Ignoble End to a Bright Career


Workers, consumers, environmentalists, and human rights activists around the globe suffered a defeat as the U.S. Senate approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, in a vote that stands as yet another act of cowardice and collusion between big business and our elected officials.

—Ralph Nader, September 20

I’ve long respected Daniel Patrick Moynihan for his record on our constitutional rights—and on human rights around the world. For example, as Charles Morris recalls in the September 22 Commonweal, Moynihan was once criticized for being rude to members of a United Nations committee on decolonization. At the time, Moynihan was our ambassador to the United Nations.

“He had meant to be rude, Moynihan responded,” Morris writes. “The committee consisted of 16 police states, four democracies, and four others. We are not about to be lectured by police states on the processes of electoral democracy.”

Yet Moynihan voted enthusiastically to provide the brutally repressive regime of China permanent normal trade relations with the United States. He actually said: “Nothing that members of Congress do this year—or any other year—could be more important.”

Over the years, in this column, I’ve documented the savagery—including torture—inflicted in the Chinese gulags on prisoners whose sole crime was to advocate democracy. I’ve written of the “trials” where the judge’s decisions were written before any testimony was taken.

Moynihan is good at one-liners. One of my favorites is: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.”

As he ends his career in the Senate, Moynihan has chosen to ignore the facts, not only continuing violations of the most fundamental rights in China, but also the impact of his vote at this time—as explained by Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch. The timing of the vote, he says, “is particularly unfortunate, just as human rights conditions are worsening. Beijing is closing down all channels of political dissent—including the Internet—even while it is opening its economy.” (Emphasis added.)

What is particularly repellent about Moynihan’s support of this police state is a statement he made on the Senate floor (reported in the September 6 New York Times):

“There is a long and rueful history of our racial antagonism to Chinese emigration to this country, which now appears as an antagonism to the arrival of Chinese goods.”

As the Times noted, “Moynihan, for the first time, suggested that racism might underlie some of the bill’s opposition.”

As he enters the twilight of his years in public service, Moynihan is using the manipulative language of a cheap ward heeler.

Does he indeed believe that the following groups are racists? Opponents include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, New York’s Human Rights in China organization, and students here and around the world working to free Tibet from the atrocities of Chinese occupation.

Only 15 senators voted not to reward China for its terrorism within its own borders. Among them were Paul Wellstone, Russell Feingold, Arlen Specter, and, yes, Jesse Helms. The day has come when Jesse Helms makes Daniel Patrick Moynihan look like an apparatchik of America’s corporations.

Not only Moynihan has disgraced himself. Organized labor—of which I’m a member, belonging to two unions—has sold out its counterparts in China.

As Paul Wellstone underlined in a failed amendment to the bill, “Year after year, we are importing products made with forced prison labor from China.” And, “We should be concerned about the persecution and imprisonment of labor activists in China because labor rights are a fundamental human right.”

There is no right to strike in China, and unions not controlled by the government are illegal in China.

Furthermore, while Clinton, Gore, and Bush ardently support permanent trade relations with China, Ralph Nader points out that this new law “will exacerbate the trend of U.S. factories shutting down, moving to China, and then exporting their goods back to the United States.” And Gore is pro-trade agreement, even though he claims to be “for the people, not the powerful.”

Says Nader, “We cannot ask our workers to compete with dictatorially repressed wages. How big will the savings be for the multinational corporations? Workers making Kathie Lee handbags for Wal-Mart in China are earning as little as three cents an hour.

“Nike contract workers putting in 11 to 15 hours a day are earning 20 cents to 22 cents an hour. Some women sewing Nike bags are making as little as eight cents an hour. Workers making Huffy bikes, Timberland shoes, Alpine car stereos, and RCA televisions are earning as little as 22 cents to 27 cents an hour—well below a living wage in China.”

I organized my first shop when I was 15, and I am ashamed at what the leadership of the AFL-CIO has become. It has allied itself with corporate forces—and both political parties—for the greater good of American greed, even though Chinese workers are exploited and many AFL-CIO members will lose their jobs.

On September 19, Paul Wellstone, in the Senate, read from a Washington Post lead editorial: “The Communist regime in China has identified and rooted out another enemy of the state: 81-year-old Catholic bishop Zeng Jingmu.” As reported in the September 18 New York Times, the bishop, after having served more than 30 years in prison, was seized at midnight in his home by nearly 60 security guards. He will not yield to the government’s official church.

And according to a November 7 Times dispatch from Reuters, China has refused to apologize for its support of the Khmer Rouge as President Jiang Zemin prepared to visit Cambodia. “China,” said the report, “was the main supporter of the Khmer Rouge during their rule, when more than a million people died.” Died? They were butchered.

This, Senator Moynihan, is our trading partner. And, by labeling opposition to dealing with this ruthless police state anti-Asian bias, you have diminished yourself in a way I would never have expected.