December 08, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Game Almost Over

The end may be nearing for disgraced South Korean President Park-Geun-hye.

In the latest twist, technology giant Samsung recently admitted to gifting a horse to Park’s down-and-out confidant, Choi Soon-sil – who also happens to be the daughter of the late South Korean cult leader Choi Tae-min.

On Wednesday, Choi Soon-sil refused to testify before lawmakers investigating her and Park, Samsung and other major companies that are allegedly part of a $65 million influence peddling scheme, according to VOA.

The horse, which is estimated to be worth around $3 million, provides prosecutors with damning evidence of the scandal that has rocked Asia’s fourth largest economy.

President Park, the daughter of South Korea’s former authoritarian President Park Chung-hee, has been accused by opposition forces – and millions of her own people – of plotting with Choi to pressure Korean conglomerates into donating funds to non-profit foundations that serve her political interests.

Although Samsung has provided more than $17 million to the foundations, company executives and Park have denied accusations of a pay-to-play political operation that could have helped the company.

Lawmakers aren’t convinced. They’re moving forward with impeachment proceedings, even though Park has agreed to transfer powers and step down amid mounting pressure from across South Korea’s political spectrum.

“The three opposition parties will pursue the impeachment process through close cooperation and without wavering,” Ki Dong-min, a spokesman from the Democratic Party, Park’s main opposition, told Reuters.

Parliament is slated to decide Park’s fate Friday. To impeach, it requires a two-thirds majority, meaning at least 28 members of Park’s own Saenuri Party will need to turn against her, Al-Jazeera reported.

“We’ve agreed to actively persuade anti-Park [Saenuri] lawmakers to back us,” said Park Jie-won, an opposition leader.

While Saenuri legislators and Park are looking to stall the impeachment, policy analysts are worried at what a post-Park South Korea could mean for the region.

Park recently adopted a hardline position against nuclear-capable North Korea, a move in line with US efforts to bleed the hermit kingdom dry of foreign income after a series of worrying nuclear tests this year.

If and when Park is gone, opposition forces could move to resume delivery of humanitarian aid and revive family reunification efforts, USA Today reported.

They could also move toward dismantling US protectionist efforts that have angered South Korea’s colossal trade partner China, while also shying away from an unpopular, US-backed information-sharing effort with Japan.

Meanwhile, North Korea has piggybacked on the South’s peaceful, million-strong marches against Park as an indicator of popular sentiment for a united, communist Korea, CNBC reported.

As for Park, she’s remained steadfast in her innocence, saying she’ll accept Friday’s vote and its consequences no matter the result.

“Even if the impeachment bill is passed, I am resolved to continue calmly for the country and the people,” Park said.

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WANT TO KNOW

Damocles Sword

The United Nations is scrambling to find a place for as many as 700,000 refugees expected to flee Mosul over the coming weeks, with a rainy and potentially deadly winter in the forecast.

The UN estimates the area can handle as many as 470,000. But that’s well short of the worst-case scenario, Foreign Policy reported.

“The sheer scale … hangs like a Damocles sword on our head,” the magazine quoted the head of UNHCR in Iraq as saying.

Some 82,000 people have fled the city since the Iraqi military offensive to root out the Islamic State began Oct. 17, said the New York Times. About 80 percent of them are living in refugee camps located 40-80 miles outside Mosul. The idea now is to build further camps closer to the city as the front line moves inward, but much of that land is still booby-trapped.

Hacking Back

Russia is shoring up its cyber defenses as the US Congress prepares for a battle with President-elect Donald Trump over a probe into the alleged Russian involvement in hacker attacks that some argue helped to elect him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this week approved an updated security doctrine in a bid to prevent foreign cyber attacks, UPI reported. The document notes the growth of an anti-Russia bias in foreign media and calls on government departments to counter “extremist ideologies, xenophobia and ethnic exceptionalism” – locating hacking squarely within the realm of public relations or propaganda.

Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) on Wednesday unveiled a bill that would create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the US presidential election, including its alleged involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Wall Street Journal reported.

They’re likely to face “a strong headwind” from Trump, the paper said.

Five-Star Instability

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tendered his resignation Wednesday after the Senate passed the 2017 budget, making good on his vow to step down following the defeat over the weekend of a referendum on constitutional reforms that he proposed.

Renzi will stay on as “caretaker prime minister” while President Sergio Mattarella negotiates with various political parties over the formation of a caretaker government, beginning Thursday, the BBC reported.

Mattarella will likely ask a member of Renzi’s cabinet or another politician from his Democratic Party (PD) to try to form a new government, but there is a chance that effort will fail, resulting in early elections. Currently, Italy is not slated to go to the polls until 2018.

Early polls would be a fillip to Italy’s Five Star Movement – a Eurosceptic party that favors direct democracy and abandoning the euro. Moreover, political instability could lead to more trouble for Italy’s indebted banks.

DISCOVERIES

New Jet Age

Members of the transatlantic jet set may hold fond memories of the Concorde, the supersonic passenger jet that shuttled deep-pocketed passengers between London and New York in under 3.5 hours until it discontinued service in 2003.

Now supersonic air travel is coming back – at least if Boom, a Denver-based aerospace company, has its way.

By 2023, the company plans to usher in a second Jet Age with a new generation of supersonic aircraft that will fly from New York to London in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

With the help of advances in digital aerodynamic design and FAA approval for new carbon-fiber composite materials, Boom says it plans to develop planes that will carry 40 to 50 passengers across the Atlantic at the speed of sound.

“People are going to start to commute across the Atlantic,” Scholl told New York Magazine. “The first flight of the day from New York lands in London in time for you to get an afternoon set of meetings done, go out to dinner, and be home to tuck your kids into bed.”

The 11-hour haul between San Francisco and Tokyo would likewise be shaved down to a five-and-a-half hour day trip.

With ticket prices set at around $5,000 per round trip, critics say that Boom – just like the Concorde – will be little more than a service for the one percent.

But according to Scholl, these supersonic flights will help travelers save on the most precious commodity of all: their time.