News Roundup (June 4, 2017)

news roundup, June, 2017, globe, space, vector

Hello, readers! After a few weeks off, here is a new, yet short, News Roundup. Much of this news comes from the past few months, but I wanted to share it anyway.


Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week:

International

Regional

Want to Contribute?

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In International News …

While there is some pressing news coming out of the United Kingdom, I want to talk about the recent terror attacks in a separate post.

Here Is Your Korean News.

I have quite a bit of news to catch up on.

Former President Park Geun-hye Was Indicted.

On Monday, Apr. 17, former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was indicted on numerous charges of corruption and coercion. She was arrested on Mar. 30 by South Korean authorities; 20 days before, the Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment, thus removing her from office.

The Korean National Assembly voted for her impeachment by a vote of 234-56 in early December. Park gave three televised apologies after her impeachment.

Park was accused of using her position to get companies to give donations to the foundations set up by her confidante, Choi Soon-sil. Among the companies swept up in the scandal are Samsung and Lotte Group.

Park Geun-hye met with prosecutors on Tuesday, Mar. 21 for questioning. She promised to completely cooperate with them and she apologized for not being able to “fulfill my duty as President until the end.” However, she also thanked her supporters and said she believed “that truth will definitely come out.”

Judge Kang Bu-young issued the warrant for Park’s arrest.

Park Geun-hye is the daughter of former leader Park Chung-hee. Park Geun-hye was elected as president in 2013, becoming her country’s first female president.

After the younger Park was elected, South Korea developed a closer relationship with the United State. And it was under her that the THAAD defense system was approved.

In October 2016, details of Choi Soon-sil’s improper influence over Par were first made public. Choi never held an official position in Park’s government, but the former received advance access to speeches and government documents. Choi has since been charged with abused of power and fraud stemming from allegations that she got Park to force companies to donate to two of Choi’s foundations.

The Extent of the Scandal

Also on April 17, Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin was indicted on charges stemming from the corruption scandal.

Park’s charges included abuse of power, coercion, attempted coercion, receiving bribes from a third party, demanding bribes from a third party, and leaking confidential official information. In particular, Park was accused of colluding with her longtime confidante, to get Shin to give 7 billion won (South Korea’s currency; equal to about $6.2 million) worth of bribes to one of Choi’s foundations.

Shin was charged based on the accusation he had offered the bribe to Choi in exchange for a government license for his duty free business. Shin’s company, Lotte, admitted to giving money to the foundation in response “to cooperate in matters of national interest,” but it maintains it did not give money in exchange for political favors.

Lee Jae-yong, the heir to Samsung’s business empire, was indicted in February. He is currently on trial, along with four other executives at the company.

How Park Was Influenced

Choi Soon-sil is accused of accessing secret government documents and having intervened in state affairs. While Park Geun-hye admitted that she allowed Choi to view some documents, Park did not specify which documents.

How did Park Geun-hye become embroiled in such a scandal? Much of it stems from the significant influence the Choi family had on her.

Choi Tae-min, a spiritual leader and Choi Soon-sil’s father, founded the Eternal Life Church in the 1970’s. That church mixed aspects of Christianity, Buddhism, and Cheondism*. Choi likened himself to a modern-day Buddha and he called on people to strive for eternal life. The movement also “claimed the ability to communicate with the dead and produce objects offering magical protection.”

Park first met Choi Tae-minduring the former’s formative years. Park first met him after her mother’s death at the hands of a North Korean assassin; Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, was the dictator of South Korea at the time.

Choi assumed more control over Park after her father was assassinated in 1979 by the director of the South Korean equivalent of the CIA. The assassin cited Choi’s relationship with the leader’s daughter as a reason.

Choi Tae-min died in 1994 at 82 years of age and his daughter Choi Soon-sil picked up where her father left off. She assumed the leadership role of the church and began counseling Park.

Notes:

Cheondism is an indigenous Korean religion which takes part of shamanism.

Christianity and Buddhism are the top religions in South Korea.

Korean shamanism is called Muism. It’s an ethnic religion similar to Japanese Shintoism.

A New Leader Was Chosen for South Korea in Early May.

South Korea was expected to move more to the left with Park’s impeachment. Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, who was defeated by Park in 2013, quickly emerged as the favorite to replace her. The Democratic Party was always critical of the THAAD agreement and argued that it should have been approved by the National Assembly before implementing.

On Tuesday, May 9, South Koreans prepared to vote to choose their next president. The previous week, Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in, one a presidential aide to late former President Roh Moo-hyun, was leading in the polls by double digits.

Moon sought to forge a closer relationship with North Korea, via a policy he called “Sunshine 2.0.” The plan harkens back to the police of Roh’s whereby he gave aid to and kept a dialogue with North Korea. Moon wants to reopen an industrial complex just north of the Demilitarized Zone where North and South Koreans can work together.

Moon also wants to reevaluate South Korea’s THAAD arrangement with the United States. Of course, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is a sticking point with China and North Korea. The system was declared operational in early May.

Why does Moon want to have a soft touch with the North? It turns out his parents came from North Korea. They were rescued by a U.S warship in 1950, just before the start of the Korean War; their son was born in South Korea just before the war ended.

Of course, Moon’s stance on the North is not without critics. His harshest critics may be escapees from the DPRK. About 3,000 escapees threatened to leave South Korea if Moon was elected.

Voters’ Priorities

According to polls taken in the first week of May, North Korea was not the top concern of South Koreans. However, the responses to polls revealed a generational divide.

According to a RealMeter polls, 27.5% of respondents said a candidate’s “intention to resolve deeply-rooted corruption and reform” was the most important think to look for in a candidate. Another 24.5% said it was their “ability to recover people’s livelihood and the economy” was most important. National security and liberal democracy, was the third-leading reason (18.5%)to choose a candidate.

North Korea Conducted 3 Missile Tests in May.

By the end of May, North Korea had conducted 9 missile tests for 2017, with mixed results. There were three missiles tests in May alone.

On May 14, the DPRK launched what was believed to be a KN-17 medium range missile from Kusong, in the western part of the country. The missile landed in the Sea of Japan after flying for 435 miles. The area where the missile landed was just 60 miles from the Russian border.

On May 21, North Korea successfully launched a KN-15, a medium-range ballistic missile. According to the South Korean military, the missile traveled over 500 km (just over 300 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan. Trump was in Saudi Arabia at the time of the launch.

On May 28, North Korea tested a short-range ballistic missile launched from near Wonsan Airfield. U.S. Pacific Command tracked the missile, which it believed was a SCUD-type rocket, for six minutes before it landed in the Sea of Japan.The DPRK said the launch was aimed at testing a new precision-guidance system.

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Here Is an Afghanistan Update.

Two U.S. Service Members May Have Been Killed by Their Own in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Apr. 27, two U.S. Army rangers were killed in a raid in Nangarhar province, along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 23, were killed by what is suspected to be “friendly fire” from other American troops.

The operation carried out on Thursday took place south of the ISIS cave complex that was recently hit with the MOAB. The main target of the raid was Abdul Hasid, the emir of ISIS Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the terrorist network. The U.S. suspects Hasid was killed the raid, but that has not been confirmed.

The three-hour raid was carried out by 50 Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos. They were supported by drones, AC 130 and Apache gunships, and F-16 fighter jets. The mission, approved by General John Nicholson, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, was considered high-risk.

Rodgers and Thomas were killed in the opening moments of the raid. Their deaths marked the second and third U.S. service member deaths this year.

According to the Pentagon, about 35 ISIS fighters and several leaders of the terrorist network were killed.

The Pentagon also said it would investigate the deaths of the two Army Rangers. Autopsies were to be performed once their bodies were transported to Dover Air Force Base.

The Butcher of Kabul Returned.

National Public Radio correspondent Greg Myer writes about Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s appearance in Kabul, Afghanistan in early May 2017.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who came to be known as the “Butcher of Kabul,” returned to Kabul for the first time since being driven from the capital by the Taliban in 1995. On Thursday, May 4, Hekmatyar, 69, was welcomed to the Presidential Palace by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in an effort to establish a lasting peace in the country.

In his appearance in Kabul, Hekmatyar said, “Let’s end the war, live together as brothers and then ask foreigners to leave our country.”

It remains to be seen how Hekmatyar’s presence in Afghanistan will be received by residents and if his group will work to maintain peace in the country. But Hekmatyar and his group have played a role in every stage of the wars in Afghanistan, which began in 1979 with the Soviet invasion.

Here Are Some Grim Numbers.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, released a quarterly report in around May 1, 2017, which contained sobering numbers and other troubling information.

Among the statistics:

  • The United States Congress has approved over $117 billion to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Of that total, 60% has gone to supporting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
  • Since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in 2009, a total of 3,498 civilians were killed while another 7,920 others were injured.
  • A total of 807 members of the ANDSF were killed in the first six weeks of 2017.
  • About 35% of the ANDSF goes without reenlisting after one year. And according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, 1,394 individuals on the force were fired due to corruption.

Additionally, there is quite a bit of waste. As I shared before, millions of dollars have been wasted due to lost or stolen weapons. But billions of dollars have been wasted on buildings; some buildings are fully paid for, but poorly built and unfit for use. Billions more have been spent on aircraft that was “unfit for use.”

The Taliban Is Gaining in Northern Afghanistan.

Barin Sultani Haymon and Michael Kugelman discussed the rise of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan in the past few years. Part of the problem was the brutality and lack of cohesion among members of the Afghan Local Police and pro-government militias. Another part of the problem is the reported aid given to the Taliban by Russia.

Since 2011, members of the ALP have abused civilians. Some of the abuses include instances of rape. As a result, residents have turned on them.

The pro-government militias were given autonomy by the government but many of them had competing goals. As a result, the Taliban has been able to pick off some of these groups and expand its own influence in the region.

The Russians have reportedly given the Taliban financial aid. According to the United States, Russian aid has also included arms. Russia has stated its involvement is to help fight ISIS and reduced its threat to central Asia.

However, the Taliban’s alliance with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) tells a different story.

The Pentagon Has Asked for a Troop Buildup.

In February, Army Gen. John Nicholson was invited to Congress to assess the situation in Afghanistan. Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the coalition had reached a “stalemate” with militants in Afghanistan and that thousands more troops would be needed. Nicholson also said outside forces, including Iran, Russia, and the Haqqani Network, had been intervening to help the Taliban.

At the time, there were 13,000 NATO troops, including 8,400 from the United States, deployed in Afghanistan. Nicholson did not say how many more troops would be needed in Afghanistan to break the stalemate.

In early May, the Pentagon asked for a 3,000 troop buildup in Afghanistan. The request followed a late-April visit Defense Secretary James Mattis paid to the war-torn country. In talking with Nicholson, Mattis was apprised of the situation, including the continued presence of ISIS and aid to the Taliban from the Russians.

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What Is the United States’ Strategy in Iraq and Syria?

This news comes from the past month, as well, but it is important to share.

Arming Kurdish Fighters in Syria

On Tuesday, May 9, the United States announced a plan to arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria in an overall plan to fight against the Islamic State. According to the U.S., YPG fighters make up just over half of the Syrian Democratic Forces. The arms deal with give YPG fighters a limited amount of equipment, including small arms, machine guns, construction equipment, and armored vehicles. The Pentagon plans to give just enough equipment needed to complete specific missions against ISIS in the terrorist group’s self-declared capital, Raqqa.

The United States had long considered giving weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria but there was concern over Turkey’s response. Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a group recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the rest of Europe.

On Wednesday, May 10, Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressed their displeasure with the Pentagon’s plan to arm Kurdish forces in Syria. Several of the officials said they had hoped the United States could come to an agreement before or during a planned meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 16-17. However, the U.S. views the PKK and YPG as separate entities.

The officials said the decision to arm the Kurds could have negative consequences. But the U.S. undoubtedly calculated the risk in its decision.

(The United States has received helped from its NATO ally in terms of fighting in the Middle East. U.S. fighter jets deploy from Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base.)

And despite this concern, the United States feels the SDF is the most effective group fighting against ISIS in Syria.

Trump’s Overall Plan to ‘Annihilate’ the Islamic State

On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that Trump signed off on a plan to totally annihilate Islamic State after reviewing an assessment of the coalition’s progress for the past two years. Mattis said the coalition in Syria and Iraq had retaken over 55% of the territory held by IS since 2014, nodding that much of the work was done during the Obama administration.

As part of the plan, Mattis said Trump approved two changes: The first change was to give battlefield commanders more authority to make decisions. The other change was to surround ISIS fighters in their strongholds and annihilate them, as opposed to chasing them out of select areas in Syria and Iraq.

Marine General Joseph Dunford (who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Brett McGurk (a presidential envoy for the U.S.-led coalition) also spoke about the ongoing strategy against Islamic state. Dunford said Russia was working to coordinate with the United States and make sure there were no conflicts with ground troops there.

Also on Friday, Trump left on his first official overseas trip as president. His first stop was Saudi Arabia. He will travel to Israel ad Rome before attending a summit in Brussels next week.

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Trump Backed Out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement developed in 2015. It had 195 signees, including the United States. The agreement calls for cooperation from the involved countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries which can afford to contribute are encouraged to pay into a system to help impoverished nations comply with worldwide standards starting in 2020.

While in Italy, Trump did not express support for the agreement, making him the only G7 leader not to. It came as no surprise since Trump has expressed that he believed climate change to be a hoax invented by the Chinese to harm the American manufacturing industry.

Days after that G7 summit, and days before Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) expressed concern that such a decision could hurt Americans and the GOP down the road. Graham is one of the Republican lawmakers who agree climate change is due in part to mankind’s actions.

The agreement is voluntary, so no one is required to meet standards. But Trump’s recent decision to back out of the deal could be harmful to American businesses and the country’s international standing. China seeks to play a leading role in developing green technologies, although it still has quite a way to go to cut down on its own emissions.

Elon Musk’s Reaction

On May 31, Elon Musk responded to a tweet from one of his followers on Twitter. The follower asked Mr. Musk what he would do if Trump followed through on the promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Musk said he would have “no choice” but to withdraw himself from the two White House advisory councils he was on.

Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Musk had previously served on Trump’s economic advisory board and manufacturing jobs advisory council.

In the past, Musk has been criticized for being a part of those councils, especially in the face of Trump’s travel bans, which were heavily criticized and opposed by the tech sector. One of Musk’s own companies, Tesla, was among the companies against those bans. Musk’s hope was that he would be able to have some positive influence on Trump, including where the Paris climate agreement was concerned, despite their disagreements on other matters.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick departed Trump’s economic council months ago, after the travel ban was announced.

On Thursday, Elon Musk made good on his promise to leave two White House advisory councils in the event Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Disney CEO Bob Iger also made the decision to depart one of Trump’s advisory boards following the latter’s decision on the Paris Climate Agreement.

Reactions from Other Leaders

Raw Story’s Bob Brigham shared a few tweets from the U.S. and around the world as city leaders showed solidarity with the Paris Climate Agreement. Leaders from Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Mexico City, Wellington, Kingston, and Paris used lights to turn state buildings green in defiance of Trump’s decision to move the U.S away from the agreement.

Below are some of the tweets.

From Boston Mayor Marty Walsh:

From New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio:

From Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser:

In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron sent a message to the United States.

Paris had more. It also made fun of a video put out by the Trump Administration regarding its decision.

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In Regional News …

For now, I have one story from the past month. I briefly mentioned the removal of monuments in New Orleans before, but I wanted to share more of my research into the matter.

The Robert E. Lee Statue Was Removed from Its Perch in New Orleans.

On Friday, May 19, the Robert E. Lee statue was taken down in New Orleans. The statue, which stood on a 60-foot column in Lee Circle, had first been placed in the city in 1884.

The Lee statue was the last of the four controversial monuments in New Orleans to be removed. The others were removed in this order:

  • The White League monument on April 24, 2017;
  • The statue of Confederation President Jefferson Davis two weeks later, and;
  • The statue of P.G.T. Beaureguard on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

The Controversy

In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower district court’s decision that the city of New Orleans could proceed with the removal of four Confederate monuments. The monuments in question are: the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson David, and P.G.T. Beauregard, and the monument to the White League.

In 2015, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city should remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. After a period of public debate, the city council voted to remove the Confederate monuments and place the statues in another area.

Despite the decision, the legal battle carried on into this year. By March, at least four interest groups were fighting the removal. The groups included: the Monumental Task Committee, the nonprofit Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, and the Beauregard Camp No. 130, a Sons of Confederate Veterans group.

The action to remove the statues was also met with threats of violence. According to Mayor Landrieu, numerous contractors received death threats. And just last week, opponents of the removals stood around with lit torches.

What Will Happen to the Monuments

For the time being, the monuments will be placed in storage. The city of New Orleans is soliciting offers to place those statues elsewhere (like a museum), but they may not be displayed outdoors.

Note

The White League was a paramilitary group which launched a rebellion against the integrated Metropolitan New Orleans Police Force during Reconstruction (1874). Eleven police officers were killed during the attack.

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