Sunday, February 28, 2016

Keep That Filibuster Going!

2016 is turning out to be an interesting year. Not long into the new year and we were greeted by North Korea's fourth nuclear test, another long-range rocket test, the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a ratcheting up of cross-border tension, talks of (maybe) finally installing THAAD in Korea, and now, a pending anti-terror bill in South Korea that is, as of this writing, being filibustered for the fifth day.

And it's not even March.

I remember watching Kim Dae Jung shaking Kim Jong Il's hand in Pyongyang on CNN back in 2000. Like many people at the time, I sincerely hoped that this was the beginning of a new era in inter-Korean relations and that it was the first step toward eventual reunification. But then it was revealed that the whole thing was based on a lie and everything went to hell from thereon.

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For ten years, during the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations, when South Korea's policy toward the necrocratic northern regime was one of rainbows and sunshine (pun intended), the relative cordial relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang meant that for the first time in their existence, the conservatives could not use buk-pung, the North Wind -- the real and perceived threat posed by North Korea -- to influence elections in their favor.

When President Lee Myung Bak ended his predecessors' policy of providing near-unconditional aid to the North, relations soured, thus showing the world how much an idiot Kim Jong Il was. He could have kept up his charm offensive and taken advantage of the anti-American sentiment that was present in South Korea at the time and effectively caused a permanent rift between the conservatives and the voters. That North Korean leaders have always been stupid is something that I will eternally be grateful for.

However, even when the North Koreans shelled Yeonpyeongdo, the North Wind was relatively calm. I remember when Park Geun-hye was campaigning to become president, she spoke much more often about "economic democracy" than she did about North Korea and when she did talk about North Korea, she spoke of trustpolitik.

In a few short years, both the Sunshine Policy and trustpolitik have died. Good riddance. It was once famously said that North Korea does not respond to pressure well, but that it does not respond to anything else. Sanctions, displays of military might, thinly-veiled threats of regime change or regime collapse -- these are the things that North Korea understands and takes seriously.

For hawks like me and everyone else who despises North Korea and all that it stands for, recent changes that have occurred in inter-Korean relations have been a much long-awaited gift. However, the conservatives seem to be determined to prove yet again that they don't need an opposition party to make themselves look like idiots as they have once again overreached with this new pending anti-terror bill.

To explain, we have to go back a few days. A few days ago, like everyone else who pays any attention to Korean news, I read that Minjoo lawmakers were filibustering the National Assembly to prevent the anti-terror bill from being passed. Admittedly, I was quite intrigued. I had heard of South Korean lawmakers turning the National Assembly into a barroom brawl on many occasions in the past, but I have never heard of them resorting to something as civilized as a a filibuster to get their point across.

I admit, however, that I did not take the filibuster very seriously beyond my initial surprise and that is because I do not take the Minjoo Party itself very seriously. Many of its members were the same ones who supported the Sunshine Policy and many of them nodded in agreement when President Roh Moo Hyun claimed that the United States was the greatest threat to peace. I also could never feel anything besides revulsion regarding the Minjoo Party's economic platforms (see here, here, here, and here).

However, as the filibuster went on for days thus breaking world records, and as the word itself became the latest imported foreign word into the Korean language, I decided to see for myself what the whole fuss was about. So, after being directed to the National Assembly's website to read the bill by Christopher Green, I could only come to one logical conclusion.

Buk-pung is back and it is back with a vengeance. And as the French would say, merde.

As I read the bill, I thought that the vast majority of it was remarkably uncontroversial. Especially after hearing incredibly disconcerting claims that the North Koreans are planning to conduct acts of terror against South Korea and plans to assassinate South Korean officials, I expected something a bit more shrill.

Instead, most of the bill explained how and what the law would consider to be acts of terror, what a terrorist group is (it's whatever the UN declares is a terrorist group) what is speech in favor of terror, how and when to freeze terrorists' assets, its plans to prevent people who are suspected of having terror ties from entering the country, etc.

They are pretty straightforward and should not and does not deserve any kinds of raised eyebrows. And one cannot but be surprised that such common sense laws don't already exist. But that was the 90% of the bill that didn't hold any surprises. The raised eyebrows came from the remaining 10%.

As it is currently written, the rest of the 10% of the bill calls for creating a new anti-terrorism unit and for it to be placed under the control of the Prime Minister. That all sounds well and good in theory, but the fact remains that the Prime Minister's office is largely a symbolic and toothless one that is hardly independent from the President. In fact, over the past eight years, there have been eight prime ministers.

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The bill also states that the National Intelligence Service will be given the authority to conduct surveillance by wiretapping people's telephones, observing their Internet communications, monitoring their bank accounts and travel logs, and delete Internet posts if the NIS deems them to be "threats to public safety" -- some of it without having to get a court order.

Although Saenuri lawmakers and President Park can claim that safeguards have been guaranteed in the bill to ensure that there is no abuse of power, the fact is that the bill promises to place only ONE person whose job will be to protect people's right to privacy. If that is not a blatant example of tokenism, then I don't know what is.

And therein lies the problem. The NIS has what could euphemistically be called a PR problem. During the presidential election, the NIS was caught trying to meddle in the election process; and during other times there have been corruption charges and arrests, deleted information and suicides, and trumped up evidence. And these are just some of the scandals that the NIS was in the middle of in the past four years. Not forty, but four years! If we go further back in time, the NIS (or the Agency for National Security Planning or the Korean Central Intelligence Agency as it was called once upon a time) has been responsible for a lot of nasty things. President Kim Dae Jung was tortured by them when he was a much younger man!

As the old saying goes, it's not paranoia if they really ARE after you. Considering the abuse of power that we have witnessed even in recent times alone, the further centralization of power in the hands of a small number of spies -- and that's what they are, spies -- who are often protected by the president and even the courts and often have their own agenda -- does not breed a lot of confidence in the public. And I've already seen what the Patriot Act has done in the United States. This is one American import that I can certainly live without!

Though I am still surprised myself that I am saying this, Minjoo lawmakers actually have a valid point. And the fact that Saenuri lawmakers are still pushing for this bill to be made into law without any further compromise goes to show that they care for nothing besides getting reelected. Never mind the public's legitimate fears of their freedoms being taken away! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Of course, this presumes that politicians are capable of feeling shame.

Of course, I am not under any illusion that the Minjoo Party cares about people's right to privacy either. Considering how badly they have been battered with major defections and loss of party leadership, I am sure that Minjoo lawmakers are desperately trying to do everything they can to shore up votes before the upcoming elections. It doesn't matter who the players are. It's all a game to them.

As usual, I can't bring myself to feel anything besides contempt for every political party and politician involved. But at least this one time, I fully support the filibuster and I dearly hope that this bill dies, again.

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