The List

The World’s Worst Sons

The troublesome progeny giving headaches to some of the most powerful leaders on the planet.


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Dad: The late former ruler of Abu Dhabi and former president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan

Age: Unknown

Bad behavior: Although he has no formal government position, Sheikh Issa, whose brother Khalifa is the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, is one of the emirate’s most prominent real estate developers. He was previously best known for building the Al Hakema tower, a massive complex in honor of his late father. But thanks to one night in the desert and an ill-advised videotape, Sheikh Issa’s name is now synonymous with sadism and abuse of power.

A video obtained by ABC News shows a group of men, including the sheikh, torturing an Afghan grain merchant who he accuses of cheating him. In the video, which was allegedly shot on his desert ranch at night, Issa fires an automatic weapon around the man, stuffs sand in his mouth, sodomizes him with an electric cattle prod, lights him on fire, and pours salt on his bleeding wounds.

The video was given to ABC by one of Issa’s former business associates, who is suing over various business deals.  The man claims to have evidence of 25 other cases of torture by Issa. The UAE’s interior minister -- who happens to also be Issa’s brother -- acknowledged that the man on the tape was him. Issa has been put under house arrest pending investigation, which is extremely rare for a member of the royal family. It will take a lot more than a skyscraper to erase this stain from the family’s reputation.


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Dad: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

Age: 38

Bad behavior: Growing up can’t be easy when your father is an eccentric, nuclear-armed egomaniac, especially knowing that your actress mother was forced to divorce her husband and marry him after the Dear Leader got a crush. You can’t really blame Kim Jong Nam for wanting to get away for a while, but an ill-advised trip to Disneyland proved to be the prodigal son’s downfall.
In 2001, Nam, along with his wife and son, was arrested at Tokyo’s Narita airport for trying to enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport bearing the name Pang Xiong, which means “Fat Bear” in Chinese. He reportedly told police, "I wanted to go to Disneyland."

The incident was a major humiliation for Nam’s father, who at the time was riding a rare wave of good press after a visit to Europe and a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Nam was reportedly being groomed as a possible successor, but fell out of favor after his failed bid to meet Mickey. Nam’s younger brother Kim Jong Un is reportedly now next in line.

A man believed to be Nam gave an interview to a Japanese TV station while on a gambling vacation in Macau last month and said he is “not interested” in who will become ruler. Nam denied he had been exiled, saying he was just in Macau for fun.



Dad: Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi

Age: 33

Bad behavior: Colonel Qaddafi has changed his tune quite a bit in recent years, leading a diplomatic offensive to remake his country’s image and improve relations with the West. But his biggest obstacle in this quest may be his hard-partying son Hannibal, who has cut a swathe of destruction across Western Europe worthy of his namesake.

Hannibal first popped up on police radar screens in 2004 when he was pulled over by Paris police for driving his Porsche 90 miles per hour on the wrong side of the Champs Élysées while drunk. Hannibal, who was studying business in Copenhagen at the time, was released due to diplomatic immunity. Two months later, police were called to a Paris hotel after Hannibal started beating his girlfriend. The younger Qaddafi pulled out a handgun, which was promptly confiscated by police. After he was released, police were again called when Hannibal started breaking furniture at another hotel. He was later charged with assault.

Not having learned his lesson about luxury hotels and aggravated assault, Hannibal was arrested in Switzerland last year for beating two of his servants at a hotel in Geneva. Muammar responded as any concerned father would -- by lodging a formal diplomatic protest and expelling Swiss diplomats.



Dad: Chinese President Hu Jintao (shown right, meeting with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba in better times)

Age: 38

Bad behavior: Until this year, few outside of China had ever heard of Haifeng. The president of the industrial scanner company Nuctech, he likely used his father’s connections to make his fortune, winning a lucrative contract to supply security scanners to China’s airports. Until this month, he had mostly kept his name out of the papers. Then, in July, Namibia’s government named Nuctech as the target of a major corruption investigation.

Namibian prosecutors have accused Nuctech of bribing officials to win a contract to supply the country’s airports and customs stations with scanners. Although Haifeng has not been named as a suspect, Namibia’s prosecutor general has personally traveled to Bejing to request that he testify in the trial as a witness.

The case capped off a bad month for Hu Jintao, who had been forced to return from home from the G-8 summit in Rome to deal with riots in Xinjiang. Since news of the scandal broke, there’s been a near-complete media blackout on the story in China.  The government has reportedly instructed search engines to “show no search results for all the keywords: Hu Haifeng, Namibia, Namibia bribery investigation, Nuctech bribery investigation, southern Africa bribery investigation.” The fact that Haifeng’s brother-in-law is the founder of China’s largest search engine should help.


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Mom: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Age: 56

Bad behavior: The Iron Lady’s dilettante son first made headlines in 1982 when he got lost in the Sahara Desert for four days while competing in the Paris-Dakar motor rally. But the accident-prone young man, who failed his accountancy exams three times, later acquired a fortune by parlaying his mother and his heiress wife’s contacts into a number of lucrative ventures in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

In 2004, Sir Mark was arrested in his home in Cape Town, South Africa, for violating the country’s anti-mercenary laws by financing an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. Thatcher denies any knowledge of the coup plot but later admitted chartering a helicopter used by the mercenaries, supposedly without any knowledge of their intentions. He was fined $500,000 and left South Africa.

Thatcher has had trouble finding a new place to settle. He was denied a visa to travel to the United States after admitting his role in the coup, and even Monaco -- famously a “sunny place for shady people” -- denied his application for residency in the midst of a campaign to clean up its image.

The List

The List: The World’s Worst Healthcare Reforms

This month, U.S. policymakers are working to overhaul their country’s healthcare system. In the past, they’ve looked to other countries’ models for guidance on how to make healthcare less expensive, more efficient, and more equitable. Here are four reforms they should avoid at all costs.



System: Free basic medical care provided by the government, with a byzantine and under-regulated employer-based private insurance market

Reform: Before it collapsed, the Soviet Union had an enormous socialized medical system, with millions of hospital beds and hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers. The transition from that system to a public-private model, between 1989 and 1993, went, in a word, horribly.

Ninety percent of Russians are technically covered. But, doctors and hospitals extract "donations" for free care. Anyone who can afford it pays out-of-pocket for private hospitals and doctors. In theory, consumers can pick their own insurance plan. In reality, their employers generally do it for them, bought-off by the insurers.

In 2006, Vladimir Putin's government approved a $3.2 billion health care reform plan that failed to improve the system. The reform contained a hodgepodge of policy priorities, such as paying doctors to perform primary care, but did not address any of the healthcare system's structural defects.

Even with the $3.2 billion infusion, Russia still allocates only 3.4 percent of government spending to healthcare, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5 percent.


China Photos/Getty Images

System: A state-subsidized, public-private health insurance model

Reform:  Starting in the late 1980s, China started to erode its centralized "cooperative medical system" and put a decentralized, partly privatized, market-oriented model in place. In theory, most Chinese were to pay income-scaled and government-subsidized sums into insurance pools.

But the reforms pushed costs onto local governments that were unwilling to pay for them. Government spending on healthcare fell. More than 100 million people lost their coverage.

Now, two-thirds of Chinese people have to pay directly for doctors and hospitals. If they cannot afford care, there are some free and low-cost clinics, though they are woefully substandard. Less than 1 percent of Chinese medical professionals have graduate degrees. China's system, which is burdensomely expensive for the poor, is one of the most income-sensitive in the world.

This year, the country announced a new overhaul. As with everything in China, it's big: Between 2009 and 2011, it plans to spend $124 billion to make sure that all have access to primary care.  The government plans to build 700,000 new clinics, for instance. Plus, President Hu Jintao has promised to revamp the health insurance system, ensuring that each Chinese person pays something he or she can afford for the guarantee of coverage.


IATP Eurasia via Flickr

System: Socialized medicine, with universal coverage and government-owned hospitals

Reform: In 2003, "President for Life" Saparmurat Niyazov decided that poor, landlocked Turkmenistan's medical costs were too high and that its healthcare system urgently needed reform. The country had already suffered from a shortage of doctors, and the only qualified ones were in cities, Niyazov said on a public radio address.

So, in a frankly insane healthcare reform effort, he restricted the public's access to care by replacing up to 15,000 doctors and nurses with unqualified military conscripts. The next year, he ordered hospitals and clinics outside of the capital, Ashgabat, to close -- even though the vast proportion of Turkmenistan's population lives in rural areas. The BBC quoted him as saying, "Why do we need such hospitals? If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat." He also implemented fees and created an "unofficial" ban on the diagnosis of certain communicable diseases, like hepatitis.

As a result, an epidemic of the bubonic plague reportedly broke out (Turkmenistan's highly secretive government does not allow in organizations like the WHO) and existing rashes of AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis worsened. At the time of Niyazov's death from a cardiac infarction in 2006, Turkmenistan had one of the lowest life expectancies in Asia -- less than 60 years.

Only after Niyazov's death did the edicts end and hospitals reopen -- dentist-turned-President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov even performed an operation himself at an opening ceremony -- though fatalities from easily treatable conditions remain woefully high in this impoverished country.


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System: Employer-based private coverage, with an under-regulated private insurance market, and
government-subsidized public plans for the poor, elderly, and disabled

Reform: The United States has the rare distinction of being both one of the world's richest countries and having one of its least-functional health care systems.

Americans spend around one in every six dollars on healthcare. But, in aggregate, they're not getting much bang for their buck. People in the United States are as likely to die from diseases like lung cancer as citizens in all OECD countries - which, on average, spend less than half as much per capita. Some 47 million lack any health insurance coverage. An estimated 600,000 people file for bankruptcy every year because they cannot pay their medical expenses. Indeed, the United States is the only rich country without universal coverage.

The U.S. government has repeatedly tried to create a more coherent plan and to make sure more Americans are insured. Reformers have scored piecemeal victories -- such as the 1997 creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, or Massachusetts' recent implementation of universal coverage.

But for the most part, the history of health reform in the United States has been a history of failure. The last attempt at comprehensive reform -- the 1993 bill derided as "HillaryCare," during the administration of Bill Clinton -- floundered in Congress. Since then, costs and premiums have doubled, a lower percentage of employers offer coverage, and millions more are uninsured.

Efforts at healthcare reform have tended to be derailed by partisan politics -- and last week, Senate Republican Jim DeMint promised to make the issue President Barack Obama's "Waterloo." But with Democrats in the White House and enjoying a Senate supermajority, healthcare reform looks more likely to pass now than at any other time in recent history.  Let's just hope it works this time.