Archive for the ‘Public Affairs’ Category

China and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Our local paper carried a story over the weekend describing how China enforces its strict family-planning policies. Hundreds of mothers heavy with child are forced into hospitals for late-term abortions. Chinese authorities frame their justification for such brutality in terms of the wider social good—an effort to control population growth; population size, they contend, impacts basic quality of life, including availability of food, shelter and work.

But the matter once again brings attention to China as a major violator of basic human rights. Jane Deren, Senior Advisor to the Roman Catholic Center for Concern in Washington, D.C., listed twenty areas in which China fails to measure up to basic human rights.

On December 10, the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the most important document of the twentieth century: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 30 brief articles, this 1772-word document sets forth the moral consensus of the post-war community of nations. Increasingly, the document functions to establish a behavioral norm by which governmental action is judged.

The Declaration was frequently quoted before, during, and after the games of the 29th Olympiad held in Beijing. Human rights activists widely protested the 2001 decision to allow China to host the games. But, as is often the case, money trumps morality; China is the fastest growing economy in the world, an important trade partner with all industrialized countries. An estimated $42 billion dollars was spent on the 2008 Olympics

Working conditions are high on the list human rights concerns in China. The Declaration sets forth the ideal in article 32, which says, in part: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment… to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity… the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The Declaration also declares that everyone, including the citizens of China, “has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…to change his religion or belief, and …to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Christians, especially, have been denied this right and there is widespread repression of both political and religious freedoms common in most places in the world.

While the Olympics brought increased media attention to these abuses, so also will the thousands of students who are flocking to China. Of the 241,791 Americans who studied abroad in 2006-7, more than 11,000 were in China, a one thousand percent increase from one decade ago. Many of these students will stumble upon occasions of human rights abuses; some will become grass-roots reporters in the campaign to hold China responsible for its manifold indifference to basic rights.

None of these will be more tragic, more traumatic that forcing mothers to abort their children. Decisions about marriage and family are fundamental to human rights, as the Declaration states: “Men and women of full age…have the right to marry and to found a family….The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

China has a long way to go—economically, politically, and morally—before it is able to celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Can Sarah Palin Be Ready in Eight Years?

Sarah Palin was not ready to be Vice-President of the United States this year. Yes, she was a spectacular stump speaker; and yes, she unleashed a tidal wave of Republican energy; and yes, she is charismatic, charming, and altogether winsome. But she wasn’t ready for prime time.

To be Vice-President and President you need to be able to think on your feet, to know what is going on in the world, and to appreciate the way the world impacts the nation.

The interview with Katie Couric demonstrated in embarrassing fashion the depth of her ignorance—could not name a single Supreme Court decision except Row v Wade—and how untutored she is as to the nuts and bolds of political leadership—she did not know the McCain record on federal regulation. These are not incidental or secondary issues: for you and me, maybe, but not for a person who wants to succeed to the presidency. They are scandalously serious, and for a candidate for such a high office to dismiss them as irrelevant to the national debate is disrespectful to the public she had hoped to win.

The conversation with Katie was bad, but not nearly as incredulous as the interview with the “President of France.” I sat before the television ten days ago and listened with increased astonishment at the shallowness shown by Sarah. Two radio comedians from Canada—station CKY in Montreal—pretended to be Nicholas Sarkozy and led the would-be Vice President on a wacky verbal goose chase. After more than eight minutes of premeditated prankosity, they came clean and confessed, but not before allowing Sarah Palin to make an absolute fool of herself.

I did not even know at the time all the jokes these two disc jockeys jammed into those eight minutes: like calling French singer Johnny Halladay a special envoy to the United States, or identifying entertainer Stef Carse as the Prime Minister of Canada, or naming regional comedian and radio personality Richard Sirois as the governor of Quebec. But Palin had bragged that her proximity to Canada counted as a significant source of international experience, and to be shown up as ignorant as I am about Canadian political life was, and is, a scandal.

I was incredulous that Palin’s managers could be taken in so easily, that such callers were not vetted more thoroughly—or just to think that the President of France would place a call to Palin. What does this say about the people surrounding her?

I felt sorry for Sarah Palin, even as I shuddered at the combination of naiveté and nerve that powered her push for the White House.

Then the pseudo-Sarkozy said, “You know, from my house I can see Belgium.” It was a public poke at Palin’s claim to see Russia from Alaska. Anybody—surely anybody—knows that a premiere in Paris can not see Brussels; anybody, but Sarah, it seems, and there is no indication she saw it as a red flag, a signal that something is not quite right.

Can this woman be ready in eight years?

She charged that Obama did not have the experience to run for President; but at least he had two Harvard degrees, where they teach you where Paris is in relation to Brussels; and at least he had been the Europe, where his passport was stamped by authentic French officials; and at least he had served in the club of one hundred where important matters of state are customary conversational fare.

If Sarah Palin can spend some time on a few more campuses, and can travel to a continent or two, and can eavesdrop upon the debates of those who know that of which they speak, she just may make it to the center of power and privilege a few years down the road.

But I’m still shaking my head.

Don’t Send Me Another Check

I don’t want another check from the federal government.

If the federal authorities wish to stimulate the economy and are willing to push the government further into debt, do it in a way that will help somebody and make a difference the grand scheme of things. Sending me—and most of my friends in the middle class—another $600 will do little good. If you send it to me I will pay a bill or two, take my family out to eat, and donate to a food bank for people who really need it. This expensive strategy did not work in the Spring and it will not work this Fall.

So if the government has money to give away, don’t send it to me; and don’t send it to those fat cats on Wall Street either. Rumor has it the managers of this trillion dollar bailout are giving enough to the banks up there so all their buddies can get a big bonus for Christmas. “We want to keep our best employees,” is the rationale—makes me want to curse. Like most ordinary Americans I am incensed that New York bankers whose sorry judgment plunged us into this financial mess are going to be rewarded through the bailout.

This is the problem of putting Wall Street bankers (Henry Paulson and his boys) in charge of bailing out other bankers. They see the world through floor-to-ceiling corner windows on the 85th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. I wonder if the committee to rescue the economy would take a different approach if there were voting representatives from Iowa farms, Michigan factories, Kentucky mines, Arizona hospitals, and Missouri schools—working people who see the world from the ground up, from the inside out.

Here is the preference of one such person: use the money to rebuild and retool America. Paying people—architects, engineers, builders, truckers—to build bridges, roads, sewers, airports, canals, levees, railroads, parks, and schools would put serious money in the hands of those who need to heat homes, buy cars, pay mortgages, visit relatives, and support the grassroots organizations that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and treat the sick.

For almost thirty years we have tried the trickle-down approach—through the years of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. Through federal tax policy we have allowed those at the top to get filthy rich hoping some of that prosperity will slip down to the rest of us. It has not worked. Yes, those at the top accumulated a lot of money, but the middle and lower classes fell further behind. Costs of goods went up; wages went down. The disparity between the rich and the poor is a serious economic and moral issue; always and everywhere it is the chief de-stabilizing factor in the human community.

It is time for the bubble-up approach. Sending a check to everyone did not work last spring. Try something else; invest in the industries that build America, that serve the common good, that disperse the wealth to the working class. Such public works programs will work now at they did seventy years ago during the Great Depression and they will leave our nation more secure, more beautiful, more livable, and more able to sustain the economic justice that is a hallmark of truly great civilizations.