Kim Chang Joon Academy 6-Day Visit to U.S. East Coast

Members of Kim Chang Joon Academy of Politics and Economics visited Washington D.C. for 6 days.

25 Students of Kim Chang Joon Academy of Politics and Economics will visit the U.S. for the second time. They will visit Washington DC, Atlantic City, and New York during the 6 days of their schedule and will meet with various business school professors and Korean-American business men. Jay Kim said that people-to-people diplomacy is very important for the closer and more amicable Korean-American relations.

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Free school lunch paradox

The United States is still the destination for many immigrants and they continue to arrive with hopes of finding the “American Dream.” The American Dream, according to these immigrants, is being provided with equal opportunity in achieving wealth to buy houses, cars and a better education for their children when they work hard enough, although they may lack higher education and a personal network. No immigrants come to the U.S. looking for free school lunches.

A free school lunch program is one of the main subjects of contention in Korea these days. France, too, is restless with their free school lunch program. France had been offering special menus without pork on top of their ordinary menus, in respect of the significant numbers of their Muslim immigrant population. However, a recent court ruling decreed that schools do not need to offer two different menus on religious grounds, since religion and education are separated under the constitution. The ruling has aroused Muslim parents in opposition. Free school lunch programs have always been an annoyance to the French.

The U.S. also has a free school lunch program. It is a program that costs the federal government $100 billion a year. Each school district administers the program and the cost is reimbursed by the federal government. The program, however, only benefits poor children who may be prone to childhood obesity due to an ill-balanced diet. At first, the “who pays, who benefits” controversy was raised by single parents and families without children whose tax dollars were equally subjected to pay for the free lunches, but the debate dissipated with a shared understanding that children are the future leaders of the country.

There is an understanding in the U.S. that children are not to blame for the poor condition of their families. To avoid possible self-confidence issues of children who receive free lunches, the program is successfully operated as a voucher system. In the voucher system, meal tickets are provided free of charge to those families in need, while the rest purchase the tickets. Since most families use this system, as it is more cost-effective and convenient for busy families, no one knows nor cares who receives the tickets for free and children are also careless about it.

I read a newspaper column a few days ago that argues that free school lunch is a right, based on an odd interpretation of the Republic of Korea’s Constitution number 31 stating that free lunch is implied as a part of compulsory education. The columnist argues that all children need to receive free school lunches in order to eliminate discrimination against those children receiving free lunches. This is to avoid having children grow into adulthood resenting their own country lamenting, “What did my country do for me?” due to humiliation arising from receiving free lunches for being needy. I must say President John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is much more appropriate than “What did my country do for me?”

Currently in Korea (according to 2010-2013 figures), the student population has shrunk by 630,000, but provincial and local government expenditures on free school lunches have increased 2.5 times, from 970 billion won to 2.7 trillion won. In its place, education improvement facilities funds were cut by almost 1 trillion won. Processing food waste is costing tens of millions of won, while some media reports have found that the 200,000 won per month support that goes equally to the affluent was used by some to purchase luxury goods.

If this trend continues, the national treasury will soon disappear. Those in support of free school lunches constantly argue that more taxes to the rich will resolve the problem. I am reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s statement: “We cannot pull down the rich to help the poor. Both will fall at the end.” They argue for increasing the taxes to the rich and expanding the free school lunch program all the way to 11th graders. I would like to suggest that they study the causes of Greece’s economic downturn.

Everyone was poor when I was growing up as a child. My mother was always up early in the morning to pack my lunchbox. The humble meal she prepared was no fancy one by any means, but it was my mother’s love that fed me through it. I grew up not knowing whether a free lunch program is a right that I needed to defend.

Good out of evil

The world was shocked by a brutal knife attack inflicted on the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, on March 6. Regardless of the motive, it was a huge shock because it targeted the Ambassador who represents the U.S. the strongest ally nation’s capital city, Seoul, a city well praised for its safety.

The suspect who performed the terror attack, Kim Ki-jong, cried for an immediate stop to a Korea-U.S. joint military drill, claiming that it is an exercise to instigate a war with North Korea. On the contrary, the world knows that it is North Korea who has continuously threatened the South by firing missiles into the East Sea. I am entirely stunned by his accusation of the joint military drill as a preparation for a war with the North, since it, in fact, is performed periodically within Korean jurisdictional territory in defense of the North’s provocations.

Owing to the terror by Kim Ki-jong, the so-called North Korea sympathizers in South Korea are losing ground while the Korea-U.S. alliance is strengthening. Therefore, Korea-US joint military drills will continue, and North Korea, who championed the attack as “righteous punishment” against U.S., will once again solidify its image as a rogue state to the international community.

North Korea is currently under totalitarian dictatorship, with a meager GDP per capita of six hundred dollars. The state is in such destitution that international media recently reported on North Korean diplomats getting arrested in foreign airports on charges of illegal smuggling of gold. South Korea, on the other hand, is an economic powerhouse with a GDP per capita of $28,000 and a President and National Assembly that citizens voted into office by themselves. In light of these facts, something is very wrong to have North Korea sympathizers still active in South Korea, having betrayed their country of prosperity and freedom while turning to praise North Korea, a living hell perpetuated by three generations of hereditary succession.

Korean-Americans living in the U.S. were also anxious at the possibility of soured Korea-US relations arising from the Mark Lippert incident. South Korean domestic media covered it day-by-day as an unforgivable international humiliation. A mass of Koreans from both sides of the political spectrum gathered in front of the hospital where the Ambassador is being treated to sincerely wish for his early recovery – a rare scene where both conservatives and liberals spoke in unison.

A sort of pity arises in my mind as I trace Kim Ki-jong’s life, a former law student who has entered North Korea six times for the past thirty years, as a supporter of anti-Americanism. At fifty-five years of age, he should have took part as a contributor in building Korea’s economy and enjoyed a stable family life by now, but he has no family and facing heavy charges for performing an unprecedented diplomatic terror. Although he claims that he had no intention of taking Lippert’s life, he responds with irrelevant anti-American sentiments to questions concerning the body parts he targeted to hurt. Gathering from his conditions, his terroristic actions can only be attributed to the acute mental disturbance of a political extremist.

Now attention is focused on the results of Kim Ki-jong’s investigation and charges against him. If he is convicted of the charges of attempted murder and breaking national security law, some foreign media are likely to criticize Korea as a police state, while a lighter sentence will upset the US and other allied nations. Therefore, it is imperative that Korean government move forward with just and transparent legal proceedings to convey to the world that Korea is a typical example of successful democracy.

In Korea, the loathsome ideological battle was thought to have ended with the recent dissolution of the Unified Progressive party and the sentencing of the party’s former lawmaker Lee Seok-ki by the Constitutional Court. However, it is a sad reality that there are still backward folks who still sympathize with North Korea, the world’s worst human rights violator. Those who wish to live in North Korea should be sent there to live; let them live in a place where they want to live. We can turn around the tragic Lippert incident to strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance, as well as to solidify our internal stability.