Debacle of morality

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Debacle of morality

Ko Dae-hoon
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A perfect panoramic picture shows the so-called Red Planet to be an endless mass of rugged, ruddy terrain, peppered with large dark rocky layers. Upon its epic landing on Mars on Feb. 18, Perseverance, NASA’s biggest and most advanced rover yet, captured a brief noise — what might have been the first sound of a Martian wind. The touchdown moment after a journey of 300 million miles and seven months, and its first 30-minute drive on the surface rich with 3-D images, microphones, sensors have excited speculation of past life on the planet and possibly a new future for mankind.

The car-size rover’s mission is to collect rocks and soil samples from the Jezero Crater, which researchers believe was home to a river delta billions of years ago. It is looking for signs of ancient microbial life. Elon Musk promises he will land humans on Mars and create living space for 1 million people by 2050. A sci-fi dream of human life on another plant may be coming true.

The imagination, challenges and the perseverance to discover a new world always inspires awe. Humankind always hopes for a leap forward. We, in South Korea, live devoid of such a dream. U.S. President Joe Biden thanked the NASA team for bringing back the “American spirt” when the country needed it most. “We can land a rover on Mars, we can beat a pandemic,” he said. “And with science, hope and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country.” That kind of confidence can only be envied.

America’s Mars exploration asks us if we have such a bold dream. We were entirely engrossed with the excavation of dirt on past governments over the last four years. We come to some sense of what the vendettas and purges of the previous power in the royal courts of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) would have been like. The Moon Jae-in administration and ruling Democratic Party (DP) behave as if they were exacting justice on behalf of the independent fighters by stirring nationalistic hostilities toward Japan when Tokyo set up export barriers over a wartime forced labor dispute. Die-hard fans of President Moon acted just like the Red Army of China during the Cultural Revolution.

Will the final year of the Moon administration be any different? With its biggest headache — Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol — gone, the government could be unrestrained in building a new airport on Gadeok Island and delving into the national coffers for more spending until they run out money.

Controversies like a systemic manipulation of government reports to force the shutdown of the Wolseong-1 nuclear reactor, a Blue House meddling in the Ulsan mayoral election, the government’s involvement in suspicious asset management funds, and former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family-related corruptions may all fizzle out. The ruling front may finally achieve its goal of commanding full control over law enforcement authorities. After failing to oust Yoon through methodical attacks, the government finally pushed him out of office by dismantling core investigative power of the prosecution.

The top law enforcement agency will lose most of its key investigative powers if an act aimed at launching a new investigation agency for serious crimes passes the DP-dominated legislature. The move is led by Rep. Choi Kang-wook and others under investigation for corruption. “Just because they hate me and the prosecution, they should not have abused their power to strip the prosecution of all its investigative rights overnight,” Yoon retorted. When the law enforcement power lies with the ruling power, our society will certainly lose any kind of institutional justice and fairness.

Aboard a ship across from Gadeok Island last month, Moon said his heart was beating, giving his blessing to a whopping 28-trillion-won ($24.8 billion) project to build an airport there. The Perseverance project cost $2.7 billion. We are spending money that could make 10 trips to Mars on a questionable airport off the southern cost to win a mayoral by-election in Busan. Reason and justice have given way to the desperation to win an election.

The government can hand out relief checks to the people. The country won’t go bankrupt overnight. But the ruling force must not think the pandemic gives it unlimited permission to spend. After a landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections last year, the government is convinced that spending buys votes.

The scandal of property investment based on inside information by employees of the Land & Housing Corp. underscores the deep moral hazard of this administration. They might have learned a trick from the lying Supreme Court chief justice and criminals who spearhead neutralizing the prosecution under the banner of prosecution reforms. We are witnessing a colossal breakdown of morality in our country. We can hardly have hope for a better future with these people.
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