A new Moon

Moon Jae-in

It’s a new year – and a new Moon Jae-in. Before he became president of South Korea, Moon referred to the chaebols – those hugely successful but profoundly corrupt and immensely powerful family-run conglomerates that dominate that country’s economy – as a “deep-rooted evil.” When Moon rose to the presidency in May 2017, he promised a serious campaign of chaebol reform. Yes, several of his predecessors had made similar promises, but Moon said his promises were for real. He appointed a so-called “chaebol sniper,” one Kim Sang-jo, whom he tasked with bringing the chaebols to heel.

Kim Sang-jo

In the more than year and a half since his inauguration, however, the South Korean people have seen very little in the way of reform. Once again, the promises have proven empty. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Kim, in a recent interview, presented himself not as an anti-chaebol warrior but as a “reasonable reformist” who respects the chaebols and, far from cutting them down to size, seeks to render them competitive through “evolutionary reform.”

Jay Y. Lee, top dog at Samsung

Now Moon, too, is singing a new tune. As the Korea Times reported on January 6, “the President appears to be expanding communication channels to win backing from the country’s leading industrial conglomerates.” According to a spoksman for Moon, the President planned to meet with chaebol leaders some time in January and would ask them “to hire more and spend more,” in exchange for which his government would provide increased “tax benefits and administrative support.” Partly in order to win votes from younger members of the electorate who are in the job market, according to top government officials, Moon needs “to reach out his hands to Samsung, LG, SK and Hyundai,” the country’s “top four family-controlled businesses.”

Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo

That’s quite an about-face, even by high-stakes political standards. The man who vowed to be an anti-chaebol crusader is now going to the chaebols, hat in hand, and begging them for what is essentially a political favor – and, in response, offering to cut their taxes. In other words, it’s back to business as usual in South Korea, with the head of state and the chaebol kings scratching each other’s backs.

Already, reported the Times, “chief presidential policy chief Kim Soo-hyun met with senior executives at Samsung, LG and SK in a Seoul hotel late last year” in order to set the groundwork for the shift in approach. The question, it seems, is not whether Moon plans to woo the chaebol bosses; it is how the bosses will respond to his bootlicking.

LG Group headquarters

You see, they’re not all that happy with Moon, partly because of the aggressive anti-chaebol rhetoric with which he started his administration, and partly because his hike in the minimum wage has blunted their competitiveness abroad. It’s predicted that South Korean economy will grow only 2.5 percent this year, and the chaebols put a lot of blame for that at Moon’s feet.

The worm, then, has turned. The sometime chaebol slayer has become a servile brownnoser, trucking to the big boys at the “big four” – Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK – and hoping that they’ll respond positively to his kowtowing.

Communism’s great, if you’re a Castro

Havana

Earlier this month, the world was reminded that even though Communism is a great way to destroy an economy and to impoverish a nation’s inhabitants, there are always a few people who live luxuriously under the system: namely, the rulers, their cronies, and their families.

Tony Castro, who is a grandson of Fidel Castro, is on Instagram, where he has about 1300 followers. Until recently, ordinary citizens of Cuba weren’t allowed Internet access at all. But those rules don’t apply, of course, to members of the ruling dynasty.

Tony Castro at sea

Recently, the Miami Herald and other south Florida media published some photographs that young Tony (he’s reportedly in his twenties) has posted on his Instagram account. One of them shows Tony sunbathing on a yacht. Of course, ordinary Cubans can’t afford yachts – and if they boarded one, they’d be arrested pronto because the assumption would be that they were about to escape the island prison set up by Tony’s grandfather sixty years ago.

Another of Tony’s Instagram snaps showed him celebrating the birthday of an uncle at what looks like a pretty swanky bistro. He and his uncle raise a toast with champagne glasses. We’re talking here, of course, about the princeling of a country where basic food items are in extremely short supply.

Driving the BMW

In yet another picture we can see Tony at the wheel of a BMW. Need we comment?

Other pictures show him in Panama City, Panama; in Barcelona and Madrid; and at a Mexican beach resort, Ciudad del Carmen, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is known as “the pearl of the Gulf.” Needless to say, ordinary Cubans aren’t allowed to exit their own country under any circumstances, and certainly could never afford to visit places like these.

In Madrid

It’s been a long time since the Castros took over Cuba, but the rhetoric of revolution has never ceased. The people of Cuba may not get much in the way of good food, but they’re fed a huge daily diet of propaganda about the wonderful benefits of their glorious revolution and about the evils of capitalism. And more than a few suckers in the democratic capitalist world – some of them working for major media organizations – buy into this baloney.

Karl Vick

Take Karl Vick of Time Magazine, whom we wrote about in August 2015. This credulous jackass describes Cuba as a “security state” in order to avoid such unpleasant terms as “dictatorship” or “police state.” He has written: “People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” When he claimed in a radio interview that Cuba could boast of certain achievements, he was asked to name one such achievement. “Social equity,” Vick said, and went on to assert that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”

“The pearl of the Gulf”

Vick isn’t alone in believing that – and in thinking that this supposed equity is enough to justify any disagreeable aspects of the Cuban regime. Of course, over the decades there has been ample testimony to the fact that the Castros live like kings and that the whole equity thing is a sham. But Tony Castro’s pictures – coming to light only days after the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and at a time when a frightening number of young Americans consider socialism cool – provide a neat reminder of just what a lie Communism is.

A bad year for the chaebols

Samsung headquarters

The verdict is in. Briefly put, 2018 was a bad year for the chaebols. A very bad year.

This news should not come as a big surprise to regular readers of this site.

In recent months, we’ve seen that entrepreneurs in South Korea have become increasingly outspoken in their resentment toward the giant family-run conglomerates, whose massive power enables them to smother competitors in their cradles.

Hyundai headquarters

We’ve seen that the chaebols’ continued dominance of the South Korean economy, by preventing the flowering of major new firms, has kept that economy from growing as fast as it used to.

We’ve seen that South Koreans generally are getting more and more tired of the privileged position of chaebol families, one consequence of which is that corruption in their ranks routinely goes unpunished.

LG headquarters

Not least, we’ve seen that foreign chaebol stockholders who have begun to challenge the distinctively South Korean policies that deny those stockholders the ability to influence major chaebol decisions, even if they own bigger shares of the companies than the ruling families do.

Now all of these critics of the chaebols have more ammunition to use against the system. On December 27, 2018, it was reported that South Korea’s ten largest chaebols experienced a twenty percent reduction in market value over the course of 2018.

SK headquarters

That’s a stunning number, especially given how robustly other Western economies – such as that of the U.S. – performed during the same year.

By the end of 2018, the combined value of the top ten chaebols was $173 billion. All by itself, Samsung, the largest of the chaebols, accounted for half of the loss. One of the companies that make up the Samsung Group, Samsung Electronics, dropped a full 30 percent in value.

Hanjin headquarters

But Samsung wasn’t alone in bleeding badly. LG Group lost 21 percent of its value. SK and Hyundai also posted huge losses. Only two major chaebols – Hyundai and GS – had a good year.

Obviously, these lousy results aren’t good news for the legendary families that run the chaebols. On the contrary. They also mean that shareholders in these firms lost a lot of money. And given the central importance of the chaebols to the South Korean economy, these figures will have a negative impact on South Koreans as a whole.

Then again, this isn’t entirely bad news. A dramatically poor showing almost all the way across the chaebol board may well help speed efforts at substantial systematic reform. One South Korean president after another has promised such reform and failed to deliver. The current president, Moon Jae-in, installed a so-called “chaebol sniper” who has proven to be a paper tiger.

Moon Jae-in

Repeatedly, critics of the chaebols have been told that the chaebols are simply too vital to the South Korean economy to justify major overhauls. Break up Samsung? Knock the chaebol dynasties down a peg or two? Impossible! But numbers like the ones we’ve seen here may open up more people in power to the possibility of real change. South Koreans won’t endure too many years of chaebol contraction without accepting – indeed, clamoring for – radical transformation.

In short, 2019 promises to be an interesting year for the chaebols. Stay tuned.

AFP whitewashes the Castros

Exotic Havana

From time to time on this site, we’ve examined various public figures who had a soft spot for the Castro regime in Cuba and media organizations whose reports from Cuba routinely focused on its purported charms rather than its totalitarian government. We’ve written about director Bob Yari, who filmed a movie in Cuba; designer Karl Lagerfeld, who used Havana’s crumbling buildings as a backdrop for a glamorous fashion show; and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who, notwithstanding his own wealth, made a point of castigation capitalism while celebrating the Castros. We’ve told the tale of Fidel’s affair with compliant ABC reporter Lisa Howard, noted the chummy relationship between Jesse Jackson and the Castros, and, not least, the shamelessness and fatuity with which Time Magazine, again and again, has glorified the island prison.

Jair Bolsonaro

On January 2, Agence France Press demonstrated that the perverse impulse to whitewash the Cuban regime is not dead in 2019. Under the headline “Cuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amid challenges and change,” AFP described Cuba as a longtime “source of inspiration for leftist Latin American governments,” but added that the nation faces “increasing isolation in a region dominated by a resurgent right,” notably the new Brazilian government led by “far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.”

AFP reported that Bolsonaro had “made a point of not inviting” the new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration, a decision that some of us might consider principled but that AFP seemed to want readers to regard as churlish.

Nicolas Maduro

Typically, AFP labeled Bolsonaro – a pro-American, pro-Israeli conservative who has been dubbed the Latin American Trump – as “far-right,” and characterized Argentina, Chile and Peru as having “all swung to the right in recent years, unseating leftist governments.” A more objective media outlet might have put it a bit differently – might have said, that is, that the voters of those countries have rejected socialism in favor of democratic capitalism.

Evo Morales

Meanwhile, in its references to Cuba’s leaders, AFP was careful to avoid the word “dictator,” obediently referring to Raul Castro as “[e]x-president” and as “first secretary of the Communist Party,” identifying the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s revolutionary leader,” and giving the current thug-in-chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel, his official title of “President.” AFP also reported that Maduro had “paid tribute to the ‘heroic Cuban people,’” whom he praised for their “’resistance and dignity’ in the face of ’60 years of sacrifices, struggles and blockade.’” In addition, according to AFP, “[a]nother surviving leftist leader, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, said Cuba’s revolution gave birth to ‘the light of hope and invincible will for the liberation of the people.’” This effusive rhetoric by Maduro and Morales was presented by AFP without context, so that an ill-informed reader would never know that the Cuban people have spent the last six decades not as stalwart patriots who have bravely resisted a U.S. blockade but as downtrodden subjects of a totalitarian tyranny.

Fidel Castro

To be sure, the word “dictator” did eventually appear in the AFP article – but only as a means of describing Castro’s predessor, Fulgencio Batista. To its credit, moreover, AFP also mentioned, toward the end of its article, that Cuba is a communist state. It also quoted a dissident, but that dissident, as it happened, was not an anti-Communist who opposed the Cuban Revolution from the start but a diehard Communist named Vladimiro Roca, whose father was a sidekick of Fidel Castro, who himself had run afoul of authorities and spent several years in prison, and whose complaint was therefore that the Cuban Revolution “died a long time ago.”

Donald Trump

Moreover, while AFP acknowledged that Cuba “has faced heavy criticism” abroad, it presented the Cuban people not as decades-long victims of a brutal autocracy but as having “had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under Trump these last two years.” There’s no hint that the Trump administration is hostile not to the Cuban people but to their unelected masters. In 2019, alas, such full-scale misrepresentation continues to be par for the course for all too many Western media.

The clueless “chaebol sniper”

Kim Sang-yo: almost as tough and scary as Kim Novak

On December 18, the Korea Herald published the most extensive interview we’ve seen yet with Kim Sang-jo, who was appointed to a three-year term as head of South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission in June 2017 and who, tasked with reining in the power of the chaebols – the family-run conglomerates that are at once the engines of that country’s economy and the greatest hindrances to its growth – calls himself the “chaebol hunter.” Shin Ji-hye, the Herald’s reporter, maintained that Kim had made some progress, proposing key revisions to the Fair Trade Act that were approved by the Cabinet in November and await ratification by the National Assembly. Shin also sought to portray Kim as a sympathetic man in the middle, criticized from both sides, one of which assails him for failing to bring about promised reforms and the other of which accuses him of going too far in his purported war on the chaebols.

Hyundai headquarters, Seoul

In the interview, Kim also sought to depict himself as a man of balance – a “reasonable reformist,” who appreciates the value of the chaebols to South Korea and who seeks not to blunt their economic impact, let alone destroy them, but to make them competitive. In fact, it turns out that Kim no longer calls himself the “chaebol sniper” but, rather, wants to be known as an “evolutionary reformer” who “walk[s] the middle line.”

According to Kim, the key to proper chaebol reform, in Shin’s paraphrase, is “to put an end to ‘gapjil,’ unfair business practices employed by market monopolies, as well as undue inter-affiliate trading. Doing away with both is the main objective of the FTC’s proposed bills to amend the Fair Trade Act.”

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

Yet when it came to one of the major issues involving the chaebols — the most prominent of which include Samsung, Hyundai, and LG –Kim was as stubborn as any chaebol CEO. Noting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and four of its counterparts in other countries had signed a statement in November challenging South Korean regulations as well as the FTC’s approach to investigation, Kim defended the chaebol system and argued that it wasn’t reasonable for U.S. businesses to expect other countries to model their corporate structures on its own.

As for American investors who are major chaebol shareholders but who, in keeping with the antiquated traditions of the system, have been denied the kind of influence on corporate decision-making that they would enjoy in Western firms – and who, of late, have been raising their voices more loudly to complain about this unfair state of affairs – Kim said, “This is a sensitive issue,” then said of the most prominent of those investors that “its understanding of Korea still remains insufficient.”

LG headquarters, Seoul

In fact, when Kim swipes at a major international investment firm for its supposedly “insufficient” understanding of Korea he is confessing to the very provincialism that lies at the heart of the chaebol problem. It is no exaggeration to say that Kim’s remark is by far the most telling part of the interview, indeed the only part that really matters. It underscores the fact that chaebol reform has been placed in the hands of a man who, however well-intentioned he may be, just doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t grasp, in short, that halfway measures, parochial measures, are just not enough; he doesn’t realize that he’s thinking inside of a very narrow box, a South Korean box, when what is called for in this situation is a major adjustment in South Korean business practice and business thinking — an adjustment that will result in a system that conforms to international norms and will allow for international investment on the same terms that obtain elsewhere in the developed world. Kim’s interview leaves the unfortunate impression that, until South Korea puts the future of the chaebols in charge of another individual, someone with a more global perspective, hope for real chaebol reform will be entirely in vain.

Yvette Felarca, anti-fascist heroine?

Yvette Felarca

Doubtless, from one perspective, we have devoted more attention to Yvette Felarca on this site than she deserves. She’s just one local activist, after all, who’s far from an international figure or a woman of great power. Nonetheless, she is the near-perfect example of a certain type that is a preoccupation of this blog: an almost thoroughly clueless tool, brainwashed to a fare-thee-well by totalitarian ideology and driven to violence by her utter fanaticism.

Felarca in action

As we’ve explained before, Felarca is a teacher at a Berkeley, California, middle school. She is also a leading member of BAMN, short for “The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary,” founded in 1995 as a front group for a Trotskyist party called the Revolutionary Workers League. Based in California, BAMN has participated in actions that range from blocking highway traffic to outright acts of violence; it was a gang of BAMN thugs that, in February 2017, stirred up the ruckus that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from giving a presentation at UC Berkeley. Both the FBI and the Defense Department consider BAMN a terrorist group. As for Felarca, she is a diehard true believer who considers any critic or opponent a genocidal Nazi and who seems capable of committing any atrocity in cold blood in the name of the Communist cause.

Milo Yiannopoulos: genocidal Nazi?

Over the years, Felarca has run up quite a record. In 2016 she led a demonstration in Sacramento that has been described in some media as a rally and in others as a riot. When her pupils’ parents got wind of her extracurricular activities, they tried to get her fired. But it takes more than that for the public school system in the city widely known as “Berserkeley” to dismiss a teacher. “We don’t have any authority or business to judge what an employee does in her off time,” a spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District told the media before sending her back into the classroom. Next thing you know, there she was closing down the Milo event, ordering around a bunch of hoods who broke windows, threw fireworks and Molotov cocktails, and beat innocent citizens with fists and poles.

After the Milo fracas, Felarca was arrested, and gave an interview to Tucker Carlson in which it became utterly clear to viewers just what a fanatic she is. Still, she kept her job.

Delusions of grandeur: Trump’s most famous enemy?

On this past December 19 came the latest update on Felarca’s radical journey. As it happens, her antics in Sacramento in 2016 resulted in charges of felony assault and misdemeanor inciting a riot. Now described as an associate not only of BAMN but also of Antifa – of course she is the sort of woman who makes sure to keep up with progress on the “progressive” front – Felarca has finally had to answer in court for her behavior on that day. In a vain attempt to get the charges against her dismissed, she has accused her accusers of engineering a “political witch hunt,” suggested that the video evidence against her was fabricated, argued that her prosecution is motivated by racism and by politics, and claimed that she has been victimized because she’s “the most publicly known opponent of Donald Trump in the state of California.”

Mark Reichel

These arguments, alas, haven’t saved her from a judicial reckoning. “Two judges so far have failed to dismiss the case against her stemming from the 2016 riot,” reported the Daily Caller, “and in October, a judge dismissed her lawsuit meant to block conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch from obtaining emails regarding her involvement with both Antifa and BAMN.” She was scheduled for a hearing on December 18, but the judge delayed it until this coming January 22. Irked at the judge for not simply dismissing the charges against Felarca, Mark Reichel, a prominent attorney who is representing one of Felarca’s Antifa/BAMN cohorts, accused the Sacramento County district attorney of “selectively prosecuting people that fought fascists.” Reichel actually added: “We used to call them heroes in World War II.” Yes, you read that correctly: he was comparing Felarca, a savage Commie nut of the first water, to the Allied soldiers who risked their lives to defeat the Third Reich.

This is the way these people think. And this is precisely why Felarca is so worth paying attention to. And it’s why we’ll make sure to see what happens when she has her day in court on January 22.

Chaebol progress?

 

The current chapter in the history of the chaebols continues to develop in exceedingly interesting ways.

Hyundai headquarters, Seoul

As we have been discussing on a regular basis at this site in recent weeks, these massive, heavily diversified, internationally famous, and family-run conglomerates – which have dominated the South Korean economy since shortly after the Korean War, raising the nation up from indigence to prosperity even as its government moved gradually closer to real democracy – have hit on challenging times. Once engines of growth, the chaebols are now barriers to further growth, so large and powerful that they’re capable of crushing, with little effort, the development of new firms and stifling the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

As a result, in South Korea there is hardly any way to make a respectable career in business other than to find a job at one of the chaebols. And however talented and motivated one may be, there is no way to rise to the very top of one of the chaebols unless one happens to have been born into the right family. This state of affairs has led to growing resentment toward the chaebols – a resentment intensified by the corrupt ties between the chaebol dynasties and the country’s political elites, and, perhaps most bizarre of all, by the fact that the people who hold tight to the reins of power in these conglomerates are not necessarily the same people who own the lion’s share of their stock. On the contrary, it is rare indeed for the stockholders in the chaebols to have much say at all in their actual management.

Moon Jae-in

As we’ve discussed here, and as Kim Jaewon noted in a recent article for Nikkei, South Korean Moon Jae-in, upon his inauguration in May 2017, promised major chaebol reform. To be sure, it is a tradition for newly installed South Korean presidents to vow chaebol reform. But Moon spoke so insistently about the matter that he persuaded a good many citizens of his country that he really meant to do something. As the weeks and months have gone by since he took power, however, fewer and fewer have looked upon his assurances with confidence; and, as the usual arrests for corruption have taken place, followed by the usual pardons for the chaebol executives involved and the usual prison terms for the politicians, once again cynicism about the chaebols has been on the upswing.

Lee Kung-hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics

It is in this atmosphere that a few bold chaebol shareholders are finally standing up to the perverse power arrangement that they have quietly accepted for so long. These activist investors, observed Jaewon, “have scored minor victories at Samsung and Hyundai, while the parent of Korean Air Lines has been called to account by a domestic fund.” At the head of the list of these investors, wrote Jaewon, is the New York-based Elliott Management, the world’s largest activist fund, which has been campaigning “to force Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor to increase shareholder returns.”

Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo

This campaign by activist investors has already begun to bear fruit. In early December, Samsung Electronics “retired 7% of its common stock and 8.9% of its preferred stock worth 4.9 trillion won ($4.4 billion)” in an effort to provide shareholders with greater benefits. Hyundai Motor recently announced plans to “buy 2.8 million treasury shares worth 254.7 billion won by the end of February to boost its stock price and shareholders’ value.” In December, it even took the action – surprising within a South Korean context – of “promoting several foreign executives to senior roles, a first step toward the management diversification long demanded by minority shareholders.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, terrorist supporter



Lin-Manuel Miranda

He’s the biggest name on Broadway in a generation, and one of the most admired multi-hyphenates in show business since Orson Welles. He’s also an activist. The composer, lyricist, librettist, and star of Hamilton, the hottest ticket on the Great White Way in recent years, Lin-Manuel Miranda has supported a number of the left-wing causes to which famous performers are inclined to flock.


Oscar López Rivera

But so be it. That’s nothing unusual. What is rather special, as David Hines noted in a December article for The Federalist, is that Miranda is “an avid supporter of the Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist Oscar López Rivera, ringleader of the 1970s terrorist group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña / Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation), which murdered at least five and probably six innocent New Yorkers.” There is no decent way of defending their action. López and his followers were not just Puerto Rican nationalists; they were Communists who wanted to free Puerto Rico in order to turn it into a carbon copy of Castro’s Cuba.

Bill de Blasio

López was sentenced to 55 years in prison, only to be released by President Obama at the end of his presidency in late 2016. López went on to be celebrated as a hero. He was, as we noted at this website, honored at last year’s Puerto Rican Day parade, an action that led several politicians and corporate sponsors of the parade to back out, along with many ordinary Puerto Ricans who were appalled at the apparent hijacking of their day, and their event, by supporters of Communist terrorism. Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, marched in the parade as scheduled.

How did López come to be the hero of last year’s parade? Among the top figures behind this disgraceful action were New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her aide Luis Miranda. And who is Luis Miranda? None other than the father of Mr. Broadway himself.

Fraunces Tavern 

And how does Lin-Manuel Miranda feel about López? When the terrorist was released from prison, Miranda, who at the time had more than a million Twitter followers, hailed his freedom with a tweet in which he referred to López respectfully as “Don Oscar.” He also gave him a ticket to Hamilton and escorted him to the performance. As Hines wrote, wryly: “It turns out that there’s actually an answer to the question ‘Who do you have to kill to get a ticket to “Hamilton?”’ and the answer is ‘Harold Sherburne, Frank Connor, James Gezork, Alejandro Berger, and Charles Steinberg.’”

The first four names are those of the innocent people whom López and his crew killed in a bombing at New York’s legendary Fraunces Tavern on January 24, 1975; the fifth, Steinberg, died in another bombing two years later.

That wasn’t all. As Hines pointed out, in this era when a slip of a tongue can destroy a showbiz career, Miranda, who has continued to post tweets in support of López, and who now has more than 2.5 million Twitter followers, has never suffered any unpleasant consequences as a result. On December 19, his latest film, Mary Poppins Returns, opened. When big-budget motion pictures have their premieres, the stars are subjected to endless hours of interviews by entertainment journalists. As far as we know, not a single one of them has asked Miranda about his support for “Don Oscar.”

Marriage, chaebol style

 

Yes, they are royal families.

There’s nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world. The clans that run the South Korean chaebols – the relatively small number of sprawling, internationally famous conglomerates that have dominated that country’s economy since not long after the Korean War – have long been viewed as royal families. The top executive positions at these companies pass down from generation to generation; the men (they are almost invariably men) who hold these offices wield enormous power over the nation’s political class; and the sons and daughters of these bosses are celebrities, whose social lives are followed closely in the popular media, and who are often, indeed, described as princes and princesses.

Hyundai headquarters, Seoul

One thing that these chaebol families have in common with actual royal dynasties is the high level of intermarriage between them. According to a new survey, 49.3% members of the founding generation of the chaebol clans – the people who actually established these firms in the second half of the last century – are or were married to spouses who also belonged to families that founded chaebols. Among members of the second generation of chaebol ruling families,the figure is even higher: 52.7% of the people whose parents founded chaebols married other people who parents also founded chaebols.

In South Korea, just as the management of chaebols is almost universally dynastic matter, politics is also very often a family game. Former President Park Geun-hye, for instance, who is currently behind bars because of her involvement in chaebol corruption, is the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee. Many chaebol family members who do not marry into other chaebol families have, instead, married into powerful political families, which both reflects and reinforces the intimate ties that bind chaebol CEOs and Chairmen to officials at the highest level of the South Korean government. Among members of the first generation of chaebols, 23.4% were or are married to members of “powerful” political families; in the second generation, this figure declined to 7.4%.

Park Geun-hye

The survey produced some other interesting findings. Of all the chaebols, the GS Group, had the highest number of “in-law relations” with other chaebols, namely seven. GS, like most of these conglomerates, is highly diversified, although in its case there is a particular emphasis on oil, gas, and other energy-related products. The second chaebol on the list, with six “in-law relations,” was the LS Group, which manufactures power cables, electrical equipment, machinery, and other such products.

Why does any of this matter? Because these statistics serve to reinforce the perception, on the part of many ordinary South Koreans, that their country – in which democracy has, admittedly, made great strides over the last several decades – is still, to a deplorable extent, governed by a network of business and political kingpins, people who are tied to one another not only by shared financial interests and systematic corruption but, yes, by the most intimate of family bonds.

Cuba’s deadly disrepair

We’re so accustomed to seeing America’s mainstream media celebrating Havana as “exotic” and “quaint” and “unspoiled” that it came as something of a surprise to see USA Today, on December 2, running a piece headlined “How Havana is collapsing, building by building.”

A couple of Havana’s “architectural gems”

Reporters Tracey Eaton and Katherine Lewin didn’t pull any punches. They talked to one Rafael Álvarez, who “was up at 6:30 a.m. to warm milk for his baby daughter when he heard the sound of pebbles falling.” Next thing he knew, in his words, “the floor below us came loose. We were left hanging in the air, then fell into the abyss.” He ended up “buried in rubble to his waist.” But he was the lucky one. He lost his mother, daughter, and two others in the collapse of his apartment building. It was 101 years old.

Exotic Havana

They talked to Carlos Guerrero, who lives with his family in another building that looks as if it’s about to go any minute. “Neighbors tell them, ‘Get out of there! It’s going to collapse!’” They talked to Yanelis Flores, who says her own flat, where “daylight shines through terrifying cracks in the walls,” is “worse than a pig pen.” A staircase collapsed last year, stranding people on the upper floors. And they talked to Magaly Marrero, who “said her apartment is so bad that she showers in the kitchen and relieves herself in a bucket.”

And they talked to others. Plenty of others. They provided statistics showing that these anecdotes were only the tip of a massive iceberg. “In Havana,” they wrote, “some of the same architectural gems that draw tens of thousands of American tourists crash to the ground every year.” Their piece amounted to a powerful indictment of Communism.

Katherine Lewin

Except for the fact that Eaton and Lewin didn’t really focus on Communism as the ultimate cause of all this decay. No, when it came to causes they turned coy. Here, in fact, is how they put it: “Causes [for all these building collapses] range from weather and neglect to faulty renovations and theft of structural beams.” Well, yes, those may be the immediate causes. But the reason why these “architectural gems” haven’t been properly maintained over the decades – or torn down and replaced by safer structures – is, quite simply, Communism.

Tracey Eaton


If you’d taken a stroll around East Berlin just before the Wall fell, you’d have seen the same kind of miserable dilapidation – derelict blocks of flats that had pieces missing and in which you could still see bullet holes dating back to World War II. Venezuela, of course, is headed down the same road. Meanwhile in the U.S., we have a younger generation that’s been brainwashed into thinking that socialism is just dandy and that is sending the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Washington. Congratulations to USA Today, then, for documenting the dire consequences of Communism, but please: next time, be more up front about what’s really behind all this deadly disrepair.