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Posts Tagged ‘Teddy Roosevelt

Netflix’s Mr Sunshine: Historical Background

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As mentioned before, I’m currently watching the TvN drama Mr. Sunshine, airing simultaneously on Netflix (Sat and Sun). The drama was written by Kim Eun-Sook and Director Lee Eung-Bok of Descendants of the Sun and Goblin fame. While a love story between a Korean noble woman, fighting for Korea’s liberty from Japan’s control, and an American Navel Captain who just happens to be is an escaped child of Korean slaves, the backdrop of the story is Japan’s occupation of Korea.


Unlike Korean films and dramas set later in Japan’s occupation – post annexation of Korea – Mr. Sunshine takes place in the early years of the 20th Century (around 1905), prior to the complete annexation of Korea and while Emperor Gojong was still on Korea’s throne. To make sense of the historical background surrounding the drama, it’s necessary to understand the geopolitical dynamics within East Asia.

First of all, Czar Nicolas of Russia sought to expand his empire across Manchuria to the warmer waters of the Pacific. Blocked by both ice throughout much of the year and other nations on Atlantic, ports on the Pacific Ocean seemed perfect ports for Russian trade and influence expansion. To make that happen, Russia annexed not only Manchuria but also a portion of China that borders what is now No. Korea.

Japan resented Russia’s land grab and feared Russia’s potential as a political rival in Asia. Japan publicly considering itself the rightful defender of East Asia. In public statements, Japan painted itself as the defender of East Asia from foreign dominance, much as they saw the Monroe Doctrine protecting Latin and South America from European incursion.


As No. Korea is now, the Joseon Dynasty, at the end of the 19th Century, was a hermit kingdom. It wanted to be left alone and remain neutral. It sought, like Japan decades earlier, to keep foreigners out. But geopolitics and Korea’s own military and political weakness made that impossible. Furthermore, Gojong realized the might and advanced technology of these foreign nations and, to keep his Kingdom safe, sought to bring those advancements to Korea. Some amongst the nobles balked at his plans while others embraced them. Indeed several nobles sent their male children to Japan, which was among the more technologically advanced and worldly nations, to complete their educations.

In 1904-5, the Japanese military achieved a comprehensive victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Following the Protectorate Treaty of 1905 between Korea and Japan, which forcibly stripped Korea of its rights as an independent nation, Gojong sent representatives to the Hague Peace Convention of 1907 in order to try to re-assert his sovereignty over Korea. Although the Korean representatives were blocked by the Japanese delegates, they did not give up, and later held interviews with newspapers. Indeed, Korean Ministers set up a second Ministry in San Francisco where they actively lobbied Korean Americans in support of their mission to keep Korea independent.

One representative warned forebodingly of Japanese ambitions in Asia: “The United States does not realize what Japan’s policy in the Far East is and what it portends for the American people. The Japanese adopted a policy that in the end will give her complete control over commerce and industry in the Far East. Japan is bitter against the United States and against Great Britain. If the United States does not watch Japan closely she will force the Americans and the English out of the Far East.”

Nevertheless for all of Korea’s lobbying at the Hague and elsewhere in the US and Europe, Britain joined with Japan in its bid to control Korea. The US too, under President Teddy Roosevelt and the US Foreign Secretary, agreed to hand over sovereignty of Korea to Japan as long Japan gave up every right to the Philippians which the US had recently won from Spain. As a result of that agreement, the US would support a peace treaty between Japan and Russia that handed Korea over to Japan. Meanwhile, as these negotiations were under way, Japanese Ministers, government, and newspapers spread anti-Korean propaganda, saying Korea was the reason why so much turmoil existed in the Far East. In their telling, Korea was the problem that prevented peace.

Of course, the US tended to believe Japan’s narrative ever since the US-Korean conflict in 1871 during which, due to multiple misunderstandings on both sides, the US essentially invaded and killed over 200 Koreans. For almost two decades, Korea, in the mind of US officials, was seen as as hostile foreign power. But these same officials knew almost nothing about Korea, its language, culture or history.


Moreover, it seems entirely possible that Japan’s ministers were far more believable than those of Korea as a result of Japan’s greater (or more lengthy) engagement with the West while Korea had chosen to maintain its isolation and independence, especially after centuries under the dominance of China. Nevertheless, Korea sent Ministers to the US to lobby for Korean independence as well as to set up friendly relations with the US. Korean Ministers set up a Legation in Washington DC and another in San Francisco. But aside from their positive influence on the Korean American community, they had little success in convincing the US government to support its desired stance as a neutral and independent nation.


It’s probable that Teddy Roosevelt knew nothing of Korea’s history…or of its multiple wars against Japanese incursion; or of its’ having to submit to China’s dominance; or of its’ desire to forge its own destiny. So, while TR sought to end the Russio-Japanese War, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, he ultimately gave away Korea to Japan dominance.

One representative warned forebodingly of Japanese ambitions in Asia: “The United States does not realize what Japan’s policy in the Far East is and what it portends for the American people. The Japanese adopted a policy that in the end will give her complete control over commerce and industry in the Far East. Japan is bitter against the United States and against Great Britain. If the United States does not watch Japan closely she will force the Americans and the English out of the Far East.”


Fifteen years after Japanese assassins murdered his wife, Queen Min, Japan forced Gojong to retire from the throne in favor of his son, Sunjong. After abdicating, Emperor Gojong was confined to the Deoksu Palace by the Japanese. Three years after Gojong’s forced abdication , on 22 August 1910, the Empire of Korea was annexed by Japan under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty that Sunjong was forced to sign. This treaty allowed the Japanese government to supervise and intervene in the administration and governance of Korea, which also allowed for the appointment of Japanese ministers within the government.

Gojong died suddenly on 21 January 1919 at Deoksugung Palace at the age of 67. There is much speculation that he was killed by poison administered by Japanese officials, an idea that gained wide circulation and acceptance at the time of his death. His death and subsequent funeral proved a catalyst for the March First Movement for Korean independence from Japanese rule.

After the annexation treaty, the former Emperor Sunjong and his wife, Empress Sunjeong, lived the rest of their lives virtually imprisoned in Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. Sunjong could not exercise any power as emperor because there were only pro-Japanese politicians in government. After the Korean Empire collapsed, Sunjong was demoted from emperor to king. Japan allowed him the title of King Yi of Changdeok Palace and allowed for the title to be inherited. Sunjong lived the rest of his live at Changdoek palace and died on April 24, 1926. Thus, after 519 years the Joseon Dynasty came to an end.


After Japan’s total dominance over Korea, Koreans were forced to submit totally to Japan’s every demand. They were forced to give up their names in favor of Japanese names; give up their language; give up their heritage; study only Japanese history; give up their businesses and property to Japanese owners…the list is endless.

But American President Teddy Roosevelt most probably did not know any this would happen because he believed the Japanese ministers with whom he undoubtedly had far more contact than with those of the unknown Korean ministers who had recently arrived and met briefly with him. Remember that although Korea had fought off both Japanese and Chinese incursions for centuries, until China finally won suzerainty, it’s probably doubtful TR knew next to nothing of Korea’s history.

Nevertheless, the story that unfolds in Mr Sunshine takes place in the years just prior to Japan’s complete dominance of Korea and after the murder of Queen Min. The story of Mr Sunshine takes place in those few years after he 20th Century when history could have been written another way.



Written by Valerie Curl

September 8, 2018 at 7:39 PM

Film Can Change the World…

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And Produce Better Outcomes


I hardly know where to start or what to write coherently. I have so many thoughts running through my mind as a result of my studies of history and my current fondness for So. Korea and love of its people as well as the current American political scene that I hardly know where to begin.


I guess I should start off by saying that I will never forgive Obama, Geithner, and Holder for allowing all the banksters who perpetrated the 2008 financial meltdown. Those bankers, both those who headed their financial companies and those who conned the public, should have been held responsible, regardless of how long the investigation continued. I lost a quarter million dollars in my retirement funds as a result of financial institutions greed and lies at a time when I was nearly ready to retire. I’ve never recovered. As a society, we should never have stood for what happened to us at the hands of a bunch of greedy, amoral bankers. As a Democratic voter, I can honestly say Obama’s Admin was wrong!


If I’d been younger, I might have recovered…but at 61 already? Not bloody likely. Added to my anger and frustration were the actions of Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner following the passage of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill. The bill itself was relatively meek, but Wall St, nevertheless, hated it because it required them to be more responsible for their actions, ie. larger reserve amounts, better reporting, etc. Hoping to win major donations from Wall St. firms, McConnell and Boehner went to Wall St. They specifically said we’ll overturn Dodd-Frank if you donate to the Republican Party. Pure quid-pro-quo.


Republican Teddy Roosevelt, the first progressive president, witnessed the political corruption that infected politics. He wrote in his autobiography his experience in the NY Legislature, looking around at his fellow lawmakers either bribing companies for funds (if you don’t give to me, I’ll vote for this bill against you) or being blackmailed (if you don’t vote as we want, we’ll use our resources to defeat you). As a result of his changing views, TR believed the entire system…among many other areas of the economy to benefit workers…needed to be reformed. Although a firm believer in capitalism, he understood that the rules of road could and would be violated by greedy miscreants which could and would create revolution as they had in Europe. For example, he brought into being monopoly laws that stopped the consolidation of entire industry sectors into the hands of one or two companies. Moreover, he grasped that capitalism could not survive if workers revolted against the entire system as a result of their poor treatment by companies.


He understood what Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in his two books. Being a great reader, he also understood the theses of Edmund Burke. Using both of their ideas, he set about changing American society in a way that reduced greed as well as increased workers’ ability to demand respect for their labor, working conditions, and lives. History books and writers of that era filled libraries with the conflicts of workers against greedy employers…and newspapers of that era were filled with reports of the failure of employers to protect workers.


All of this leads us to what occurred prior to the last election in So. Korea. Many commentators stated that So. Koreans were so used to corruption that they, by the millions, weren’t holding protest vigils against the corruption of the Park Administration so much as its incompetency. Nevertheless, So. Koreans voted en masse against the conservative government led by Park. Since Moon Jae-In became president, he and his government have worked tirelessly to root out corruption, bribery, and influence buying. I applauded the Moon Administration for its efforts, even as I worried that the change in Administrations signaled another governmental purge that became almost institutionalized throughout Korea’s [Joseon’s} history. But the Moon Administration, thus far, has proven itself to stand by the rule of law (most of which accords to and has been adopted from the USA). In previous generations, those who had money and power could bend the law in their favor. But, I posit, the modern Korean dramas helped changed that dynamic.

Modern Korean dramas highlight, even as a subtext, the corruption of a system that failed to protect ordinary people in favor of the greedy and wealthy. I must add that greed as defined by Korean culture is not just greed for money but also greed for power, prestige, influence, recognition, and overwhelming personal and ego driven desire. Thus, the dramas highlighted the conflict between honest, compassionate people against corrupt, greedy people. In every case, greedy people failed in their schemes, even with the often painful help of their children to overthrow the evil greed of their fathers and family. The essence is that honor and respect for everyone wins over selfish greed, regardless of whether the drama was a historical drama or a modern drama.

What is little noted is how that subtext of continuous and historic corruption has influenced So. Koreans thinking today. In the 1930s, Hollywood produced many movies plainly showing how the corruption on Wall St, added and abetted by government, led to the Great Depression and its’ devastating affects on average Americans. As a result, Americans were broadly supportive of FDR’s policies, including Ronald Reagan.


That is not the case today. While So. Korea dramas, especially over the last decade, exhibit how greed affected its’ society and eventually changed how people thought, American TV has perpetuated the comic book myth of a strong leader who would save society from the bad guys. Pure insanity!

There is no strong man who will save average Americans from the depredations of a greedy, self-serving corporate America and their abettors in Congress, much less bring justice to all. Super Man, Batman, and all the other comic book heroes are pure myths. The only thing that will save America is the hard work of rooting out greed in all its forms…and returning the nation to its roots: a nation founded on the belief that governments are “for and by the people”. Yes, everyday people who work hard, save, struggle to survive, have compassion for those less fortunate, and believe in equal justice and the rule of law.


Today’s So. Korea struggles to achieve those honorable, equitable ends even as much of the USA marches backwards in ways that would stun Teddy Roosevelt….

Written by Valerie Curl

June 12, 2018 at 4:31 PM

Four GOP Presidential Icons on Tax Fairness and Values

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Three Republican Presidential Icons Who Advocated Tax Fairness

Bruce Bartlett, in the Fiscal Times, makes a really good argument for raising taxes on the wealthy, especially on those who receive capital gains, dividend, and inheritance tax breaks.

What is novel about Bartlett’s argument is that he uses four Republican Presidential icons to make his case.

At least through the 1980s, special tax breaks, such as those for dividends and capital gains, were viewed as unfair and unjustified. Indeed, Ronald Reagan was among those who decried the capital gains break because it meant that rich people, who get most of their income from capital, paid less taxes than the average working man. Consequently, as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, he agreed that income from capital gains and wages ought to be taxed at the same rate.

Reagan was building on long tradition by Republicans of demanding fairness in the tax code, which, among other things, meant making sure that capital and labor were treated equally. For example, in his first State of the Union Address in 1861, Abraham Lincoln said, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt excoriated big corporations and wealthy men for rigging the system in their favor and not paying their fair share of taxes.

    The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being….

    We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

    No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered – not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective – a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower said that everybody should pay their fair share and denounced unjustified tax cuts. “An unwise tax cutter, my fellow citizens, is no real friend of the taxpayer,” he said.

In short, the real debate on the Buffett rule is about fairness. Its particulars are less important – especially since it has no chance of passage at this time – than the debate that will accompany it. If Republicans are successful in conveying the message that it’s okay for rich people to pay less than working people then this will frame the forthcoming budget debate in a particular way….

If history proved any answers, the one answered by these four Republican presidents is that labor should be taxed at the same or lesser rate than capital gains and inheritance because labor is inherently worth more to society.

Something to think about as discussions on taxes and tax rates continue throughout the year.


Have the Rich Ever Paid a Fair Share of Taxes? (Part 1)

Have the Rich Ever Paid a Fair Share of Taxes? (Part 2)

Written by Valerie Curl

April 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM

A Little History, Part 2

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When I first read of Steve Schwarzman’s rant in Newsweek, my first thought was that old quote attributed (probably falsely) to Marie Antoinette: “let them eat cake.”

Steve Schwarzman, Wall St. Hedge Fund Manager

“It’s a war,” Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

Although Schwarzman has a history of over-the-top self-adulation (i.e., he spent $3 million dollars for his 60th birthday party, transforming the giant Park Avenue Armory into a replica of his 35-room Park Avenue palace in the sky, down to the replica paintings, and buying himself serenades from Patti LaBelle and Rod Stewart), he is undoubtedly not the only hedge fund manager or trader who continues to believe they are a special, privileged class that deserves few or no taxes on their income.

But perhaps Schwarzman’s greatest gaffe, and one which many Wall Streeters probably agree with is his statement in January 2010:

Steven Schwarzman’s publicly declared New Year’s wish for New York was not to help the poor or improve transportation or fund education, but to “create a tax regime for foreign citizens domiciled in the city to have it comparable to the tax treatment of similar people in London. What happens in London is that foreigners, other than Americans, don’t pay taxes there in any degree and don’t pay taxes in their own home country either, so it’s basically a tax-free zone.”

Again, I’m reminded of France during the Early Modern Era in which the aristocracy paid no taxes while at the same time receiving tax-free subsidies from the Crown. In order for the Crown to finance its upkeep and that of the nobility and its’ many wars, the non-noble classes paid all taxes: merchants, artisans, sharecropping farmers, and peasants.

In return for not engaging in commerce and being both loyal to and on call by the Crown, French nobility received a tax free subsidy from the Crown on which to live, plus the nobility were allowed to govern and tax the people living within the boundaries of their land holdings at whatever rate they chose. All in all, the French nobility lived quite well and yet they constantly sought more favors and dispensations from the Crown to increase their income, their wealth, and their holdings.

For more than a century, the Crown staved off the anger of the masses with nationalistic proclamations and wars, wars of religion, and by brute force. Yet, in the end, it was this attitude of special privilege, during the worst of economic times, that culminated in the French Revolution.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this essay, during the decades leading up to the French Revolution, France’s agrarian culture suffered extreme environmental disasters as a result of harsh weather conditions. Grain crops, which were mostly wheat and barley, drowned in the fields due to excessive rain that turned fields into muddy swaps or seeds that froze before sprouting due to excessively cold, long winters. The aristocracy and Crown only made economic matters worse for the people through speculation, exporting whatever grain existed as well as wine and grapes at exorbitant prices.

Meanwhile in England, which also suffered from the same weather related disasters, women took to the streets and revolted against speculation-driven grain exports. After a major women-led revolt at the eastern harbors, the English King, James I, prohibited any further grain exports. But not the French. The French Crown and aristocracy refused to acknowledge the plight of their people, and thus set themselves up for an extraordinarily bloody Revolution that shocked and dismayed even the revolutionary-minded Thomas Jefferson.

I submit that average people don’t mind a disparity of wealth, but they become angry to revolution when they see themselves as the only losers – pawns if you will – during economically harsh times. The American people expect equality of suffering as well as a reasonable share in wealth growth during good times. They expect a sense that “everyone is in this together,” and that no class is walled off and protected because of their influence and political power while everyone else is paying the bill. That has been part and parcel of the social pact since the very beginnings of the country, back in the early 1620s.

It’s unfortunate that Schwarzman and his colleagues on Wall Street – as well as their Congressional and K St enablers – don’t understand this economic dynamic. As Randall Lane writes in his book, The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane, the same people who caused the horrific meltdown of the economy now excoriate President Obama as being “anti-business” because he proposes to have them help pay at slightly increased yet less than normal earned income tax rates for the increased deficits they caused.

Schwarzman, and his compatriots, are once again saying, “Let them eat cake” to the rest of the wage earning and tax paying American public.

The correlations to Early Modern France are to stark to ignore.

I’m wondering is how long will it take for the rest of the American public stop being diverted by wedge issues and fighting amongst themselves to realize how badly they’re been manipulated by a Wall Street agenda that expects them to pick up the deficit tax tab that Wall St created? Will it take another extraordinarily bloody French Revolution or will Americans revert to the bloody revolutionary spirit that existed prior to and during the administration of Teddy Roosevelt which gave rise to unions after the deaths of thousands of American workers…as well as TR’s hard fought worker protections?

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