Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ruling Party, Don't Try Any Tricks!

Last night, watching the news on Korean TV, I had the pleasure of hearing the US ambassador to Korea admonish the Korean people to “learn the science” about American beef. The Korea Herald quotes him saying to reporters, “We have said many times, we don't see any need for renegotiation of the agreement since it is based on science… We don't think there is a scientific justification for changing the agreed basis that we worked out in April.”

Does this mean that the Bush administration is now prepared to “learn the science” of global warming, or evolutionary theory? Or is science just for foreigners? Would you trust a Bush official’s claims about what is scientific and what isn’t? Anyone who’s read Fast Food Nation knows that there are more reasons than Mad Cow Disease to worry about the American meat industry.

Some Koreans express worry that the world will think that Koreans are only worried about the health risks of American beef. Considering that polls show that a large majority of Koreans do indeed worry about that, the fact shouldn’t be swept under the rug. But it’s true that many Koreans, perhaps most, see the beef imports as just one of a constellation of issues where Lee is at odds with their interests.

With respect to women's rights, many activists feel that Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party has failed Korean women by reducing the size of and resources for the Ministry of Gender Equality. They have also accused President Lee of supporting laws that provide men with increased socio-economic advantages over women.

"The government is trying to revive a law that we fought several years ago to abolish," said Kim. "The past law provided men who had completed mandatory military service with preferences in the application and examination processes for becoming public service personnel."

In addition, the Korean "grandmothers" are enraged by Lee Myung-bak's sheer refusal to acknowledge the terrors of sexual slavery that were forced upon them prior to and during World War II. At their weekly Wednesday protests, the grandmothers are now pressuring President Lee, as well as the Japanese government, because they feel he has abandoned the daughters of Korea by placing economic and diplomatic relations with Japan over unresolved historical issues.

Other issues include Lee’s wish to privatize water and healthcare, his corporate cronyism, and now of course his willingness to use violence against peaceful protesters.

Today’s Korea Herald editorial ("Assembly Can Help") assures the reader that everything will turn out okay:

Despite the government measure, protests will go on for some time until the objectors are finally convinced that they have attained their goal. An encouraging development is that the Grand National Party reached a near consensus in calling for "renegotiation" with the United States, which the government party had turned down while opposition groups demanded it in unison.

In a representative democracy, it is the solemn duty of political parties to bring all social and political questions to the parliamentary forum and extract a decision through exhaustive debate. The 18th National Assembly, which opens this week, now assumes the important mission of resolving the U.S. beef issue on behalf of the protesters in the streets and the agonized government authorities.

The editorialist thinks that beef is all that interests the unruly masses, and lets slip his agenda in the last graf:

The previous 17th Assembly disappointed the nation as it failed to ratify the Korea-U.S. FTA before its closure due useless wrangling over the U.S. beef imports. The new Assembly now has a great opportunity to recover public trust in the legislature.

I don’t believe that “the public” mistrusts the legislature because of its failure to ratify the FTA. But, of course, by “the public” the conservative Herald means what US media mean by “the public”: corporate leaders, right-wing politicos, and corporate media. The great majority of Koreans aren’t “the public,” any more than workers, women, and racial minorities are “the public” in the US.

The protesters aren’t ready to take the pressure off of Lee’s government yet, though. The candlelight vigils will continue for at least the next few days. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow might be right that there’s no scientific reason for renegotiating the beef deal, but as President Lee has found out to his surprise, there are serious political reasons for doing so.

(The photo and the Candle Girl logo above come, again, from OhMyNews. I wish I could have included the graphic from a poster I saw about the May 31 vigil, which showed Candle Girl looking pissed off, but I can’t find it online. The sign the young women are holding says, “President Lee has lasted 100 days, the candlelight vigils last 30 days – Ruling Party, don’t try any tricks!”)