Another Grand Crusade?

April 13, 2009

For the first time, China unveils a “human rights plan.” Should we head out to buy fireworks now? No.

When is the last time that China drafts a “plan” that contains language so vague that can be subject to all kinds of interpretation? Probably last week. When is the last time that China drafts a “plan” that would restrict the government in anyway? Probably never.

This so-called human rights plan is nothing but a sham; it’s nothing but a foot soldier of the so-called harmonious society, which does not shy away from terminating almost anything for the sake of “stability,” even though most often than not, the sign of instability is never proven or hinted. Reading through the plan, one can easily find that it’s premised on economic growth, not the reform of (or merely restoration to that showcase) constitution. Most of the rights mentioned in the plan are actually included in the good-for-nothing constitution. If China is really serious about these rights, it can simply say “now, I decide to respect my constitution.” Making the rights bestowed by the government rather than the constitution, it’s easy for the government to take them away as soon as it feels its comfort zone has been violated.

For example, one of the rights is the right to a fair trial. How does this government, or any government guarantee fair trials? They can’t. One cannot give others a fair trial if one is the judge, the jury, and the executioner at the same time. If the judiciary is not independent, it definitely will not be fair in cases where the government is the defendant, which is already very rare in China; it may or may not be fair in everyday cases like neighbor disputes. If it’s not fair in those cases, or if the judges take bribes, a free media can disclose these. Oh, wait, media freedom is not mentioned in this “plan,” even though it is in the constitution.

This plan is no different from the numerous effects of the government to fight corruption of its officials, on its own! The fate of this plan will be similar to the fate of the “Olympics protest zones”: “fire away your protest ‘applications’ if you want; we will deny them all; and if you are lucky enough, we will re-educate you through labor.”

Since this plan is so heavily premised on economic stability, here is a quote that perfectly fits in:

“If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.” —W. Somerset Maugham


Yes, They are Crazy, But…

April 11, 2009

A professor in China’s top university said that 99% of the people who traveled all the way from their hometown to petition their unjust treatment in capital city Beijing have mental issues. He later apologized for the statement. I am sure he was not alone in despising those “adamant” or “stubborn” petitioners, whose actions might bring them nothing other than jail time or, worse yet, lockup in the mental facilities. Yet, this criticism is just another example of the nearsighted (or maybe cowardly) nature of the viewpoints of the naive intellectuals or commentators in China. They simply don’t, or dare not to, ask a further question: what makes these people crazy?

Let me begin with an example. Meet my imaginary son Roger. Roger is 5 years old and he has never had any contact with the outside world, because I wouldn’t let him to. Instead, I lock him up in a 6 feet by 6 feet cell in the basement, with no window. I feed him with dog food everyday, and instead of Transformer toys, he gets to play with rats. (Someone told me there is a Korean movie with the similar plot.) Now, when Roger reaches age 20, I release him to the outside world. I don’t know what he would become: a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a serial killer. Actually I am pretty sure that he will become something very close to a serial killer. The bottom line is, that Roger is pretty crazy; he has some serious mental issues. There is no doubt about that. Yet, should inquires stop there? Should the world feel content to say “yep, he’s crazy alright.” People would probably ask what causes the mental problems of Roger: is it the 20 year long life in a dark cell? the rats? the food? a manipulative father? or the combination of all of the above? Most of the people would come to the conclusion that I, as his father, should be responsible for creating a monster.

The people who claim that the petitioners are crazy should ask the similar questions. When those (supposedly crazy) people would have to flood into the capital city of the nation to informally petition their unjust treatment elsewhere in the nation, something must not be working. Is it the anything-but-independent judiciary? Is it the anything-but-free media? And they should also ask themselves this question: if their only house were torn down, their life depending land was converted into a nuclear power plant with little compensation, apart from becoming a true Buddha or cutting off their hands so that the severe pain can distract their hurt feelings, what would they do? Remember, they have to also suppose (suppose? or is it the reality?) that they cannot sue the governmental officials, or protest on the street, or go to the media in the hope that they will broadcast some “voice of the people.”


April 8, 2009

While I was reading voting rights cases, I though I have to record this funny footnote. Before the civil rights movement, the southern states have literacy requirement for voting. Those requirements typically asked the applicants to prove their ability to read, write, understand and interpret certain matters. The purpose and effect are simple: the illiteracy rate among African American was significantly higher than the whites. By turning down illiterate voters, those states were actually guarding the white dominant voting results.

But even that facially neutral discriminatory rule was enforced in a de facto discriminatory manner. Here is one hilarious example. A white applicant in Louisiana satisfied the registrar of his ability to interpret the state constitution by writing, “FRDUM FOOF SPETGH.” (United States v. State of Louisiana, 225 F.Supp. 353, 384.)

My best guess: “FREEDOM OF SPEECH.”

Immune System, Anybody?

April 7, 2009

I’d like to keep it short. Here is the main idea.

Most of the people in the world have caught a cold at some point of their lives. Most of them have survived. It is also the same thing for flu and for other diseases. While being sick is not fun in anyway, few see it as a life threatening issue. Few would wear full body space suit with its own oxygen for their whole life. Unfortunately, for full blown AIDS patients, that is not the case. To know how to avoid even the slightest disease can sometimes save their life, even though there is no way to restore their immune system.

Same analysis for governments. Check out the following story.

Watchmen Has Come

April 5, 2009

Turning on the TV lately, these are the headline news: shooting in NY, shooting in Pittsburgh, killing in WA, and North Korea launched its missile. (Of course, the ongoing senseless murders, disease and poverty in Africa has long been a proud symbol of that Continent, which has long lost attraction for the news media.) Is there a better background like this for the story of Watchmen?

In a world (actually it might have been always the case) where the selfish billions focus only on their own pathetic little lives, where the past lessons of genocide shed no light on the new world politics, where principles can be bent almost proportionally based on the GDPs of the perpetrators, where compromise is almost a virtue, I can only turn to the quotes of and about a psychopathic vigilante–Rorschach. Strangely, I find great comfort there.

“The city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips? Never despair. Never surrender.” –Rorschach’s journal, October 13, 1985.

“Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many? Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this. But there are so many deserving of retribution … and there is so little time.” –Rorschach’s journal, October 13, 1985.

“For my own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise… and step into the shadow now without complaint.” –Rorschach’s journal, November 1, 1985.

“So what do you do when confronted with such filth? Do you walk by and pretend there is no infestation? Do you focus only on the least repulsive and delude yourself into the belief that the world is good underneath it all? Or do you become an exterminator, stomping all the human cockroaches you can while relentlessly pursuing the rest? You’ll never get them all, for they scurry to the shadows when the light is turned on. But you can get some; you can make a difference. And even if all you manage is a tiny ripple in the fetid slime, at least you lived respectably; you never became one.” — Jacob Held, “Watchmen and Philosophy”

“Rorschach refuses to compromise, to sell out justice, even if it means dispelling the illusion Veidt created and thereby guaranteeing that the millions who died did so in vain. As tears stream down, knowing his fate, he yells at Dr. Manhattan, “Do it!” and Dr. Manhattan evaporates him. Rorschach did not seek death; he did not commit suicide by Manhattan. But he understood what the others did not. ‘It is better to sacrifice life than to forfeit morality. It is not necessary to live, but it is necessary that, so long as we live, we do so honorably.’ Even in the face of Armageddon, never compromise. Life is not valuable simply in virtue of not being death.” — Jacob Held, “Watchmen and Philosophy”

A Mere Glimpse into the “Challenge”

March 27, 2009

As I was browsing the web site of Washington College of Law, I found an event schedule for some visiting scholars from China before the Olympics last year. The event is called “The Challenges Facing China.”

I might be totally biased, but when I read that title, I immediately think of the words “human rights.” After a brief glimpse into the event schedule, I did find the words human rights, except that it is buried between a break and a lunch break, and the speaker for that topic is NOT one of the Chinese scholars, but a person from Amnesty International. Here is a copy of the schedule, as you can see (if you can easily spot Chinese names), the Chinese scholars only talked about environmental and business issues:

10.30 am         Environmental Issues in China

Professor Judith Shapiro, Washington Collage of Law. Sustainable Development

Professor Wang Rong, China University of Political Science & Law. Water Right Practice in China

Xiaoqing Lu, Research Associate with the Freeman Chair in China Studies. Environmental Challenges and Health Problems in China.

11.50 am         Break

12.00 am         Human Rights in China Panel

T. Kumar, Amnesty International. Freedom of Expression in the Upcoming Beijing Olympics and the Situation of Tibet.

12:40 pm         Lunch

1.40  pm          Business and Trade in China

Professor Meng Yanbei, Law School, Renmin University of China. Anti-Monopoly Laws in China

Professor Laney Zhan , The Law Library of Congress. SUBJECT TBD

I find this pretty funny: it’s like a huge intentional gala for which both the US president and Osama Bin Laden are invited to attend; the organizer is somehow clever enough to make sure that the two would not mingle either in a friendly manner or in a fist fight.

Well, what can I say? Chinese scholars talking about challenges that China is facing don’t have anything to say about human rights. Maybe one of my friends is right: “China has no human rights problem, just like it doesn’t have any intellectual property problem.”

Just Another Example of Doublethinking

March 22, 2009

Erich Fromm wrote an afterword for George Orwell’s 1984. In that afterword, Fromm pointed out that “doublethinking” exists not only in the Soviet bloc, but also in Western democracies that support totalitarian regimes as long as they are friendly to the West, while how those regimes treated their own people is just another issue for another day.

That is sadly true. It is especially true in today’s mess. This administration has vowed to change Bush’s foreign policy. Shutting down Gitmo is one example. As far as I can remember, the reason behind this is this simple principle called “holding on to your principle”, namely that even in extreme times, measures that violate due process should not be imposed. If you buy this logic, then you should agree that “extreme times call for extreme measures” is no excuse for compromising the core value of this country, namely liberty, freedom, and democracy. This is a good move which I cannot agree more.

But look at this story: Hillary Clinton said, during her visit to China, that human rights should not intervene with economic and environmental issues. Let me point out that she made this speech at a time when China basically owns the US on the face of the humongous US foreign debt. Let me also point out (or argue) that without the protection of human rights, such as the right to free speech, only the crazy few who are willing to head to jail would play the role of whistle blowers, who are an indispensable part of the health of economy and environmental protection anywhere in the world. A time of financial crisis is indeed extreme time. But does that justify extreme measures, such as accusing human rights for “intervening” in the fight against this crisis? I never heard Bush talk about human rights while he was in China. I know he purposefully avoided it to appease China. That’s cowardly; but not as cowardly as saying that China has been right all along: human rights is indeed BAD!

This is why I agree with the author of Maus: the world will never learn the lesson from Hitler. And 1984 is sadly a book too brilliant for the cowardly politicians, the indifferent mass, and the humanity on the whole.