March 25, 2011
While the foreign press often praises Korea’s advancement in areas like education, culture and economy, they tend to have a low opinion of Korean politics, which is an assessment that I agree with.
While preparing for several speeches I was scheduled to give during my most recent visit to Korea, I thought about why this was the case.
One possible reason is the practice of hiding a murderer’s face. In Korean news, murderers always wear caps and masks to hide their faces, a practice that respects a murderer’s rights while ignoring the people’s right to know who that person is. This takes the concept of democracy too far.
Don’t people have a right to know what this cruel person looks like, so they can protect their family? In America, people do not forgive child molesters, even after they’ve finished their prison sentence.
People put up pictures of them around their town and demand that they leave, forcing them to pack up and hide for the rest of their lives in remote places where they are not recognized.
In contrast, while Korea doesn’t seem to care about the victims of these awful murders, they try to respect a murderer’s rights. The family members of the victims, whose hearts have been pierced with sorrow, are totally ignored. Who claims whose human rights for whom? This is a side effect of taking human rights too far.
Another possible reason is the culture of not caring about the criminal record of a candidate for public office. Last year, Lee Kwang-jae, a candidate convicted of bribery in a lower court was elected as the governor of Gangwon Province in his local election.
He was still on trial while elected, but in the middle of an appeal; later, he received a prison sentence in appellate court, and his duties were suspended simultaneously with his inauguration.
However, two months later the Constitutional Court ruled that suspending the duties of the head of a local government before a final court verdict is unconstitutional, and the man resumed his duties.
He eventually resigned as governor after losing yet again in Supreme Court. Some people argue that the choice of the people of Gangwon Province, who elected him to office, should be the final verdict. Why should being elected give him immunity from the law?
In the U.S., a candidate who has been found guilty of a crime during his campaign usually withdraws from the campaign voluntarily.
I’ve never seen a case where the candidate keeps appealing the decision, believing that winning the appeal would be great but losing it would not be a big deal. Claiming that a candidate for public office is innocent until proven guilty can also be taken too far.
Another reason may lie in the public hearings in the National Assembly. A recent minister nominee was grilled publicly over frivolous suspicions about his wife’s real estate speculation. When did it become a crime to make some reasonable amount of profits from real estate investment?
We all know the purpose of investments is to make a profit. Does this mean that only those who lose money from investing deserve to be minister? This just looks like a way to find a fault with the nominee over nothing.
A hearing is not supposed to be a TV drama, and I do not understand why they waste time and money on these hearings, especially when they don’t really matter. After all, the President is allowed to appoint the nominees, even if the Congress votes them down.
In America, it is unimaginable for the President to pardon 1 million criminally convicted people. President George W. Bush had faced a major controversy just by granting amnesty to less than 10 people.
After the Korean President pardoned 1 million people marking the March 1 Independence Movement and the Aug 15 Liberation Day, I wondered why they bothered with the original verdicts of the courts, instead of just sentencing their punishment to end on those days. It’s probably only in Korea that 1 million convicts can be pardoned by the President.
One final possible reason is the massive street demonstrations in Korea, where protesters are routinely seen beating up police. During these street protests, the road is blocked by police buses, causing major traffic jams.
Hundreds of cars cannot go anywhere until the protesters are broken up. In the U.S., those who physically attack the police are often shot, and demonstrations are not allowed to block off roads. Those who have to pass through there have the right to do so.
The exercise of one’s rights cannot intrude on the rights of others. In Korea, traffic should be controlled during these protests to allow passage on one side. My right should be exercised without infringing on others’.
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). The views expressed in the above article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.
By Jay Kim
One day during my term as House representative, I was asked to meet with the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about the national highway speed limit.
At that time, the national maximum speed limit on highways was 55 mph (88 kmh), thanks to a law passed by Congress in 1974 in response to the first oil crisis.
The law was based on the scientific reasoning that the 55 mph speed limit saves tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day and significantly reduces both car accidents and the loss of lives caused by those accidents.
One major reason for the law was that it would greatly reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East, which comprised 36 percent of the oil consumed by the U.S. However, it turned out this report was unrealistic, and many people broke the law in areas like the Midwest, where population density was low and the roads were wider.
Imposing a 55 mph speed limit on places like the desert highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was too ridiculous. Criticism was arising that the law was a kind of trap that made many people lawbreakers.
The chairman of the TIC, then, wanted me to lead the charge on a bill that would repeal the 55 mph speed limit law. He told me I was chosen because I majored in civil engineering and had specialization in highway engineering.
Although this was an issue that was very political and had nothing to do with civil engineering, I accepted his offer, and my name was put on the bill. The opposition to the bill was more severe than I expected. I was distressed over having to explain to my constituents the statistics that showed that lowering the speed limit reduced the number of lives lost by car accidents.
Almost all Congressional Democrats strongly opposed the bill. They criticized the Congressional Republicans, including me, who supported the bill, stating that Congress was responsible for the health and safety of the nation and this bill irresponsibly ignored that.
This meant that every time the bill was criticized, my name came up. I received hundreds of phone calls and letters a day about the bill; thankfully, more than half were in support, but the opposition was still rather strong.
Those of us supporting the bill claimed that the original aim of the current speed law was not to reduce traffic accidents, but was meant as an emergency response to the 1974 Arab oil embargo; also, it was not right for congressmen in Washington, ignorant of the local road situations nationwide, to pass a law that applied to the whole country.
However, this was not enough to placate the opposing public opinion. We then proposed a compromise that would leave speed limits in the hands of state government instead of removing the 55 mph speed limit at the national level, thinking this would bring some of the opposing House members to our side.
This brought on Republican opposition, criticizing that how fast one drives on a highway should be left to the individual decision of the driver, and changing the agent of speed limit imposition from federal to state governments would not cause any real change.
Some attacked the compromise by claiming that Americans’ ability of judgment was lower than Europeans, citing the lack of speed limit in Europe. Gradually, however, support for the compromise began to gain strength.
The far right-wing of the Republican Party takes the elimination of government involvement as its principle. They believe that ordinary people are wiser than the government, and that the economy should be left as a free market competition without interference.
They also think that the role of government is to discipline the companies that break laws and to prevent big corporations from seeking monopolies through mergers and acquisitions, ignoring the principles of the free market.
Ultimately, they believe politicians in Washington should only focus on making laws that help corporate business activity. In America, big corporations are not allowed to expand their businesses into other markets where they would make profits.
For example, Boeing concentrates only on the production of aircraft _ not because they lack the capital to run an insurance, construction, or baking company, but because the laws prohibit it. Boeing has been able to hold the top position in aircraft production for decades because of its concentration in that area.
But their being prohibited from expansion allows small business to concentrate on their own growth without any concern about big businesses cutting into their markets.
In the end, the bill to repeal the 55 mph speed limit law was brought before the T&I Committee after a fraught birthing process. After a hearing, it was voted on by a show of hands with reporters watching. Since the Democrats had the majority at the time, without the compromise leaving the speed limit to state governments, the bill would certainly fail to pass due to united opposition from the House Democrats.
The compromise passed through the T&I Committee with the help of some conservative House Democrats, and after two weeks, it was brought to a plenary session. After serious debates on the issue in that session, the speed limit law was finally nullified 21 years after its birth, and a new law leaving speed limit to state governments was born.
After that, each state followed its own laws. For example, the speed limit of the Las Vegas highway was raised to 75 mph, and many other highways was raised to 70 mph. Because of this new law, each state had to make and install hundreds of thousands of new road signs, and Congress included the several-hundred-million dollar budget for that in the law.
When the U.S. Congress passes a federal law, the federal government takes sole responsibility for the financial cost to implement the law. There is no case where the cost is dumped on state governments.
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).
Jay Kim expressed the need for a vice president elected by the people instead of a powerless prime minister and claimed that the election will give the vice president legitimacy.
About a problem in Korean politics, he claimed that the power of candidate nomination should be returned to the people, since the nomination power of the parties prevent assemblymen from going against party opinions and the physical brawls are the result of the obvious vote results predetermined by party opinions.
He criticized the problems of Korean society such as too much protection of brutal criminals, poor protection of victims, too much leniency on food production criminals.
About the Korea-U.S. FTA, he said, it could face difficulties if it is packaged with their FTA with Columbia and Panama, whose ratification would be difficult.
Jay Kim gave a speech on U.S. politics and comparison with Korean politics at a talk held by Youido Institute of the Grand National Party on March 16. He claimed that the Korea-U.S. FTA will be ratified this year because of President Obama’s strong will to get its ratification.
Jay Kim gave a presentation at a conference on Korea-U.S. cooperation on intellectual property, which was hosted by Assemblyman Lee Jong-heok of the Grand National Party. He suggested that a private institution is needed to advance to and get cooperation for the U.S. intellectual property market in the light of the Korea-U.S. FTA.
He proposed as the roles of ‘foundation for Korea-U.S. cooperation on intellectual property’ business development in the U.S. market, human exchange and education, advance to a new intellectual property market, scientific research collaboration, and providing a point of cooperation with the U.S. for domestic intellectual property institutions.
In his lecture at Yonsei University, Jay Kim claimed that the power of candidate nomination that political parties have should be returned to the people to make progress in Korean politics.
He pointed out that serving both as a minister and an assemblyman violates separation of powers. He also expressed his opinion that having a vice president instead of a prime minister would better in case of constitutional amendment.
He proposed to expand international trade by removing tariffs and barriers to join the advanced nations and to replace the UN Security Council with G20.
Citing his experience, he emphasized that leadership is acquired by effort.