Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Gong Show in Pasadena

I've only been in Southern California for 24 years, so I probably can't really comment on the TRADITION that is attached to the Rose Parade.

Whoops, I mean the Tournament of Roses Parade.

In this world of smiling teenage girls and marching bands, there's no room for political controversy:

A Catholic monk's withered arm, deformed from what was described as years of torture, only compounded the City Council's unease Monday night as it considered a response to wide-ranging complaints over China's participation in the 2008 Rose Parade.

Thrust into the spotlight by a local controversy that has grown into a referendum on China's suitability as Olympic host, the council resembled an international court as the dozens of speakers lined up to deliver testimony on the balance of that nation's past and current abuses.

Some were present to support the Beijing Olympic float, an idea years in the making with the help of the city's own Sister City Committee and Mayor Bill Bogaard, designed to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic Games....

Float supporters were eclipsed by a vocal majority, from local residents to international human rights organizations, which used the phalanx of cameras and media coverage to declare China had broken its promises to clean up its act with respect to human rights.

"It's symbolic," said Bob McCloskey, a local labor union activist. "The Olympics are going to happen, but they made commitments to improve human rights and they haven't."

McCloskey added imprisonment and abuse of workers to the balance of religious persecution, trafficking in human body parts, complicity in abuses in Sudan and Burma, quashing dissent, jailing journalists and more.

In a striking piece of visual testimony, Peter Zhou Bangjiu held high his emaciated arm he said was the result of years of torture and abuse because he wouldn't comply with the Communist Party's directives about how he practiced Roman Catholicism....

And Christianity wasn't the only religion represented:

Although members of the Caltech Falun Gong club and others associated with a number of other religious, political and social groups spoke out against an Olympic-themed float in the 2008 parade due to China’s abysmal human rights record, the eight-member council brushed aside those concerns....

“I watched the entire proceedings from start to finish and it was the most shameful exhibit of political cowardice I have ever seen,” said former Mayor Bill Paparian, who in 1996 brought the Dalai Lama, an exile from Chinese-controlled Tibet, to Pasadena.

“I am embarrassed to say I was once a member of that body,” Paparian said Tuesday.

“Now there is no safety valve in place for the angst we saw last night,” he continued. “We are headed for a train wreck on New Year’s Day. People will see the float as an object of protest and people standing in front of it will be juxtaposed with Tiananmen Square and it will be shown around the world.”

Meanwhile, the Tournament of Roses collective voiced its whatevers:

Tournament of Roses officials did not attend the meeting. However, Mayor Bill Bogaard, who supports having the Chinese-backed float in the parade, read a letter to the council from Tournament of Roses President C.L. Keedy.

“We believe it is important to separate the issue of the Rose Parade float from any action that the city of Pasadena may choose to undertake in support of human rights in China and elsewhere. As mentioned on numerous occasions, we do not believe our parade nor our entries in the parade support government policies anywhere in the world. As a result, we believe the issue of the float should be removed from the consideration of possible council actions,” Keedy’s letter stated.

Keedy's position didn't win him any points with the NAACP - or, more specifically, Joe Brown from that organization:

I cannot be outraged about the lead-coated toys and remain numb to Beijing’s propaganda float.

As it currently stands, on Jan. 1, 2008, a Beijing-authorized float is to be paraded down Colorado Boulevard in the internationally famous Rose Parade, glorifying the Chinese communist regime in the name of the Olympics to an estimated 400 million television audience....

I believe by allowing this communist country a float in the Rose Parade, Pasadena is also giving China an opportunity to exploit the Olympics for its politics. Some people may argue differently. Our Tournament of Roses president (Mr. Keedy) has stated that, “The Olympics is the issue, not the politics, that sports are merely sports and we should stay clear of other concerns.”

In my opinion, the float and Beijing games, however, represent just the opposite of humanity, and is only comparable to the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin....

Elected Pasadena and TofR officials, are we simply following the money and forgetting how this will gravely weaken our moral stand and principles? I hope this doesn’t allow us to sell our principles, just to receive another cheap product, lead-coated toys and toxic food....

Others have tried to find a good thing or two to say about the Beijing Olympics. They have argued that the 1936 Olympics are best remembered for the heroics of Jesse Owens instead of Hitler’s exploitation of the Olympics. That is the same as finding a bright spot in the Holocaust in the heroics of Schindler.

And people are thinking:

I don't know very much about the Falun Gong, but I would love to see a parade entry highlighting the importance of international human rights, along with the Chinese Olympic float.

I have a better idea. Let Taiwan have a float in the parade. Then we'd really have some fireworks in Pasadena.

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