Policy

Park Geun-hye’s March to the Center

Posted on August 25, 2011. Filed under: 2012 Elections, DPRK, Policy |

Ms. Park is once again proving her inability to have any principles or definitive policy positions. Her newest policy known as “trustpolitik” draws a vague line between the supposed hawks in the Lee Myung-bak camp and doves pushing a return to the rapprochement of the failed Sunshine policy.

“An alignment policy would entail assuming a tough line against North Korea sometimes and a flexible policy open to negotiations other times.”

Defining “something” is of course the challenge and if she is claiming to take a more “aligned” approach than Lee Myung-bak did, I take it that could mean the tolerance of at least  two military attacks which is exactly what this current administration did.

Of course, she could be suggesting that she’ll be more open to aid and other financial assistance like the Roh and Kim administrations were which, as history teaches us, leads to the murder of Southern tourists, development and testing of nuclear weapons and the firing of long-range missiles.

The bottom line is that Lee Myung-bak didn’t follow a truly hawkish North Korea policy. He pussyfooted his way through without fully committing to the hawkish policies he ran on and in return, he’ll be remembered as the president that allowed North Korea to murder more than forty South Korean citizens without consequence. Sure, he and his advisers will claim that they avoided a second Korean War, but the truth is that they punted on confronting Kim Jong-il.

I guess we should remember that by the time Lee Myung-bak had arrived in office, the South Korean voters were already split on DPRK policy and now, almost five years later, they seem to be just as split with a large segment of voters nostalgic for the faux-sense of security that Sunshine offered. Park is simply capitalizing on that while offering no substance with her moderate rhetoric.

It’s a pander that she hopes will allow her to waltz in on name recognition only.

The only question that remains and considering everything that has happened with North Korea over the past decade,  do people want yet another opportunistic politician claiming to know the perfect combination for dealing with the North?

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Are Joe Lieberman and Park Geun-hye banging?

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

Gross.

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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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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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Policy, Politics and 체면: The Sejong City Fallout

Posted on February 17, 2010. Filed under: GNP, Issues, Policy, Political Parties |

The story behind the Sejong rift is not what’s being widely reported. What we hear is that the rift between Park Geun-hye & Company and the rest of the GNP is getting larger by the day. Every major paper has headlines dealing with the intra-party clash and yesterday, the Dongo Ilbo wrote-up had some reactions on the split and the entire Sejong City debacle.

While people might be divided and some pols are still wrangling over how to solidify the party, the real story is the ongoing cold war between Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Chung Un-chan. The difficult part of this story is not who though, but why?

Does Park really want to press ahead with the original plan because it’s sound policy or she trying to position herself for a mid-term power grab thus gaining the  subsequent momentum for a 2012 cakewalk?

Does Chung truly believe that moving administrative offices to Sejong will hamper efficiency or is he also poised for a 2012 run himself?

Or are both of them trying to save face (체면) because they made very potent policy decisions which –if proven wrong– will ultimately damage their reputation beyond repair?

Let’s examine it.

As I mentioned before, 60% of Koreans support Lee Myung-bak’s revision while only 37% support the original plan (which Park is advocating for). It seems that Park knows she’s on the wrong side of the issue which could suggest she believes in the policy. However, over 1,000 Korean economists, scholars and politicians all banded together in support of a revision of the plan. Does she disagree with the following sentiment?

“When administrative bodies are divided, ministers, vice ministers and many officials have to move from one place to another and it is inefficient.”

Doubtful, but Park Geun-hye continues to rail against it, claiming Lee Myung-bak lied about his Sejong support to get elected. It’s clear that the original Sejong plan wasn’t as sound as once thought and it now appears that Park is pandering for political dividends in the Chungcheong province with her uncompromising zeal for the project. She knows the path to victory goes through the province, but did someone else pre-empt her move?

Could it be that Chung is more 11-dimensional than I thought? After all, it was Chung Un-chan who was at the forefront pushing for revision. He knew it’d be a wedge issue that would provoke Park to act and possibly try to distance herself from Lee and the mainstream GNP. Or was he acting on sound policy? He is an economist you know.

Incidentally, Chung happens to be from Gongju (South Chungcheong province), which is the area Park is pandering to. This –to me– suggests that he’s hoping to get more hometown support for his calls for revision. North Chungcheong has already expressed their opposition to the original bill and even though the Governor of South Chungcheong resigned over the revision, the momentum appears to be with the pro-Lee faction of the GNP.

In the end, this whole thing looks like an effort to save face. Both Chung and Park made a bold decision and neither one of them want to walk away from it. This whole damn thing was orchestrated by Roh Moo-hyun in an effort to win support in 2002 and it has snowballed to the point that we’re at right now.

From where I’m standing, Park Geun-hye bet on the wrong side and is trying to fight off a severe blow to her 체면. Chung is pushing sound policy in an attempt to politically wash the floor with Park and her allies. And if the recent calls to oust Chung were in response to said washing, it looks like he’s onto something.

Nice try, Hankyeorah. It looks like you’re learning from from Drudge.

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Park Geun-hye’s Chungcheong Gamble

Posted on February 15, 2010. Filed under: Elections, Policy, Political Parties |

Let’s start today off with this:

Enjoy the New Year Holiday. Seize the thief!”

In a confrontation reminiscent Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and Kayne’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.“, former GNP candidate and spokeswomen Park Geun-hye decided to replant the seed of distrust (again) just before the Lunar New Year holiday. Her goal –obviously– was to fuel her inner-party pseudo-support for the original Sejong City Development Plan in hopes of changing the holiday conversation from the traditional “When are you getting married?” to “Lee Myung-bak is a thief.

Of course, much of the argument around this issue has little to do with the Sejong City project. Rather, we’re witnessing the continuation of the battle from the 2007 election when Lee and Park engaged in nasty exchanges in their bid to represent the GNP. She’s still bitter and looking to separate herself from his policies so as to remain a viable candidate in 2012.

As I discussed previously, it’s totally commonplace in Korean politics to split from a party when something goes wrong. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Park threatened the same here, but since a pro-Park faction already splintered and returned two years ago, it would be pretty futile at this point.

So, let’s take a look at the current dispute and then we’ll make the leap across the pond.

Lee (in an address): “…when a thief breaks in, a family bound for success stops fighting (each other) to repel him first.”

Park (response): “what happens when someone in the family turns into a thief?”

Both camps denied they were speaking of the other, but it’s pretty clear they were both taking swipes at each other. Lee was railing for unification against the Park faction and Park was calling Lee a thief. What did he steal? I assume she believes he “stole” the election by promising to press ahead with Roh’s dream of relocating the nation’s government. She has every right to be angry that he reneged on his promise, but he has not scrapped the whole thing, he simply wants Sejong to be a “business-science hub“.

Still, he’s a “thief” according to Park. Will her gamble work?

According to a recent poll, 60% of the public support the revised version proposed by Lee. Only 37% percent support the original plan that Park is putting her neck out there for.

So, why is she sticking to an unpopular opinion and increasing the attacks?

Just ask the GOP in America.

The GOP has continually rallied against popular measures over the past year, but a faction of the GOP has not only uniformly opposed every proposal, they have even threatened to cannibalize their own regardless of what GOP Chairman Steele wants. They are –of course– the teabaggers.

Like the Park faction in the GNP, the teabaggers account for a sizable portion of the GOP. They are a minority for sure, but they steal most of the headlines with their egregious claims and extreme supporters. Yet, it’s no secret what their short-term goal is: November elections.  The Park faction is after the same thing: June elections.

While there is evidence that the GOP-led Tea Party movement could pick-up some seats, a switch in Congressional power is pretty much impossible. The Pro-Park faction also has some legs to stand on, but it’s unclear whether her support for the original Sejong City plan is a winner. She might be playing on the enthusiasm gap which will also help the GOP this fall, but will Sejong City get people out to vote like the GOP scare-tactics have motivated the American conservatives?

I doubt it and it seems like Park is going to end up garnering more support from a single province –that being Chungcheong. The caveat is, does Chungcheong support translate to a big win?

Yes and Park knows it. Since 1987, Chungcheong province has been known as the “election barometer“. The province has had swaying power in every modern election. Right now, the province is solidly in support of the People First Party. This, however, is not a huge obstacle for Park. The core principle of the party is to oppose the GNP. Park is openly opposing the GNP, so theoretically she could sway a few voters into supporting pro-Park GNPers.

If she can get the backing of PFP leader Sim Dae-pyung or push this wedge issue far enough, then we can all expect a pro-Park resurgence within the GNP and possibly another heated primary in 2012.

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The Common Thread of US-ROK Approval Ratings

Posted on February 12, 2010. Filed under: Approval Ratings, Policy | Tags: , |

President Lee Myung-bak started his term with relatively high hopes. He won a plurality of the vote and along with his party, it appeared that the GNP had put the once-dominant Minju party in a position where it would take more than one cycle to make any major gains in Assembly. It seemed that the GNP was going to be able to smoothly implement most of their policies with minimal noise.

Two years later, President Barack Obama found himself in a very similar position. The American public had lost faith in the GOP and the Dems tapped into that disenchantment. Obama won a majority of the vote and the Dems captured both the House and Senate and after the wranglings between Franken and Colemen concluded, the Dems had the 60 votes it needed to implement anything it chose.

Both situations seemed to bode very well for each respective party and both leaders started with high approval numbers, yet within months of starting their terms their numbers started to drop. Why?

There runs a common thread between each drop. After losing power, the liberal establishment in Korea, the one which had ruled National Assembly since 2004 and had controlled of Cheong Wa dae since 1997 was scrambling. Across the pond in the US, the GOP had just lost control of the White House which they held for eight years and were still reeling over the 2006 loss of Congress of which they had held since 1994.  Both parties had lost control of the conversation and they both had to fight-off irrelevancy.

They both went deep and they both scored an eventual touchdown.

As we know, the Mad Cow protests were orchestrated by the bewildered liberal establishment. They pushed fabricated claims, false science and generated  endless amounts of nationalistic/anti-American propaganda.

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And it worked. Millions took to the streets of Seoul to protest the policy. Of course, once the message became very convoluted and simple man-on-the-street interviews revealed that beef was not the real issue, the movement slowed, but the damage had already been done. The protest had turned into a place to vent frustrations not with the administration, but with government in general. As a result, Lee Myung-bak’s approval-rating fell to the levels of George W. Bush. Within three months, he went from 75% to a 17% approval rating.

The same can be witnessed with Obama. He came in on a high and the GOP was terrified. They tried to spit on the successful stimulus bill, but got some considerable push-back from moderates. That was not the winning formula. Finally in the summer of 2009, they found their boogie-man: Health-care reform. The conservative media went to work selling the angle and once they felt a breeze, they lifted the sails. And just like the beef protests, 95% of the information coming from the conservative noise machine was totally fabricated.

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How does that expression go?

Republicans have no brain and Democrats have no spine.

I agree. The Dems lost total control of the conversation and allowed for the weakening of the reform bill. And as a result of the summer town-hall screamers’ total control of the news cycle, Obama saw his numbers drop from  60% in June to 50% today. It doesn’t look that bad considering what’s going on domestically, but in US politics momentum is everything and the momentum appears to be with the opposition for the time being.

Now, nearly two years after the beef protests, President Lee is hovering around 50% approval. And even though Obama seems to have made some gains by his recent thrashing of  GOP faux-talking points, it’s unclear what his numbers will look like in another year. Sure, the GOP will pick-up some seats in the fall which will allow for the Dems to paint the GOP as do-nothing (a good move), but can he recover his numbers like Lee Myung-bak did?

One would think identifying the subsequent policy compromises Pres. Lee made would offer some insight, but the truth is that Pres. Lee hasn’t actually pandered to the middle all that much. He hasn’t chimed in on that populist tone. He’s still pressing Sejong City and is going full-steam ahead on the now-renamed “4-Rivers Project” despite protests across the board. This is where Obama can learn from his Korean counterpart.

Pandering to the center loses elections. George W. was an awful President, but he was a good leader. He didn’t bend or fold and people liked that. He knew what he wanted and threw bipartisanship under the bus. And while the GOP seems to be hellbent on symbolically pushing the idea of bipartisanship, they haven’t displayed a single shred of it. The Bush-led GOP Congress didn’t let their lack of a filibuster-proof majority impede a thing. They went to reconciliation all the time and it’s time that Obama started doing the same.

To borrow a phrase, voter opinion is nothing more than “gusts of popular feeling”. Voters want to see tangible results. Lee Myung-bak knew that with Cheonggyecheon (Oh Se-hoon is trying the same). And while there might be obstacles along the way, pandering to the center never works. President Obama likes to commend the Korean education system an awful lot, but perhaps it’s time he takes a look at how a Korean politician pushes through legislation.

Hell, President Lee didn’t even cost his party votes at the mid-term.

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