The colonists of the first Fourth of July were pretty nervous about standing up to an English king and demanding their rights. Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is the most passionate document in our national anthology, and it galvanized the 13 colonies. Today, despite our government's objections, the U.S.-subsidized World Bank is assisting China in its cultural colonization of Tibet.
Why in the world is the World Bank involved with this? It wants to give China a $40 million loan to relocate 58,000 Chinese farmers to the Tibetan Plateau, an area of western China that was once part of Tibet. Ferocious lobbying by the Chinese is the unofficial reason given. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) an indefatigable monitor of human rights, is protesting. So is Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), of the House International Relations Committee. So are human rights organizations, environmentalists and friends of Tibet. But the Chinese have prevailed. On June 24, the board of the bank voted for what the Chinese call "the Western Poverty Reduction Project."
Pelosi regards the migration project as a Chinese version of ethnic cleansing. She points out that the bank is breaking two of its own rules in supporting the loan--one against politically sensitive ethnic population resettlements and another that requires an environmental impact assessment before launching development projects. The environmental study was not done. It will be now. The bank's reputation on the environment, however, does not inspire complete confidence--it once sponsored construction of a highway through an Amazonian rain forest.
Matt McHugh, a former Democratic congressman from New York, is the counselor to James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. Were McHugh still in Congress, he probably would be raising Cain about helping the Chinese in their brutal occupation of Tibet.
McHugh says the technical people on the bank's staff, who concentrate on development possibilities and poverty, "did not take into account the legitimately sensitive political issue. By the time Jim Wolfensohn was made aware, the operational people had gone pretty far down the aisle. The good news is that the money is frozen until an independent inspection board takes another look at questions like changing the ethnic mix and environmental impact."
There were other violations as we approached this 223rd observance of our national holiday. The House of Representatives on June 24 voted to tamper with the Constitution. The Founders who labored so long in the heat of Philadelphia to produce the document might be offended. They were men of wisdom and vision, and we were lucky to have had them. Unfortunately, their successors in Congress do not always share their gifts, and fret about things that don't matter. They want to alter the First Amendment to forbid desecration of the Stars and Stripes.
Flag burning does not constitute what anyone could construe as a clear and present danger to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Jefferson's major concerns in 1776. There was a time, during the Vietnam War, when flag burning and draft-card burning were considered by some as the only way to communicate with the government. But in the last 10 years, only 72 cases of flag burning have been reported. It is not necessary to tear apart the noble Constitution to fix this. It's not like the problem of guns in schools, which the House could have done something about--and chose not to.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura spoke sensibly on the subject on ABC's Sunday morning show "This Week." Asked by Sam Donaldson if he was for the amendment, Ventura said: "Absolutely not." Then, showing how completely he grasped the Founders' point, he added, "That's the great thing about our country . . . that you have the freedom to do it."
Of course, there is a greater violation going on. That is the fact that raising money is what matters most in politics. The news is that George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate who has yet to tell us where he stands on most things, has raised an unprecedented $36.25 million in the past six months. Who can compete against that? Even Steve Forbes, Mr. Bucks himself, blanched.
On the Democratic side, too, money is talking. Former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley doesn't show much in the polls, but the fact that in the past three months he has raked in only a few million less than the front-runner, Al Gore, is the big news of the day.
Voter participation in presidential elections is shamefully low. In 1998, turnout fell to 36 percent of the voting age population. Our highest office is for sale, and the process has become too crass for most Americans--but they have refused to do anything about it. Where is Jefferson when we need him?