Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

When will I learn? I should have known that just because Lee Myung-bak’s administration and the US government announced that they’d made adjustments in their beef import agreement, that doesn’t mean that the changes are substantive or adequate. As the Korea Herald whined in an editorial, “No More Hassle,” just because the new agreement isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s no good: “But if an agreement between governments cannot be trusted, what can?” (Can the writer really be serious? Agreements between governments are the last things you should trust.) “Now antigovernment groups would do well to stop their candlelight protests.” (The writer still can't grasp that, although various groups have hitched their wagons to the protests, they were started by a spontaneous mass movement that can't be stopped by the orders of NGOs or right-wing journalists.)
But Lee should have known that Koreans haven’t taken their eyes off him. On Saturday night, there was another candlelight vigil in downtown Seoul, with about 10,000 in attendance. (Pictures, with Korean text, at OhMyNews.)
Hankyoreh has a good editorial on Lee’s reshuffling of his cabinet, noting that he didn’t look for much in the way of expertise or experience in his new appointees: one or two know what they’re doing, but others are just political cronies. The idea, as with the beef negotiations, is to make it seem that there’s been change without any actual change taking place. (Lee will probably get along as well with Obama as he has with Bush.) Maybe it would help if, instead of viewing citizens as employees, Lee thought of them as customers or even shareholders.
The government is trying to retaliate against its critics by attacking the Internet.
Earlier in the day, Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han ordered prosecutors to thoroughly crack down on activities against advertisers, saying “People are significantly worried as the activities of defamation, spreading false rumors and threatening companies to stop placing ads were recently reaching a dangerous level on some parts of the Internet.”
Would this concern extend, say, to President Lee’s attempts to smear the candlelight vigils as the work of North Korea? Or to the Korea Herald’s claim that the protesters have brought “chaos” and “anarchy” to the country? Where would government and business officials be without the freedom to lie? (I’m gratified by this Hankyoreh editorial that basically agrees with what I’ve been saying about right-wing attacks on the vigils themselves.) Not surprisingly for a former CEO, Lee Myung-bak doesn’t grasp the concepts of dissent or free speech. For better or worse, freedom of speech means the freedom to say things that are stupid, vicious, and downright false. It’s not obvious, though, that the protesters have been notably irresponsible, compared to their opponents, who basically feel that any criticism of Lee’s government is violent and dishonest.
Lee promised to back down on privatization, but it appears he’s lying there too. The camel of commercialized medical services is poking its nose into the tent, and the right-wing media are urging more privatization. A Korea Herald editorial (“No More Backtracking”) points to a recent mismanagement scandal at Korea Coal Corporation, which certainly calls for scrutiny and correction. But private corporations have more than their share of scandal, mismanagement, and misappropriation of funds for personal enrichment. Shouldn’t they therefore be nationalized, since they show the inability of private business to regulate itself?
The Korea Times presents the second in its series of interviews with advocates of privatization. (Where are the interviews with the critics of privatization?) This guy offers former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a role model for President Lee:
Thatcher faced a strong backlash from the public when she tried to privatize nationalized enterprises in coal, iron and steel, gas, electricity, water supply, railways, trucking, airlines and telecommunications.

However, she refused to succumb to the public pressure and opted for a head-on collision with the unions. Finally, she won concessions from them and succeeded in transforming non-competitive, bloated public enterprises into competitive ones, he said.
Pardon me if I don’t quite believe that happy ending. But Mr. Sunny Yi does put his cards on the table, doesn’t he? It doesn’t matter what the public thinks – government leaders should simply run roughshod over public opinion. He also points to the American General George S. Patton as a good example, forgetting that Korea is no longer run by military dictators, and that Lee has demonstrated that his arrogant authoritarian style is not all that effective in a democracy. But that doesn’t keep him from trying.