China, Capitalism & the Olympics: My White House Daymare

by Robin Forman

I went to sit in the park for my lunch recently. And by park I mean the patch of green and benches called Lafayette Park that’s just in front of the White House.

I sat with my iPod and listened to the band Goldfinger whine about capitalism as I watched fat tourists and skinny eighth graders clamber up in droves to the White House fence.

Then it all started clambering up on me.

It’s coming up on the one year anniversary since I was birthed from the soft womb that is college into this hell that is the real world.

And it has happened.

I’ve lost my idealistic youthful hope for the world.

I once thought I could change the world. But I sat in the park watching those eighth graders awash with jealousy that they all probably still had hope. Even the goth kids who hate the world believe they will rise above the petty middle and high school worlds and change themselves and the world at large.

And then my eyes focused on a group of businessmen in black suits and subdued colored button downs standing in the grass. It made me think of the U.S. law firm (Morrison & Foerster) that represents China in its preparations for the Olympics. I asked a few weeks ago why China got the Olympics…it was all about money and capitalism. Who cares about their atrocious environmental and human rights violations? No ifs, ands or buts — it's just about a different kind of green.

I watched a particular group of school children with an average age of about 11. There were about 35 or 40 of them and they had been given balls to play with. They had broken off into small groups of three or five to play.

I watched one, clearly physically handicapped, girl limp from group to group, one gimp hand folded at her side, one holding a red kick ball. Every group rejected her. Even the one group of girls without a ball to play with.

I wanted to reach out to her and tell her it would get better…that someday, in the not so distant future, things would be better for her. But they won’t. In fact, it’s only going to get harder for her. When she hits adulthood there will be a myriad of jobs she won’t be able to even consider because employers will undoubtedly look at her physical disability, no matter the law. In China, that girl wouldn’t stand a chance. They probably would have killed her at birth.

And it all went down with the White House as the backdrop.

(Political graphic from StrangePolitics, a website that offers copyright-free political material.)

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Anonymous said...

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to counsel in criminal proceedings.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution has been interpreted to guarantee to criminal suspects the right to counsel during questioning as part of their Miranda rights.

The right to counsel is among the most precious American liberties. Sure, China was not facing criminal prosecution. But they were and are facing worldwide persecution. Do they not have the right to retain counsel to protect their interests?

What you you essentially argue that China should rise above its human rights abuses and join the United States and other nations in providing basic rights to its citizens. Yet, at the same time, you slam a United States law firm for providing it counsel.

Would you argue that death row inmates don't deserve counsel? That drug offenders don't? How about terrorists? Do they deserve counsel?

If the point of the United States is to bring our special brand of liberty to the world, then why would we not start by showing the world that we respect process more than outcome. After all, due process is what the Constitution is all about.

Anonymous said...

China is amazingly closed society. If the real facts could come out, they are a human rights tragedy, with mass killing of their own citizens that make Saddam Hussein seem like a sweet old man.

The truth about China is not known. Its a great shame for America to be China's friend. Tibet is only one small part of the story but it gets out because the Dalai Lama is known.

Robin, Daughter of the Desert and American Bad Ass said...

First of all, I never out and out slammed Morrison Forrester. My focus here was slamming China and the world at large.
Second, aren't there plenty of law firms in that communist country who could have represented China? Why did America have to get involved? Was that, my MoFo friend, not a move all about the Benjamins?
Yes, China is a very closed society and we have no idea what's going on there. For example, a few months back they started scaring people into abandoning their pet cats to have them among the stray cats carted off to die slow painful deaths in what were essentially cat concentration camps. They did this because they wanted the streets clean for the Olympics and the government told everyone that cats were diseased.
Now, I know that this is a far cry from human rights violations in many of your minds but this is an example of China's amazing ability to brainwash its citizens.
For Pete's sake, they're not allowed to Google!
Now, is that the kind of country we should be helping?
Because haven't we been brain washed, too?

Anonymous said...

So confused by your point.

America didn't get involved, a private law firm did. Private law firms are exactly the parties that uphold that Constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel I was talking about.

Sure, a Chinese law firm might have been able to handle the job. But, that's about the same as saying that the crackhead's brother-in-law (who read a book once) should represent him in court. The very point of the right to counsel is that you can seek out someone who can advocate effectively on your behalf. Private counsel provides a voice to those without one.

Sure, the human rights victims in China need a voice, too. I have not disputed that. My point is only that it would be pretty disingenuous to, on the one hand, argue that China is guilty of human rights abuses, and then on the other, argue that they should not have been afforded effective counsel.

Process before outcome. It is the basis of our society. We should not tell others how to govern unless we are willing to give them the same rights we give our people.

As a side note, interesting that you bring up Google. Google has bowed to China's censorship, essentially permitting them to continue to lie to their own people. Google COULD HAVE said "NO, we refuse censorship because it is un-American" -- and simply remained inactive in China. But Google, like MoFo, chased the almighty buck. Except in their chasing of that buck, they did not advance American constitutional theory, they actually turned their back on it. Something to chew on...

Rick Rockwell said...

There are some wonderful legal rationalizations here meant to cover the conscience of those doing business with China, one of the great human rights violators.

Fact: King & Wood, a Chinese firm is representing China domestically on Olympics issues. King & Wood is a huge international law firm, with offices in the U.S.

To compare King & Wood or other Chinese firms to a crack-head’s relative in representation is a glib defense and a false analogy. The argument isn’t that China shouldn’t have competent legal representation. That was never the argument in this post. The argument is that in good conscience, U.S. firms should not do business with China, especially when the Chinese have their own competent representation. Lawyers can ethically decline to represent a potential client. Instead, U.S. firms bid strongly and competed to land the Chinese government's Olympic organization as a client.

Fact: Various human rights groups have condemned U.S. firms connected to sponsoring the Olympics. Those criticisms have included the firms supporting China’s Olympic efforts through their services in the area of legal representation, public relations, and other image consulting services.

To say that U.S. firms should help China in this regard is the same as saying U.S. firms should represent Cuba for its human rights abuses or U.S. firms should be representing the former officers of Saddam Hussein’s regime in trials in Baghdad.

You may want to assign noble reasons to this cause, but the fact is these firms are reaping a bonanza that will yield sums in the tens of millions of dollars, if not more. That’s the real incentive

Fact: China promised to improve its human rights record especially in the area of free speech as part of its Olympic bid.

The record of China speaks for itself, especially when groups such as Reporters Without Borders have turned into activists at the Olympic torch rallies and even to protest at meetings of Coca-Cola, an Olympic sponsor.

What really gripes me is to see these rationalizations appear during the week of World Press Freedom Day, for a country that has dozens of political prisoners being held on free speech issues.

By the way, the British in voting against China’s Olympic bid made the comparisons to the 1936 Olympics in Germany. I wonder how many U.S. law firms or corporations are proud of their pre-World War II associations with the Nazis now?

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