Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's Just a Jump to the Left, and Then a Step To the Right

Back to Korea (only figuratively, alas) for a bit.

A 400-day long strike has just ended, over a manufacturer's move to replace irregular workers by outsourcing. The union seems to have won only a minimal concession from the company, and some issues (like punitive damages demanded by the company) remain unsettled.

The Korean police have overstepped again. The Hankyoreh reports that a court declined to issue arrest warrants for seven members of the Socialist Workers League of Korea, whom the police had "apprehended in their homes" on August 26. That leaves me a bit confused -- they were arrested and held without warrants? The Korea Times, which notes the case in passing, says that the men were "detained." I suppose there's a distinction that escapes me there, but in any case the men were released.

The Hankyoreh has an interview with one of the detainees, SWLK President Oh Se-cheol (at left, appropriately enough, in the photo above from The Hankyoreh).

The close of the Korea Times piece is revealing:

It's imperative for the Lee administration to take bold measures to address the police problem. The mission of the police is to protect the lives and assets of citizens by maintaining law and order. The government should no longer delay police reform to ensure the rule of law, the very foundation of a democracy.

Oh, come on. The "police problem" is basically the Lee administration problem. That President Lee has been using to police to punish citizens who had the bad taste to criticize him is not news. And now Lee's ruling Grand National Party has announced its intention "
revise laws in September to drastically limit the freedom of expression, demonstration or rally in the name of establishing the rule of law." That's the only "rule of law" that interests Lee and his cronies.

In addition, the GNP clarified it would support a 'pro-business policy agenda,' saying it would strive to pass various bills that would abolish the investment ceiling for family-run business conglomerates investing in their affiliates and soften restrictions governing holding companies in the regular session of the National Assembly next month.

A KT article from August 29, refers to "
violent candlelight rallies" (though the vigils were overwhelmingly nonviolent) and quotes "GNP floor leader Hong Joon-pyo [who] said those who seek violent, illegal protests are not entitled to enjoy the freedom of association." Somehow I don't think Mr. Hong had in mind the pro-Lee demonstrators in June who attacked other protestors, or those who committed arson at the entrance to a TV broadasting company.

Meanwhile, as Korea anticipates "a US-type financial crisis in September," the government has also announced plans to counter Korea's high suicide rate, "the disgrace of the nation":

According to the OECD's 2006 report on health, South Korea had the highest suicide rate of 21.5 out of every 100,000 people, almost double that of other member countries.

Hungary, Japan and Finland followed in the list, with 21, 19.1 and 18 people, respectively.

According to the health ministry, the growing number of single-parent families and social and economic burdens tend to incite people to kill themselves.

It is necessary to spread respect for life to prevent suicide, he added.

Remember that Korea's suicide rate doubled after the 1997 financial crisis because of destructive economic policies imposed from outside Korea, and has never gone down to pre-crisis levels since. I get the impression from this article that what most concerns the government is the "disgrace," the shame before other nations. But the anti-suicide plan will at least focus particularly "on strengthening the social and economic safety net for those in the low-income bracket and the aged, they said."

As short-term measures, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs is seeking to establish more screen doors at subway stations to prevent people from committing suicide by jumping in front of trains.

The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to regulate purchases of poison pesticides in a bid to reduce the number of suicides.