Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: Fortunate Sons

“Fortunate Sons” told the story of the first group of 120 young boys to be sponsored by the Manchu government in Beijing and entered the U.S. for a western education. The first cohort rode on the newly completed transcontinental railroad from San Francisco to Hartford Connecticut in 1872. These boys grew into adulthood in America and played important roles the early bilateral relations between China and the U.S.

Sending boys to America for a western education was Yung Wing’s idea. He had undergone just such an experience, becoming the first Chinese to graduate from Yale in 1854.

When he went back to China, he eventually met and became a trusted assistant to Zeng Guofan, the most powerful official at the imperial court. Zeng felt the sting of Western imperial powers and the unequal treaties imposed on China. He asked Yung for his ideas on modernizing China, Yung proposed sending boys to the U.S. for further education.

By the time Yung accompanied the first of three batches of 40 boys to America in 1872, Zeng had died and succeeded by Li Hongzhang, who became Yung’s chief patron in court. Li shared Zeng’s desire to modernize China.

With the help of Yung’s friendship and connection with the Christian missionaries, the boys were dispersed to families in Connecticut to attend schools preparatory to entering leading universities in America.

By and large these boys, at ages of 12 and 13, adapted to American life and quickly became fluent in English. Some even excelled in baseball and all worked diligently to get to the top of their class. Anti racist bias had not yet found their way to the eastern parts of the U.S. Their female classmates found the Chinese boys exotic and more attractive than their more ordinary white classmates.

The first group of students graduated from high school in 1876 and they were accepted into such elite schools as Yale, MIT and other Ivy schools. The race riot that rampaged through Chinatown of San Francisco incited by Dennis Kearney was a year away in the future.

By 1881, Li Hongzhang came under severe political pressure at the imperial court and was forced to abort the mission to educate the boys sent to the U.S. Only two had completed their college education and received their degrees. Over 60 of them were sprinkled in various colleges; Yale had the most with 22, MIT with 8, Columbia with 3 and Harvard 1.

The last contingent was to return to China in September 1881. Before boarding ship in San Francisco, the now young men challenged the local team to a baseball game. The local team couldn’t hit against the lefthander on the Chinese team and lost.

Some of these men found positions in the government. Others built some of the first railroads in China. Others found schools and universities. Among the more notable were Tong Shaoyi and Liang Dunyan.

Tong was one time the right hand man under Yuan Shikai before becoming disillusioned by Yuan’s greed for power. He led a delegation to Lhasa and successfully negotiated a treaty with the Brits that gave possession of Tibet back to China.

Liang was the southpaw pitcher who became Minister of Foreign Affairs. He convinced America to use some of the indemnity funds to send Chinese students to America. He started Tsinghua prep school to prepare the student before sending them overseas.

The book was as much devoted to the life of Yung as the boys he brought to America. By accident, he became the hero of his Yale freshmen class by scoring the equivalent of the winning touchdown in the traditional annual scrum between the freshmen and sophomore class.

Yung met or intersected with the lives of many historical figures. Besides Zeng and Li, Yung met some of the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion and flirted with the idea of joining them. In the U.S. he met Mark Twain and shook the hands of President Ulysses Grant.

Yung was to cross the Pacific numerous times in the service of the Chinese government. On March 2, 1875, he married Mary Kellogg. By then he was in his early 40”s, well past the age when Chinese men married for the first time.

The book did not record whether Yung met Anson Burlingame during his stay in China. There was no question that he and his charges benefitted from the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 which respected the sovereignty of China and stipulated that citizens of each was to protected by the other.

By the time, the last of Chinese mission returned to China, it was just one year before the Exclusion Act of 1882. It was an America radically different from the one Yung first entered.

In September 1898, the famous 100 days of reform came to an end, and Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, the lead proponents of reform had the escape beheading by sneaking out of China. They did so with Yung Wing’s help.

Yung himself was not so fortunate. His US citizenship was revoked for no justifiable reason and he had sneaked back into the U.S. He died penniless and alone in a San Francisco flophouse on May 29, 1912 less than one year after China became a republic.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The FBI has a checkered history of investigative integrity

The affidavit filed against Leland Yee described the way the FBI skillfully led Leland Yee on with the promise of easy cash in exchange for Yee's promise to commit a crime or two. The undercover agents were most persuasive and Yee's defense would likely have grounds to plea entrapment.

Whether the court will find that FBI had over reached in Yee's case remains to be seen when his case comes to trial. We do know that the FBI has a history of over zealous and bias prosecution of Chinese Americans.

The first major cause celebre was John Huang, at the time a member of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton’s political enemies sought all kinds of ways to embarrass him and bring him down. They accused Huang of raising illegal campaign funds from China and elsewhere from Asia to help Clinton get elected.

Huang was eventually allowed resign his post and fade away to his home in California. He was never charged and did not spend a day in jail but paid dearly in emotional stress, drastic reduction in net worth drained by legal bills and the dismay of seeing the dirty side of American politics.

Unlike John Huang who was an enthusiastic campaign fundraiser because he thought he was participating in the exercise of democracy, American style, Norman Hsu simply ran a con by pretending to be a legitimate bundler of big donors. His ability to get closer to major political candidate, such as Hillary Clinton, gave him credibility that enabled him to operate a Ponzi scheme.  He is now in jail.

Wen Ho Lee also spent 10 months in jail based on evidence fabricated by the FBI, even though he didn’t conduct any of the activity he was accused of doing. He was clearly a victim of racial profiling and the desire of Clinton’s political opponents to use anti-China sentiments to embarrass the administration.

In the end, the presiding judge had to apologize to Lee for government misconduct, but nonetheless to justify Lee’s 10 months of solitary confinement, Lee had to plead guilty to unauthorized downloading of confidential information.

Even when the government makes a mistake, the victim pays. The usual approach is to force the victim to plead guilty to some misdemeanor in exchange for freedom and thus justify judicial abuse.

The most recent example was the Bo Jiang case in Virginia. The FBI took him off the departing plane and put him in detention After seven weeks in jail, the government had to let him go because they did not find any evidence of illegal activity except for xenophobic accusations by Congressman Frank Wolf. Jiang had to plea guilty to downloading pornography into his government computer in exchange for the jail time already served before he was allowed to go home to China.

Like Bo Jiang, Dr. Su Haiping was a subcontractor doing work for NASA in Moffett Field in Mountain View. The FBI asked him to take a lie detector test and then abruptly escorted him off the premises. NASA asked that his employment be terminated, but his employer, a NASA contractor refused, because they could not find any fault in Su’s work. Su is now suing the U.S. government for his treatment and when he wins, it will be a major historic event.

Probably the most shameful in the annals of FBI misconduct and government prosecutorial abuse was the case involving Denise Woo, at the time one of FBI’s own agents. Her superior took offense when she indicated that her undercover work could not substantiate his suspicion of the surveillance target being a spy.

Instead of dropping the investigation, he had her prosecuted for allegedly abetting the enemy agent despite failing to find any evidence that the target was an agent of any kind. Woo had to cop a misdemeanor plea in order to get on with her life, albeit no longer employed by the FBI. As for her supervisor agent, JJ Smith, he was later forced to retire after he was found sleeping with Katrina Leung, otherwise known as the central figure of the Parlor Maid affair. To this day, the FBI could not decide as to which country Leung was spying on and for.

There are other cases where the FBI action against Chinese Americans is based on the presumption of guilt until proven innocent--exactly opposite of the due process according to law. 

If you are a Chinese American and the FBI comes calling, it doesn't matter as to subject matter and whether you are the person of interest or merely a third party query, it would behoove you to have ready an attorney standing by advising you of your rights.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Can We Learn from the Leland Yee Affair?

The arrest of Leland Yee, California state senator, accused of graft, is the latest of a string of Chinese Americans that were ensnared by the FBI, some caught red handed and others that were unwitting victims cornered by a bureau of investigation that frequently acted beyond the laws they were sworn to protect.

In the case of Yee, based on the FBI criminal complaint, he was almost an accidental by-product of a 5-year undercover investigation on a gangster that proclaimed that he has reformed and gone legit since getting out of jail. According to the FBI, Raymond Chow, the main person of FBI’s interest, offered to help Yee in the gun running business and that’s how Yee came to the FBI attention.

According to the affidavit by the FBI agent, Yee was driven by the need to pay off a debt of $70,000 incurred from his unsuccessful run for mayor of San Francisco. Yee faced term limit on his Senate seat and, since the unsuccessful run for mayor, was planning to run for Secretary of State.

Before he could raise campaign funds for his next campaign, he had to pay off his previously incurred debt. Thus according to the FBI, Yee was tempted by the undercover agent into offering illegal undertakings in exchange for illegal contribution to his political campaign.

Yee is now on bail and his attorney indicated that he plans to plead not guilty. The whole story and where the truth lie remains to be told and pending Yee’s day in court.

At this point, the media’s reports on Yee draw primarily from the FBI affidavit in the 137 page criminal complaint and inevitably presenting only the government’s side of the story. Even so, a careful reading leads one to conclude that the undercover FBI agents masquerading as unsavory underworld characters are gifted actors with enterprising minds, excellent in proposing and initiating unlawful schemes to tempt the unwary and those looking for a fast buck.

Apparently Yee in playing the game of trying to be a successful politician faced the constant pressure of having to raise money and fell from grace. By any measure of the way American politics is played today, the amount of money Yee needed to keep him viable was pathetically minuscule compared to the hundreds of millions the upper 1% of 1% can donate to super PACs, and all legal and according to Hoyle.

The US Supreme Court has just ruled that campaign contribution is another form of free speech and should not have to face restrictions of any kind. This will simply mean that politics will be a game only for the wealthy and folks of limited net worth, such as Yee, might as well not get into the game. It's that or find illegal sources of fund and risk going to jail.