APRIL 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 4
T H E I R M A S T E R S ' V O I C E
THOSE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVED that the growing number of women senators would soften the soul of the upper chamber were keenly disappointed during last year's congressional debate on welfare "reform." With the exception of Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Illinois, every woman senator voted for a bill that will push one million additional children into poverty.
Women senators have been just as ruthless on human rights issues, as seen in the cases of China and Nigeria. The chief apologist for the former is Dianne Feinstein, D-California, while the latter's prime sponsor is Moseley-Braun herself.
Feinstein is a longtime shill for Beijing, but she stunned even seasoned observers in recently proposing a joint U.S.-China presidential commission to initiate an "open dialogue" about human rights. This commission, said Feinstein, should look not simply at China's shortcomings, but also at the National Guard killing of students at Kent State University, the lynching of African-Americans and the beating of peaceful civil rights marchers, the government's forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the police beating of Rodney King.
No one believes Feinstein is sincere in calling for such an inquiry. Her suggestion, the object of great scorn in Congress, is simply a smokescreen to prevent a serious look at China's awful record. "She's a complete fraud," says one longtime congressional staffer. "She has no interest in human rights problems in China."
Feinstein's romance with China dates to the 1970s, when she was mayor of San Francisco and became close friends with Jiang Zemin, then mayor of Beijing and now China's president. In explaining her interest in U.S.-China relations, Feinstein has jokingly said, "In my last life I was Chinese."
It is not possible to confirm this, but her passion for Beijing is more likely tied to the fact that her husband in her current life, merchant banker Richard Blum, has substantial business and real estate interests in China. He manages $750 million in investments for about 70 companies, with a large chunk of that amount tied up in China. Blum is also a director of Shanghai Pacific Partners, a major import-export firm.
In 1994, Feinstein led the effort to renew most-favored-nation trade status for China at a time when her husband was preparing to invest $150 million of his clients' money, along with $2 million to $3 million of his own, in China.
Blum also sits on the board of directors of Northwest Airlines, a company in which he holds a 6 percent share. His interest in the firm may be one reason that China's rulers have been so friendly towards the company. Northwest obtained the first non-stop flights from the United States to China about a year ago. The company also recently formed an "alliance" with Air China, the big government-run airline, which means the two firms will cooperate in areas such as scheduling, marketing and promotions, as well as carrying each others' passengers.
A Feinstein aide denied that Blum's business affairs had any effect on Feinstein's positions on China.
While Feinstein toils for China, Moseley-Braun crusades for Nigeria. Having sputtered from coup to coup since independence, Nigeria plunged into a human rights abyss in 1993, when General Sani Abacha annulled elections won by opposition leader Moshood Abiola and threw Abiola into jail. In 1995, Abacha's regime executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni human rights activists.
In attempting to burnish its image in the United States, Nigeria has targeted the African-American community. It has paid for a number of trips to the country by African-American leaders, including newspaper publishers and clergymen. Through a beltway public relations firm, Nigeria has also taken out a series of eight-page advertising supplements in black newspapers. Randall Robinson of TransAfrica has said that a Nigeria businessman offered to pay him $1 million if his group would drop its opposition to the Abacha regime.
Because she is the only black senator, Moseley-Braun has been eagerly courted by Nigeria. She traveled to Nigeria as a guest of state last August and came back carrying a letter for President Clinton from Abacha. Accompanying her on this journey was her former fiancé and campaign manager, Kgosie Matthews, who has worked as a lobbyist for Nigeria. Moseley-Braun did not meet with any opposition leaders, but did squeeze in a chat with Colonel Dauda Musa Komo, the man who supervised the execution of Saro-Wiwa.
This was Moseley-Braun's second trip to Nigeria. In 1992, she skipped orientation for new senators in Washington and traveled to Lagos, also in the company of Matthews. Her fiancé's hiring as a lobbyist for the Nigerian generals followed that visit.
Moseley-Braun has led the pro-Nigeria caucus in Congress, last year testifying against a sanctions bill that collapsed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
More recently, a group of pro-democracy Nigerians traveled to Washington in mid-February to meet with members of Congress and staffers, including Chailandu Pegues of Moseley-Braun's office. The Nigerians' notes from the meeting say, "We went from a provocative strategy session to a bout of strategic provocation."
The low point came when Pegues said his boss was "outraged" by the execution of Saro-Wiwa but that Nigeria's legal system was an internal matter except in cases of gross violations of human rights. The execution of Saro-Wiwa and the other eight activists was "too close to call," Pegues said.
Nigeria plans to hold local elections in April and a presidential balloting next year. Moseley-Braun is likely to describe these elections as the first step towards democracy, even though the government has allowed only pro-Abacha parties to register. The general himself has said he may run as a civilian, thereby allowing the country to return to "civilian rule."
-- Ken Silverstein