5, The Diplomat ran an article
by Tae-jun Kang whose headline asked the question: “Is Moon Jae-in
Becoming a Lame Duck?” Noting that presidents of South Korea serve
five-year terms and are ineligible for re-election, Kang explained
that there’s a saying in that country: “the nightmare of the
third year makes the president a lame duck.” As it happens,
President Moon, the incumbent, will begin his third year in office in
May – and “signs of the ‘nightmare’ for Moon and his
government,” wrote Kang, “have already begun to emerge.”
It sounds fatalistic – as if Moon’s
“nightmare” were foreordained. In fact, as Kang goes on to
explain, Moon would appear to have surrounded himself with a bunch of
crooks. There are so many of them that it can be hard to keep track
of them all.
One of them is legislator Sohn Hye-won, who is suspected of covert involvement in the purchase of properties that were later officially designated as cultural assets, thus automatically enhancing their values. In late January, in a bizarre effort to prove her innocence, she offered to donate her collection of lacquerware to the government.
Another of Moon’s party hacks is legislator Seo Young-kyo, who purportedly asked a judge to reduce the punishment for a crony’s son accused of attempted sexual abuse. Yet another member of the party, Moon’s economic advisor Kim Hyun-chul, resigned on January 29 over some remarks about South Korean retirees and allies that were deemed offensive.
Then there’s Moon’s daughter, Moon Da-hye, who recently moved out of the country with her husband and children, the supposed reason for which was that her husband had embezzled $2.7 million of a government subsidy received by his employer and left the country to protect his assets from seizure.
Finally, there’s Kim Kyung-soo, governor of the South Gyeongsang province and a former Moon campaign aide, who was sentenced on January 30 to two years behind bars for helping to rig an opinion survey.
As a result of all this, Moon’s
approval rating has dropped from a high of over 70 percent to below
In a January 22 piece
for the East Asia Forum, Kim Kee-seok, a political scientist at
Kangwon National University, was even blunter than Kang. Whereas
Kang’s headline ended in a question mark, Kim’s made a firm
statement: “Moon’s popularity wanes as South Korea’s economy
stalls.” As the headline indicates, Kim, unlike Kang, cited the
nation’s faltering economy as a reason for Moon’s declining
fortunes. Kim also mentioned the failure of the North Korea peace
initiative to bear any fruit thus far.
But Kim, like Kang, also focused on
corruption. Whereas Kang itemized the sleazy presidential sidekicks
and family members who are dropping like flies, Kim attended not to
these specifics but to the general issue of reform.
As Kim put it, South Korean voters who
“demanded fundamental innovation of the political system,”
including changes in the constitution, electoral process, and
judicial system, become “sceptical of the prospects for innovations
of this kind as the Moon administration continues to lose golden
time.” We could hardly put it better ourselves. In 2017, Moon
Jae-in made big promises to an electorate that’s increasingly sick
of routine corruption at the highest levels of politics and business
– and he’s utterly failed to deliver on them.
One country we haven’t neglected on this site is Cuba. We’ve written about American TV reporter Lisa Howard’s romance with Fidel Castro, about Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about their liaison, about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s affection for Fidel Castro, about a celebration of Che Guevara in Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine, about a big, splashy fashion show held by Karl Lagerfeld in Havana, about a movie about Hemingway that whitewashed Cuban Communism, about a USA Today whitewash of Cuban Communism, about an Agence France Press whitewash of Cuban Communism, about a Time Magazine whitewash of Cuban Communism…and so on.
particularly attentive to Cuba, it’s partly because it’s so close
to the U.S. and partly because its Communist regime has long been an
object of affection for many stateside useful stooges. Many people on
the left who would readily acknowledge that the Soviet Union and
Mao’s China were unworthy of admiration nonetheless had a soft spot
for Castro and his cronies. These same people warmed to one of the
major initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency, the opening to
Cuba, which they presented as evidence that the island nation was
transitioning, slowly but surely, to something resembling democracy.
Obama may have
reneged on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to
Jerusalem, but he made a great show of opening the first U.S. Embassy
in Havana since the Cuban Revolution. He authorized the resumption of
commercial air flights, holiday cruises, and mail service between the
U.S. and Cuba. He allowed the Cuban government to open bank accounts
in the U.S. and removed it from the official list of state sponsors
of terrorism. And in March 2016 he made a high-profile visit to the
At first Obama
had said he would make such a visit only if there were real signs
that Cubans were being given more freedom. But he ended up going even
though such indicators as the number of arrests of political
dissidents turned out to be on the rise. A BostonGlobe headline
in February 2016 read “Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba
Despite Worsening Human Rights.” His Deputy National Security
Advisor, Ben Rhodes, even went so far as to dispel suggestions that
Obama was out to encourage an end to, or softening of, Cuban
Communism: if past U.S. policies had sent the message “that the
United States was seeking to pursue regime change” on the island,
said Rhodes, “Obama will make clear that the United States is not a
hostile nation seeking regime change.” Well, full points for
honesty, if for nothing else.
In point of fact,
Obama’s Cuba policy gave a great deal to the Cuban regime and asked
virtually nothing of it. U.S. officials admitted that the thinking
behind Obama’s one-way generosity was that it would somehow
encourage reforms – an assumption that was, at best, remarkably
naïve and ill-informed. Among the critics of Obama’s new approach
was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in a passionate speech on the
floor of the Senate said that the sight of the U.S. President
“laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the
western Hemisphere” made him think of Cuban dissident “Berta
Soler of the Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and
who has held major diplomatic posts under several presidents, agreed
with Menendez, writing that Obama’s visit to Cuba “weakens the
chances for freedom in Cuba because it is organized around
encouraging the current regime rather than pressuring it for change.”
Abrams added: “There is no evidence that the president will meet
with the key–and incredibly courageous–dissidents who struggle at
enormous sacrifice for freedom in Cuba. There is no evidence he even
comprehends that most of the economic benefits of his opening to Cuba
are accruing to the regime and the armed forces.”
reversed many of Obama’s Cuba policies – and was criticized
severely for it by those who shared Obama’s view that the way to
make dictators nice is to make nice with dictators. Unfortunately,
many blinkered folks in the U.S. and elsewhere actually believe that
Cuba is undergoing serious reforms. As evidence of this proposition,
they point to the selection of a new Cuban president, Miguel
in April of last year. The fact that Díaz-Canel
is not a member of the Castro family is cited as a sign of hope –
although the fact is that Raul Castro remains head of the Communist
Party and thus the nation’s de
In reality Díaz-Canel’s ascent to the presidency means nothing. The first foreign leader he met with after his inauguration was Nicolás Maduro. On February 4 the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (COHR) reported that at least 179 arbitrary detentions had taken place in Cuba during the month of January. While the already horrible economic situation in Cuba is deteriorating, oppression is intensifying. A new Constitution – which is presented by the government as some kind of advance over its predecessor but which makes only cosmetic alterations while reaffirming the Communist system of government – has been a focus of protest, and the COHR expressed concern in its report “about the increasing aggressiveness of the police against activists who peacefully demonstrate NO to the Constitution” and about the more general effort to “crush any dissent surrounding the new Constitution.”
More dire news arrived on February 10. Cuban activists announced on social media that Claudio Fuentes Madan, a photographer and campaigner for freedom in Cuba, had been missing for two days. One report stated that he had been arrested. Also missing was Antonio G. Rodiles, founder of a dissident think tank. So much for the callow belief on the part of Obama & co. that their Cuban counterparts were committed to gradual democratization.
In our ongoing coverage of corruption in South Korea, we’ve focused mainly on the leaders of the chaebols – Samsung, Hyundai, and the other massive family-run conglomerates that are the engines of that country’s economy – and on the top politicians with whom they routinely exchange illegal bribes for illegal favors. As we’ve noted, the politicians who get caught participating in these shady shenanigans often end up with long prison terms, while the members of chaebol royalty either escape prosecution, evade incarceration, or – at worst – spend brief periods behind bars before being magically released by court order.
Which brings us to a sphere of South Korean activity that we’ve touched on in passing here but haven’t focused on: namely, judicial corruption. When a President and a chaebol CEO are discovered to be engaged in a some kind of corrupt trade-off, one would expect both to receive the same punishment; but, as noted, that rarely turns out to be the case. How can that be? Well, think about it: who is in a better position to generously grease the hand of a judge – a politician or the head of one of the world’s richest corporations?
The reality of high-level judicial
corruption in South Korea was exposed in late January, when Yang Sung
Tae, who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2011 to
2017, was arrested on more than forty criminal charges. South Korea
is a country where people are used to seeing their former presidents
arrested, but this was a first.
Since last autumn, Yang had been under
investigation for abuse of judicial authority. In September it was
that various unions and other groups that had been involved in legal
actions during his tenure had accused him of shady dealing. One of
those groups, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, charged that Yang
had reversed lower court rulings in several cases not for legitimate
judicial reasons but because he had agreed to do so in
under-the-table deals with the Blue House (South Korea’s equivalent
to the White House).
Prior to his arrest, it was further
that that the National Court Administration, at Yang’s behest, had
allegedly “sought to use politically sensitive trials as bargaining
chips to win former President Park Geun-hye’s support for his
long-cherished wish to establish a new court of appeals.” Also, he
was suspected of having “amassed slush funds with the budget set
aside for running court spokespersons’ offices.”
In short, the fellow seems to have been quite prolific and versatile in his crookedness. As the Straits Times pointed out, he’s in good company: both the president who appointed him to the top judicial spot, Lee Myung-bak, and the aforementioned Park Geun-hye, who succeeded Lee, “are now wearing prison garb.” The Times described this as “a poignant reminder of problems surrounding the highest echelon of the nation’s governing system.” What an elegant way of saying that South Korea’s corridors of power stink of corruption.
a performer from Israel, won the annual Eurovision Song Contest on
May 12, 2018, in Portugal’s Lisbon Arena, meaning that this year’s
competition would be held in her home country, one thing was beyond
doubt: that before the day appointed for Eurovision 2019 rolled
around, Israel-haters from every corner of Europe would raise a stink
about the venue.
Sure enough, in a letter
published on January 29 in the Guardian, fifty members of “the
creative industries” complained that although “Eurovision may be
light entertainment…it is not exempt from human rights
considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic
violation of Palestinian human rights.” Because of this violation,
they argued, the BBC – which airs Eurovision in Britain – “should
act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a
country where crimes against…freedom are not being committed.”
The fifty people, most of them British, who signed this reprehensible document are a mixed bunch. Some are relatively obscure writers or musicians who have no prominent record of this kind of activism. Others are pretty famous actors or directors and have long histories of far-left political activity. Several are ardent Communists or former Communists. A number of them are involved in pro-Palestinian causes. Many are fervent supporters of Labour Party leader and notorious anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn. Here are some of the more familiar names.
Roy Battersby, a film and TV director, is the stepfather of actress Kate Beckinsale and a former Communist who was active in the Workers Revolutionary Party (so we know that he has good judgment about human rights). Maxine Peake, star of a number of BBC series, is a sometime member of the Communist Party of Britain, won a 2014 award for an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism, and calls Jeremy Corbyn a “beacon of hope.” Alexei Sayle, a stand-up comedian and author, is also a former member of the Communist Party of Britain who still considers himself a Communist and considers Corbyn “morally incorruptible.” Actress Miriam Margolyes is a pro-Palestinian activist who has been active in a group called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Actress Julie Christie, now 78, won an Oscar for Darling (1965) and is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
Among the letter’s signatories,
playwright and PSC patron Caryl Churchill has one of the most
impressive records of hard-core Jew-hatred. In 2009, she banged out
her play Seven Jewish Children in record time so it could be
staged while that year’s Gaza crisis was still underway. Writing in
The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg described
it as “anti-Jewish agitprop” and “a drive-by shooting of a
play” that contains a “not-entirely veiled blood libel” and
seeks “to demonize the Jewish people.” In the Spectator,
Melanie Phillips called
it “despicable,” “a direct attack on the Jews” that denies
the “Jewish claim to the land of Israel” and depicts Jews as
“kill[ing] and persecut[ing] the Arabs out of some kind of
strutting power complex.”
Peter Gabriel, formerly of the rock
band Genesis, is no slouch either. Associated with Amnesty
International for decades, he’s a co-founder of his own
human-rights group, Witness, and, along with Jimmy Carter and others,
is a member of a group called The Elders that seeks to resolve
conflicts around the world. In 1992, along with such left-wing
politicians as Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, he called for British
withdrawal from Northern Ireland; in 2014, he contributed songs to an
album intended to aid Gaza. Film director Ken Loach has belonged to
the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and the
International Marxist Group, has been involved with Jeremy Corbyn and
with the bilious Jew-hater George Galloway, has campaigned for a
number of boycotts of Israel, and has condemned efforts to address
anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood
is also a Corbyn supporter. And last but not least there’s Roger
Waters, whose virulent anti-Semitism we’ve written about at length
on this site.
In short, this campaign to steal
Eurovision from Israel is an effort by the usual suspects. When one
scans through the letter and picks out the familiar names at the end
of it, it’s no surprise to see any of them there. This is what
these people are. This is what they’re about. Together, they form
an unsavory grab-bag, consisting of fervent fans of Corbyn and
Galloway, of longtime card-carrying Communists, of committed
Jew-haters. If you’re in search of a gallery of British useful
stooges, look no further than this shameful roster of signatories.
The Hanjin Group
is one of South Korea’s largest family-owned conglomerates – or,
as they say in Seoul, chaebols. It owns Korean Air and Jin
Air, and has major holdings in shipping and industry. And like the
other chaebols, it is at once admired for its wealth and power,
notorious for its endemic corruption and shady political ties, and
resented for the ease with which it can crush competition by upstart
entrepreneurs as well as for its executives’ ability to routinely
escape punishment for even the most egregious acts of embezzlement,
money laundering, and bribery.
As we reported
last week, a newly hatched activist fund called Korea Corporate
Governance Improvement (KCGI) – which is now Hanjin’s second
largest shareholder – is pushing for reforms of the sort that one
South Korean government after another has promised for decades and
that the current president, Moon Jae-in – who, upon taking office
in 2017, insisted would be a central objective of his administration
– has utterly failed to carry out.
Now, as we noted,
KCGI is seeking to get Hanjin to sell off its hotel chain, which
includes major hostelries in Los Angeles and Hawaii, and – in a
truly radical move – to force the firm to ditch the traditional
practice that is at the heart of chaebol culture: namely, the passing
on of top leadership positions from one generation of the company’s
founding family to the next. Instead, KCGI wants Hanjin to agree to
have its leaders appointed by an independent committee.
waiting to see how that drama works itself out. Meanwhile, a new
subplot has developed – one that underscores the fact that the once
seemingly invincible chaebols have entered a new era of
vulnerability. At this point it should be noted
that in 2016, a division of Hanjin, Hanjin Shipping, declared
bankruptcy and was liquidated. It had been the world’s seventh
largest container shipping line. The loss of Hanjin Shipping was a
major blow to Hanjin, to the chaebols, and to the South Korean
Now Hanjin is
facing another significant loss, also involving shipping. Hanjin
Philippines is a division of the chaebol that runs a shipyard at
Subic Bay, the former U.S. naval base. It is the biggest shipyard in
the Philippines, and one of the biggest in the world, and has been a
cornerstone of the Philippines’s ambition to become a top-flight
Hanjin Philippines, however, has not been doing well. In January, the division, which has massive assets but is cash-poor, declared bankruptcy, defaulting on $400 million in bank loans – the largest such bankruptcy in the history of the Philippines and an event that was described as being, for the world’s shipping sector, equivalent to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It filed for “court-assisted rehabilitation,” meaning that it wanted the courts to help it arrange debt payment with five banks in that country that had lent it a total of $412 million.
This month, it
that Hanjin Philippines might soon have to let go of thousands of
employees, and that several other international corporations, most of
them based in Europe but one based in North America, might be willing
to help Hanjin out by snapping them up. Another report indicated
that “at least two major Chinese shipbuilders” were looking into
a much more sweeping move – namely, taking over Hanjin’s entire
operation in the Philippines.
This would be a
drastic development indeed. For one thing, a Chinese purchase of
Hanjin Philippines would also contribute to ongoing expansion of the
PRC’s presence in East Asia, and would be troubling news for the
U.S. and all of its allies in that region. In its own small way, it
could cause a shift in the worldwide balance of power.
In South Korea, however, such a purchase would have an even stronger impact. Like the disappearance of Hanjin Shipping, it would not only mark yet another downturn for the Hanjin Group. It would also be a blow to South Korean national pride, which rested for decades upon the bedrock of its powerhouse economy. Not least, it would further tarnish, in the eyes of South Koreans at both the top and bottom levels of society, the already fading luster of the chaebol model. So it is that the closing or sale of a shipyard in the Philippines may have a very real impact on the volatile economic developments in the Republic of South Korea.
Born in 1972 in Iran, Reza Aslan was brought by his parents to the U.S. seven years later when they fled the Khomeini revolution. He grew up in the Bay Area, where as a teenager he converted from Islam to Christianity and then converted back. He earned degrees in theology, writing, and sociology, and over the past decade or so has become a leading voice on religion, a subject he has discussed frequently on CNN, Fox News, and other TV networks and on which he tries to sound very modern.
No religion, he argues, is objectively true; on the contrary, each is a set of “symbols and metaphors” that represent one’s sense of connection to the divine and eternal and ineffable. He admits to identifying as a Muslim, but is at pains to insist that this is more a matter of cultural or aesthetic affinity than of thinking that Islam is “truer” than Christianity, Hinduism, or any other faith. Indeed he has said, in effect, that all religions are ultimately the same and that “we are all God.”
He presents himself as a man of high moral character with a deep interest in the divine; as a clear-eyed observer of and expert in religions; and as someone who respects all belief systems and is eager to focus on their similarities and not emphasize their differences. In practice, however, he consistently puts his finger on the scale for Islam. In his 2005 book No God But God, he depicts Islam as inherently benign, blaming pretty much everything that’s negative about it on Western imperialism. In another book published four years later, he strives to distance Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, to draw at least something of a moral equivalence between jihadist murder and the American “war on terrorism,” and to distinguish sharply between jihadism and Islamism. Indeed he actually defends the latter, making the ridiculous claim that the answer to “extremist Islamism” is “moderate Islamism.” Nearly two decades after 9/11, the absurdity of all this should be obvious to any halfway intelligent individual in the Western world. But instead Aslan’s fanciful, friendly picture of Islam has won plaudits across the U.S.A. and elsewhere.
Aslan hasn’t been satisfied with merely whitewashing Islam. In his 2013 book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, he sought to alter established views of Christianity; two years later, he produced and hosted a CNN series, Believer, in which he purportedly sought to take viewers on tours of Christian, Jewish, and Hindu doctrine and practice, at both their ugliest and most beautiful. As Alexander Waugh noted in the Spectator,
Each episode featured the sensational and disgusting practices of fringe groups connected to Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism, which, unsurprisingly, offended mainstream Hindus, Christians and Jews who did not care to be associated in the public mind with their pee-drinking, brain-eating, death-worshipping sub-sects. No discreditable customs of any Muslim sub-sect were shown. Since Aslan has elsewhere gone out of his way to dismiss Islamic terrorism as less of a problem than ‘faulty furniture’; has described jihadism as a mere ‘pop culture’; and has denied any link between the Islamic religion and female genital mutilation, he soon found (no doubt to his delight) that he had sharply divided America’s liberal progressive movement.
Waugh went on:
Aslan explained that the purpose of his Believer series was to reveal to the world how everyone is ‘the same’. His detractors interpreted this to mean that Christians, Jews and Hindus should stop complaining about the unappealing practices of Muslims because there are people doing equally appalling things in the name of their religions too.
Indeed, many of Aslan’s erstwhile fans began to feel that he was at once a shameless apologist for Islam and an eager denigrator of other religions. Even as he slickly denied the established connections between Islam itself and certain abominable practices that are considered matters of faith by its adherents, he exaggerated out of all proportion the prevalence of certain unpleasant aspects of other faiths.
What’s more, professional historians of religion began to look more closely at his academic record and noticed that his claims to be a credentialed historian, a professor of religion, and a Ph.D. in the history of religion were all bogus.
For all his efforts to represent himself as a man of faith, moreover, Aslan has certainly said things about various public figures that are, shall we say, rather deficient in what we in the West used to quaintly call Christian charity. After the 2017 terrorist attack on London Bridge, Aslan wrote a tweet in which he condemned not the terrorists but President Trump, whom he called “a piece of shit” for having refused to mince words about the danger of Islamic terror. (That tweet lost him his CNN series.)
That’s not all. Aslan has maintained, risibly, that women enjoy equal rights in Muslim countries where that is quite plainly not the case. Aslan has not only misrepresented the extent of female genital mutilation but also savaged the comedian Bill Maher when he condemned that practice and dared to acknowledge its connection to Islam. After he appeared on Good Morning America, his interviewer posted online a breathless summary of what she had “learned” from him about Islam:
Did you know Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and a messiah? I didn’t. Did you know Muslims actually rank Jesus higher than the Prophet Muhammad? Again, I didn’t.
decided to give a bit of critical attention to Aslan now, it’s
because of his latest headline-making act. Last month, when that
group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky
were harassed outside the Lincoln Memorial by a group of fanatically
racist “black Israelites” and by a drum-banging Native American
“elder,” the boys were demonized throughout the mainstream media,
even though, as it turned out, they were the victims in that
encounter, not the bad guys. Aslan was one of those celebrities who
piled on, and he did so in a particularly nasty way, retweeting
a picture of the most prominent of the Kentucky boys, Nick Sandmann,
and writing: “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this
It was one of
those comments that give the whole game away. After years of
promoting himself as a sober, sincere, and thoughtful student of
religion, and as a builder of bridges between different faiths and
cultures, and as someone who is, therefore, by definition, a decent
human being and a man of peace, Aslan, with this one tweet, shattered
that image forever. Sandmann is sixteen years old, a boy from
Kentucky who did nothing wrong and who, in a TV interview after the
Lincoln Memorial episode, acquitted himself with quiet dignity and
intelligence – qualities missing entirely from Aslan’s tweet.
Reza Aslan wanted to punch a teenage boy, someone’s child,
presumably because Aslan didn’t like what he thought he saw in the
look on the boy’s face. And this is supposed to be one of America’s
leading teachers of religion? No, thank you.
This would all make an interesting movie – full of colorful characters, intense conflict, mounting tension, and stunning reversals – except for the fact that it’s all just too sprawling a story, with too many villains and, so far, no hero.
What are we talking about here? We’re talking about the large-scale corruption at the uppermost levels of the South Korean government and business sector that, in the last couple of years, has made for some high drama, complete with palace intrigue, smoking guns, and courtroom clashes. What is required here is a screenwriter who can tame this tale and foreground a single arresting plot line.
But what to
foreground? OK, take a deep breath, here goes: in the brief period
since 2017, we’ve seen the removal from office – and long-term
imprisonment – of South Korea’s first female president (Park
Geun-hye) after she was caught doing underhanded deals, through her
shady best friend (Choi Soon-sil), with top business leaders – who,
as usual, went scot-free – and her replacement by a self-styled
“reform” president (Moon Jae-in), who, making bold promises to
rein in the power and corruption of the increasingly unpopular
chaebols – those massive, family-run conglomerates that dominate
that nation’s economy and that operate with impunity – installed
an antitrust czar (Kim Sang-jo), widely styled the “chaebol
sniper,” who started off his three-year term with a lot of tough
rhetoric about cutting Samsung, Hyundai, and other chaebols down to
size, only to tone down his language in recent months and talk,
instead, in pathetically humble language, about requesting modest
alterations in the chaebols’ organizational charts, even as the
president himself began getting all chummy with the chaebol leaders,
apparently having decided that he needed them on his side if he
wanted to kick his country’s weak economy back into high gear.
Phew. So does
that mean we’re back at square one? Not exactly. Because, as we’ve
mentioned before, while President Moon and his “sniper” seem to
have dwindled into impotence and irrelevance, the cause has been
taken up by some of the people who actually own sizable chunks of the
chaebols but who, in keeping with the curious (indeed, unique)
traditions of the chaebols, have been systematically denied any
meaningful input into the governance of the conglomerates. The
bizarre fact, which remains unchanged, is that in most cases, the
families that founded the chaebols and that still hold the key
leadership positions in them don’t own a majority or even a
plurality of shares in those firms. Indeed, some of the chaebol royal
families would, under ordinary Western circumstances, be considered
negligible minority stockholders.
then, that as the South Korean economy falters and the chaebols,
immense though they are, look more and more as if their best years
are behind them, investors – most of them foreigners, many of them
Americans – who have plunged large sums of money into the chaebols
are increasingly frustrated at their own lack of power to initiate
significant changes. The unfortunate truth is that while the men who
founded the chaebols were business wizards, their children and
grandchildren, who now sit behind the big desks in the corner
offices, don’t necessarily have what it takes to run some of the
world’s largest corporations. Meanwhile, many of those investors
have proven track records at turning failing businesses around – at
spinning off or closing down certain subsidiaries, at recognizing the
need to hire or fire certain executives, and at successfully
restructuring extraordinarily diversified conglomerates to maximize
efficiency and profits.
So it is that, as Kim Jaewon of Nikkei reported on January 21, Korea Corporate Governance Improvement (KCGI), a newly founded South Korean activist fund that is now the second largest shareholder in the Hanjin Group (whose most famous holding is Korean Air), is pushing it to sell its hotel chain, which includes the Wilshire Grand Hotel in L.A. and the Waikiki Resort Hotel in Hawaii, and to form an independent committee that would select Hanjin’s CEO and other top leaders. Now that would be real reform – a change in policy that would actually make it possible to remove from office the scarifyingly rich and corrupt members of one of the chaebol royal families – in this case, the notorious Cho clan, which owns 29% of Hanjin – and replace them with new, competent, and even (could it be?) clean outsiders.
Such a transformation would mean the departure of company chairman Cho Yang-ho, who last year was indicted on embezzlement charges; of his wife, who has been probed for smuggling; of his daughter Cho Hyun-min, who was accused of assaulting an ad-agency executive; and of another daughter, Cho Hyun Ah, whose outrage at a flight attendant who served her macadamias in a bag and not on a plate led to a scandal and a legal mess that made headlines worldwide. In short, it’s a family that Hanjin, and South Korea generally, would be much better off without.
Bottom line: the
protagonists in this drama may turn out, in the end, to be these
so-called activist investors. Screenwriters, stay tuned.
As we saw on Thursday, Angela Davis, a Black Panther member, fan of the Soviet Union, and two-time Communist Party candidate for President of the U.S. who was acquitted in 1972 of a death-penalty crime of which she was clearly guilty, is now, in the eyes of many on the left, an éminence grise. From time to time she is handed major accolades; three years ago, presenting her with an award intended for women of supreme accomplishment, Elizabeth Sackler, chairman of the Brooklyn Museum, called her “the embodiment of all we hold dear.”
Next month she was supposed to receive yet another award, this one from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is based in her native city of Birmingham, Alabama. By giving her the Fred Shuttleworth Human Rights Award, the institute intended to recognize Davis for her support of the Palestinian people. But in the first week of January, the institute’s board announced that it had changed its collective mind. This decision was prominently reported in the New York Times, in which reporter Niraj Chokshi, in his opening paragraph, described Davis as “the activist and scholar” and conveyed the news that Davis herself was “stunned.”
Why did the folks in Birmingham decide not to give Angela Davis an award? Answer: because she supports a boycott of Israel. The question, of course, really should be why they decided to give her an award in the first place. Given what else is on her résumé, her hatred for Israel and Jews is just one more moral outrage among many. Another question is how the Birmingham group could have been so clueless about Davis’s attitude toward Jews and Israel; a quick Google search would have made it clear that she’s an anti-Semite of the first water. Apparently the answer is that the folks in Birmingham weren’t clueless about her Jew-hatred: they didn’t care about it until local Jews, including the people who run the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, started making a fuss about the planned award.
In any event, what was interesting about the Times article was not the tidings about the prize itself but Chokshi’s take on it. For one thing, he identified Davis as a sometime “global hero of the left who has since earned renown for her scholarship.” Later in his article, Chokshi repeated this ridiculous claim: “she has been recognized for her scholarship and activism around feminism and against mass incarceration.” Scholarship? What scholarship? This woman has never been anything but a race hustler, ideological scold, and brazen self-promoter.
In a statement on
Facebook, Angela described the revocation of the award as “not
primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of
the indivisibility of justice.” It’s pretty rich for this woman –
who should have been executed half a century ago or at least have
spent the last half century behind bars – to talk about “justice.”
But Chokshi seemed blissfully ignorant of the facts of Davis’s history. Either that, or he chose not to share those facts with Times readers. Instead he presented the standard whitewash of the story of Davis’s trial, which depicts her as an innocent bystander who was wrongly charged:
Davis became a global progressive leader nearly half a century ago.
At the time, she was agitating on behalf of three California inmates
accused of murdering a white prison guard when guns she had purchased
were used in an attack that was aimed at freeing the inmates but left
four people dead, including the assailant.
was not present during the attack and witnesses testified that the
guns were purchased for defense, but Professor Davis nonetheless
spent 16 months in jail before an all-white jury acquitted her of all
charges. In the interim, “Free Angela” had become a rallying cry.
Note the slick twist here: instead of sharing the facts about Davis’s masterminding of the conspiracy to free her husband – which would have led at least some readers to wonder why she was acquitted and how Davis could possibly be considered a human-rights icon – Chokshi deep-sixed Davis’s central role in the whole business, thereby prodding readers to be outraged that poor Angela had to spend sixteen months in jail and to accept the verdict as legit because the jury was “all-white.”
Chokshi also put a neat spin on Davis’s take on Israel and the Palestinians: at a time, she wrote, when “polls of young people” in the U.S. “show support growing for the Palestinian cause” and when state laws restricting contractors from boycotting Israel “are being challenged as violations of First Amendment rights” (facts that have no place in Chokshi’s article except by way of suggesting that Davis is on the right side of this issue), Davis has “joined prominent black celebrities and thinkers in comparing the struggles of Palestinians to those of African-Americans.”
What Chokshi neglected to mention is that, as Cathy Young noted in a January 9 piece for the Forward, Davis’s “stance toward Israel…includes the embrace of convicted terrorists Rasmea Odeh and Marwan Barghouti.” Chokshi also ignored Davis’s slavish, see-no-evil defense of the USSR and Cuba, including, as Young pointed out, her consistent refusal to stand up for gays, women, and political prisoners in Communist countries. No, Angela Davis is the furthest thing possible from a human-rights heroine: she is a fervent lifelong enthusiast for totalitarianism, a woman whom lovers of freedom and equality should regard with nothing but contempt.