Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

US Won't Get a Gold Medal for Human Rights

Are we really having discussions about whether or not to participate in the 2008 Olympics? Are people actually sitting in coffee shops discussing whether the civil rights violations in China warrant a U.S. boycott of the opening ceremonies or even the games themselves?

Man, this country really cracks me up.

Extraordinary men and women, the absolute cream of our athletic crop, who have -- for likely as long as they've walked -- trained for the moment when they could participate in the Olympic Games, have now become the political pawns of our human rights discussions. And I'm not just talking about discussions with China; but discussions about China by a country that has no right to talk.

Remember us? We invaded a sovereign nation and blew it to smithereens. And according to a BBC report last week we have more than 28,000 Iraqis detained without charges. An earlier report in the international journal The Guardian states that in 2006, "several detainees reportedly died ... and some of their bodies bore injuries consistent with torture."

So we're invaders and we detain people, again from The Guardian, in a manner that is "arbitrary and indefinite." On top of that, some die while in our custody and there is evidence that the detention itself may have caused their deaths.

Yeah, let's just preach to other countries about human rights.

Want a really good laugh? Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have all urged some level of boycott for the Olympics. Stop me if I'm wrong, but aren't these guys in charge? How many innocent Iraqi civilians have died on their watch in a war that they should have stopped?

I've got an idea: Why don't these three sit out the November elections. Sure, they've worked as hard as any Olympic athlete to get where they are. That's what makes their sacrifice more impressive. Besides, they've tiptoed along their political balance beams and haven't done anything about U.S. human rights violations, so they -- far more so than any unrelated marathon runner -- should be denied access to their game.

And I'm not letting us ordinary people off the hook either.

You want to punish China for being jerks in Tibet? Why don't you stop buying products made there?

For example, stop buying Chinese toys, it'll be better for your kids too because you won't have to worry about lead.

Will it be more expensive to buy toys made in the United States? Probably, but I thought you cared about human rights.

Ask your pharmacist which drug companies have their products manufactured in China and then tell your doctor not to prescribe them to patients. Demand ones made in a country where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction. More expensive again, but the FDA says they'll be less likely to harm you. According to their report issued last fall, some of the drugs manufactured in China are so dangerous that, depending on your condition, you'd be better of not taking any medicine at all.

Read your toothpaste tube. Yep, if manufactured in China your toothpaste may contain diethylene glycol. Look it up -- it could kill you.

Call your representatives and tell them to tax the oil companies and pay back China: our debt to them puts our rapidly putrefying economy further at risk.

Go study mathematics and science. If you're past the traditional school age you can take an adult education class. Maybe once you demystify these subjects for yourself you'll become an advocate for increased funding to math and science programs in our schools.

Advocate for free secondary education for our nation's young people. Invest in our kids.

Too much work? Too much money? Too big an undertaking to push back against our own government on human rights issues? No, it's easier to deny a 14-year-old gymnast who doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "too big an undertaking" the opportunity to compete.

Stop worrying about Olympic competitions and start worrying about competing on an intellectual and moral playing field that we as a culture should already own.

This year we don't get the gold medal for human rights. Heck, this year we haven't even earned a starter's position in the race.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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