Change the government audit system

The Kim Chang-Joon Politics and Economy Academy, which I run in Korea, holds its weekly lecture at the National Assembly Building. On my way down from the third floor after a lecture last night, I saw about 100 young people in suits standing in line at the entrance of the main hall to get their ID cards back from the information desk. The queue was so long that it nearly blocked the entrance.

Curious, I asked someone what was going on. The person looked at me rather strangely and asked if I knew the government audit of the National Assembly was under way.

It was an unfamiliar scene to me. In the U.S., I have seen the congressional building full of tourist groups, but I have never seen it so loud and busy, so full of government officials and so late at night. So, out of curiosity, I talked to some female government workers. They grumbled that they were working for a minister and that they had to work in a hotel room, probably throughout the night, to prepare the minister’s answers for the next day. Outside the building, a lone demonstrator held a placard.

The fuss around the National Assembly causes every government agency to go into a state of emergency for 20 days. In addition, some people strongly believe the heads of big corporations should be summoned to this audit hearing.

It is unimaginable in the U.S. for Congress to summon and snarl at the heads of big corporations. If private corporations did something wrong, should it not be appropriate to follow legal procedures, and then the judgment of the judicial branch, rather than bring the business chiefs to the legislative branch to yell at them?

In the United States, Congress has only once summoned and chastised the heads of a big corporation ― in November of 2008. General Motors was at real risk of bankruptcy and had asked Congress to provide 12 trillion won as a bailout loan. The General Motors executives and the other major companies in the U.S. auto industry were at the congressional hearing because they had to appeal directly to Congress ― an institution that has budgetary authority ― to get such large additional amount.

At the congressional hearing, the CEO of GM at the time, Rick Wagner, was in a sweat, and members of Congress reprimanded him. He then pleaded with Congress to help GM, a company with a 100-year history, to continue its crucial role for the U.S. economy.

Congress then criticized the auto industry representatives for using private jets to attend the hearing in Washington, D.C., while at the same time seeking financial aid. Members of Congress said the auto chiefs’ disgraceful behavior would enrage the public. Congress criticized the chiefs for their arrogance in spending $20,000 on a private jet while asking for government money. The government ordered the executives to sell the private jets and return to Detroit by bus, which they duly did.

In Korea, because the audit lasts for 20 days, government agencies only have to ride this period. In the U.S., Congress does not have a set period for its audits. Rather, it has an investigative audit office, called the GAO, which carries out inspections throughout the year. GAO has 3,400 employees and a $600 million annual budget. Government agencies and state-owned corporations tremble when the GAO shows up. Its task is to investigate thoroughly any waste of tax money or fraud against the government and to report directly to Congress. Based on the GAO reports, Congress meets as needed and informs taxpayers about the waste of their money.

In Korea, news reports said the officials of state-owned companies gave themselves bonuses while their companies were in a huge deficit. The GAO would not have let this go. Instead, it would have suggested a clear solution to Congress, such as closing the companies and allowing private companies to bid for them, or else changing the management. What is the use of yelling at such companies once a year when they have huge deficits every year?

The power to audit was given to the National Assembly, which represents the people, with the original intention to that it monitor every institution of the administrative branch and investigate whether or not taxes were wasted. But the audit has turned into a 20-day annual event where lawmakers behave shamefully, shaking their fingers at one another in a rage, and criticizing ministers while the heads of corporations watch.

The National Assembly should have a permanent investigative arm like the GAO. Then, there would be no need for the perfunctory 20-day audit, nor a need for fights in the National Assembly.

A permanent investigative arm would also improve the image of our lawmakers. And it would save costs by letting experts handle the inspections. It would also shorten the length of hearings. Korea needs to replace its current audit system with one based on the U.S. system, which leaves such matters to the experts.

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2014/10/305_166191.html

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Rising crime rate in the war of ideology

The crime rate has continued to rise in Korea, as too much emphasis on human rights naturally lowers the arrest rate. The types of crimes have become more diverse as well.

There are no rampages with firearms as there are in the U.S., but horrible crimes that do not involve guns are reported almost every day by the press.

It is unsettling to watch news reports on shameless crimes such as selling food containing carcinogens, swindling old people out of their hard-earned money, raping and robbing women in back alleys, and so on.

The problem is that punishments for these crimes are too soft. One good example ― Huh Jae-ho, the former chairman of Daeju Group, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison with four years of probation and a fine of 25.4 billion won in January 2010 for tax evasion and embezzlement.

In lieu of the payment of the fine, Huh was ordered to do prison labor for 50 days, which makes his labor amount to 500 million won per day. He chose to return to Korea last month to serve his prison term, rather than paying the fine.

He was placed in the Gwangju Correctional Institution.

Even though he does not work in prison on Saturdays and Sundays, his fine was reduced by 1 billion won. The Korean Bar Association criticized this special treatment in a statement titled “An emperor’s labor, 500 million won a day: we deplore the handling of former chairman of Daeju Huh Jae-ho’s case.

“For ordinary people, prison labor reduces their fines by 50,000 to 100,000 won per day,” it said, “but the reduction rate for Huh was 10,000 times higher than that. This severe disparity violates the principle of equality in the Constitution.”

In the U.S., the Republican Party (conservative) and the Democratic Party (liberal) hold different positions on crime. For example, the Democratic Party emphasizes the prevention of crimes as a measure to reduce crimes, while the Republican Party emphasizes the punishment of crimes.

Democrats believe that the gap between the rich and the poor has to be narrowed to create a crime-free society.

Children from poor environments are more likely to give in to temptations around them, since they do not receive proper education due to a polarized educational system, and do not have money to be inherited from their poor parents. This makes them more likely to give in easily to the allure of crime and become someone who is in and out of jail throughout his life.

Hence, liberals claim, since it is the responsibility of the government to rehabilitate and send inmates back as good members of society, it is not productive to send people to jail after they commit crimes.

The government should focus on studying the fundamental causes of crimes and preventing crimes. They believe that a society where people can buy $20 guns made in China easily in back alleys contributes a lot to the crimes, and that the government should bear responsibility for failing to get rid of violent movies where people are killed for nothing and try to make a responsible society. Thus they want a stronger, bigger government.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party believes that it is irresponsible to blame society for crimes, and that a society of justice and order can be maintained by making one pay for the crime that one commits.

For this reason, Republicans criticize the policy of the Democratic Party, which pours a tremendous amount of the governmental budget into thousands of crime prevention programs in the U.S. They claim that the government should adopt tough policies against crimes.

From the perspective of the Republican Party, which emphasizes the rights of victims, the sorrow of a victim’s family is in fact never revealed to people after all, as the press does not show interest in the grief of a victim’s family, only moving on to the next, more violent crime.

Conservatives give as much priority to the rights of a victim’s family that is broken into pieces by a crime as they do to the rights of a victim.

Thus, they claim that the government should make the perpetrators pay back to the victims’ families through prison labor and set the probation periods accordingly so that the families can be repaid directly.

It appears that the punishment against a crime in our country is set by a judge arbitrarily without any principle. I think that it would be desirable that the verdict should be made by a jury and sentencing should follow the federal guidelines as they do in the U.S.

Weak punishment only produces adverse effects encouraging more and more crimes. Especially, it is hard to understand how there is such a big difference in punishment between haves and have-nots, while everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law.

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.

Aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea

The U.S. and the European Union were hit hard straight in the back of their heads by Russia when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine over a few short weeks.

While all the other countries were dazed by the situation, Russia completed its process of making Crimea a part of its territory with unanimous approval from its parliament in an unprecedentedly short period of time.

What was more surprising was that the annexation was supported by 95 percent of the votes in the local referendum in Crimea. It was not long ago when the Ukrainian government and its parliament opposed the referendum itself, which was led by Russia, and said that they would never accept its result.

The Ukrainian government and Western nations bluffed while trusting the power of the U.S. and the EU, but they probably never expected that the people of Crimea would support annexation to Russia so overwhelmingly.

With this result, the Russian military, headed by its tanks, drove the Ukrainian forces completely out of Crimea and raised the Russian flag. NATO dispatched its troops to respond just in case, and began a joint military exercise with the Ukrainian military. Only after a few days, however, they helplessly watched Crimea become part of Russia.

As the situation unfolded, the American people’s support for President Obama, who did not take any action, fell to the ground. His leadership was contrasted with that of President Putin, who took actions without wasting words

China also changed its attitude quickly, after it initially made an announcement that seemed to side with Russia. It was concerned about its relations with Taiwan and also about a possible situation where Tibet or Hong Kong tries to separate from China through a referendum.

Japan quickly made an official announcement that it would provide aid worth over 1 trillion won for Ukraine. Japan has been conscious of the reactions of the U.S., as it has suddenly changed its attitude toward Korea after strong complaints from the U.S. on such issues such as “comfort women” and Yaskuni Shrine visits.

It sided completely with the U.S. on the issue of Crimea, following old Japanese saying which recommends being on the same side with the strong if ever picking a side.

The U.S. and the EU had to do something about Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Thus, they decided to implement strong sanctions against Russia. They also decided to boycott the G-8 summit and remove Russia from the G-8. How effective would these two measures be? There was a report that Putin laughed when he heard about them.

Now surrounding countries have clear positions on Crimea. The Korean government officially announced its opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea quite early in accordance with the position of the U.S. But this was a rash response, considering the Korean national interest. Korea should observe the situation carefully and reserve its words and actions.

The relations between Korea and Russia have been at their highest, after Russia announced its intent to let Korea develop the endless lands of the Vladivostok area. Korea has also been maintaining its strongest ever alliance with the U.S. The Korean wave is stronger than ever, and the relations between the two countries are better than ever.

Japan has slightly changed its attitude toward Korea after the pressure from the U.S. China has shown more good will toward Korea, while implicitly criticizing the North. Only the isolated North fired 90 missiles into the East Sea.

Under these circumstances, Korea should not take one side in a lopsided manner. Korea has to watch the state of affairs carefully.

The international popularity of President Park Geun-hye is currently at its peak. Obama and leaders of other countries have favorable attitudes toward her, and this was clearly shown at the Nuclear Security Summit, which was held in The Hague, the Netherlands.

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.

Scenarios for reunification of Korean Peninsula

North Korea has, on several recent occasions, launched short-range missiles, including Scuds, the range of which is over 300 miles.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un emphasized his policy of pursuing economic development while continuing a nuclear program in his 2013 New Year’s address.

But the sudden purge of Jang Song-thaek, the head of the North Korean economy, has revealed that nuclear weapons have priority over the economy these days in that country.

It seems North Korea has changed its policy and decided to depend solely on nuclear weapons.

The press in the U.S. reported that North Korea was focusing on the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can reach the U.S., even though North Korea appear to be adopting conciliatory policies such as the recent reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

This claim seems to be proven by the recent missile launches of North Korea. It is really foolish of the North to pursue the development of such missiles.

North Korea seems to have the wrong idea that if it successfully launches a long-distance nuclear missile that can reach the U.S. mainland, President Obama will offer to have a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un.

In fact, however, it is highly likely that the U.S. would regard the launch as a declaration of war and, to defend its mainland, attack the North with surgical bombing to destroy nuclear facilities in North Korea.

With bunker busters and drones, it would destroy the nuclear facilities of North Korea so completely to ashes that they cannot be put into operation ever again.

I wonder if the old generals of the North Korean military know that the defense budget of the U.S. is close to the sum of those of the next 10 countries in military spending and that its military power is ranked as the overwhelming number one in the world. Maybe for this reason, every military expert in the world predicts that the North Korean regime, like a frog in a well, would not last long.

In other words, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula might come earlier than people think. President Park Geun-hye said that reunification would be like a jackpot, and many foreign investors feel that reunification is approaching.

In particular, Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, said that he would invest his whole fortune in the Korean Peninsula once reunification begins. Now is the time to build the foundation for the era of the unified Korean Peninsula.

There are several reunification scenarios.

First, we may wait for North Korea to collapse on its own, thinking that the collapse will occur soon. But the question is, how long we should wait for that to happen.

Second, according to a recent poll, 60 percent of young people in South Korea do not welcome the reunification of the two Koreas.

This is because they are too worried about the economic burden and instability that the reunification will bring. Hence, we need a “war bonds” program like the one used by President Roosevelt. This is a proven, highly successful, program.

Third, it is wrong to adopt the “sunshine” policy again. The policy failed. The aid provided to North Korea was used as the driving force of its development of nuclear weapons. The “sunshine” policy would only maintain the status quo by extending the life of the Kim Jong-un regime.

Fourth, we may persuade China to stop its support for North Korea. There are increasing voices in the Institute for International Strategies of the Communist Party of China that China should change the treaty that it signed with North Korea.

It wonders if North Korea is worth the international isolation that China has to endure as a result of protecting the country.

Fifth, the U.N.’s commission on human rights in North Korea recommended in its recent report on the cruel human rights abuses of the North Korean government that Kim Jong-un should be put on trial at the international criminal court.

The problem is that it takes the U.N. Security Council to refer a case to the international criminal court, but the certainty of China’s veto makes this not plausible.

Sixth, there is a preemptive precision strike. A bunker buster can fly 500 km and penetrate 30 meters underground. The problem is that hundreds of conventional North Korean cannons in the DMZ are aiming at South Korea.

Should we use military force sacrificing so many people in Seoul? I believe that simultaneous preemptive attacks can be carried out through joint operations such as Key Resolve between South Korea and the United States.

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.

Lobbying should be legalized

There is a famous hotel in Washington, D.C., called the “Willard Hotel.” The hotel is more than 160 years old, but its interior is always maintained so well that it looks as if it were built recently. It is a historic hotel that has kept its 19th-century style of architecture, while maintaining a 4.5 star rating at the same time.

The hotel is the nearest hotel to the White House, but it is above all famous for originating the word “lobbyist.” In the hotel’s lobby, people in suits always have serious discussions, and one can quite often find a famous politician in a private meeting with someone. As such people always gathered in the lobby, people began to call them “lobbyists” or “power brokers.”

As of 2007, there were 15,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. But, nowadays the number has been reduced to about 11,000, as demand has diminished. The reason is that the regulations on lobbying have become more and more complicated since the Lobbying Disclosure Act was passed by Congress in 1995. For example, according to the law, lobbyists have to submit detailed reports to congressional clerks by the 21st of every third month, as well as an annual year-end report, which should contain the details of their expenditure, including gifts and travel costs, and especially fundraising dinners.

The real reason for the diminishing demand for lobbyists is that many law firms in Washington, D.C. have been buying small lobbying firms through mergers and acquisitions, maybe because they think that lobbying makes easier money. I heard that some big law firms have hundreds of lobbyists. Another reason for the disappearance of small lobbying firms is that a growing number of special interest groups, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), tend to meet the members of Congress directly to lobby privately. There was a report from Reuters that the current number of lobbyists is at least above 100,000 if one counts these people as lobbyists. In other words, there are 25 lobbyists for each House Representative.

I was once the mayor of Diamond Bar, a city in Los Angeles County. Though the city was one of the richest in the county, it could not afford to hire its own lobbyists. Thus, the city hired a small lobbying firm jointly with other nearby cities and shared the costs with them. It did so because, at the time, it was difficult for a city located on the west coast of the U.S. to know properly in time what kinds of laws were being passed in Congress and what kinds of things were happening in Washington.

The job of the lobbyists was to inform the city quickly about a bill to be submitted by some Congressmen, if it was related to the interests of the city, such as who was sponsoring the bill, when it would be submitted, what kinds of effects it would have on the city, and also to work together on ways to respond to the bill in case it had a negative effect on the city. Sometimes, they acted as an intermediary for getting the funding for the necessary projects of the city, when the city could not send its people to Washington, and they also regularly gave information on current weekly events in the political sphere of Washington, especially on issues related with local governments.

Lobbying is illegal in Korea. Any kind of lobbying is treated as a crime, and many people have gone to jail for involvement in it. On the other hand, there are also many people who lobby legally or discretely. For example, if a high government official who is not an attorney is hired as a high-wage advisor by a big law firm after retirement, what the person does in the firm is, strictly speaking, lobbying.

When big corporations hire former ministers and vice ministers as advisors, it appears that the corporations have clear intentions to use the networks of those retired government officials for business connections. These people are lobbyists in reality, even though they are not legally. Even to correct this situation, I think, lobbying has to be legalized as it is in the U.S. I am talking about an American lobbyist system where lobbyists are registered, and lobbying is taxed and strictly monitored by the government. Lobbying happens anyway in reality, so I think they should legalize it under a proper system.

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.

Solidarity of Korean-Americans

A bill that requires that every textbook approved by the state of Virginia must use the term “East Sea” as well as “Sea of Japan” when referring to the East Sea was submitted to the Senate of Virginia in 2012. At the time, however, the power of Korean-Americans in Virginia was significantly insufficient for the bill to pass.

Things were different in 2014. Korean-Americans rallied strongly behind the bill, angered by improper remarks and actions of the Japanese prime minister, such as claiming Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo, visiting Yaskuni Shrine, and disparaging the “comfort women” victims.

It was through the united power of Korean-Americans that the dual designation bill for the East Sea passed by a great margin in the Virginia General Assembly. Korean-Americans showed their own political power in getting this bill passed.

Every state in the U.S. has its own bicameral legislative body in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. Any bill must pass in the upper house and the lower house of the assembly to take effect.

Thus, unlike Korea, the legislative process is somewhat complicated and takes a long time. Since the dual designation law is not a federal law, but a state law, the bill will apply only to Virginia. But it is important, since it will be a trigger to spread the recognition of the East Sea throughout the U.S.

The East Sea dual designation bill was passed in the Subcommittee on Public Education and the Committee on Education and Health in the Virginia Senate on Jan. 13.

On Jan. 30, the bill dramatically passed in the Subcommittee on Education in the Virginia House of Delegates by a margin 5 to 4. Then, the House’s Committee on Education passed it by an overwhelming margin of 18 to 3 on Feb. 3. Finally, the General Assembly of the House also passed it by another overwhelming margin (85 to 15).

Four hundred Korean-Americans celebrated the result of the vote with roaring cheers, hugging one another and even shedding tears of joy at the General Assembly of the House.

Without yielding to the strong lobbying from the Japanese government, Korean-Americans raised money to travel dozens of times to the State Assembly, located in the southern end of Virginia.

The strong organization and solidarity in this case showed a new possibility for Korean-Americans. As a Korean-American in Virginia, this effort makes me proud.

The best lobbying country in the U.S. is perhaps Israel. Meanwhile, Korea appears to be the worst country at lobbying in the U.S.

This might be because lobbying is prohibited and carries a very negative image in Korea. Lobbying usually involves money, and the amount of money spent on lobbying is enormous.

Jewish-Americans have great influence over American politics, spending tremendous amounts of money to retain that influence.

There is a Jewish political action committee (PAC) located in a large building just across the Capitol. The purpose of a PAC is to support specific candidates in elections. It has to be registered with the federal government, and the law allows a contributor to donate up to $5,000 to a PAC.

Korean-Americans had no political power in the early 1990s, the time when I was a sitting member of the House Representatives.

One has to be a U.S. citizen to vote in the U.S. But there were not many Koreans who had citizenship, they did not vote much, and they did not care much about political fundraising either.

However, political participation from the 1.5 generation or the 2nd generation Korean-Americans, as well as the 1st generation, stands out these days.

It makes me sad to think about how assured I would have felt if these folks had been there with me during my days in the House.

I am proud that the “Korea-U.S. Congressional Council,” which I founded to promote friendship and exchanges between the two countries, is active these days. I can certainly feel the change in Americans’ thoughts about Korea as Korea has become stronger.

In addition, since Korean-Americans have built strong relations with American politicians, they are able to display their political power now. I think that it will not be long before another Korean-American becomes a U.S. House Representative.

The victory in Virginia showed that we, Korean-Americans, can wield our own political power in the U.S.

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.

The aging poor in Korea

The Washington Post, a prominent U.S. newspaper, reported the miserable situation of some elderly people in Korea in detail on Jan. 23.

The article had a half-page photo, which showed five to six seniors talking with each other while having soju and some dishes at a street stall.

The caption of the picture in bold print reported their sighs, “Now we have to quietly die alone as the traditional family relationship, that is hundreds of years old, has collapsed.”

How could this happen in Korea? It has been a long time since “the country of traditional respect for the elderly in the East” vanished. The cutthroat competition in Korea does not allow room for taking care of old parents in young people’s minds.

Rather, old parents have only become a burden and an annoyance to them. Even a young judge made a harsh remark in court: “When one becomes old, one should die.”

Who are these old people? They are the ones who made Korea as prosperous as it is today. They are the heroes who risked their lives in the mines of Germany and the construction sites in the desert winds of the Middle East.

They shed blood and sweat to earn money, but spent all their passion on their children’s education so that their children could have a better life.

Thus, their children grew well, taller and healthier than their parents. But the parents got old quickly without saving for retirement, busy supporting their children.

As they have lost energy with old age, they hope that their children occasionally visit and maybe give them a little bit of pocket money. But their children feel bothered by their calls, feeling that giving allowances is out of the question, and do not even answer their calls later on. Some people live by day after day wishing that they could hear from their children once before they die.

Taking care of one’s parents is a Korean tradition that has lasted for thousands of years. The poor seniors who are deserted by their children are in too pitiful a situation to believe that they were the heroes who made Korea the current economic power that it is.

According to a poll, the majority of young people think that the government should take responsibility. Making the government responsible for one’s parents’ means that one’s parents should be cared for with other people’s tax money.

Only one third of seniors receive aid from the government. Korea currently has the highest suicide rate among the elderly among OECD members. A majority of them have a tough time due to lack of attention from their children and insufficient government funding to support senior welfare programs.

The Washington Post article talked about an 82-year-old, Lee Yeong-sun. He lives in a crumbling building, which has an “X” painted on each of its doors, with four other households.

He survives the winter with an electric blanket from an aid organization. He lives on about $300 per month, combining payments from the Veterans Administration group and a government welfare fund.

Since that is not enough, he does all types of odd jobs that come his way. But he does not feel tired, since he has to live longer than his wife, who is suffering from dementia, so that he can take care of her until her death. He said with a lonely face, “I will not have a reason to live anymore if my wife dies.”

In Korea, elderly people with offspring are not eligible for the government’s welfare program, according to the government’s outdated policy.

They can get aid from the government if they submit proof that their children cannot support them. But many people do not apply for the exemption because they feel guilty and ashamed of having failed to raise their children right. A bigger reason is their concern that their application might harm their children.

The article said that one can often see seniors with carts searching through trash bins to collect bottles or cardboard boxes and sell them for a few dollars, and that it fully revealed the dark side of Korea which is said to have achieved an economic miracle.

Lee said, “I had to worry about getting three meals a day in the 1960s when Korea was extremely poor, and now I’m 82 years old and I have the same worries once again.”

But he said in a weak voice that he never regretted that he had sacrificed everything for his children.

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.