Time to unite against North Korea

By Jay Kim

North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the ensuing military confrontation between South and North Korea made us realize once again that the Korean War, which occurred 60 years ago, still continues.

After half a century, the people of South Korea are again fearful of the possibility of a war, and are reminded of how important internal solidarity is in a crisis.

Some South Koreans, led by the leaders of the minority parties (their potential candidates for the next presidential election), have stated that South Korea should stop its military drills right away. This means that ordinary citizens cannot help being divided in their opinions.

On the one hand, they are fed up with the attacks by the North that killed innocent civilians; on the other hand, they are afraid of more drastic retaliation by North Korea if they are provoked by South Korea’s military drills.

When the stock market is not stable and the country is in a state of unrest, the leaders of the minority parties have demanded that the President stop the drills and apologize to the people. I have no words for this.

It should be expected at this point that China would strongly take North Korea’s side once again. They claim that South Korea should cease their military drills, because they may lead to another South and North Korea conflict.

Being asked to show restraint is simply too much, especially since North Korea shelled the island indiscriminately and without warning. Russia, who had previously criticized North Korea’s atrocities, have reversed their attitude and have joined China on North Korea’s side, proposing to petition the U.N. Security Council to stop the live-fire drill in Yeonpyeong.

Fortunately, this was denied by the U.S., the U.K. and France. How can something like this happen? I have constantly pushed for the removal of the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council; without this power, Russia and China’s power would be greatly diminished.

With international support of their right as a sovereign nation to hold defensive military drills within their territory to protect their people, South Korea successfully finished the 94-minute drill. It was a suspenseful but piquant 94 minutes; everybody could breathe easily after the drill finished without complications.

North Korea announced that this provocation was not worth a response, and the stock market stabilized as foreign investors bought the stocks that South Koreans had sold out of fear for the future. About 1,350 residents of Yeonpyeong were happy to be able to return home.

Many experts opined on North Korea’s change of attitude; it was suggested that this was a tactic to receive food from South Korea and help speed up the hereditary power transfer from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Jong-un, via direct talks with the U.S.

After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed 3,000 innocent lives, American anger reached untold levels; however, this anger was soon channeled into patriotism. U.S. flags were raised throughout the nation with black ribbons attached, and “We Love America” posters were seen all around.

Nobody protested against the government for their failure to stop the attacks; in fact, almost 80 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had been behind the attacks, and supported the invasion of Iraq, which was still a year and a half away.

The public opinion in South Korea after the shelling of Yeonpyeong was very similar to that of Americans after 9/11, especially among young people who lined up to volunteer in the Marine Corps.

The citizens of South Korea have united: 87 percent of people are united against North Korea, and public opinion is strongly in favor of retaliation against North Korea’s atrocity. The patience of South Koreans has run out.

It is clear that South Korea is in a serious crisis now, and with the successful finish of the military drill, now is the time to unite. North Korea must be aware that their hit and run tactics, which they’ve used to divide opinions in South Korea, are no longer effective against a united South. It’s now certain that pro-North Korean groups have less and less ground to stand upon.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).


(13) Constitution and democracy

South Korea marked the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of its Constitution on July 17. The National Assembly held various events to celebrate Constitution Day, and the speaker of the Assembly appointed a Constitution Study Advisory Committee to examine the necessity of constitutional amendments.

Because the U.S. had to fight the Revolutionary War after declaring independence from the British, it took 11 years after the declaration (Sept. 17, 1787) for the American Constitution to be adopted.

The whole world was surprised by this Constitution; at the time, every country was a monarchy, so a Constitution where the people would elect a President every four years was a very novel concept.

It was also difficult to imagine that the people would elect representatives to its legislative branch, and that the President would only execute the laws that Congress made.

At the time, the concept of elections was almost totally new; the word of the King was law, and inheriting the throne was the only form of political movement.

Even in America, there were those who opposed the ideology of the new Constitution, wanting instead to bring in a member of the Russian royalty to be the King of the United States.

The U.S. Constitution was born in the midst of these controversies, but that birth brought the true sense of democracy, such as the sovereignty of the people and common elections, to the attention of the world.

The spirit of the Constitution, which respected human rights and established the sovereignty of the people and democratic principles, was a truly astounding miracle in world history. This constitutional framework helped make the U.S. of today the strongest nation in the world.

The foundation of today’s democracy in Korea was laid through the Gwangju Democratization Movement by thousands of students and citizens in 1980.

Once mayors and governors were directly elected by the people and transfers of power took place peacefully, democracy in Korea (learned from the U.S. Constitution) truly took hold.

History has proven that the democratic system emphasized in the U.S. Constitution is the best political system; however, even this system is not without its problems.

The U.S. has attempted to solve this by passing hundreds of laws under the Constitution to continue to pursue true democratic principles. This keeps the democratic system fresh with the changing times.

What are the principles that make the U.S. Constitution so strong? First, every human being is born equal, and nobody is above the law. Second, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Third, the separation of powers of the branches of government are clearly established, as well as the checks and balances between them.

Fourth, the nation belongs to the people. These days, those principles may seem entirely obvious, but the process for this ideology to take hold was not easy.

The Korean Constitution is almost the same as the U.S., but it specifies the rights of the people in greater detail. It clarifies the fact that the nation belongs to the people, which is the most important and fundamental principle of democracy.

Most nations nowadays imitate the U.S. Constitution, even to the point where Communist stronghold Russia has embraced democracy and China is also slowly phasing out communism.

It is a pity that North Korea has ignored this global trend, continuing to privatize its governance through the inheritance of power, and becoming a nation of poverty and tragedy where millions of people have starved to death.

To emphasize again, the most important items of the U.S. and Korean Constitution are the articles about the rights of the people. The rights of the people are strictly guaranteed by the Constitution; so many lives were sacrificed to protect these rights in so many countries.

Twenty-eight rights and two duties (the duties of tax payment and national defense) are specified from Article 10 to 39 of Chapter 2 of the Constitution of Korea; meanwhile, in the U.S. Constitution, the rights of the people were specified in the first 10 of 27 Amendments, which are called Bill of Rights because they deal with the fundamental rights of the people.

It should be noted that the freedom of assembly, unlike the other rights, has the condition that the assembly should be peaceful. Every time I watch the violence of protesters against policemen in the streets of Seoul, I feel like that freedom of assembly has been misunderstood.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

(12) Sexual harassment and separation of powers

Possibly the most controversial hearing in modern American history was for Justice Clarence Thomas in October 11-13, 1991. Thomas, a conservative black federal judge with a white wife, was nominated by President Bush for a Supreme Court seat.

Just as the hearing began, Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis Law School and a graduate of Yale’s law program, accused him of sexual harassment.

As the hearing went on, Hill was peppered with questions about the alleged harassment at the Senate Judiciary Committee, as millions of Americans watched with bated breath.

When pressed about why she claimed sexual harassment, Hill stated that when she and Thomas worked together at a law firm, “he told me that the size of his was pretty big.” This was a scandalous statement, and her main evidence for her claim.

However, this time, it was hard to determine whether such a statement, without bodily contact, constituted sexual harassment.

Many feminist organizations criticized Thomas, stating that a person who would make such a sexually oriented statement to a woman was a sexist and should not be appointed to the highest court in the land.

Despite this criticism, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed Thomas’ appointment, stating that his behavior could not be considered sexual harassment, and the Senate general session also confirmed Thomas by a 52-42 vote.

The TV broadcast of this hearing received very high ratings, which prompted more active female participation in U.S. politics. Feminist organizations demanded the resignation of the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, and when this failed, they began uniting campaigns to send more women to Congress.

The next year (1992) saw the largest number of women in U.S. history elected to Congress. In California, women were elected to both Senate seats.

Many female governors and mayors were elected throughout the country. The female vote saw the highest percentage of total voters in American history.

This change in active female participation in politics had to have been started by the hearing of Justice Thomas and its fallout.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee which has traditionally been all male members now has female members.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

Physical confrontation in Assembly [The Korea Times]

By Jay Kim

They say that politics in Korea, no matter how advanced the rest of the culture has gotten, is still on a third world level.

In the most recent scuffle among the lawmakers of ruling and opposition parties at the National Assembly, office appliances were hurled around, their aides got involved in the fighting, the thick fortified-glass door of the main hall was shattered during the fight, and a legislator was even sent to the hospital with his head bleeding from having been hit with a thrown gavel.

It’s a pity that this happened in the lawmaking center of a major economic power. Had this happened in the United States, participating aides would have been sent to jail, and Congressmen involved in the fight would have been brought to the disciplinary committee, which could lead to them losing their posts.

The biggest difference between the U.S. and Korean parliamentary systems is how the Congress is run by the majority and minority parties.

In Korea, the President’s party is the “majority,” and the other parties, regardless of how many seats they have in the Assembly, are “minority” parties.

In America, the majority party is the one with the largest number of seats in Congress; the affiliation of the President has nothing to do with it.

President Barack Obama is a Democrat, but the Republicans have the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, so they are the majority party and are the party that seats the chairperson of every committee and subcommittee in the House.

Unlike Korea, there is no sharing of the chairmanship with the minority parties; if the Democrats don’t like it, they’ll just have to regain the majority in the next election.

If President Obama was a Republican, every bill would pass through Congress with ease; since that’s not the case, there will be friction between the White House and Congress, most likely regarding the budget for next year.

There have been precious few cases where the budget was passed within its deadline. The fiscal year for the U.S. budget starts on Oct. 1 of one year and ends on Sept. 30 of the next year.

If the budget has not been passed by then, a “continuing resolution” will be adopted, allowing the government to temporarily run on the previous year’s budget.

In 1995, Democrat Bill Clinton was President and the Republicans were the majority party of Congress. At that time I had just been re-elected as a Republican Congressman, and the Republican House members, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, stopped the budget bill submitted by Clinton, claiming that budgets for Medicare, the Environmental Protection Agency, and various welfare programs should be cut deeper.

Clinton claimed that they’d been cut as much as possible; Gingrich responded that the House could not increase the debt limit.

This led to the infamous government shutdown of that year, when non-essential government services were closed after midnight on Nov. 13 (the deadline of the continuing resolution), and only services such as police departments and national defense continued to run.

Clinton strongly criticized the Republicans for the shutdown, as nearly $800 million was lost in the 20-odd days that the government was shut down.

At the start of 1996, the budget bill passed thanks to mediation from then-Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. Surprisingly, public opinion was on Clinton’s side over the debate, and this helped lead to his re-election that year.

I would hope that Korean parliamentary members should remember the U.S. government shutdown of 1995, when the nation turned its back on Congress in the battle between them and President Clinton over the budget.

I believe that the budget bill, the blueprint for how the nation will run, should not be connected to political contentions; rather, as it relates to the daily lives of Korean citizens, it should be passed as soon as possible.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

(11) Proportional representation

By Jay Kim

One major difference between Korean and American politics is the proportional representation system. Korea has proportional representation, whereas America does not.

In the U.S., where each member of Congress represents his or her own congressional district, a lawmaker without a district is unimaginable.

In Korea, proportional representation was originally intended to elect experts from various fields to help the operation of the National Assembly. These days, however, it is known as a way to buy a seat in the Assembly.

In the U.S., Congressmen return home on the weekends to manage their districts, where primary elections for their party nomination are held, leaving the streets of Washington, D.C., quite empty on the weekends.

When they return to their districts, full schedules await them. In most cases, Congressmen will talk with people from various civic organizations and interest groups.

These people want to hear an explanation from their representative about what had happened in Washington during the week, including bills passed or scheduled to be put on the floor. They never fail to ask difficult questions; before these meetings, Congressmen often spend a night preparing their answers.

When I was a Congressman, the toughest group for questions was the Teachers Association. They usually have strong anti-Republican inclinations, attacking expensive private middle and high schools as institutions built only for the children of the rich; meanwhile, those rich people would not mind paying taxes for the cost of public education while sending their children to much more expensive private schools.

The Teachers Association may not be an extremist group like the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, but I always felt unkind gazes when I confronted them. They would always barrage me with questions, such as asking me why I voted for a specific bill that alleged favoritism to private school systems.

I had to study in order to properly answer these questions; in this, I was assisted with 16 Congressional aides, a service provided to each member of the house (usually each member receives between 16-20 aides).

All of these aides were experts in their fields; both my district office and Washington office had them working on various research topics, such as defense, education, traffic, and social welfare. They would also prepare the supporting data for me to answer the questions I would face at my district meetings.

If I could not answer or avoided answering my constituents’ questions, the next day the local newspaper would put my picture right on the front page. Visiting college campuses was the hardest; I often had a hard time with U.S. history questions, so I would read a history book on the plane several times.

Korean-American meetings were always easy; these were mostly social meetings with no difficult Q&A sessions to be stressed about. In these cases, a quick congratulatory remark was enough from me; I’d spend the rest of the time listening to the speech of the head of the organization that sponsored the meeting.

Chinese-American meetings were also usually a comfortable occasion to eat and drink. One time I attended a meeting in Los Angeles of Chinese people who came from Korea, often called Korean-Chinese.

One person came up to me, showed me a picture of a pretty Korean woman, and asked me, “Do you know Joo Hyun-mi? She is my daughter and the most popular singer in Korea.” I was unfamiliar with the name and didn’t know what to say, but I quickly had what he told me confirmed.

I took the man’s hands, looked into his wrinkled face, and told him, “Every Korean must know her. You have a great daughter.” The man’s eyes filled with tears.

In the U.S., Korean-Chinese find it tough to enter into the mainstream Chinese-American society, mostly comprised of people hailing from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. They tend to run Chinese restaurants targeting Korean-Americans.

I feel sorry for them in some respects; they gave up everything they had in Korea to come to America, but ended up having to cater to Koreans again.

I heard that a fellow lawmaker from southern Texas had to use a small plane to cover his district, a vast area with a low population density, rather than driving in a car. Fortunately for me, two hours in a car is enough for my district, as LA and Orange County is a smaller and more populated area.

These days, I wonder what the proportional representatives in the National Assembly do every day. They don’t have districts to manage, and don’t have to struggle to answer the demands and questions from constituents. I find myself envying these representatives, lawmakers with the easiest lawmaking job in the world.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).