The New York Times was almost apoplectic Sunday over a human rights "report card" issued by China’s Foreign Affairs Department on the United States.
That report, a response to the annual report on China's human rights situation issued by the U.S. State Department, called attention to a number of areas where the U.S. is in violation of universally accepted norms of behavior.
Having lived for two years in China--a fascist-style military dictatorship where the law is simply another tool of repression for those in authority, and where people are routinely locked up, tortured, deprived of their livelihood and even their lives for such transgressions as posting comments on a website, protesting a corrupt boss or conducting prayer services in a private home, and a place where perceptions of America can be pretty bizarre--I was expecting something comic after reading in the Times that the report on the U.S. "approaches caricature."
In fact, putting aside whom it was doing the talking, the report was pretty damned accurate, and devastating.
American society is characterized by rampant violent crimes, severe infringement of people's rights by law enforcement departments and lack of guarantee of the right to life, liberty and security, the Chinese report said, noting that in addition to the threats from uniformed law enforcement, some 31,000 Americans were killed by firearms last year. The report also noted America's record two million prison inmates, and the fact that three times that many are on parole or probation.
Caricature? Hardly. The number of people being jailed in the U.S. is a national scandal, particularly considering the percentage who are black and Latino, and the fact that most are there for non-violent offenses. And no surprise there: Nearly every time I am on the road and see a car pulled over by a trooper, I discover that the driver is black. Unless blacks are uniquely prone to speeding, there is an epidemic of racial profiling, and it's not limited to highways.
American democracy is manipulated by the rich and malpractice is common, the report continues, noting that elections in the U.S. are "in fact a contest of money." Really. Can anyone honestly call this a caricature? I remember when I was teaching a group of journalism graduate students in Shanghai, I received my mail ballot from home, which at the time was a small town in upstate New York. I was happy to receive it because I wanted to show it to my class, where the students were anxious to see first-hand how American democracy works. Imagine my chagrin when I opened the envelope and saw that the ballot was composed entirely of single candidates for each post. Republicans so dominated the upstate region that no one bothered to run against them for any town or county post! "These look just like our ballots!" the students said in amazement. Nor in our current red state/blue state polity, are things much different across most of the country, where campaign funding laws, or the lack thereof, make incumbency virtually a guarantee of re-election.
In the area of economic rights, the Chinese report said poverty, hunger and homelessness "haunt the world’s richest country." Here I’d have to disagree. While the figure they used (from the U.S. Census Bureau—36 million living in poverty—is correct, it is hardly a condition that "haunts" the majority living above the poverty line, since our derelict corporate media don’t cover the poverty beat, and our economically segregated communities make it easy for people to ignore the suffering in the midst of plenty. Still, noting that a sixth of the nation lives in poverty is no caricature. It's a fact.
Racial discrimination? The report says it permeates every aspect of society, while the new post 9-11 homeland security regulations especially target ethnic minorities, foreigners and immigrants. Does anyone want to challenge the accuracy of that depiction?
As for the rights of women and children, the report called attention to the deplorable rate of rapes and sexual abuse, with some 400,000 children forced into prostitution and sexual abuse. This ugly reality, while also true for China, cannot be brushed aside here.
Finally the Chinese report addressed the abuse of foreigners by U.S. authorities, noting the scandalous violations of the rights of prisoners of war, the history of invasions and unprovoked military assaults on other nations, and the estimated 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq.
For my part, I was surprised the Chinese report didn’t go further, to mention the failure of the U.S. to abide by international law in allowing foreigners arrested on serious criminal charges in the U.S., including murder, to contact their embassies, the shameful inadequacy of funding for schools in poor communities, the dumping of toxic waste and the siting of pollution-causing power plants in low-income communities, and the theft of private property through improper use of imminent domain and draconian drug laws, the unconscionably high percentage of minorities on American death rows, as well as other abuses.
China is one of the world's prime human rights offenders, but that ugly reality should not prevent us from looking honestly into the mirror that it has held up to our own society and government.
For the rest of this column and other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .