Britain’s top Jew-haters

Netta

When Netta, 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.”

Jeremy Corbyn

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.

Julie Christie

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).


Caryl Churchill

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

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.

Has Hanjin’s ship sailed?

Hanjin HQ in Seoul

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.

Moon Jae-in

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.

We’re still 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 economy.

Hanjin’s shipyard at Subic Bay

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 shipbuilding nation.

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.

An image from the glory days of Hanjin Shipping

This month, it was reported 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.

Part of Korean Air’s fleet

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.

Reza Aslan, phony & hater

Reza Aslan

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.

If we’ve 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 kid’s?”

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.

Heroes at Hanjin?

Kim Sang-jo, the “chaebol sniper”

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.

Park Geun-hye

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.

Moon Jae-in

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.

Choi Soon-sil

No surprise, 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.

Cho Yang-ho

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.

Cho Hyun-min

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.

Angela Davis, Commie stooge

Davis in 2016 with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

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.”

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

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.”

Niraj Chokshi

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.

Angela Davis today

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.

Accepting the Lenin Prize in Moscow

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:

Professor 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.

She 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.”

Cathy Young

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.

Angela Davis, human-rights heroine?

Davis in her heyday

In June 2016, when the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Angela Davis with an award for “women who are first in their fields,” we provided readers with a brief account of Ms. Davis’s accomplishments.

To wit: a card-carrying American Communist Party member from her youth, she attended Communist May Day celebrations in East Berlin when it was still East Berlin, joined the Black Panthers, and studied at Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. Later teaching at UCLA, she was fired twice – the first time for her Communist Party membership, the second time (after a judge ordered her rehired) for giving “inflammatory” speeches in which, for example, she called police officers “pigs.” After her then husband, George Jackson, a fellow Communist and Black Panther leader, was sent to Soledad State Prison for pulling off five armed robberies, Davis masterminded an effort to spring him. As we wrote in 2016:

On the lam

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to Clain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors.

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

On trial

Her husband George having died in an escape attempt (in which he cut the throats of three prison guards), Davis was tried for her part in the attempt to spring him. The Kremlin led a worldwide campaign to paint her as mounting a courageous challenge to the capitalist system. Useful idiots like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite ample evidence of guilt, Davis was found not guilty. Her acquittal was later compared to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in that both defendants had lawyers who successfully painted them as victims of racism.

With one of her heroes

Now world-famous, Davis spent a few years in Cuba, went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Prize, and twice ran for vice president of the U.S. on the Communist Party line. For many on the left, she served as a feminist icon and a symbol of brave resistance to racist oppression. She has taught at many major universities and is now a “Distinguished Professor Emerita” at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And her distinction has been ratified by awards, including the 2016 honor from the Brooklyn Museum.

She was scheduled to receive yet another accolade next month – namely, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which is presented annually by a civil-rights organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But during the first week of January came a shocking announcement: Angela Davis wouldn’t be getting the award after all. What happened? We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

Wherein we take yet another snipe at the pathetic “chaebol sniper”

Now here’s a new twist.

As we’ve recounted in some detail on this site, South Korea is going through a rough patch, economically speaking. In the decades after the Korean War, the country grew with remarkable rapidity from an undeveloped backwater into an international powerhouse. Leading this spectacular advance was a relative handful of family-run conglomerates, known as chaebols (the plural in English is often rendered as “chaebol”), whose names – Samsung, Hyundai, etc. – have become famous around the world.

For decades, the chaebols were the engines of the South Korean economy. The nation’s populace looked up to them. The dearest hope of South Korean parents was that their kids would someday go to work for one of the chaebols. In recent years, however, there has been a discernible shift in public attitudes toward the chaebols. For one thing, they’ve increasingly been seen as crowding out new businesses and thus stifling both competition and innovation – thereby making it hard for the South Korean economy to grow even further. For another thing, as ordinary South Korean citizens have grown more and more accustomed to the idea of democracy and equal treatment under the law, they’ve also grown tired of the shameless double standards that have allowed the chaebol dynasties to get away with corruption on a massive scale.

Moon Jae-in

When Moon Jae-in became president in 2017, he promised to clean up the chaebols. Other presidents before him had made the same promise – among them his immediate predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is now in prison because of illegal transactions with chaebol kingpins. But Moon insisted he really intended to tackle chaebol corruption. To prove it, he put the nation’s Fair Trade Commission in the hands of a fellow named Kim Sang-jo, who called himself the “chaebol sniper.” One gathered that President Moon had put the toughest guy he could find on the job – a sort of cross between Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and the Charles Bronson character in Death Wish. A fella who would make the bigwigs at Hyundai and Samsung tremble in their office towers and give them nightmares in their lavish mansions.

Kim Sang-jo

In fact, when it came to scaring the heck out of South Korea’s industrial giants, Kim turned out to be more like Kim Novak than Clint Eastwood. As we’ve noted, Kim, who at first came out with guns blazing, has more recently presented himself as a “reasonable reformist” who wants to nudge the chaebols, ever so gently, toward “evolutionary reform.” On January 3, in response to an extensive interview with Kim that appeared in the Korea Herald, we concluded that Kim was now yet another public official in Seoul whose posture toward the chaebols was that of a “servile brownnoser.”

Samsung honcho Jay Y. Lee being arrested last year for massive corruption; in accordance with time-honored South Korean practice, he was later given a suspended sentence

Well, it turns out that the Korea Herald story wasn’t the last word on Kim Sang-jo. On January 17, Kim Jaewon and Sotaro Suzuki reported in the Nikkei Asian Review that the sometime “chaebol sniper” was now – gasp – actually taking an adversarial position toward the chaebols. Or, at least, toward the people who run them. The ruling chaebol families, said Kim, “have lost the aggressive entrepreneurship that was shown by the generations of their founding grandfathers and fathers.” The current chaebol bosses, Kim continued, “were born as if they were princes in a kingdom. As the character of the families has changed, the decisive and quick decision-making process of the past has been replaced by a policy that focuses on the status quo to preserve their established power.”

True enough. Funny it took him so long to say so. Everybody else already had.

Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo

Kim went on to suggest that the people who have inherited their positions of power at the chaebols need to step down – or at least step away – from their posts, perhaps exchanging the title of CEO for that of Chairman, and choosing to concentrate on long-term strategy while allowing professional managers to make day-to-day decisions.

It doesn’t sound like a bad idea, at least to start with. But is Kim going to use his power to pressure the chaebol dynasties to do this? Or was this simply meant to be a modest suggestion from a man who, with every major media exposure, seems more and more determined to project a modest image? Apparently the latter. For Kim then went on to say: “If you thought I am a chaebol killer, you misunderstood me. The only way to succeed in chaebol reform is to make it predictable and sustainable.” Meaning what? Well, one’s first reaction is that this comment seems to have been formulated in such a way as to mean just about anything to just about anybody. It’s not a policy statement but a political slogan, every bit as empty and meaningless as “hope and change” or “stronger together.” No wonder both Moon and Kim are plunging in the polls.

An end to chavismo?

Venezuelans queue up to buy groceries that may or may not be on the store shelves

Since we’ve devoted so much space at this site to the plight of Venezuela under chavismo, it’s only right for us to acknowledge – and celebrate – an extraordinary turning point in the history of that country.

We need hardly go into detail here about the devastation wrought upon Venezuela, once one of the richest nations in the world, by hard-core socialism. That the land with the world’s largest oil reserves should decline into such terrible poverty – to say nothing of the steady erosion of individual liberty and human rights – is a classic lesson in the horrible consequences of socialist policies.


Juan Guaidó

On January 5, Juan Guaidó, a fierce opponent of chavismo, was sworn in as President of Venezuela’s National Assembly. Five days later, Nicolás Maduro, who had succeeded his mentor, Hugo Chávez, as President of Venezuela, in 2013, was inaugurated for his second term after being re-elected in what was widely considered an illegitimate election. The next day, Guaidó led a massive rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, at which it was announced that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, he would be assuming the presidency. On January 15, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Guaidó headlined “Maduro is a usurper. It’s time to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

Nicolas Maduro

“We are living in a crisis without precedent in Venezuela,” the op-ed began. “We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions to manipulate them at will.” Truthfully enough, Guaidó called Maduro a dictator, but a dictator with a difference, who had “ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups,” but whose nation continued to have “a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly,” which enjoyed “the backing of the international community and the majority of Venezuelans.”

On January 23, Guaidó formally declared himself President of Venezuela. Almost immediately, he was recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state by U.S. President Donald Trump. By the end of day, he had been recognized as President by the Organization of American States as well as by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. In all of Latin America, only Communist Cuba and socialist Bolivia reiterated their full support for Maduro, while Mexico’s new left-wing leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, criticized Guaidó but instead of totally backing Maduro called for “dialogue.”

Mauricio Macri

The swiftness with which so many Latin American governments endorsed Guaidó’s ascent to power is a reflection of the degree to which socialism in that region has, in a relatively short time, given way to a renewed wave of democratic capitalism. A few years ago, for example, Cristina Fernandez, then President of Argentina, would surely have stood behind Maduro; now, her successor, Mauricio Macri, took to Twitter and explicitly cheered on “all efforts toward rebuilding democracy in Venezuela and reestablishing conditions of life worthy of all its citizens.” Likewise, in Brazil, the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, widely known as the Trump of Latin America, tweeted that “Brazil supports politically and economically the transition back to democracy and social peace in Venezuela.”

To be sure, it’s all easier said than done. At this writing, Maduro seems determined to stay in Miraflores, the White House of Caracas. He still enjoys the support of the military, of the Supreme Court (which he has packed with cronies), and of the powerful and notoriously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. So it will be interesting to see how things develop in the days and weeks to come.

A rocky start for 2019 in South Korea

Moon Jae-in

In South Korea, the year has kicked off with a bang. On January 8, the South China Morning Post reported that President Moon Jae-in had made some drastic changes in his administration. Moon, who was scoring big in the polls in the months after his inauguration in May 2017, has seen his popularity erode along with his country’s economy.

How to turn things around? Fire some people. Moon has dismissed his chief of staff, his senior political affairs secretary, and his senior press secretary. No sign, however, of him doing what he actually promised to do when he took office – namely, tame the chaebols, the corrupt, family-run business empires that are at one the engines and the anchors of the South Korean economy.

Trump: taking the opposite approach

On January 10 came another tidbit of news from the Blue House (which, of course, is Seoul’s answer to the White House). While Trump was slashing taxes and regulations, reported the Australian Financial Review, Moon was trying to cure his country’s economic ills by doing the opposite. Surprise! “So far,” wrote Michael Schuman, “it has not worked out as planned.”

Joblessness is up. Growth is down. Wages are flat. Both employers and employees are restive. And small businesses are suffering. Their costs are rising, but they’re not in a position to pass those costs on to buyers. Consequently, they’re shedding employees and finding other ways to cut corners.

The Blue House

All this might have been prevented if Moon had kept his promises and tackled the Great White Whale – the chaebols. But he chickened out. He would probably reject that characterization, pointing out that his budget for 2019 contains policy changes that are intended to reduce the power of the chaebols and help out smaller enterprises.

Others might argue that these initiatives are too little, too late. That Moon, take him for all in all, is essentially kicking the ball down the field. And allowing the South Korean economy to continue experiencing the consequences of his relative inaction.

Yang Sung-tae

Then, on January 11, Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times reported on a unprecedented development in South Korea. Yang Sung-tae, a former justice of the Supreme Court, had been confronted by prosecutors over charges that he had “conspired to delay a case that could upset relations with Japan.”

The case was brought by a group of South Koreans who, during the Japanese occupation, were subjected to forced labor by such firms at Mitsubishi. Yang will probably be indicted – a first in the voluminous annals of modern South Korean corruption.

Moon’s government, then, is on shaky ground. The South Korean judiciary has experienced a major embarrassment. The country’s small businesses are even more precariously positioned than they were a couple of years ago. And the ordinary citizens of South Korea are having more and more trouble making ends meet.

But amid all this loss and insecurity and scandal, the chaebols, as always, continue to stand strong.

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.