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The Fall of a Veteran US Congressman

Posted July. 24, 2010 10:58,   


U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, 80, a leading pro-Korea member of the Democratic Party, is in big trouble for violation of ethics rules. A Korean War veteran and 20-term lawmaker, Rangel was preparing for the midterm elections in November. He is a well-known figure in Korea for strongly opposing U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s plan to withdraw American troops from Korea in 1977, helping enact a law on recognizing Korean War veterans last year, and leading the adoption of a resolution to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War last month.

Rangel received money from U.S. telecommunication companies such as AT&T and Verizon to participate in overseas seminars in 2007 and 2008 along with four other congressmen. He said he was unaware of the corporate support at the time, but the ethics committee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected his excuse. When the committee found him guilty in March, Rangel stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Separately, the ethics committee has been investigating him for two years for other violations such as tax evasion and giving tax breaks to oil companies.

For a member of Congress to travel abroad with tax money or money from a company is unimaginable, yet this practice is common for a Korean lawmaker. A U.S. congressman faces strict limits on gift taking, being allowed to accept a single gift worth less than 50 dollars with an annual cap of 100 dollars. Accepting expensive pens or crystals is not allowed but taking baseball caps and T-shirts are allowed. Congressmen cannot have dinner at receptions hosted by companies. Faced with public opposition, rules were revised in 2000 to allow them to eat doughnuts, coffee and potato chips. Against this backdrop, Rangel’s act constitutes a serious mistake that could affect the midterm elections.

A Korean patriot went to heaven when he died. God commended him and then asked him about his wish. “Please help Korea win the World Cup,” the patriot said. Embarrassed, God asked for an alternate wish, saying, “That would be unfair to other countries.” Then the patriot said, “Let 10 politicians with integrity govern my country.” God pondered for a moment and said, “OK, then how about the World Cup semifinals?” This joke was meant to elicit laughter but is also a scathing satire on Korean politics. Korean politicians ranked among the top in global corruption indices. The term of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives is two years, and Rangel has served for 40 years. Korean lawmakers should feel a sense of shame over the fall of Rangel.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)