uphold a federal law that makes it easier for mothers than fathers to transmit citizenship to their out-of-wedlock children." Unable to decide against it, with Elena Kagan recused, the law remains. "This is a tragic and unnecessary personal loss for Ruben Flores-Villar, who was raised by his citizen father and the father's family in the United States, yet now faces deportation because of the special constraints put on fathers--not mothers--who wish to transmit citizenship." This law, Davis notes in the Boston Globe today, "is one of the few sex-specific laws still remaining in the federal statute books." Davis, who joined fellow Northeastern University law school faculty and staff on an amicus brief in the Flores-Villar v. United States case, explains that "the discriminatory law at issue here reflects the ancient idea that fathers had no obligations to their out-of-wedlock children, while mothers bore sole responsibility for the offspring." She insists that,  "at a time when fathers are more and more involved in their children's lives--a trend that has broad societal support--we can't afford to continue sending a message that paternal involvement has little value."
Anne Jolis on Mikhail Khodorkovsky  Today, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man turned political dissident, "is en route to an undisclosed prison somwhere in Siberia, to await a parole hearing tha this lawyers fear will be 'hidden away in the colonies,'" writes The Wall Street Journal's Anne Jolis. "Vladimir Putin has designated me his personal enemy," wrote Khodorkovsky to the Journal and several European papers, simultaneously. Khodorkovsky concedes that perhaps Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did try to improve the country's reputation with regards to respecting the law, but laments that he was unsuccessful. "That doesn't appear to have discouraged Western leaders' recent rapprochement with Moscow, which Mr. Khodorkovsky points out only helps Mr. Putin and his allies justify their actions at home." Jolis explains Khodorkovsky's views on Putin and how the West could do better in its foreign policy, and wonders if Khodorkovsky has "ever considered that he personally might gain freedom more quickly if he'd stop giving these types of interviews."
Daniel Nassar on the Real Gay Girls in Damascus  "Despite his attempts, Tom MacMaster, the man behind the fake persona of the Gay Girl in Damascus blogger, never accurately represented the LGBT community in Syria," clarifies a gay Syrian writer under the psuedonym Daniel Nassar at the Guardian today. MacMaster's unrealistic stories about "Amina's" open homosexuality were evidence to Nasser and friends in Syria that the author was a fraud. "In Syria, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by three years in prison, the lesbian community faces traditions, forced marriages and family pressure," he explains. Nassar recalls running "away from the [Damascus] around the age of 19 following an incident with my father, who was threatening my life after I came out of the closet." Upon returning to Damascus, with the help of a new friend, Nassar discovered a lesbian community that "consider each other family; they call each other sisters and they stand strong to protect each other...[and they] know that being a gay woman here is double the struggle in Syria, where women's rights and gay rights are almost a myth." Nassar describes torn families, homelessness, and physical abuse that result from lesbians in Syria admitting their sexuality. The real lesbians in Damascus, he argues, "do not need more attention from the families who are watching Syrian national TV as it trumpets the fact that a U.S. citizen pretended to be a Syrian lesbian. They don't need more attention from authorities who might target them to make sure a real Amina does not exist." Tom MacMaster, he suggests, has not done them any favors.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.