News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Atimes letter to the editor...

Dear Sirs: regarding Henry C K Liu's Mao and Lincoln-Part One: Demon and Deity:

Perhaps I can make a quick comment upon Mr. Liu's Chomsky-like political views. Mr. Liu writes: "This concept of the rule of law is different from that used in the US legal system, in which laws are made by lobbyists, manipulated to serve special interests and applied by courts dominated by high-priced lawyers. The US legal system is blatantly undemocratic, with its courts packed with politically appointed judges and a legal-fee structure unaffordable by the average citizen."

Anyone can form, join, or support a political action committee and employ lobbyists. That's what the NAACP does, the ACLU does, the Sierra Club does, and what Greenpeace does. According to the census, America has at least 280 million special interests. And courts use all kinds of lawyers, some are expensive, some are pro bono.

And saying that the US legal system is blatantly undemocratic suggests that the rest of the system is democratic. The United States was formed as a republic; it's full of checks and balances preventing pure democracy from being executed.

Politically appointed judges, if anything, are democracy in action. The electorate votes in the politicians who then nominate the judges. In the case of federal nominees, they enter the murky waters of the political arena and sink, like Robert Bork, or barely swim, like Clarence Thomas.

As to the legal fee structure being unaffordable by the average citizen, that's a questionable premise as well. The average citizen has access to small claims court, which costs nothing. Business people - small and large - have access to binding arbitration, which avoids lawyers altogether and is quite inexpensive. And all of us have access to trial lawyers who work on a commission basis. If your lawyer loses the case, it costs you nothing. If your lawyer wins the case for you, he or she takes somewhere around a 30% cut. If no lawyer is willing to take on your case, then it is overwhelmingly likely that your case is simply not actionable. In addition to this, people like my father take on cases pro bono every year.

If I can get a quick comment in on Lincoln. Mr. Liu might also have made grist of the fact that Lincoln was outspoken in his support for corruption. Lincoln said the spoils system was the only way to get democracy to work. This isn't hard to understand if you've dealt with bureaucracies. Bureaucrats, like private-sector workers, hustle a lot faster when they're offered extra cash. In the private sector, this is called a bonus. In the public sector this is called a bribe. But the principle is the same. And so is the effect.

Lincoln as an elected politician was definitely a mixed bag. Mao, on the other hand rose to become an emperor of the old school. At times, Mao could kill on a whim. That was never an option for Lincoln.

And the following statement of Mr. Liu's takes the cake so far this year for double standards: "In the context of the strong US tradition of civil liberty, Lincoln's assault on due process was decidedly more violent than Mao's alleged autocratic leadership style, since such is natural in Chinese political tradition."

Having said all of this, I enjoy reading Mr. Liu's work. Please keep publishing it.

Biff Cappuccino (Taipei)

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