Going against the tide

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Going against the tide

 Chung Jae-hong
The author is an international, foreign policy and security news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


 
In mid-February, a record cold wave hit Texas, resulting in more than 3 million households and offices without power. As the outage lasted several days, more than 40 people died. During the blackout, some residents received electricity bills that were 100 times more than usual. A resident complained about an electricity bill at $17,000 last month.
 
But politicians in Texas, mostly Republicans, acted as if they had nothing to do with the blackout. Governor Greg Abbott was faced with backlash after blaming renewable energy, such as wind power, for the blackout. Renewable energy in Texas accounts for 23 percent of total power generation. Considering that 70 percent of Texas energy comes from natural gas and coal-powered thermal plants — and many of them also stopped operating — Abbott’s comment was fake news trying to blame the liberals, U.S. media pointed out.
 
The highlight was Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. In an interview with Fox News on Feb. 24, he said the residents are responsible for the surge in utility bills and said that people should read the fine prints. He argued that the households hit with the surge should take responsibility as they chose flexible rate, not fixed rate. Flexible rates fluctuate according to the demand, and extreme weather led to surge in demand, resulting in the skyrocketing price.
 
Blackouts in Texas are a result of factional politics. Texas has been a de-facto one-party system of Republicans. Republican politicians in Texas believe in the market economy and privatized the electricity market by excluding the grid in Texas from the rest of the country to evade federal government regulations. Private electricity companies focused on short-term gains and were stingy to invest in facilities for severe weather. Ten years ago, Texas suffered an outage in one third of the grid due to severe snowstorms. A federal supervisory agency investigated the blackout and advised Texas to connect the grid to the federal system and prepare for the severe cold. But politicians in Texas ignored that.
 
If a major blackout occurs, you may expect politicians to address the issue, but the Economist reported on Feb. 27 that a blackout is likely to happen again in Texas. As Republican politicians there have a dislike of big government and regulation, they are reluctant to introduce preventative measures. As the Democratic Party in Texas has little presence and cannot check on the state government, Gov. Abbott, who aspires to run for president in 2024, may continue to pursue market-friendly policies to differentiate himself from the Biden administration.
 
Factional politics make people’s lives harder. It happens in Korea too. Last Friday, the Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) passed a special law aimed at building a new airport on Gadeok Island off Busan city. The massive national project estimated by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to require 28.6 trillion won ($25.4 billion) was passed in only three months. It seems to be a tactic to win votes in the mayoral by-election in Busan on April 7 and the presidential election in March 9, 2022.
 
The new airport that is pushed to help the election campaign despite safety and economic issues will be a burden to the country and people in the future.
 
Poor Korea-Japan relations, now at their worst in the Moon administration, are also an outcome of the factional politics. President Moon made a series of remarks encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment because it is advantageous to win votes over the past four years. But since the end of last year, he has made reconciliatory gestures to Japan. In his address marking the 102nd anniversary of the March 1st Independence Movement, Moon said that Korea was ready to talk to Japan anytime. As specific solutions to the sexual slavery and forced labor issues have not been proposed, Tokyo’s response is cold. Since the Moon administration tries to improve relations with Japan as the Biden administration wants, the Japanese government wants sincerity.
 
Marx said that ideology that does not look at lives in reality makes itself a mockery. Politics trapped in factional rhetoric and aiming only at votes may achieve short-term outcomes, but will collapse when the reality is verified. But unfortunately, the people have to pay the price.
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