Will US launch military strike on Syria?

The world was anxiously watching as U.S. military action against Syria appeared imminent. The U.S. was willing to go ahead with airstrikes on Syria, despite opposition from Russia and China, which are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This makes the international community even more nervous.

Meanwhile, the British parliament voted against taking military action against Syria. The U.K. is the most trustworthy ally of the U.S., and has been supporting the U.S. almost unconditionally for a long time. As NATO has also made it clear that it would not support U.S. military actions against Syria, the U.S. was left to act on its own.

According to the latest poll conducted by ABC, unlike taking military action in Afghanistan after 9/11, six out of 10 Americans oppose an air strike against Syria. For this reason, President Obama has decided to pass this political hot potato to Congress. Obama has asked for Congress to approve military action against Syria, although there is no need for such an approval. He was doing so because he feels that he needs support from the American public. His calculation must be that authorization from Congress may show the international community that military action against Syria is not just his own decision, but the decision of the American people, approved by the U.S. Congress that represents its people, and may also eventually change public opinion.

It appeared that the U.S. Senate and House may approve a limited military strike for a period of 60 days (with a possible extension of 30 days). The U.S. will start its attack on Syria soon, disregarding opposition from Russia and China.

In the U.S., the President does not need the prior approval of Congress to declare a war. This issue of the President’s war powers often comes up in Congress, and there have been many discussions on ways to reduce the war powers of the President, but without success. The reason is that the President cannot wait for approval from Congress, when enemies attack the country. If a war has broken out and battles are under way, Congress cannot vote against military action, either. Since this makes the approval of Congress just a formality, there is always a debate on whether war powers exceed the powers given to the President.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan decided to invade Grenada for the reason that the country was changing from a peaceful tourist country to a communist state, building a military airstrip, under the influence of Cuba. Unable to ignore the unstable situation of Grenada, he invaded Grenada for the reason of securing the safety of 800 American medical students, and the war ended in three days. President Reagan took advantage of a congressional recess in declaring the war, and the war was already over when Congress resumed. Congress was put into a situation of approving Reagan’s declaration of war after the war was over.

In Syria, 1,400 innocent civilians died from poison gas, and 400 of them were children. Chemical weapons are banned for their cruelty by international law. Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a deliberate disregard of the Geneva Protocol.

Proponents of the military strike against Syria claim that the U.S. should deter the use of chemical weapons by punishing Syria. They argue that this is not the first time for the U.S. to punish a country alone, and that the U.S. fought alone for justice in the Kosovo War. Opponents of the military strike are concerned about the enormous cost of the military invasion, and they are also skeptical of the effectiveness of the limited military strike within limited time.

The military power of the U.S. is strong enough to nearly equal the combined power of the rest of the top 10 military powers of the world. The Republican Party claims that nobody would trust the U.S. if it, the most powerful country in the world, left alone the Syrian regime which brutally killed 400 children with poison gas.

The Korean government might also want the U.S. to punish Syria strongly. Syria is an ally of North Korea close enough to exchange weapons technology. The Korean government might hope that firm action against Syria may also change the attitude of North Korea. There was also a report that the poison gas in Syria came from North Korea. If this turns out to be true, I wonder what kind of military actions the U.S. would take against North Korea.

However, there has been a piece of good news developed over the last few days; Russia, acting as mediator, has made a proposal that Syria is willing to allow the international community, probably the U.S, monitor Syria’s entire chemical weapon system. It sounds like a surrender which gives President Obama no other choice but to accept the proposal. It appears that the military option against Syria would be postponed

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

Proportional representation should end

On July 4, the Special Committee on Political Reform of the Saenuri Party announced its proposal to increase the number of proportional representatives in the National Assembly to 100 from its current number, 54. As the proposal keeps the same total number, 300, of seats in the National Assembly as it is now, this would change the ratio of proportional representatives to district representatives to 1:2.

This is not a reform. This is a regress that would push Korean politics back 50 years. In 1972, a constitutional amendment was passed to adopt a system similar to proportional representation where one-third of the members of the National Assembly were appointed. This attempt failed after a few years due to all kinds of corruption scandals.

In almost all cases, once someone is appointed by a party as a proportional representative, he wants to have his own district for the next term. This leads to a political theater such as fawning on the party leadership, making harsh remarks against the other parties without hesitation, and getting into a tussle with other members only in front of a TV camera.

The original purpose of introducing the proportional representation system was to invite intellectuals with professional expertise to national issues. Now, after half a century, Korea has become an economic power full of highly-educated people: 85 percent of the people have college degrees, and the number of people with doctorate degrees is the highest in the world. It is no longer a compelling reason for proportional representation that the National Assembly needs members with expertise.

Currently, there are hundreds of elite staff members and aides with expertise in various fields in the National Assembly. Furthermore, there are many research institutions, which have expert researchers several times more than similar institutions in the U.S., around the National Assembly building. Does the National Assembly still need members with expertise in certain area?

The committee’s reason for increasing the ratio of proportional representatives in the National Assembly is to prevent too much influence from local powers in the districts and excessive involvement in the matters of private interest. This is an insult to members of the National Assembly who represent their districts. I wonder why the committee did not go further to argue instead that parties appointing all 300 seats in the National Assembly would save the cost of election so much.

The committee also claimed that at least half of the proportional representatives should be women. Then, why don’t we include other groups of people that receive unequal treatment from society, including people with disabilities, defectors from North Korea, and people from multicultural families?

Currently, one-sixth of the members of the National Assembly, 54 out of 300, are appointed through the proportional representation system. In fact, I have never heard of a proportional representation in the U.S. The reason is that it is unthinkable in the U.S. for a party to appoint members of Congress, the country’s highest legislative institution. Thus I have argued for a long time that Korea should end its proportional representation system.

There was no end to the scandals around proportional representation until not so long ago. Rumors said that one had to pay a certain amount of money to a party in order to become a proportional representative of the party. I know that there were even some people who were sent to prison for such a crime. How could they sell National Assembly seats for money? This is why the proportional representation system is criticized for corrupting democracy.

I wonder what the proportional representatives, who do not have districts, do on a weekend. I wonder if they are sorry for those who head to their districts as often as possible to take care of the people who elected them. It is the same during an election. Proportional representatives would look like free riders to their colleagues who make concerted efforts in their campaigns, shaking hands with people in traditional flea markets early in the morning and giving speeches on the street under the scorching sun.

Most of the proportional representatives are appointed without getting their hands dirty. They just run around with fancy resumes to find their alumni or regional connections in a party. I heard that one has to be a big shot with serious political guile in order to be ranked in the top 10 on the list of proportional representative candidates of a party.

The Capitol Hill is regarded in the U.S as a sacred place. The reason is that only those who are elected by the people can enter Congress, the highest legislative institution of the country. Members of Congress are representatives. A representative is a person who is elected by the residents of a district, who are busy making a living, to represent their rights.

People elect a representative not because the person had a great education and a great career but because they think the person would work hard for the district and be able to understand and represent them. That is why the members of Congress are elected through the tests and difficult processes of election.

Each of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives speak for the interest of his or her district, works for the development of the district, and believes that the sum of such effort amounts to representing and working for the interest and the development of the whole country.

The criteria based on social issues, like the one that at least half of the proportional representatives should be women, should not be applied to the election of a member of the National Assembly. In a true democracy, the election of a member of a congress should be left to the voters of a district so that they can pick whoever they want. I hope that the voting right, one of the most sacred rights of the people, will not be diluted.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

Getting rid of corruption in Korea

If someone asks me what the most urgent problem in Korea is, I would say that it is corruption. According to the recent report on corruption in Asia from Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), Korea turned out to be the worst country with respect to the problem of corruption among developed countries in Asia.

In the report, the corruption index for Korea is three times worse than those of Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Hong Kong. Countries graded worse than Korea are India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and China.

Especially, Koreans tend to tolerate corruption in business and government as if an old habit, and its punishment for corruption usually ends up being just a slap on the wrist. As a result, Korea received the dishonor of being the second worst country for corporate corruption in Asia in that respect.

The report says that the roots of corruption in Korea have reached the top levels of the country’s government and business.

A more serious problem is that the practice of corruption has crossed borders: business corruption in overseas projects of Korean companies is beyond description and corruption in events organized by government offices overseas is the worst it has been in the past 10 years.

This means that cross-border corruption of Korea is getting worse. The report predicts that, if this continues, Korea will be internationally labeled as a country of corruption, which will lower its international standing and lead to the collapse of its economy. This is a real embarrassment.

There is also research showing that for every one-point reduction for a country in the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is published by Transparency International, its GDP per capita increases by 2.64 percent.

These days in Korea, businesses are complaining about its loss of efficiency as it cannot have sufficient air-conditioning, despite the worst heat wave in our country, due to the shortage of electricity.

This shortage was caused by the corruption of government officials that led to using defective parts in the construction of power plants.

Miraculous economic growth was possible in Singapore, since the country carried out anti-corruption measures on a full scale.

The Xi Jinping government of China also declared its resolution to eradicate corruption among government officials, saying that it would not be afraid of using even the death penalty in corruption cases.

Another problem in Korea, as serious as corruption, is the rate of crime. The crime rate is much higher than the average crime rate of OECD countries. While crime rates in OECD members have been falling, Korea’s has continued to rise.

According to a report from the Korea Development Institute, Korea has the third highest homicide rate among the 29 OECD countries, and has crime rates in theft, fraud, and sexual violence that are twice as high as those of other developed countries.

While heinous crimes have fallen in other OECD countries since 2000, heinous crimes like homicide, robbery and theft have increased four-fold in Korea from 7,300 cases in 1980 to 27,500 in 2010.

Mass food poisoning from contaminated ingredients supplied for school meals frequently occurs in elementary schools. Recently, there was a gruesome case where a policeman on active duty killed a pregnant woman with whom he had an extramarital relationship and disposed of the corpse. It is sad how Korea has become a country full of heinous crimes like these.

I think that President Park Geun-hye made a great decision not to follow the tradition of granting special pardons on Aug. 15, Liberation Day. The amnesty of one million people by the previous Lee administration surprised the world. I cannot understand why it is necessary to send criminals to prison through litigation wasting tax money if the President pardons one million of them.

People say that those who are well-connected will be pardoned through the Christmas amnesty, or the March 1 amnesty, if not through the Aug. 15 amnesty, and those people wait for their pardons in luxurious patient rooms of hospitals with illness as their excuse.

Because of situations like these, those of the privileged class act as if they are above the law, and laugh at, for example, their five-year sentences, thinking that they will be released in six months. What kind of legal system is this?

I have no doubt that President Park will put an end to this international embarrassment caused by corruption and rising crime. She has shown her strong leadership toward North Korea. I believe these corruption and crime reports are somewhat exaggerated.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

Another controversy on racism: Trayvon Martin case

A 17-year-old African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, had a tragic death in Sanford, Fla., in February last year. On his way home from a convenience store, Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman thought Martin, a black teenager wearing a hoodie, was suspicious and followed him. This following resulted in an altercation, and Zimmerman shot Martin to death. Zimmerman was put on trial with a charge of second degree murder, but the jury determined that the shooting by Zimmerman was an act of self-defense, and acquitted him.

Angered by the verdict, African-Americans held protests in several major cities in the U.S. There were even incidents where some violent protestors broke windows and looted stores.

President Obama also discussed the verdict and talked about the difficult, inescapable, experience of African-Americans in the U.S. “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me,” he said. “There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.” He said “Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago,” but also appealed that the African-American community should remain calm and show restraint.

This incident is different in several ways from the Rodney King Case that caused the 1992 L.A. Riots. Since then, racial conflicts have disappeared to a great degree in U.S. society, many anti-racism laws have been passed, and now an African-American is the U.S. president. African-Americans hold many high offices, like Supreme Court Justice, inside and outside the government. Then, what are the issues of this Trayvon Martin Case?

1. Zimmerman is Hispanic. Currently, the proportion of African-Americans in the U.S. population is 12.6 percent, which has not changed much from the previous 12.5 percent. But the share of Hispanics has increased to 16.3 percent from 12.5 percent. Due to the high birthrate in Hispanics, they will make up one-third of the U.S. population in 30 years. African-Americans think that while their ancestors contributed to the construction of the U.S. today, Hispanics are taking jobs from them for free. Furthermore, the growing political power of Hispanics makes African-Americans feel relative deprivation. Hispanics did not participate at all in the anti-racism rallies, which were led by African-Americans, against the verdict on Zimmerman. What would have happened if a Hispanic was shot to death on self-defense by an African-American? This is an issue that troubles the U.S.

2. African-Americans make up 30 percent of the population in Sanford where the killing took place. But none of the six members of the jury of the Zimmerman trial was African-American. All jurors were women, five of them were white, and one was Hispanic. There were three African-Americans among the prospective jurors of the trial, but they were not qualified for the trial. Should at least one of the jurors have been black even if the person was unqualified? If the victim had been Asian, should at least one of the jurors be Asian? This is an issue that the U.S. faces as a multi-ethnic country.

3. A majority of Americans do not think that this incident was caused by racism. As a result of steady efforts from the government over half a century, the U.S. is known as a country that respects human rights with the strictest punishment against racism. From what I have heard, African-Americans also think that the U.S. is the best country to live in. In other words, if their ancestors had been slaves in an Asian country, especially China, Japan, or Korea, their lives would have been much more difficult than theirs in the U.S.

4. There were also large rallies of white Americans against this verdict, but they are not anti-racism rallies. They were rallies to protest against the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. This law has been criticized for causing more gun violence. But, a poll showed that there was much more support for the law among Americans: 48 percent of Americans supported this law, while 32 percent opposed it. The key point of this law, passed in about thirty States in the U.S., is that a person under attack can use deadly force against another without an initial attempt to retreat, even outside of his residence, if the person, presumed to have a reasonable fear of death, reasonably believes such force is necessary to avoid his death.

One can say that the difference of opinions on what counts as self-defense was the reason behind the protests against the verdict on Zimmerman. Whatever the reasons may be, though it is difficult for us as a nation of a single ethnicity to understand, the race problem is certainly a big problem that the U.S. cannot avoid.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

News Y 9/3


In an interview with News Y on September 3, Jay Kim discussed issues related with Lee Seok-ki, a member of the National Assembly from the Unified Progressive Party: the arrest of Lee who was accused of conspiracy to stage a rebellion, his possible relationship with North Korea, his refusal to sing the national anthem of South Korea, the alliance of opposition parties, and NIS reform.

Kim also discussed issues concerning a possible U.S. military strike on Syria: President Obama’s reason for seeking congressional authorization, possible results of a congressional vote on the issue, their effect on the 2016 presidential election, and whether the U.S. should be involved militarily in Syria.