Archive for February, 2010

Cheap Political Points That Hurt Our Image

Posted on February 25, 2010. Filed under: Non-Issue Issues |

I love living in the ‘land of the free’. In America, we have the right to speak and express ourselves because we all some of us appreciate and understand freedom. We are free to practice any religion we choose and the government has no authority to oppress are beliefs.

Unless that religion happens to be Islam.

The conservablogonet is throwing a temper-tantrum today. Apparently, the Obama team drew a picture that makes them want to stomp their feet.

The article is titled, “Missile Defense Agency Logo Angers Right.”

Some of my other favorites were:

Aside from the fact that everything –EVERYTHING– is politicized these days, I have to return to what Colin Powell said during the 2008 campaign.

“…[Obama] is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian,” he said. “But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”

Right on. What’s wrong with this is that the wingnuts are making this an issue. Drudge Report has this image proudly displayed page-center.

drudge MDA

It gets worse by the day as the GOP and baggers continue to eat whatever their fed.

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The ‘Dan and Dave’-ification of Kim Yuna

Posted on February 24, 2010. Filed under: Issues, Pop Culture, Sport |

Watching Kim Yuna skating today was terrifying. The only thing more frightening than that, was watching Mao Asada perform beautifully in the routine just minutes before Kim took the ice. And even though Kim Yuna skated gracefully enough to outscore the other skaters –and claim the world record with it– I still feel a little sick. The butterflies that shouldn’t be there in the first place are still there; fluttering around and making me –a non-figure skating fan– feel uncomfortably nervous for Friday’s upcoming long-program finals.

Before the 1992 Barcelona Games, there was a pair of American decathletes that most people will remember from their Reebok commercials as Dan & Dave“.

The campaign was called Dan & Dave and it bombarded the American public with eight solid months of Dan & Dave commercials. Shortly after the Games got underway, Reebok scrapped the entire campaign since Dan O’Brien failed to qualify. Retooling the campaign to just “Dave” didn’t really work and brought attention to Reebok’s American failure. Sure, there have been other incidences of commercial athletes failing to live up to the hype (1988 Ben Johnson, 2004 US  Dream Team, 2006 Bode Miller), but the Dan & Dave blunder sticks out the most.

There are loads of reasons why great athletes blow it in the Olympics (being Canadian doesn’t help), but excessive commercial attention and overexposure are certainly some major players. Kim Yuna is easily the biggest celebrity in Korea as we witnessed today when Seoul –or Gangnam at least– essentially stopped for ten minutes (nemesis Mao got some attention as well) to watch Kim skate.

South Koreans cut short their lunch breaks and huddled around televisions in shops, offices and train stations, gasping with each of Kim’s jumps and cheering each clean landing. There were whoops and cheers when her score flashed up.

As if that pressure wasn’t enough, she went into these Games as the highest-earning Olympian with more commercials and advertisements under her belt than all the other athletes combined. Seriously, you can’t watch television for more than ten minutes without seeing a few Kim Yuna commercials. Not only has she inspired an entire nation and generation to appreciate the sport, but the embattled city of Pyeongchang is hoping that her performance will boost its chances of hosting the Winter Games in 2018. That’s an awful lot for a 19-year-old girl to have on her plate.

And to take it one step further, figure skating is not like a head-to-head competition or a race. Sure, nerves get to everyone before they compete, but something as delicate and –frankly– as judged as figure skating, doesn’t need anymore variables affecting a skaters performance.

Luckily, the pressure didn’t get to her today as she performed masterfully on the ice . Her coach, Brian Orser (of Battle of the Brians), knows pressure better than most and he felt confident that Friday will go well.

“There’s so much emphasis on the short. It’s do or die,” Orser said. “When that pressure is gone, there’s like a lightness to your skating, there’s an extra weight that is off your shoulders. I think she’s just going to soar after this, she’s just gonna fly.”

I certainly hope so and after she wins the gold on Friday, she can come home to Korea with more pride, more bodyguards and much more money than she had when she left.

Unless she loses.

Unlikely as it seems or we hope, there is still a chance. With her solid performance today, she’s proven to me that she can handle the pressure –the rest just depends on how well the other skaters do. Regardless of a gold, bronze or great effort, does Korea need to rethink its over-glorification of its young athletes? After all –for some reason– I am concerned about her winning the gold and I have no interest in the damn sport.

Kim Yuna is the answer. If she wins, then Korea’s crazy, foaming-at-the-mouth lionization is validated. They will continue as is; finding athletes, showering them with praise and money and will place the burden of “우리 나라” right on their shoulders. They’re coming for you next, skaters.

If she loses –and this is my concern– will they realize that maybe, just maybe,  it was all a little overboard? If they Dan & Dave Kim Yuna, will they hold themselves responsible?

I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, I think they will continue to foam and praise and if she does happen to lose this one –well– it was that one Japanese judge’s fault anyways. They’ve always hated Kim Yuna.

Right, Korea. No one hates Kim Yuna.

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Scott Brown, Ron Paul and the Future of the GOP

Posted on February 24, 2010. Filed under: 2010 Elections, 2012 Elections, Dems, Elections, GOP, Issues, Political Parties |

The GOP and their teabagging stooges are quite angry today. Yesterday, Scott Brown broke rank and voted in favor of the Senate jobs bill (along with Collins and Snowe). This should not be a major or breaking-story because congressmen USED to vote with their constituents in mind all the time. Voting across party lines is not unusual at all, yet the Tea Party appears to have already given up on Brown. They have filled his website and Facebook page with comments like this one:

“You, Sir, are a RINO Judas. I hope you enjoy your 30 pieces of silver.”

Amazing really. One single vote and he is deemed a Judas. All of this, of course, makes the 2010 election ever more potent. It’s not just about the Dems losing control of Congress anymore. If the GOP does in fact win BIG this fall,  are these “supporters” –those responsible for this apparent conservative revival– going to react in a similar way when a freshly minted congressman decides to vote with his district or state in mind? If they do, then the GOP is going to have a major problem in 2010.

Mike Madden over at Salon has the same thing on his mind. He poses that the GOP is going to have a hard time keeping the support of their new activist base. The platform that the Tea Party wants them to run against –which is the only way they are going to do well in 2010– is one that the GOP was booted out for in 2006.

“…most of the things Republicans say they’ll do if they take power again — cutting spending, increasing transparency, ending earmarks — were exactly what helped voters sour on Republican rule in 2006. To keep the new elements of their activist base happy, GOP leaders will have to stick to their plan. “Keeping the support of tea party activists will require keeping our promises, it’s as simple as that,” one GOP aide

It’s ludicrous to assume the GOP will do any of these things and they know it. That’s their concern. If the Tea Party is this angry about Scott Brown voting with his constituents and “against” the Tea Party, then the GOP is in a lot of trouble. They’re already spitting on Steele on a regular basis using trademark bagger language.

“Michael Steele is an imperial chairman,” grumbled one GOP fundraiser to Politico.

In my opinion, a bagger-fueled 2010 GOP resurgence is going to 1) highlight the fractures between the libertarians and conservatives and 2) splinter the presidential field in 2012 leaving the Dems in a good position. I’m not sure who’ll represent the GOP in 2012, but I can assure you that Ron Paul will be a strong candidate (regardless of party) and if the GOP burns their libertarian bridges, they can both  kiss their 2012 chances goodbye.

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Roger Cohen Needs Friends

Posted on February 23, 2010. Filed under: Issues, Media |

Roger Cohen has an interesting piece up right now. He goes onto argue that Americans have essentially lost genuine face-time with each other; that we’ve all gotten to the point where surrounding ourselves with the things that make us comfortable is how we exist in this screen-obsessed era.

Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

He then goes on to project France as a nation where “social solidarity is a paramount value.” I haven’t spent enough time in France nor do I know enough French people to contest this, but I have spent more than enough time in Korea to understand what “social solidarity” looks and feels like to know that I’m not so sure I agree that America should lament this perceived loss.

Even though I agree with his sentiment about health care,  in all honesty, I think this piece is more about Cohen than it is the rest of the country. It’s clear that his short time as a juror jolted the bubble he has created for himself.

I have been abroad for most Bush’s second-term and the entire Obama presidency. Like Cohen, I have spent too much time glued to this screen trying to make sense of the American political and social world. After reading about the insanity of the summer town hall meetings and the lunacy that the 9/12 Project has inspired, I also expected an America that would be tricky to navigate without stepping on someone’s political toes. However, that was not the case. The US and Americans were pretty much the same as always, which –as Cohen believes– was unthinkable.

“…we’d done something selfless for the commonweal, learned to listen to each other, accepted differences and argued our way to decisions.”

I like Cohen, but I think he needs more friends. Or better yet, I think he should stop “screen-gazing”.

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Are Joe Lieberman and Park Geun-hye banging?

Posted on February 23, 2010. Filed under: Dems, GNP, GOP, Issues, Policy |


They might not be banging, but they certainly have a lot in common these days. Joe Lieberman –along with Gore– was referred to as “Sore Loserman” during the 2000 US Election recount. We all know the gruesome details of that election and the slogan was unfair then, but I think it fits him quite well now.

His uncompromising zeal for the Iraq war made him an easy target for the Dems and progressives. He cemented his image as a traitor to progressive values with his support for McCain in ’08 and has continued to be the official “giant douche” of the Senate during the health care debates of ’09. Along with his conservatives overlords, he has found himself on the wrong side of nearly every issue he has stood-up for. And even though he was forced to run as an Independent and faces active campaigns trying to strip of his chairmanship, he remains stubborn as ever.

Park Geun-hye has followed a similar path. She was so close to winning the GNP’s primary last cycle, but fell short only to turn into a “sore loser” who chooses to obstruct rather than lead or offer sound solutions. She knows she is on the wrong side of this Sejong debacle, yet she continues to publicize and press for intra-party conflict. This is clearly not about policy; it’s about Chungcheong votes. Her reasoning for support has been all over the place, but my personal favorite is this:

“If the party changes its official platform, approval by two-thirds of members is required.”

I  respect procedure as much as the next guy, but arguing that it’s impossible to change the platform (that she created in 2005) is absurd. She is the only one responsible for obstruction. Her pro-Park faction would follow her in a second, but she refuses to budge. Even as new information continues to pour in that clearly expresses the downside of the project, she sticks to her original plan (which of course was the plan that Roh created for victory in his bid for the Blue House).

Joe and Geun-hye were clearly meant for each other. They pander poorly, get caught for it and, in the face sharp criticism, mounting opposition and –most importantly– contrary facts, they decide to stand tall.

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America’s ‘Greatest Generation’ is dying. How about Korea?

Posted on February 22, 2010. Filed under: Issues |

HUGE question and I don’t intend to really answer it, but a recent article by Thomas Friedman made me wonder.

Welcome to the lean years. Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

This assertion seems to be based on the idea that less is more and that Americans have been so obsessed with consuming the greatness of “The Greatest Generation”, that now we’re being forced to cut back.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

I’m willing to go along with his argument and I’d even agree with his sentiment that Obama –however well intentioned– has not made it clear to people that the “lean years” are  just beginning and that it’s going to be hard for years to come. Americans need a douse of pessimism reality from time to time if we want to remain a competitive super-power.

In a recent and particularly obnoxious speech, Sarah Palin directed a question towards Obama:  “How’s that hopey, changey stuff goin’ for ya’?” Of course most people cringed when she said it and even though it was for the wrong reasons, maybe she was right. While Obama has been painting the future as a challenge, he ran on a platform of positivity. That might have been a mistake.

I recently finished Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Bright-Sided which makes the case that Americans can no longer wish themselves into a happy future.

“We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles,” Ehrenreich writes, “both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.”

I think that once we all realize the task before us, we’ll be able to compete much better on the world scale. America’s brighter days might have passed for now, but until we accept that inconvenient fact, we’ll continue to fall behind.

So for the sake of this post, I’ll put aside my problem with the over-glorification of the “Greatest Generation” and accept the premise that America –for one reason or another– is in “the lean years”

I curious, though,  as to where Korea might be on this front? Are they also saying good-bye to their greatest generation or are they on the cusp of greatness?

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President Lee is a dictator because education is still expensive

Posted on February 22, 2010. Filed under: Issues, Media, Policy |

Sounds similar to the American GOP, huh? All you have to do is substitute “education” with “the deficit” and “expensive” with “there” -perfect.

The Hankyoreh is running a three-part series about the failure of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Today, they were discussing educational costs. As usual, the article didn’t delve into any real policy or offer a single solution. Instead it made bold statement and relied on the story of a family struggling to pay for private education.

Last month, the family of “Lee Mi-suk” (not her real name), a 46-year-old mother living in Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo District, lived on just over 1.3 million Won ($1,128 USD). For a family of five, including Lee’s husband, two daughters and son, this is an absurdly low amount of money to live on. It falls short even of the 1,615,263 Won that the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs newly set as the minimum cost of living for a family of five in 2010.

Before the tears start rolling down your little faces because of the educational mandate that the Burglar-in-Chief enacted, the article goes on to say that this family makes 6 million won a month. These people are willfully spending 4.4 million won a month on education. That’s a lot of money to spend period, but this family clearly makes more than the average Korean family and each of them are certainly pulling in more than the GDP per-capita.

I can see what The Hankyoreh was going for here:  show a middle-class family being crippled by the current cost of private education in Korea and if it’s bad for them, it must be even worse for others –you know– the common man that The Hankyoreh is “fighting” for. It’s a valid point for sure, but the following quote sums up my frustrations with the discussion surrounding educational reform in Korea.

“Everyone knows the mothers of those students are having their children do private education.”

Yes everyone does know that. Everyone also knows that private education is a large part of the Korean economy just like everyone knows that regardless of what policy the government tries to implement, the people will disobey it and force hagwons to circumvent it. If the government closes hagwons down, people will hire tutors and the The Hankyoreh will call Lee an anti-democratic dictator and throw loosely-fitting references to Park Chung-hee in there.

This is not an Lee Myung-bak problem though…

  • In 1997 under Kim Young-sam, families were spending upwards of two-million won a month on education. He vowed to fight it and failed.
  • The costs increased even more under Kim Dae-jung in 2002. He vowed to fight it and failed.
  • Under Roh, the cost of education jumped 53%. He vowed to fight it and failed.

…it’s a Korean problem. As much as some want, it’s hard to find someone to blame for it (I prefer nailing Roh Tae-woo every once and awhile since he began “complimenting public school with ‘special purpose’ schools“), but everyone still seems to try.

It’s not the presidents, it’s the people. It’s the culture that has created this almost sexual-excitement when Koreans get to claim “Korea is very competitive”.

Nice try, Hankyoreh.

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