Monday, July 21, 2014

Paying for North Korean Cheerleaders?

With the 2014 Asian Games set to begin in Incheon in September, the North Koreans initially proposed to send up to 150 cheerleaders to the games. At the time, the total cost of hosting the cheerleaders and the North Korean athletes were estimated to be around ₩1.5 billion (US$1.45 million).

Since then, however, the North Koreans have declared that they would send up to 350 athletes and 350 cheerleaders. Of course, this does not count the bodyguards and the political minders that the North Koreans will most likely send to ensure that none of their athletes or cheerleaders gets any ideas about defecting.

If South Korea ends up paying for the North Korean delegation as it has in the past during the days of the so-called Sunshine Policy, then I have a feeling that it would cost more than the aforementioned ₩1.5 billion.

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During the negotiations about how many delegates the North Korean government was planning to send (Does it strike anyone else that it is ludicrous for the meeting to have taken place at all?), the South Korean government, which seems to have grown something that resembles a backbone, did not play the game that the North Koreans wanted. A South Korean government official reportedly said:

At past international sporting events, it was customary to provide all accommodation free of charge for the North Koreans, but we decided to adhere to international practice this time. And under Olympic Council of Asia regulations, each country is responsible for the expenses incurred by its athletes and cheering squads, although accommodation subsidies are provided for underdeveloped countries that are sending a small group of athletes.

On top of that, South Korean government officials told the North Koreans that their flags that they wanted to bring were too big and could become a safety issue.

When the North Koreans were told that they were not going to get a free lunch and that their flags were going to be the same size as everyone else, as per their typical behavior, the North Koreans huffed and they puffed and said something about how South Korea displayed an “improper attitude” to the talks.

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The fact that the North Koreans even brought up these ridiculous demands should not come as a surprise to anyone.

North Korea is a nation of thugs – a country that was founded on the principle of taking everything from everyone and giving it to the Supreme Leader. What is money to the North Koreans? To everyone else who lives in capitalist(ish) economies, money is a tool of exchange – it is what people use to trade with others.

And we have to keep in mind that unless forced to do so, no one in the world trades down. People always trade up. What that means is before I decide to pay for a product, I will always make sure that the product will be of higher value to me than the money that I would give up in exchange for the product. When we accept money in payment for our effort, we do so only on the conviction that we will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. In other words, people trade value for value. That is what money is used for.

And where does our effort, the goods that we produce, come from? They don't magically appear out of thin air. We have to use our minds to create something that is worth selling. If we didn't use our minds, we wouldn't be able to create a single thing.

In sum, money is the tool that we use to exchange with each other the efforts of our minds.

That is why money is sacred. That is why we hate those who steal and commit fraud. Thieves, through no merit of their own with the exception of thuggery and skulduggery, take from the rest of us what we have rightfully earned by the sweat of our brow. That is why in a civilized society, thieves are shamed and punished (or at least ought to be).

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What do North Korean officials know about money? They certainly know that it is something that they need to buy luxury cars, French cognac, Uzbek caviar, and Danish pork. But what do they know about earning money? Why go through the trouble of earning money when they can just get easy riches by printing counterfeit money or producing crystal meth or selling women as sex slaves?

They have no rational minds to speak of – only power lust and the desire for unearned greatness. They wouldn't even know how to begin to think of something as being sacred. They are unthinking brutes, and the only good thing that they could ever possibly do for themselves and the rest of the world is to commit mass suicide.

However, now that I think about it, I think I may have been far too charitable to people who live south of the DMZ when I said that everyone who lives in capitalist(ish) economies knows that money is a tool of exchange. There are clearly some people who not only lack that knowledge, but also lack anything that resembles a brain altogether.

Case in point, The Korea Times published an editorial about how Seoul should have been the one to initiate this unbelievable fiasco by having invited North Korea to participate in a regional sports festival in South Korea and offering to pay the cost. The editorial goes on to say that Seoul needs to be more magnanimous and tolerant, no longer citing “international standards” or “popular sentiment.”

Never mind that the North Korean government is responsible for numerous crimes against humanity as well as against South Korean sailors, marines, soldiers, civilians, and diplomats. As far as The Korea Times' editorial staff is concerned, Seoul ought to be more magnanimous and tolerant toward these thugs who have threatened to attack us AND actually attacked us on numerous occasions.

When faced with such incredible stupidity, I suppose there really is only one thing that can be said.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

“Voting Against Their Own Interest” - You should probably stop saying this.

The majority of people in the world, except perhaps the mentally ill, seldom ever claim to be Marxists anymore. Whenever progressives are accused of being Marxists or socialists, they mock their simple-minded opponents and go on their merry way.

However, we have to keep in mind the famous quote about the greatest trick the Devil ever having played was how he convinced the world that he didn't exist.

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The great irony of present-day Marxists is that the majority of people who are either consciously or subconsciously influenced by Marxism have never read any of Marx's works. Then there are those who have read his works and who have failed to understand Marx.

(Joseph A. Schumpeter listed in his book, “History of Economic Analysis” (Page 362, “Concerning the Marxist System”) quite a formidable and hefty set of prerequisites that people have to read in order to properly understand Marx. This probably explains why so many people are reluctant and/or unable to fully understand Marxism.)

Regardless of whether people have read or not read or understood or not understood Marx, many people have uncritically accepted many of his views as gospel truth. And I am willing to bet that most of those people don't even know that they are channeling Marx.

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For example, one thing that I have heard many progressives complain about often is that, especially after having been “influenced” by the “corporate media,” far too many middle to low income earners “vote against their own interest.” For proof simply do a Google search for “vote against their own interest.”

However, we have to ask what people mean by “interest” when they pose their question. In every single instance, when that question is asked, what they almost always mean by “interest” is the interests of the group that the individuals supposedly belong to.

For example, people often ask why ethnic minorities or women vote for conservative parties, or why the low-to-middle income earners vote for tax breaks for the “super rich.” Notice how no one ever asks why a particular woman or member of an ethnic minority group might vote for a conservative politician or why individuals would vote for tax breaks that they themselves might not benefit from immediately. It's always about the group.

This goes back to Marx's belief, which he stated in the Communist Manifesto, that “the history of all hitherto existing human society is the history of class struggles.” As far as Marx was concerned, “interests” are something definite and apart from a person's ideas.

It was a belief that Marx himself contradicted in the same damned book. As Marx was not a member of the proletariat, he conveniently added that “in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour... a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class.”

If it is possible for some people to extricate themselves from the trappings of their own class and its supposedly inherent interests, then the law is really not a law! Too many Progressives, however, don't seem to be able to see the contradiction to question their own beliefs when they talk about people “voting against their own interests.” They believe that the “interest” of a class is obvious and that there could be no doubt about what it is.

I suppose it is much easier to assume that people who do not agree with them are brainwashed class traitors than individuals who genuinely have their own independent minds that happen to be opposed to theirs.

Furthermore, this idea about class interest is an idea that is all too similar to that of racists. Racists tend to believe that members of a race all look and think alike. That they should all behave in a particular way. That there are certain things that all members of a certain racial group should inherently like and dislike. Replace the word “race” with “class” and you get the same argument!

It all comes down to collectivism. Modern-day Marxists (whether they know that they are channeling Marx or not) do not believe in individualism. They may say that they do, but their inner most philosophy seems to say otherwise.

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The quote about the Devil may be attributed to Charles Baudelaire but in all fairness, Kevin Spacey did make it sound much better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Soccer is just an illusion and we need to wake up to reality.

Everyone is fan of some kind of sport and football is one of the most popular sports in the world. As for me, I don’t care much for football. My sport of choice has always been economics with a side of politics.

I bet there would have been fewer economically illiterate people in the world if economics had been taught like this.

Anyway, I was on the bus on my way to work when I heard the Brazil-Germany game being announced on the radio. I didn’t pay much attention to it. Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone can be in the mood for anything else besides a strong cup of coffee at half past six in the morning. But I heard the score being announced.

Seven to nothing.”  (The game ended seven to one.)

I might not be a football fan, but even I know that that is not the kind of score that you hear very often. Especially when the losing side is Brazil.

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From what I have seen in the news, Brazilians appear to be in mourning. Although it is doubtful that Brazilians are going to begin to dislike football, it is quite likely that more and more Brazilians will begin to question the wisdom of having hosted the World Cup in the first place.

Brazil is now the seventh largest economy in the world and is one the BRIC economies that is a darling case study of successful developing economics. The problem with GDP rankings, however, is that looking at the GDP alone belies the other smaller, but not less important, economic details that often plague a country.

For example, Brazil has some of the highest tax rates in the world, has 35 pensioners for every 100 contributing workers despite the fact that 62% of Brazilians are under 29 years of age. It has also one of the most corrupt governments in the world. To make matters worse, Brazil will have to face the consequences of holding down government-regulated prices when it faces inflationary pressures in about a year or so. Others seem to take an even dimmer view of Brazil’s persistent rate of inflation.

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Despite all of these economic problems, however, the Brazilian government insisted on hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which is estimated to have cost more than US$11 billion. As frightening as the price tag may be, though it is not reported so much now, even days before the games started, stadiums remained unfinished or did not meet safety standards. However, this doesn’t even begin to count the human costs (more on the human cost here and here) that were involved in hosting the games.

Considering the immense costs of the World Cup, it would seem that the promise of economic development that the World Cup brings to its host countries is a lie. This should not come as a surprise, however. The only reason why governments get involved in hosting the World Cup is that it is not profitable. If it were profitable, there would be no need for massive government subsidies, which these games really are.

However, it’s not just the World Cup that is a drain on the host country’s economy. The Olympics is another financial nightmare. Just ask the Greeks what they think about the 2004 Olympic Games (more about the cost of hosting the Olympics can be found here). It’s for such reasons that the residents of Munich sensibly voted NOT to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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The smartest thing that I have heard come out of this World Cup game was from Antonio Hipolito, a Brazilian man who works at a bookstore in a wealthy part of Rio, who said this right after the Brazil-Germany match:

Soccer is just an illusion and we need to wake up to reality.

It is sound advice that Brazilians should heed.

Now, how about that 17th Incheon Asian Games, which apparently has cost US$1.62 billion (whereby the cost of housing North Korean cheerleaders alone is estimated to cost up to ₩1.5 billion), and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics?

It seems that Koreans might need to heed Senhor Hipolito’s advice, too.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Psychology Testing in the Korean Military is a Joke

For those of you who have been keeping up with the news, a Korean soldier, who has only been identified as Lim () killed five other soldiers and injured seven others before deserting his post with his K-2 rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition on Saturday.

It has been reported that the military has deployed several helicopters and special commandos to capture Sergeant Lim.

(Lim is a conscript and his rank is byeong-jang (병장), which does not have an equivalent in the US Army.)

And as it stands right now, the soldier who was conscripted in December 2012 and was to be discharged from active duty in September, opened fire at some of the soldiers who has been ordered to capture him. A platoon leader, who has also been thus far unidentified, suffered gunshot wounds during the firefight.

It was also reported that when Lim took a personality test in April 2013, he was classified as a “Grade-A” soldier that needed “special attention” and was unfit for duty at a general outpost (GOP). In Korean, those kinds of soldiers are known as gwan-shim byeong-sa (관심병사). When he took the test again in November 2013, he was classified as a “Grade-B” soldier who still needed attention, but was able to carry out the GOP mission.

When he took the personality test again in March this year, he was evaluated as having no special problems.

It has been further reported that there are about 1,800 other soldiers that have also been classified as requiring “special attention” in the 22nd Army Infantry Division, where Lim had been stationed.

As of this writing, he has yet to be apprehended, though his capture, dead or alive, is inevitable.

Location 1 is the GOP where the incident originally took place and Location 2 is where Sergeant Lim is currently engaged in a one-man guerrilla war.
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From this point on, I will attempt to use my experience to speculate as to how this incident happened. Of course, I do not make any claims to know this soldier or what he thought or what the military is currently trying to do. I am going to explain the system that allowed something like this to happen.

I served in the ROK Army from June 2011 to March 2013. Though I don’t think about those boys in the military very often as I am very busy with my job, my personal life, and blogging, I do think about them from time to time. And it is heartbreaking whenever these kinds of news stories emerge.

After all, this was not the first time that a shooting incident like this has taken place.

Like anyone else who has served in the Korean military, I, too, have taken these tests before. I took it once before I was conscripted, once more during boot camp, and then took the test at least once every two months during the remainder of my time in the Army.

The test is mandatory for all conscripts and consists of around 200 to 300 questions; many of them that are similar to each other and merely worded differently. They are multiple choice questions. The simplest ones are “yes or no” questions and some of the harder ones are answered by grading how strongly one feels about the question; the answers ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The following are some of those questions that I recall at the top of my head:

  • I think that life is not worthwhile.
  • I often hear voices although no one is around me.
  • I feel that the world is out to get me.
  • If I died, no one would notice.
  • I often contemplate suicide.
  • I am afraid of what kind of life I will lead after being discharged.

Of course, there are many other questions. The ones that I picked are the questions that the examiners look out for the most. Other questions are mostly used to know how well an individual might adapt to Army life, or how optimistic/contented or pessimistic/dissatisfied a person is.

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Though I am sure that not all military bases does this the same way, in my experience, failing this test was not an option. Let me explain.

Firstly, if it were to be discovered that a soldier was deliberately answering the questions to appear suicidal when the soldier is actually mentally fit, there is the possibility that he could be thrown into the brig. Not an altogether pleasant experience, I hear. On top of that, the time that a soldier spends in the brig does not count toward the number of days that he must serve in the military. For example, if a soldier is sent to the brig for a week, his service is extended by a week.

Secondly, before it is determined that a soldier is faking the results, if a soldier raises those red flags, that soldier is made to retake the test at least one or two more times. If the soldier still raises those red flags, then the company commander (who is usually a captain) will have a discussion about that soldier with the rest of his squad, his squad leader (who is usually a byeong-jang), and his platoon commander (who is usually a non-commissioned officer).

If it is deduced that the soldier is not faking it, the company commander, after consultations with the battalion commander (who is usually a major or a lieutenant colonel) will then order that soldier to go to a place called “the green camp.” That is where all the maladjusted end up going where they are constantly watched to make sure that they do not try to hurt others or themselves. They are also never allowed to go anywhere alone; not even to the bathroom. They are mostly made to watch videos (that are usually badly made PowerPoint slides) that have been made by the Defense Department during “mental training lessons” (정신교육) that are meant to instill pride and self-esteem.

Other conscripts also have to watch these videos, too, about once a week, but I was told those at the green camp are made to watch these ad nauseum.

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As I have never been ordered to go to a green camp myself, I have no first-hand knowledge of what goes on in there.

Occasionally, when a soldier’s case appears so extreme that the military does not think that it has the ability to help him, the military will give him an early discharge. However, such instances are very rare.

The test itself is very easy to pass. Even if a soldier does hear phantom voices and does have suicidal tendencies, the hassles that one has to go through can be so damned tedious that most soldiers give the answers that the test givers want to see. Most soldiers who take the test repeatedly and still provide the same answers that raise those red flags despite the tedium and the possibility of wrongfully being thrown into the brig are those who are sincerely disturbed and calling out for help. And the best they usually get is being sent to the green camp.

In other words, the tests are a joke. However, there is no other way to test these soldiers.

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In the battalion that I served, there were approximately 300 conscripts and about 40 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 20 commissioned officers (COs). Each has their own functions and jobs and unless there are outward signs that people can easily notice, it is very hard to know which of these soldiers are ticking time bombs. As mentioned earlier, there are approximately 1,800 soldiers who require “special attention,” but not all of them are potential killers. There is no way to know for sure that there isn’t a soldier who will decide to do something really stupid one day.

The ones who will know best are the squad members themselves. However, there are a lot of disincentives that prevent those conscripts from coming forward. Conscripts are at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. If they make such reports to their platoon leader, depending on the kind of leader that they get, each and every one of them will be questioned and interrogated to the point of excessive tedium (which means that there will be A LOT of work that they have to catch up on later on, which means that there won’t be much time for them to rest even on the weekends) or they will simply be ignored.

The officers do not have the incentive to help much. Firstly, unlike the conscripts, these officers are in the military by choice. The military is not just some annoying thing that they have to go through. It is their career. And if a conscript, some runt who is only there for twenty-one months, messes up and is later discovered, there is a good chance that those officers might be censured, which means that they won’t get promoted. For an officer, there is no clearer death knell than being passed up for promotion.

Therefore, they prefer not to deal with it and want to see things buried.  Out of sight, out of mind.  A mere 21 months later and those trouble makers will be someone elses problem!

(While I was in the Army, I heard conscripts frequently saying that the officers are not out for their best interests. Some even said that if a war breaks out, they will kill their own officers before they start shooting at the North Koreans.)

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As a result, the conscripts usually try to deal with whatever problems that are on hand by themselves. However, they aren’t psychologists. And being young boys – bored and armed to the teeth – who are usually anywhere from 19 to 22, they have little patience for the gwan-shims. This is why a lot of bullying and hazing takes place.

If a single conscript messes up, it’s not just him that is punished. The entire platoon, and sometimes the entire company is punished. And the officers don’t go unpunished either. In fact, the officers are more severely punished than the conscipts usually are, which goes back to why the officers are not inclined to help.

So, the conscripts try to handle things “locally.” Unfortunately, the bullying and hazing tactics that the conscripts rely on can be extremely counterproductive. Therefore, as useless as these tests are, they are the least bad way to determine if a soldier is a threat to others and/or himself.

The fact that the vast majority of the Korean military is composed of conscripts, young boys who have been forcefully made to serve in the military, is likely the biggest reason why these individuals are there in the first place.

In an all-volunteer military, such individuals, if discovered, can be discharged honorably or otherwise (not that that is any guarantee that psychologically problematic individuals are not weaned out). However, in the case of Korea, where all able-bodied Korean men are forced to serve by decree, it becomes nearly impossible to discharge them.

When there are so many soldiers who will do anything to get out of having to serve in the military (as can be seen here, here, and here), when there are so many who will fake being sick, mentally or physically, the military bureaucracy does not give a lot of opportunities for those who genuinely need help from receiving it.

I stand firmly opposed to military conscription for moral reasons. However, as long as North Korea remains an existential threat to South Korea, it will be nearly impossible to do away with conscription.

Until this view changes, I think that these shootings will not be the last of its kind.

Milton Friedman's Influence on Ending the Draft in the United States

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Perfect Prime Minister

Author’s Note: The following is a work of satire that was inspired by an article that was written in The Wall Street Journal. It should NOT be taken seriously. If you do not have a sense of humor, you should stop reading this right now.

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President Park seems to be having quite a tough time nominating her next Prime Minister. And it is a shame that such a mess is being made about appointing someone to a position that is largely ceremonial and devoid of any real political power. The Prime Minister’s chief reason for being has always seemed to act as the fall guy whenever the government does something wrong. After all, Korea has had eight prime ministers since 2004.

President Park’s first nominee for the position, Ahn Dae-hee, withdrew himself after it was discovered that he was quite rich.

Never mind that there seems to be no evidence to suggest that he has done anything illegal or that he has shown himself to be a man of integrity who does not let himself be blinded by political ideology. During his time as a state prosecutor, he helped to prosecute both the Grand National Party (the precursor to the Saenuri Party) for illegal campaign funding and against President Roh Moo-hyun’s election team for election fraud.

The lesson is clear. No rich people need apply. After all, as everyone knows, being rich is clearly a sign of pure evil.

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Then President Park nominated a man who, for all intents and purposes, does not seem ready for prime time. Among Moon Chang-keuk’s growing list of... faux pas, the former editor-in-chief of the Joongang Daily, has said on record that Japan should not apologize to Korea over the “comfort women” issue. On top of that, he also said that the Japanese occupation of Korea and the partitioning of the Korean peninsula was “God’s will.” Oh and something about the people of Joseon (the Korean kingdom that existed prior to the Japanese occupation and the subsequent division of the peninsula into North and South Korea) had laziness incorporated into their DNA and how it was Christianity that helped Koreans overcome their laziness.

What a charming fellow. Credit should be given where it is due. He’s certainly a maverick. He’s got that going for him, at least. And he’s certainly not as rich as Ahn Dae-hee but he doesn’t have any political experience. Definitely not cut out for prime time. So the second lesson is this – No inexperienced people, no matter how poor or how mavericky, need apply.

Not even if you're as dreamy as Tom Cruise.
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But it’s not just the Prime Minister. Kim Jeong-hoon, a Korean-American citizen (who was willing to give up his US citizenship) who was a former president of Bell Labs, was appointed to fill the newly created post of Minister of Future Creation and Science. In order to show his commitment, he was willing to donate up to ₩100 billion in expatriation taxes. The opposition party made a huge stink about him, however, because of his dual-citizenship. He was also accused of being a spy and his wife was associated with a brothel. He did the smart thing and decided to call it quits and headed back to the United States.

Another lesson learned. No smart American with tons of relevant experience need apply.

Surely Americans in Korea have seen these signs on occasion by now?
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So here is what we know about who is not fit to be Prime Minister:
  • No rich people.
  • No mavericks.
  • No inexperienced people.
  • No smart people.
  • No Americans.

In that case, the only kind of people that are fit for that office are:
  • Poor people.
  • Yes Men.
  • Experienced people.
  • Stupid people.
  • Non-Americans.

Well, if President Park is willing to consider the suggestions of a humble blogger, I have the perfect candidate in mind for the next Prime Minister. I nominate Adolf Hitler! It’s the only logical choice.

He might need a little image update though.
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Well, let’s think about it. Hitler was born into a very poor family. So we know for a fact that he understands the plight of the working poor. And this is paramount to picking a political leader – a man who has first hand experience in what it’s like to be poor.

To use an analogy, can we really trust an AIDS researcher to have a clue about what he is doing if he himself has never suffered from AIDS? Of course we can’t! Similarly, we cannot expect a rich man to even have the most basic understanding of what it’s like to be poor or even middle class. Hitler was born poor AND he was a struggling artist. If that doesn’t speak to the millennials, nothing will.

And of course he has a lot of experience! Hello? He was the Führer of Germany for eleven years. Even the most recent Korean presidents’ experience in running a country is a mere five years. Hitler has the kind of political experience that money can’t buy.

What about being stupid? Of course Hitler is stupid! Who else goes to war against the Russians and the Americans at the same damned time? You would think that Napoleon’s experience in Russia would have served as a great lesson about never invading Russia when it is cold. But he did it anyway.

He was a Class A Idiot.
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Most importantly, he’s not American. Sure, he’s not Korean either but that’s totally fine. At least he’s not from Southeast Asia, unlike some unspeakable people! Surely people have not forgotten how vitriolic and racist some people got when Jasmine Lee won a seat in the National Assembly? Anyway, I can’t imagine how the fact that he’s German will go down badly.

Another bonus – he hates, and I mean absolutely abhors, communists.  Take that, North Korea!

Yes, he forged an alliance with Hirohito and that might cause some people to get a bit upset.  So we should not bring that up too often. As long as we steer away from the fact that Hitler and Hirohito were allies, and focus on the more positive aspects, I think Hitler might turn out to be a great Prime Minister. Hell, I know at least one person in Busan will think so.

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And women voters will love him, too! Say what you will, but the Nazis had some really spiffy uniforms and we all know that women love men in spiffy uniforms. Besides, there is an entire sexual fetish dedicated to Nazis! Is there a sexual fetish for democratically elected middle aged men? I didn’t think so.

Yes, this movie actually exists.
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Now, admittedly, nominating Hitler for the position of Prime Minister is not without its hurdles. For one thing, he is dead. And there’s not even a body that we can dig up somewhere. But that’s the beauty of it all! He’ll be the one political leader whom no one will see, and above all else, or hear from. He will not do a damned thing. And who wouldn’t love that?

But if we really need someone to fill the role, we can always hire this guy. And he already has his own catchy theme song.

So, three cheers for Adolf Hitler! Hip hip hooray!