LIU THE LAUREATE: Until recently, it was difficult to pick a single word to describe Liu Xiaobo. Not yet 55, he’s already been—or still is—a prizewinning essayist, human rights activist, poet, literature professor, political prisoner and co-author of Charter 08 (a bold Internet petition modeled on Václav Havel‘s Charter 77). On October 8, though, Liu received an honor that will define him for the rest of his life: the Nobel Peace Prize.
Liu’s win was not surprising—bookies had declared him the odds-on favorite. Equally predictable was how Beijing reacted, alternately trying to prevent news of the award from circulating in China and condemning the Prize Committee for honoring a “criminal.” One thing that was surprising was that Liu’s wife was able to visit him in jail and tell him of his victory. Soon, though, the authorities reverted to relying on the standard playbook and placed her under house arrest.
We hope Liu’s selection will contribute somehow to making China freer. Whether it will isn’t clear. For now, the government’s stance toward persistent critics will harden, while official complaints that foreigners are determined to meddle in China’s affairs will increase. Yet Liu’s win could bolster the resolve of a broad spectrum of activists there.
It is uncertain what the future holds for Liu the prisoner (and his cause); but for Liu the writer, becoming a Nobel laureate is a coup. More people will read his words now, poetry and petitions alike. China’s leaders have made many efforts to silence Liu. Ironically, though, it was partly the crudeness of their latest attempt (sentencing him to eleven years in prison for his Charter 08 activities) that helped him win a new prize—and gain new readers. MAURA ELIZABETH CUNNINGHAM and JEFFREY WASSERSTROM
MAYOR MIKE: DON’T GET SICK: Most Nation readers likely take paid sick days for granted. Unfortunately, millions of low-wage workers lack even this basic workplace right (disproportionately in food service, where we’d especially want sick workers to stay home for public health reasons).
So the New York City Council is considering legislation—supported by the Working Families Party, Gloria Steinem and the council’s Progressive Caucus—to grant a handful of paid sick days to all workers in the city. San Francisco adopted this policy in 2006, and a recent survey of employers by the Urban Institute found that “they were able to implement the paid sick leave requirement with minimal impacts to their business.”
But that hasn’t stopped Mayor Michael Bloomberg from fulminating against the bill in the Wall Street Journal: “It would be a disaster if the government tries to get in to run small businesses. If they run the bars and restaurants, they’ll try to run everything else. This is…a terrible, terrible idea and would be disastrous for New York City.” From a Tea Party conservative, this would hardly be surprising. But from the mayor who required bar owners to ban smoking and restaurants to post their calorie counts?
In the new urban manager model typified by Bloomberg, you can regulate for greener cities, friendlier to the creative class. But if you propose to use similar regulatory tools to provide even a small measure of security to low-wage workers, beware!