No one should be surprised by the public outrage towards the High Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, because people care about their individual rights and liberty, care about the fundamental values this nation stands for, care about the democracy of their country. I have seen reactions from citizens who rarely pay attention to politics expressing total shock and disbelief. Citizens see clearly that with this decision the nation’s and multinational powerful economic interests are on their way marching onto the dominance in our electoral process, the individual citizens’ voice is to become overwhelmingly weak, and our already weakened democracy is to become further dysfunctional.
In one of my posts, I quoted Joseph Costello, “One should approach the legacy of the Founding Fathers with a sense of reverence and awe. It is the brightest shining governance star ever created by the mind of man.” The Founding Fathers framed our democracy with the belief and emphasis “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. It is this framework that empowers the people to make this nation a nation where individual liberty is protected, and freedom flourishes. Make no mistake that, in this framework, corporations are not included to bear the same unalienable Rights. That is not an omission, not a negligence. That is by design. Because, as the Constitution starts, WE THE PEOPLE are what to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. NOTHING ELSE!
In fact, the founders explicitly indicated that corporations are not people, as Chief Justice John Marshall referred to the corporation as an “artificial being, invisible, intangible“. And they had warned us on the possible challenge corporations could impose to this framework. Thomas Jefferson told us that America must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” And “…there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations, ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.“
Abraham Lincoln went straight to the heart of the endangerment, “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
Our political arena these days is amazingly polarized. There are big sharks out there who enjoy thoroughly politicizing everything. But this should not be viewed as a liberal issue, or a progressive issue, or a conservative issue. This is about common citizenship against special interests taking away common citizenship. It is about restoring the institutional integrity of the democratic process. It’s worth to note that it was Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican president, who called for public financing of elections and told Congress, “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” It was also president Roosevelt who signed the Tillman Act in 1907, which banned corporate donations to federal campaigns.
Now, let’s take a look at the case and ruling process.
Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, sought to run television commercials promoting its film Hillary: The Movie, a documentary critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and to show the movie on DirecTV. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA)(AKA McCain-Feingold), 2 U.S.C. § 441b, prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. In January 2008, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the commercials violated provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) restricting “electioneering communications” 30 days before primaries. The Court found that the film had no other purpose than to discredit Clinton; Citizens United argued that the film was fact-based and nonpartisan.
The Supreme Court docketed this case on August 18, 2008, and heard oral arguments on March 24, 2009. A decision was expected sometime in the early summer months of 2009.
However, on June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the parties to re-argue the case on September 9, 2009.
Instead of looking into the case itself, and whether the ruling of the District Court, after hearing all parties, would hold legal ground, the five Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas, decided to re-argue the case themselves. They motioned it to an matter of an entirely different magnitude: corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. They used it as a vehicle to finalize a happy-ending of an over-a-century power-influence pursuit of the special interests and their lobbyists. In doing so, they overturn two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). This unprecedentedly process redefines the roles of the Court system and Judges and Justices working within them. It contradicts Justice Roberts’ own understanding of these roles:
“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire. Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedents, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”
“I will remember that it is my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
“I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. … It is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided.”
“The role of the judge is limited; the judge is to decide the cases before them; they’re not to legislate; they’re not to execute the laws.”
They RULED that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited, because doing so would be in noncompliance with the First Amendment. And Justice Kennedy wrote: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
This is truly amazing! Engaging in political speech = Corporate Funding political campaigns? Jailing associations of citizens? Limiting corporate funding in elections is in noncompliance with the First Amendment?
I found it amusing that the five justices of concurrences for this ruling would somehow believe the intelligence of the citizens and common sense could be so bluntly insulted.
The First Amendment, submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789 and adopted on December 15, 1791, was to amend the Constitution, in part, for its lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. The entire text for the First Amendment reads the follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Reading the above simple text, and knowing a little bit of the background and the intent, can any one, let alone the highest authorities of law, not derive to the conclusion that (1) the First Amendment addresses protecting rights and civil liberties for the people, and (2) money is not speech? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights“, as dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared during oral hearings.
Any attempt of interpreting the above text to suggest the First Amendment implies that the rights outlined in it and the civil liberties it intends to protect should also apply to non-human entities is absurd and manipulative.
Apparently, this AMBIQUITY by not putting down the words NOTCorporation was all Justice Roberts and his allies needed to crack the dam open.
Before the flood washes off our democracy entirely, we have no choice but fix it, with legislative and constitutional remedies:
push for a Constitution amendment that firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Dear fellow citizens, this ruling puts our democracy in endangerment. Thus the individual liberty and constitutional rights for each and every one of us are in jeopardy. It exposes how venerable our democratic system can be. Now it is time for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and all in between, to be united as ONE in saving our democracy, for ourselves, for our children, and for generations to come.
In his statement on the January 21th Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Ralph Nader begins with “Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court … shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process.”
Two pieces of reality we should be seriously alarmed: already weakened democracy, and corrupted electoral process.
In addition, we must also be concerned about the role of the justices and the Court itself in our democratic system, because I am worried that we have become too comfortable and too accustomed to the apparent political affiliation these judges display that tampers their ability to defend our constitution independently, as demanded by their constitutional duties.
With this unprecedented ruling, by that I mean it proactively overrules a century long statute and two precedents, the Court shows no interest in facing the harsh reality that the vast majority has already lost faith in our government and agrees with Nader’s assessment of “weakened democracy” and “our corrupted electoral process”. No matter how eloquently Justice John Roberts reasoned the ruling and how forceful he tried to attach this to the First Amendment, this decision does not help repairing the “weakened democracy”, it does not help rebuilding the confidence of the public on the government, it does not help encouraging voters to actively participate in the electoral process. It fails to address the fundamental purpose of any fair election law at any given historical junction or all time that these laws are to protect the institutional integrity of the democratic process.
Let’s face it, how many Americans now think their voices and votes can make a difference? How many believe that the institution is focusing on improving the well-being of the people, that the government is dependent upon the People and independent of anything else? America has already seen how money works in Washington. This Court decision only furthers the powerless-feeling in the People.
However, our electoral process has already been corrupted, long before this Court decision, long before the Citizens United vs FEC case. Even without the power of the unlimited corporate spending granted by this ruling in political speeches, the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike had already been Kotou-ing to corporations, unions and other special interests for their supplies of money, whether through PACs or large contributions bundled by lobbyists. This ruling just makes it so much easier for both sides – suppliers and recipients. It makes the campaigns that much less “dependent of the People”.
When the People stop speaking, the end of democracy is near.
I do have faith on the People. Americans always speak out loud and clear in critical junctions of the democracy. If nothing else, this ruling services a wake-up call. It helps us to lift the cover and see the threat our democracy is facing. Now it is our turn to stand up, speak out, act strongly and urgently in taking care our own business: clean up the corruption and restore the institutional integrity of the democratic process!
We can repeatedly remind the politicians that our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” However, we should have by now come to the realization that money speaks LOUDER.
So, we need action. We need legislation to protect our democracy. And, as Mr. Nader points out, “ It is indeed time for a Constitutional amendment to prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections and drowning out the civic and political voices and values of citizens and voters.”
We do have concerned citizens as well as House Representatives and Senators who have realized the severity of the situation that they proceeded with certain vital measures, among them:
There are two pressing matters I am consumed with. One is the Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited funds in public elections. The other is the earthquake and the aftermath relief efforts in Haiti.
But, this morning, an NPR headline caught my attention by surprise:
‘Stunning’ News From Ford: It Earned $2.7 Billion Last Year
Ford Motor, the American car maker that did not need a bailout from the government, reported this morning that it earned $2.7 billion last year and expects to remain profitable in 2010.
As the Detroit Free Press says, the news marks “a stunning improvement over its historic, $14.7-billion loss in 2008, especially for a year that saw industry sales drop to their lowest level since 1982.”
In these days filled with swirling depressing news, this is like a breeze of fresh air. $2.7 Billion does not make anyone drop his jaw. But it does break the fairytale that American companies can’t compete. It shows when a company takes its fiscal responsibility seriously, it can succeed, and it can pull itself out the mud without a bailout.
This is really encouraging, considering the entire business world is scrambling, and this profit is its first in four years that came during one of the worst years in decades for global vehicle sales and auto company profits. I hope it sends a promising message to other companies, and sets a model for others to look into in restructuring their business operations driving towards profitability that will create domestic jobs and strengthen the economy.
Speech at a Martin Luther King Day Gathering in Washington DC, 1991
Edited on Martin Luther King Day 2010
Special MLK Tribute – by friend and artist, Haiyan
Today we gather here to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
We celebrate an enchanted life of celebration, a life that inspires generations and generations to come.
We celebrate an everlasting spirit of enlightening, a spirit that transcends the fear within in commanding respect and longing equal rights.
We celebrate a mighty power in a human being, a power not derived from wealth or privilege, not from Royal heritage or government post, not even from a public election. A power emerges from the conviction and dedication to the unconditional love for the human race. A power that is deeply rooted in each and everyone of us that when it is finally being ignited there is no mountain of injustice that can not be flattened and removed.
We are here to let you know, Dr. King, that your Dream is being carried on not just in the hills of Georgia and the state of Mississippi but everywhere in this world; that your call to Let Freedom Ring is not just echoed in the hilltops of New Hampshire, the mountains of New York, the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, the Rockies of Colorado, and the slopes of California, but is being responded in chorus in the mountains of Himalayan, in the valleys of Danube, along the shore of the pacific ocean, and in the heart of the Los Llanos plains.
People, people are rising up in pride and dignity. People are saying No to tyranny and reign of terror. But, the ultimate victory for the peace-loving humanity is far from being claimed. In those states of totalitarian, laws are used to defend dictatorships instead of protect the people; peaceful calls for harmony are being suppressed with brutality instead of being cherished; human rights champions are being imprisoned instead of being praised. Even in this great nation of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and you, Dr. Martin Luther King, too often democracy is comprised to special interests, too often the so-called ideology overshadows the commitment to put the people first.
These words of Dr. King that “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality” describe well for our gathering today, in the context of the global family of humanity. We must “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
When we pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King on this special day, the best gift we can present to him is to remind ourselves about his dream, to continue his cause each and every day until there is no one in this world finds himself an exile in his own land.
We have a dream: let freedom ring from every corner in this world!
Sadness weighs heavily upon my heart,
Human tragedy, devastating loss of life;
A struggling nation where poverty is an epidemic,
They faced the wrath of nature yet again.
Haiti, land of sunshine and misery,
Where the rich thrive, and the poor perish.
Mother Earth drew a deep breath,
And as she exhaled, a shuddering groan
Shook all that lay against her bosom.
There was no anger in her deed.
She did not intend to destroy.
Calamity was beyond her control.
With the very earth shaking beneath their feet,
There was nowhere to run.
Palaces and shanties alike reduced to rubble,
Entombing those who could not escape.
Cries from beneath mountains of stone,
Echo through the streets.
Helpless, they weep for those they cannot reach.
Battered and beaten, they are defeated.
They hold the loved ones they can,
And grieve for those that are lost.
Now the wealthy and poor are united at last,
For there is no discrimination when catastrophe strikes.
But out of the destruction, hope will rise,
Like the brilliant sunshine that warms
They’re beloved country.
Nations will join together to assist them.
For we hear their cries, and our hearts weep,
We will take their hands and hold them tightly,
Comfort them, and lift them from the dust.
Sometimes I question,
Whether compassion for humanity still exists,
Then at times like this, I see it
In all its splendour!
And my faith is restored once more.
On Tuesday, January 12th, David Drummond, Google’s SVP of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, released a statement on Google’s official blog announcing the company’s decision to end censorship in China, indicating doing so the company would be facing the “potentially far-reaching consequences” of losing that market.
This conduct is of great significance, particularly when the financial and business world had been tainted with greed and irresponsibility in recent years, from the wall street giants’ abusive behaviors, to the short sighted operations that nearly emptied the US job market.
There should be a limit on everything. This action shows Google has its limits of acceptance. In business practices, there is a set of international trade rules not only stresses fair trade principles but also embraces the spirit of ethics and protective measures to basic rights. Unfortunately, we have seen too often that businesses chose ignoring these moral standards as well as the fair trade principles in exchange for a looks good stats sheet. Let’s chew on the following statement from AFL-CIO: “Since 2001, the nation has lost more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs and more than 850,000 professional service and information sector jobs. No one knows for sure how many of these jobs have been lost due to increased import competition and shifts in production abroad, since no comprehensive official data are collected. Various independent estimates indicate the number of white-collar jobs lost to shipping work overseas over the past few years is in the hundreds of thousands and millions are at risk in the next five to ten years. But the number of jobs lost need not be overwhelming in order to concern policymakers: increased overseas outsourcing also undermines wages and working conditions in those jobs left behind and threatens the long-term health of the economy.”
On the Internet censorship side, nations of the global trade community that impose such censorship not only threaten the safety of their own citizens and suppress the basic rights of freedom of speech, but are clearly in violation of the world trade agreements. In December last year, the European Center for International Political Economy (ECIPE) released its document, Protectionism Online: Internet Censorship and International Trade Law. In this 19 page report, it details the violations of WTO trade rules by the Chinese government’s censorship practice, particularly on General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) provisions.
People everywhere understand, cheer for, and support ethical business behaviors. The following pictures, taking in China, show the reaction and support for Google’s courageous move:
A group of friends put together a short note yesterday to offer our solidarity with Google:
To Google Executives,
We applaud your decision to end censorship in China.
Your decision exhibits Google’s high stands on morality, business ethics, and principles of freedom of speech.
The Internet has become the ultimate channel in the battle for the free flow of information and the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech. In the evolution of freedom of information, Google has been a champion, an invaluable resource for people all over the world. However, in recent years, particularly since 2009, China’s censorship of the Internet has intensified to an entirely new level, and business entities are being pressured to surrender to Chinese censorship demands. We understand entirely how difficult it has been for Google to operate in China, we concur completely your assessment that “The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences.” That is why we are deeply touched by your decision, and want to use this opportunity to offer our profound support.
Without any doubt, your resolution sets an example for others to follow. It lays the ground work to break a business pattern that puts profitability over and above ethics and principles.
In a short period of less than 24 hours, Google has already become a hero in the eyes of many. You are not alone. The freedom loving communities around the globe are with you!
Watching the Rose Parade on New Years day, I cheered with the crowds as the float of the Grand Marshal passing by.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger rode down Colorado Boulevard in a vintage 1928 Pierce Arrow with his wife, Lorrie, and two daughters. He is the Grand Marshal of this year’s parade. He is a real person, a real hero.
On January 15, 2009, when his US Airways Flight 1549 failed, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, remaining cool, calm and collected, successfully ditched his flight into the Hudson River, saved 155 lives. After the plane was down, he undid his safety belt and walked the length of the plane to make sure all the passengers were safely outside. Calling him “Sully”, the family and friends were not surprised at all at his heroic action, “If you met Sully, you’d understand. You’d say, ‘Yep, that’s Sully.’” “He’s a great guy,” said John and Jane Garcia, neighbors of Sullenberger. A great guy indeed. And a story of inspiration.
Heroes of 9/11
The Hero Of Flight 1549 is just one of the many inspiring stories of the last decade. In contrast to the cruel conducts of those who continuously disrespect justice and rights of others, there were countless individuals and groups in the decade brought hope to the world with their courage and loving-hearts.
The Heroes of 9/11 – the firefighters, the policemen, the medical personnel, rescue workers, and all the common people who helped others on the attack sites during the actual disaster days, and those who helped to clean up in the aftermath of 9-11-01. For at least one day in 2001, there were no Republicans or Democrats. The nation came together on 9/11 like never before, and the volunteers, rescue workers, and civil servants who gave their lives on that day were an undeniable inspiration.
Betty Makoni – The Zimbabwe native, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, used her experience to transform the lives of girls in southern Africa. The Girl Child Network she created has provided a haven for young victims of sexual abuse, and has rescued more than 35,000 girls since 2001. “Our goal,” says Makoni, “is to dismantle the link between culture and violence against the girls and enable them to take charge of their own destiny.”
An Angel in Queens: Jorge Munoz – Since 2004, the school bus driver has handed out more than 70,000 meals from his mobile soup kitchen in Queens – for free. “Every single night, Jorge is here,” said one the people Jorge helped. “Doesn’t matter. Rain, thunderstorm, lightning. He do that from his good will, you know. He feeds everybody, make the stomach happy. He’s an angel.”
Budi Soehardi, Indonesia’s real hero – In a country that the news is about corruption at the highest levels of government and the persistent poverty among the nation’s masses, Budi Soehardi brings some hope to his country’s citizens. Budi founded a children’s home in one of the poorest areas of Indonesia. Today, Roslin Orphanage in West Timor provides food, shelter and education to more than 45 children. “What has been done by Budi may not be that spectacular in terms of the number of people he helps, but it’s real,” said Bayu, the deputy minister of the Agriculture Ministry.
Xu Zhiyong, a bright light in the dark – In a nation human dignity and human rights are considered irrelevant by the authorities, Xu Zhiyong is determined to make a change with his own actions. The legal scholar and activist has emerged as a vocal champion of victims’ rights in just about every major legal scandal of recent years, offering pro bono advice to victims of police brutality, tainted milk products, and extrajudicial detention. In 2003, Mr. Xu co-founded Gongmeng – Open Constitution Initiative – to protect the rights to which Chinese citizens are theoretically already entitled. The NGO was shut down for alleged tax irregularities, and Xu was arrested and detained in July 2009. Following a domestic and international outcry, he was released in late August. He immediately engaged himself in the unfinished tasks of helping the victims.
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids - Five years ago, Brad Blauser of Dallas landed in Iraq as a civilian contractor. He quit his job in 2005 in order to focus full time, and without pay, on securing wheelchairs for disabled Iraqi children, to whom he refers as “the forgotten ones in this war.” For the past four years, the native Texan has been providing hope to hundreds of disabled Iraqi children and their families.
It is impossible to list all the great stories. I am sure there are many many untold ones. It’s a shame that the big-boy medias would rather devote their passion and enthusiasm to political quarrels that do nothing positive but further widen the divide. I become discouraged these days even to think turning on a news channel, when they could use their tremendous resources to discover the beautiful souls and boost the impact to the world peace.
Humanitarian causes, like the Wheelchairs For Iraqi Kids created by Brad Blauser, also made a real difference in this troubled world in the last decade. I had the privilege to personally interact with some of organizers. Each and every time, warmness flew over my body, I walked out feeling inspired. Among these, I was particularly touched and moved by the efforts and messages of these two extraordinary organizations:
Shoes for Orphan Souls
Shoes for Orphan Souls– Shoes for Orphan Souls provides new shoes and socks to orphans and at-risk children throughout the world. From conducting shoe drives to humanitarian aid trips, Shoes for Orphan Souls offers hands-on opportunities to individuals, groups and organizations wanting to transform lives. Since 1999, 2 million pairs of new shoes and socks have been distributed to children in 68 countries. It is not just shoes, Shoes for Orphan Souls brings dignity and pride to those underprivileged children, makes them feel they belong to the family of mankind.
SOS Children’s Villages
SOS Children’s Villages - The world’s largest orphan charity, building families for children in need, helping them shape their own futures, and sharing in the development of their communities since 1949. SOS Children’s Villages has built 500 villages in 132 countries.
“Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.” – John Templeton
Those who reach eternal happiness are the ones who have abandoned greed, who would relinquish everything, including power, when the rights of others are endangered, who truly respect equality, who surrender themselves completely to the belief that everyone is created equal.
And they are the the backbones for a peaceful world.
I was hoping the year, or the decade for that matter, would end on a happy note. So we joined two other families on a visit to the Disney World, trying, at least for me, to escape facing the depression amounted from reflecting the decade about to end. Then on December 25, Christmas day, I learned, from my iPhone, that a Beijing court has sentenced Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo to 11-years in prison and “two years’ deprivation of political rights” for subversion in his writings.
By now, you have probably noticed that I am someone who is wholeheartedly longing for a peaceful world, a world that each member’s life and rights are respected. But my dream had been shattered time and time again in the 2000s. This verdict on Liu had just added another blow.
No. The Y2K computer black-out did not occur. In fact, the decade started rather smoothly. But at the end, it has been covered with the darkest clouds in recent history.
Since the rectification of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights in 1948, we had witnessed a steady progress in accepting the universal values of respecting individual rights. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 anchored a monumental victory for the pursuit of Human Rights in the world.
Looking back this decade, however, we saw perhaps the greatest regress since the end of the World War II. The horrendous 102 minutes of September 11, 2001 that took 2752 lives of innocent people changed everything, slapped the face of every peace loving soul. Not only the families of the victims will forever dealing with the grieves of the losses of their loved ones, the heroes who bravely responded the attacks are now suffering lung ailments, cancers and other fatal illnesses.
“Military action is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, the way of survival and of destruction. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”
This is how The Art of War, a book by Sun Tzu written some 2500 years ago, begins. Responsible nations in recent history have in general approached wars with prudence and deliberation, because, as Sun Tzu pointed, it is a matter of life and death. However, the processes of engaging and invoking wars in this decade were rather lax, and the lack of sufficient inquiries were apparent. The world has been paying great prices. According toicasualties.org, the coalition military fatalities in the Iraq war amounts 4689. US alone lost 4371 service men and women. And the number of Iraqi civilians deaths is near ten folds, at a staggering sum of 46783.
Political and religious oppression around the world worsened, and oppositions from the free world weakened. According to the Prisoner Database compiled at the Dui Hua Foundation, there are 19935 Chinese political and religious prisoners as of September 30, 2009. Individuals who peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association remained at high risk of harassment, house arrest, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment. Family members of human rights activists, including children, were increasingly targeted by the authorities, including being subjected to long-term house arrest and harassment by security forces. Lawyers who took on sensitive cases were also at risk; several had their licences suspended, and others lost their jobs. Some lawyers were specifically warned by the authorities not to take on sensitive cases, including cases of Tibetans arrested during the unrest in Tibetan areas and Falun Gong practitioners. – Amnesty International.
The number of Political Prisoners in Burma has surged to 2250 by the end of September, 2009. Burma’s military government has more than doubled the number of political prisoners in the past two years, including more than a hundred imprisoned in recent months, Human Rights Watch said in its September report.
What’s troubling is that we have seen a disturbing trend since the end of the cold war, particularly in this decade. Talks on human rights have become more and more political tactics, instead of unshakable principles. We selectively leverage them only to serve as instant justifications to our immediate policies. We choose becoming silent when we fear it might jeopardize our trade talks. We show indifference to the victims who are longing desperately our leadership and support, when we seek economic cooperation from the regimes who are the source of the oppression.
As I am sadly putting down these words, another suicide bombing just took place, killing eight Americans. Protests in Iran …
And Mr. Feng Zhenghuis still living on a bench in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, waiting a permission to go home.
It is painful even to mention the earthquake off Sumatra killing perhaps 200,000 people, the deadly Katrina that drowned the city of New Orleans, the earthquake hit Sichuan Province, China, taking 70,000 people and leaving over 18,000 missing…
I don’t even want to start discussing the financial melt down.
While in the Disney Parks, watching people from all over the world celebrating together, hearing songs beautifully advancing the messages of peace and love, I couldn’t help but ask myself: wouldn’t it be wonderful that the world we living in becomes a Disney park?
Oh friends, no more of these sad tones!
Let us rather raise our voices together
In more pleasant and joyful tones.
Joy, thou shining spark of God,
Daughter of Elysium,
With fiery rapture, goddess,
We approach thy shrine.
Your magic reunites
That which stern custom has parted;
All humans will become brothers
Under your protective wing.
Let the man who has had the fortune
To be a helper to his friend,
And the man who has won a noble woman,
Join in our chorus of jubilation!
Yes, even if he holds but one soul
As his own in all the world!
But let the man who knows nothing of this
Steal away alone and in sorrow.
All the world’s creatures drink
From the breasts of nature;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her trail of roses.
She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave the joy of life to the lowliest,
And to the angels who dwell with God.
Joyous, as his suns speed
Through the glorious order of Heaven,
Hasten, brothers, on your way,
Joyful as a hero to victory.
Be embraced, all ye millions!
With a kiss for all the world!
Brothers, beyond the stars
Surely dwells a loving Father.
Do you kneel before him, oh millions?
Do you sense the Creator’s presence?
Seek him beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.
~ Friedrich Schiller – Ludwig van Beethoven
Conducting the 9th
Beethoven shook the world with his thunderous Third and Fifth symphonies. He also showed us his supreme passion towards the nature in his Sixth, the Pastorale in F major. But it is his D monor Choral, the Ninth and the final, symphony that disseminates the compassion of this great man for the entire mankind. Beethoven, the lone soldier fighting relentlessly for broader freedom, through his final symphonic speech, transcends once again universal longing – this ultimate symphony is an enlightenment testament.
It is worth noting that in the premier of the symphony on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, Beethoven received five ovations at the conclusion, and left the concert deeply moved.
In his thirty some years of splendid manifestation, Beethoven enchanted the world like nature did. We walk in the landscape of Beethoven that filled with melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic beauty, we instantly dismiss any personal anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Our aspiration becomes so enriched as if we are venturing in a deep woodland, an echoing valley, a rocky mountain, or a roaring ocean. From one place to another, it is often surprising and breathtaking, but always enchanting and inspiring.
We should be thankful!
Thankful that when we passing by a park, a restaurant, a museum, that unmistakeable Beethovenian flows into our hearts through our ears, whether it’s an overture, a concerto, a sonata, or a symphony, we can whisper to each other: did you hear that? Beethoven!
Thankful that with the epoch Beethoven created, many great masters freely acknowledged his sovereignty and willingly followed his inspiration, with their own personal endurance and creativity, greatly enriched our music life, in the names of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, Richard Strauss, who extended the Austrian – German heritage, and Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Smetana, Grieg, the Russian Five, who infused music with their distinguished cultures, and Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Sibelius, who blended the two schools, and Verdi, Puccini, who brought opera to such popularity.
Thankful that when times arrive that demand the heavenly outcry for the ultimate joy, love, and hope, we have the Choral symphony to speak for us.
Thankful that Beethoven had created this manifesto for us that one day when we celebrate the universal brotherhood we have the finest form already prepared.
Ode to Joy!
My favorite recordings
Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36
Roger Norrington – London Classical Players
Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Herbert von Karajan – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92
Fritz Reiner – Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93
Leonard Bernstein – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125 “Choral”
ODE TO FREEDOM
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61
Perlman, Giulini, Philharmonia
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, op. 15
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, op. 58
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 “Emperor”, Op. 73
Bernard Haitink, Murray Perahia & Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma
Berliner Philharmoniker, Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper
By now, Beethoven had single handed ended the classical era. Music is no long just for entertaining the audience or showcasing the artistry of the composer and the virtuosity of the musician. Beethoven dignified music as the vehicle of conveying personal emotions, ideas, and beliefs and for the expression of universal longings – thus, the chapter of the Romantics. The Eroica symphony, without precedent or prototype, abruptly erased any doubt about Beethoven’s intention.
The E flat symphony is often described Grand. It is grand in the sense of its scale. Beethoven doubled the size of the orchestra and the length of the symphony. But it really does not capture the intensity of the quantum leap this symphony imposed to the music evolution as well as the endurance of the audience.
Let’s put this in perspective. The gap between this symphony – his Third – and the Second symphony, which it followed by an interval of only one year, is so deep and wide that perhaps only Beethoven himself was readily to comprehend the new intellectual conception.
When it was performed in first audition in 1804, at prince Lobkowitz’s court, it was dedicated to Napoleon. Upon hearing the news that Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted, scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently with a knife that he punched a hole in the paper. According to Ferdinand Ries, friend and student of Beethoven:
In 1803 Beethoven composed his third symphony (now known as the Sinfonia Eroica) in Heiligenstadt, a village about one and a half hours from Vienna….In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven¹s closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Buonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title-page and “Luigi van Beethoven” at the very bottom. Whether or how the intervening gap was to be filled out I do not know. I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, he too will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page was later re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title Sinfonia Eroica. - From Biographische Notizen über Beethoven, F. Wegeler and F. Ries, 1838
Title Page, where Napoleon's name shown erased
The first public performance took place in Vienna on April 7, 1805. Clearly some audience felt the suffer and outraged with the incomprehensible passage, as one concert goer yelled: “I’ll give another Kreutzer if it will just stop.” Even the most equipped music critics had difficulties to grasp the spirit of a whole new set of resonances, “At any rate this new work by Beethoven has great daring ideas, and, as can be expected from the genius of this composer, is very powerfully carried out. But the symphony would gain immensely (it lasts a full hour) if Beethoven would decide to shorten it and introduce into the whole more light, clarity and unity….”, as the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reviewed.
The listeners did not really have a choice. They had to surrender themselves to the unparalleled passion, the irresistible outburst of creative energy, and the impeccable mastery exhibited in Beethoven’s musical creations. It did not take long for people to start to recognize that the Eroica, or heroic, symphony is impersonal as the tomb of the unknown soldier, a monument to the deathless spirit of man. It is as if a mysterious destiny, in causing Beethoven agony by tearing down an idol before his eyes, had taken the ultimate pains to insure the greatest destiny for his creation. We have in this work not a personal outpouring so much as a masterpiece which balances form and profound feeling, and looks down from its height on the music of two centuries.
In this monumental transformation, Beethoven clothed symphonic forms in a dramatic atmosphere that he forced the delicate, chamber-music style of the symphony to give way to a new abundance of chords, to music that speaks in thunder tones of mighty power. Through his music, we feel the dynamics charged with explosive energy, as if man had become once an elemental being, passionate and wild with unstoppable desire to inner freedom and liberty. Music once for all became the language of humanity, through the funeral marches and fantastic scherzos, as well as prayers and hymns whose solemnity had never before been claimed. “What is beautiful in science is the same thing that is beautiful in Beethoven. There’s a fog of events and suddenly you see a connection. It expresses a complex of human concerns that goes deeply to you, that connects things that were always in you that were never put together before”, as Victor Weisskopf points out.
The revelation was elevated to a new height in his Fifth symphony in C minor. This is undoubtedly, in my opinion, the highest expression humanly possible to disclose inner confrontation, struggle, and will to overcome. It is timeless, boundary-less, and universal. Guided by its powerful opening motif, the C Minor Symphony conveys one of the fundamental elements of human beings by steering the listener “from night to light,” from defeat to triumph.
Beethoven himself conducted the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, performed together with the Sixth Symphony (“Pastorale”), in Vienna on Dec. 22, 1808. In the same Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, celebrated author, composer, and music critic Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 – June 25, 1822) offered the following:
Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing – a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.