Constitution by citizens

The United States is surely a novel country. It is a country where many races intermingle, filled with cities that have conflicts between black and white people, a nation notorious for its enormous number of lawsuits where 40 percent of the world’s attorneys live in service for 4 percent of the world’s population. The U.S. is often called a “melting pot” or “mixed salad bowl” to describe a country that is filled with immigrants from countries all over the world.

However, such a nation is also home to about half of the Nobel Prizes ever awarded. It has a most innovative entrepreneurial engine, with the most number of patents for inventions. It is the world’s most powerful defense and economic powerhouse, with a low level of political and economic corruption. It is the country that nurtured five of the world’s 10 best universities. Moreover, the U.S. has one of the safest drinking tap water supplies, and a widespread culture of charity and respect for others.

Then how did such a seemingly disorderly nation become the most sought-after country with thousands of people lining up for a chance to become immigrants there? Systems and institutions are the answers.

Most of the Koreans in America come to the U.S. for the sake of education. The systems in the U.S. permit new arrivals to live comfortably with hard work alone and enable its citizens to live an honest life without discrimination of occupations, strictly enforce the rule of law, and do things the right way all the way to the end. What is the engine that allows this country to move in such order and cohesion? The Constitution of the United States serves as this engine.

The U.S. Constitution was born on July 2, 1788, 12 years after the Declaration of Independence. Its contents shocked the world because the Constitution was declared after years of struggle and war. In those days, monarchy ruled most of the countries in the world, and Korea, called Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) then, too was in transition from (King Yeongjo to the Joseon kings of the latter era). The U.S. Constitution declared that citizens will choose their “king” every four years, the members of the assembly will also be chosen by the people to make laws, and the role of the “king” is to enact the laws rather than directly rule the country.

It was a system the world had never seen before. The norm of the era was an absolute rule by the king whose word became the law, and kingship was passed down to his/her offspring hereditarily. To a world where the concept of election was entirely foreign, the U.S. Constitution provided an immense shock. Oppositions were also present in the U.S. at the time, some favoring the bringing of a king from the Russian royal family.

Democratic principles that respect human rights and acknowledge citizens as the main actors of the country are the foundations for the U.S. Constitution. Absolute monarchy ceased to exist in the world today, while most countries have adopted a similar political system.

Moreover, communism of the former USSR collapsed, and China has gradually been adopting elements of the U.S. institution. North Korea is the only country that has resisted the change, resulting in a tragic downturn into a poverty-stricken country where millions of people perished in famine. The U.S.’s democratic political system, based on a solid Constitution, is the mystery that developed America into the strongest nation in the world.

The first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution declares freedom of expression as the most fundamental citizen right, and it is the same in the Korean Constitution. For both countries, representatives’ remarks delivered in the assembly are given immunity, thus they have complete freedom of speech.

The only exception is any remark that insults or disparages certain individuals. To my ears, demanding the President “to go and study the Constitution” can only be interpreted as an unspeakable insult to the head of state. Such state of mind drives demonstrators to protest in front of Cheong Wa Dae and demand the President’s resignation. I am reminded of an old saying, “The water of the downstream is clean only when the water of the upper stream is clean.”

Society’s growing crime scene

According to a comparative analysis by the Korea Development Institute, Korea’s homicide rate ranked ninth amongst the 29 member countries of OECD. More specifically, the ratio stands at 2.2 homicides per every 100 thousand: a figure lower than Mexico’s 13 and America’s 3.8, but considerably higher than Japan or Australia. Severe offenses, categorized as “brutal crimes”, especially increased by four fold in a thirty year span, from 7,259 incidents in 1980 to 27,482 in 2010. Other research shows that three out of one hundred Koreans have suffered mental and material loss due to various crimes.

A related institution subjected to improvement is the current system that seems to disregard the human rights of the victims. Perhaps due to the argument that seeks to protect the assailant’s rights, the faces of criminals are usually hidden, while the rights of the victims and their families subjected to immense suffering are often neglected ― a phenomenon that occurs as a side effect arising from misinterpretation of to whom the human rights should be targeted. Do we not need to respect the citizens’ right to know the criminals in order to protect our families?

Back in 1994, California passed a bill called “Proposition 36” with overwhelming citizen support. This is the “Three Strikes & You’re Out” law that is also well known in Korea, which states that if you commit a similar crime three times, you are subject to prison terms no matter what.

The same rule applies even for any alcohol related crimes. In Korea, it seems alcohol induced crimes, such as drunk driving, are met with a certain degree of social tolerance due to acceptance of the “loss of memory” excuse attributed to the influence of alcohol. Alcohol may have been associated with romanticism in the past, but it has now become an element that deteriorates the social order. Korea’s alcohol related culture needs to change.

An optimal way to decrease alcohol induced violent crime is to let the criminals pay the cost for their criminal conduct. Once the “Three Strikes” law was enforced in the US, crime was decreased by two thirds and the savings from the social cost arising from the crimes significantly outweighed the cost of expanding penitentiary facilities. Today, about thirty US states have embraced the law.

Public power also needs to be strengthened. Korea may be the only country in the world where citizens beat up law enforcement officers, while foreign tourists busily take pictures of such scenes. Police hospitals are said to be filled with officers wounded by violent demonstrators ― try striking police officers in the US, Europe or China and see what happens.

The death penalty still exists in Korea, but I understand that it has not been exercised for the last twenty years. The death penalty is far from reality even for the cruelest of criminals, who shamelessly reenact their crimes during investigation without a hint of remorse for their victims or their families. It is the victims and their families who live in fear of their assailant’s possible release. Law enforcement officers are also often discouraged by the release of criminals whose capture took years of energy and tax money to capture.

According to criminal justice studies, the death penalty works as a deterrent for criminals from murdering, through reinforcing the fear of death as a punishment. To exercise this deterring effect, some tens of criminals are put to death every year in the U.S. Globally, 58 countries still exercise the death penalty, and support for the penalty has recently been on the rise. I believe it is time for Korea to seriously consider enforcing the death penalty to horrific criminals such as serial killers. We cannot afford to have our society deteriorate further from an increasing number of serious criminals.

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2015/06/305_179527.html

“Change of the International Situations” – Special lecture at YeungNam University

Jay Kim visited YeungNam University and gave a special lecture. The topic of the lecture was “Change of the International Situations” and he talked about the political interests among the countries surrounding Korea, such as the U.S., Japan, Russia, and China.

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