In the “Republic of Samsung,” it’s (corrupt) business as usual

Lee Jae-young

For many people in South Korea, the arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment last year of Lee Jae-young – that country’s richest man and the de facto head of Samsung, the country’s largest business – signaled the start of a bright new era. After decades of corruption in the chaebols, the powerful family-run conglomerates that have dominated the postwar South Korean economy, the ouster last year of President Park Geun-hye and her replacement by Moon Jae-in, who promised that the traditionally well-connected leaders of these firms would no longer operate with impunity, seemed indeed to represent radical and long hoped-for change.

Park Geung-hye

Yet, as we discussed on Tuesday, all hopes for revolutionary reform were crushed last month when a High Court judge abruptly ordered Lee (known in the West as Jay Y. Lee) freed from prison.

Lee, according to Bloomberg News, “appeared stunned.” So, reported the Wall Street Journal, were “some South Korean lawmakers and legal experts.” The South Korean public was stunned, too. And angry. Street protests ensued. Moon had promised change, but this was business as usual. Over the decades, one chaebol honcho after another had been tried on corruption charges only to be found not guilty, or convicted and then pardoned, or – as happened with Lee’s father in 2008 – given a suspended sentence. Meanwhile, as the New York Times has noted, South Korean courts have “routinely sentenced lesser-known white-collar criminals to far longer terms for lesser offenses.”

Here it was all over again. “The ‘Republic of Samsung’ lives on,” griped Professor Kwon Young-june of Kyung Hee University. The judge’s decision, complained Park Yong-jin, a member of the National Assembly, only “confirmed once again that Samsung is above the law and the court.”

A view of the site of the Pyeongchang Olympics

Indeed. The High Court’s ruling – which came only days before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea – is absurd on its face. Among the items of evidence that senior judge Cheong Hyung-sik chose to drop down the memory hole was a set of 39 handwritten notebooks in which an economic adviser to President Park recorded specifics about bribes paid to Park by Lee. Other exhibits in the trial included documentation of exchanges between Park to Lee that made clear the nature of the quid-pro-quo between them.

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

Many commentators had been arguing that South Korea is in the process of changing its stripes; nobody can seriously make that argument now. Lee is a criminal for whom prosecutors sought a sentence of 12 years in prison: that’s how serious they considered his transgressions to be. The prosecutors demonstrated that Lee had committed embezzlement, illegally hidden assets overseas, and lied to the parliament under oath. They proved definitively that he had paid bribes in return for government support for a merger that, as the Financial Times put it, “was crucial for Mr. Lee to cement his hold on the organisation, but was widely criticised for not benefiting shareholders.” As one politician observed, by way of underscoring the absurdity of the High Court’s ruling, Judge Cheong appeared to expect the world to believe that Lee had handed over a fortune to President Park in return for absolutely nothing whatsoever.

So it stands, then. For a brief shining moment there, it looked as though South Korea had experienced a new birth of justice and equal treatment under the law. Alas, Lee’s release shows that under Moon, the old rules remain in place.

Lee is free – and South Korean reform is dead

We’ve been writing about Samsung since September 2016, when we explained the distinctively South Korean type of family-run corporate conglomerate known as the chaebol. “The simple fact,” we noted, “is that pretty much everybody in the South Korean government is on the chaebols’ payrolls – or wants to be. And the growing popular resentment of this grand corruption is an extremely good sign.”

Park Geun-hye

A couple of months later we reported on charges that South Korea’s then President, Park Geun-hye, had helped a friend, Choi Soon-sil, extort huge sums of money from several of the chaebols. The largest chaebol, Samsung, which accounts for some 17% of South Korea’s economy, gave Choi over $15 million. By December 2016, the official probe into this corruption uncovered that the sum extracted from Samsung was closer to $20 million. In return, President Park allowed the merger of two Samsung entities.

Lee Jae-yong (aka Jay Y. Lee)

In January of last year came the news that prosecutors had barred Lee Jae-yong – the de facto head of Samsung, grandson of its founder, Lee Byung-chul, son of its official chairman, Lee Kun-Hee (who stepped down from day-to-day management, but did not relinquish his title, after a 2014 heart attack), and arguably the most powerful man in South Korea – from leaving the country. In February Lee (who in the West goes by the name Jay Y. Lee) was arrested; in March, Park was removed from office.

Her replacement, Moon Jae-in, promised to curb the power of the chaebols, whose domination of the nation’s economy has thwarted new business development, whose cozy ties to government leaders have caused widespread suspicion and resentment, and whose leaders’ ability to escape punishment for large-scale corruption has made them seem to be above the law.

Moon Jae-in

Lee’s trial began in March. Dubbed “the trial of the century” in South Korea, it involved five charges: bribery (maximum possible sentence: five years), embezzlement (eight years) perjury (ten years), concealing criminal proceeds (five years), and hiding assets abroad (life). Prosecutors asked for a sentence of twelve years. In August, after five months of testimony, Lee was found guilty of all five charges and sentenced to five years in prison. He was thereupon “sent to a prison for white collar criminals in Uijeongbu.”

Then, last month, came a startling development. Lee, who had appealed his sentence, was taken from his prison cell and transported to the Seoul High Court. There, presiding senior judge Cheong Hyung-sik informed him that he was to be released immediately and would be on probation for four years.

Lee in handcuffs

Cheong – who, technically speaking, had not reversed or commuted Lee’s sentence but cut it in half and then suspended it – maintained that Lee’s only real offense was to have succumbed understandably to inordinate pressure exerted on him by Park Geun-hye while she was serving as President. “Park threatened Samsung Electronics executives,” claimed the judge. “The defendant provided a bribe, knowing it was bribery…but was unable to refuse.” Not a small number of South Koreans regarded this as a thoroughly absurd argument. 

More on Thursday.

Sorry, New York Times: there’s nothing cute about Communists

Deirdre Griswold on a WWP placard

On Tuesday we met Deirdre Griswold, a leader of the Workers World Party who didn’t let the fall of the Soviet Union end her love of Communism and her deep regard for the USSR. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times – home of this website’s poster boy, Stalin apologist Walter Duranty – didn’t let Griswold’s admiration for the monsters who created the Gulag keep it from publishing a cozy profile of her in 2004.

David Hafetz

Entitled “Last of the True Believers” and written by David Hafetz, the profile was precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from the newspaper that made Fidel Castro a hero. Here’s Hafetz’s opening: “Most New Yorkers, Deirdre Griswold concedes with a smile, probably think Marxism is, as she puts it, ‘finished.’ It’s enough to make an aging Socialist revolutionary chuckle.” Get the point? This is no dour apparatchik out of some crude anti-Communist fantasy. She smiles. She chuckles. Also, she’s not a Stalinist but a “Socialist,” a devotee of “Marxism.”

Hafetz went on: “The Soviet Union collapsed and other radical leftists may have grown disillusioned, but as she sips tea and dips into a fruit plate at a diner on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, Ms. Griswold exudes the impregnable optimism of a true believer.” Note the homey details. And hey, how can you not appreciate optimism? How can you not admire a “true believer”?

Griswold (left) at a rally

Hafetz then mentioned Workers World, which “reports the news with a Marxist-Leninist twist and a dash of Stalinism.” A twist! A dash! Adorable. (Imagine a Times reporter writing the words “a Hitlerian twist” or “a dash of Nazism.”) Workers World, stated Hafetz, “often roars in protest,” but Griswold herself, “now 67, with reading glasses that dangle past her white hair, doesn’t exactly look ready to man the barricades.” Au contraire, she “speaks with a schoolteacher’s practiced patience and sounds as enthusiastic parsing the imperialist nature of the United States’ involvement in World War II, not to mention the war in Iraq, as discussing where to find good granola on the Internet.”

We kept waiting for Hafetz to use the word “grandmotherly,” but he didn’t have to: the point was made.

On and on it went. Hafetz itemized some of Griswold’s contradictions – she despises private ownership but owns an apartment, hates the U.S. government but accepts social security, abhors capitalism but likes window shopping – but he treated these contradictions as if they were cute. “She’s only human, she says.” Yes, a human who spent most of her life serving totalitarian masters.

Katherine Stapp

Hafetz interviewed Griswold’s daughter, Katherine Stapp, who revealed that “her mother believes deeply in the possibility of a better world.” Hafetz, for his part, was certainly eager to paint the old gal as humane: “She has marched against imperialism and police brutality, and in favor of the rights of groups like gays, the transgendered, immigrants and black plumbers.” You could hardly find a more classic example of the way in which the Times soft-soaps Communists, depicting them not as cheerleaders for tyrants and murderers but as super-liberals whose only crime, perhaps, is excessive idealism. Hafetz concluded his piece with a quote from the lady herself: “Our goal is to have a revolution so people don’t have to work three jobs….We want the workers to get a rest, to live a little. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

No. She has spent her life fighting for the cause of bloodthirsty dictatorship. For the kind of police state in which people lie awake at night in terror of a knock on the door, a sham trial, a summary execution. She has spent her life spitting on freedom.

She loves North Korea!

Deirdre Griswold (left) with WWP colleagues in Pyongyang

Who is Deirdre Griswold? Surely this was a question that more than a few of Tucker Carlson’s viewers asked on the evening of February 12, when Ms. Griswold, a feisty, white-haired woman of a certain age, was a guest on Carlson’s Fox News TV show. She was there because she’s an admirer of North Korea. She’s also a shameless fount of disinformation. Vociferously, she denied that North Koreans are forbidden access to information about the world. When Carlson said that North Koreans aren’t allowed to watch foreign movies, she accused him of making it up. She hailed North Korean literacy and medical care and insisted that, contrary to Carlson’s claim, North Koreans aren’t “living in some kind of jail.” When Carlson asked why North Koreans aren’t permitted to leave their country, Griswold shook her head and said: “People go back and forth all the time.”

Who is this woman? Carlson identified her as a member of the Workers World Party (WWP). And what, you ask, is the Workers World Party? It’s a solidly Communist organization, founded in 1959 by a group of comrades who split from the somewhat better known Socialist Workers Party (SWP) because they supported Mao’s revolution and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which the SWP opposed. In other words, they formed the WWP because the SWP wasn’t radical enough for them. (As it happens, the SWP was itself a splinter group, formed by Trotskyites who’d been expelled from the pro-Stalinist American Communist Party.)

Griswold’s dad, Vincent Copeland, addressing an audience some time in the early 1980s

Griswold isn’t just any member of the WWP. Her stepfather, Vincent Copeland, was one of its founders and was also the founding editor of the party’s newspaper, Workers World. Griswold succeeded him as editor over five decades ago, and still holds the position to this day. In 1980, she was the party’s candidate for President of the United States, receiving about 13,000 votes.

The Soviet Union collapsed over a quarter century ago, but Griswold remains a fan. On the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution she gave a speech affirming her abiding loyalty to the totalitarian empire that gave us Lenin and Stalin, the Gulag and the Holodomor. While many on the left, she told her comrades, were so “stunned” by the fall of the USSR that they “abandoned Marxism,” the WWP did not.

For Griswold, what matters is not that the Kremlin regime was toppled but that it hung on as long as it did. “The fact that the Soviet Union lasted for 74 years despite everything the imperialists did to destroy it,” Griswold declared, “is an incredible testament to the strength of the working class and the struggle for socialism.” This endurance, she added, “proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a state based upon the working class and formerly oppressed peoples with a planned economy is vastly superior to capitalism.”

No decent person, obviously, could regard this woman’s politics as anything other than reprehensible. One major American newspaper that profiled her 14 years ago, however, did its best to depict her as charming and deeply humane. Which paper? Well, if you’re a regular reader of this site you can probably guess. But we’ll tell you all about it on Thursday.

Presenting Lily Allen: rich brat, pop star, & social justice warrior

Lily Allen

Lily Allen is not terribly famous in the U.S., but in her homeland she’s quite the star. Born into a well-to-do showbiz family in London in 1985, she attended a series of posh schools which she was kicked out of for smoking and drinking. She became a drug dealer, got a record contract through family connections, and ended up hitting it big by posting her songs on My Space. Since then she’s pursued a busy recording and performing career – and insulted a long list of fellow artists and assaulted more than her share of paparazzi. But she’s also found time to lecture her inferiors about world affairs.

Hillary Clinton at the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen

On her Wikipedia page, one sentence after another is a head-scratcher. “On 1 October 2009, Allen and several other musicians released the world’s first digital musical petition aimed at pressuring world leaders attending the December 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen.” Digital music petition? What? “During the London assembly and mayoral elections in April 2016, Allen announced that she would be giving ‘half her vote to the Women’s Equality Party’ – by voting for them on the London-wide Assembly list but voting Labour elsewhere.” Who asked? “On 15 June 2017, Lily Allen became involved in a controversy over the number of deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire.” What kind of expertise does a dropout pop star have in such matters?

Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire

We looked that last one up. In an interview on Britain’s Channel 4 news the morning after the fire, Allen actually accused the government and media of lying about the number of fatalities, which at that moment was up to seventeen. Newsreader Jon Snow had to explain to her that, as is the case with many such tragedies, the figure being broadcast represented the number of bodies recovered so far, and that the death toll would surely rise significantly in the hours and days to come. But Allen didn’t back down: as far as she was concerned, there was a conspiracy afoot and she was a brave, lone truth-teller.

Allen in Calais

There’s more. In 2016, Allen visited the migrant camp in Calais, on the French side of the English Channel. The migrants are camped there because they want to cross the channel and settle in Britain, even though, as has been widely pointed out, they have no right under international law to enter the U.K. But that didn’t stop Allen from apologizing to one of the migrants, a teenage Afghan named Shamsher Sharin, on Britain’s behalf “for what we’ve put you through.” When a TV reporter challenged her during an October 2016 interview to, in effect, put her money where her mouth was, Allen said that “if these children are being displaced, of course, there’s room for people in my house. I’m going to take them in.” She backed the promise up with an Instagram post promising to take a refugee into her £2 million home in Notting Hill. When asked in January 2017 whether she had made good on her promise, however, she refused to answer. Soon after, the post on which she had made the promise disappeared from her Instagram feed.

To be sure, she had an excuse. Was it a good one? We’ll scrutinize it on Thursday.

For her, Trump isn’t Hitler. He’s worse.

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Sunsara Taylor

Recently we spent a few days recounting the curious careers of Bob Avakian, longtime head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and his loyal sidekick Carl Dix.

As it happens, there’s a third figure who looms large in the RCP and who deserves her place in the sun on this website. Her name: Sunsara Taylor. She surfaced recently on the Fox News program Tucker Carlson Tonight, where she was identified as an “organizer” of a movement called Refuse Fascism. Its exclamation-point-heavy website explains its position:

avakian
Bob Avakian

In the Name of Humanity,

We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!

Drive Out the Trump/Pence Regime!

The Trump/Pence Regime is a Fascist Regime. Not insult or exaggeration, this is what it is. For the future of humanity and the planet, we, the people, must drive this regime out.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence have assembled a vicious cabal that has put forth positions and begun initiatives which demonstrate that they fully intend to shred political and social norms with catastrophic consequence. Because Trump has his finger on the nuclear trigger, the Trump/Pence regime is more dangerous to the world than even Hitler….

The Trump/Pence regime will repeatedly launch new highly repressive measures, eventually clamping down on all resistance and remaking the law…IF THEY ARE NOT DRIVEN FROM POWER.

During her six-minute appearance on Carlson’s show, Taylor may have set a world record for comparing Trump to Hitler. “We the people,” she insisted, “must drive this regime out!” Donald Trump and Mike Pence, she charged, “are operating out of Hitler’s playbook.” She referred to Trump’s “Nazi inauguration.” Her prescription for change: “We need to pour into the streets and say no….We must drive them out. We must stay in the streets.”

Quite a show. But as it turns out, Refuse Fascism is only the latest in a long list of groups with which Taylor has been involved. Or perhaps the proper term should be “pseudo-groups” or “front groups,” because in fact Taylor has, all along, been nothing more or less than an RCP operative and a devout disciple of Avakian.

no-stoptrumppencemosaicenspfararabv1These various groups or sub-movements (or whatever you want to call them) have come and gone over the years, rising up at a certain point – apparently in an effort to catch a wave of public feeling – and then disappearing when the wave breaks on the shore. They all involve a good deal of money-grubbing. Case in point: Refuse Fascism’s Facebook page urges supporters “to start out with a $5 donation” and be “part of crowdfunding this movement to stop this fascist, illegitimate regime from ruling.”

Tomorrow we’ll take a little stroll through Sunsara Taylor’s previous attempt to overthrow the U.S.A. – and rake in cash for the RCP.

South Korea kicks out Samsung’s pet prez

Park Geun-hye

For the last few months, we’ve been following the growing South Korean corruption scandal that involves the Samsung Corporation, President Park Geun-hye, and the President’s best friend Choi Soon-sil. In a country where corruption scandals involving ties between top political leaders and the powerful chaebol – the immense, family-controlled conglomerates that are the pillars of the nation’s economy – are a frequent occurrence, the present scandal was the biggest ever.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court

On Friday, that scandal came to a climax as the eight justices on the country’s Constitutional Court voted unanimously to remove Park Geun-hye from the office of the presidency for committing acts that “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.” The court’s move, which followed the suspension of Park’s powers in December when the national legislature voted for impeachment, and which took effect immediately, was without precedent in South Korean political history.

Choi Soon-sil in police custody

The unseating of Park caused joy in some quarters and fury in others. A protest outside the courthouse by supporters of Park turned violent, with two protesters dying in the melee. As for Park, now that she no longer enjoys the immunity from prosecution that comes with being president, she is likely to be tried on charges of bribery, extortion, conspiracy, and abuse of power for having extorted millions of dollars from Samsung and other firms in collaboration with her lifelong friend Choi Soon-sil.

Lee Jae-yong

Park’s ouster on Friday followed the arrest, on February 17, of Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung, and the announcement on February 28 that prosecutors would be indicting Lee “on charges of bribery and four other offenses.” As Choe Sang-hun wrote in the New York Times, “Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.”

The Constitutional Court’s ruling marked a victory for honest government and above-board business practices. As Choe noted, the constitutional orderliness of the process also demonstrated how how far South Korean democracy has come in the last half-century. Ahn Byong-jin of Seoul’s Kyung Hee University told the Times that “the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades.”

Park’s supporters clash with police

The verdict may also, alas, turn out to have a serious downside. To quote Choe, Park’s departure “is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.”

Hwang Kyo-ahn

In other words, South Korea, which in recent years has been a reliable bulwark of democracy in the region, may end up being led by people who are eager to appease Kim Jong-un and Beijing and to distance themselves from the U.S. and other democratic allies. The election to replace Park must take place within sixty days; in the meantime, an ally of Park’s, Hwang Kyo-ahn, will serve as acting president. According to the Times, the Trump government “is rushing a missile defense system to South Korea so that it can be in place before the election.”