I’m so sorry to disappoint so many people, but there is not going to be a war with North Korea.
No, no, Trump is not going to start a war there. And, no, Kim Jong Un is not going to start a war there. It is not going to happen, despite a cottage industry of pundits who seem to really believe war is only moments away.
Let’s start with the obvious. A war on the Korean peninsula benefits no one and is really, really bad for everyone (we’ll get to the irrational madman theory in a moment.)
Any conflict means the end of North Korea, and the end of the Kim dynasty. The U.S. will win any fight, nuclear or not, and Kim and everyone with any power or money in the North knows that. North Korea has no reason to start a war that will end in its own destruction. The people there with power and money do not want to give those things up.
South Korea, same thing. They will also be destroyed in whole or in part, and, should much survive in the south, they will also get stuck with the mass of refugees flowing out of whatever is left of North Korea. China will not want war for much of the same reason, plus the loss of the buffer state the North represents, plus the desire not to have a smoking radioactive ruin on its border.
The U.S. does not want war because of all of the above, the likelihood that ally Japan will get trashed along the way, the likely global economic depression that will follow and/or because no one in Washington will bet the house that the North Koreans don’t have a submarine that might get close to Hawaii, a way to deliver a dirty bomb somewhere, or that a glow-in-the-dark North won’t spark off a worldwide radioactive climate crisis.
Because see, how unlike every other shooting war of the last 70 years including everything in the Middle East, war on the Korean peninsula is different. North Korea is a nuclear state, and that changes everything. Deterrence works, it really does. Ask the Cold War about that.
And that leaves us with the madman theory, the idea that either Trump or Kim or maybe both are irrational, impulsive crazy people who could just one night say, to hell with it, let’s push the button. The problem with this theory is that nothing in history supports it.
The Kim dynasty has been in power some 70 years, three generations. They have weathered conventional war, sanctions, and numerous war-like acts. They have dealt with famine. They survived the fall of the Soviet Union and generations of American governments. They did not act irrationally. You don’t stay in power for seven decades acting irrationally or impulsively. You stay in power and hold your own against multiple superpowers by careful actions and good choices. There is nothing — nothing — to support any contention Kim might act any more irrationally than his nuclear-armed dad did.
Sorry to say it, but same for Trump. You hate him, I know that. He is not bright. But same as Kim, he has decades of actions that show he knows how to handle things. He ran a company, he made money, he got himself elected president. He’s been in office now some 100 days and absolutely none of the apocalyptic predictions people have been puking up on the Internet since November have happened.
And sorry to again mess with what movies have taught you, but both Trump and Kim are surrounded by complex command and control systems. They literally cannot just do what you think they can do, wake up for cocoa and push a button like Dr. Evil and start WWIII.
So relax. There are other things to worry about. Say a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident in North Korea that sends millions of refugees into South Korea and irradiates Japan as air currents blanket Tokyo with glowing dust.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Every travel story about North Korea reads the same:
We went to North Korea voluntarily, and were shocked to find that we couldn’t like hang out at clubs with everyday Koreans, and the dudes there, like, spied on us.
And we couldn’t use WhatsApp or take selfies anywhere we wanted, or like mock the hell out of the fat guy who dictates the place LOL. It’s like so oppressive and I’m so glad to be back in the U.S. where sh*t is totally free, I mean literally, bro.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
So here’s another one, from the New York Times who should know better but clearly had space to fill or something. This story not only drops the mic on the usual tired *ss tropes about North Korea, but it is written by a Korean-American so offended by the bad Korea she can barely contain herself spewing dumbbuttery.
The writer, “Marie” Myung-Ok Lee, has a lot to say.
She opens with this:
North Korea recently sentenced Otto Warmbier, an American college student and tourist, to 15 years of hard labor. Not surprisingly in the surveillance state to end all surveillance states, there are security camera images of Mr. Warmbier trying to steal a propaganda sign from an off-limits area of the hotel. In photographs from the trial, he seemed utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted.
Let’s unpack that.
“Security camera images of a theft?” This is a surprise? Hell, every minute of my life in America is captured on security cameras, “Marie,” and yours, too. My apartment building has them in the halls and public areas, the police have them on the streets, the stores I shop in have them everywhere and the NSA uses my webcam to look into my bedroom.
As for Warmbier looking “utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted,” the dude tried to steal something. What did he expect to happen to him, a pat on the back? You get prosecuted for theft anywhere in the world. Sure, 15 years is heavy, but we all know the North Koreans won’t keep him that long. At least he’s not a black guy in America, where he’d risk being beaten or shot for “resisting arrest” after his crime.
Later in her article, Marie is outraged she can’t photograph what she wants to, because Government. I’d invite her here in the Homeland to take her camera out to snap a few photos at the nearest military base or nuke facility in her state, and see how the guardians of freedom react. Better yet, let her be beaten by a cop who objects to her exercising her right to film him doing his duty beating up peaceful protesters for “resisting arrest.”
On her way out of North Korea, Marie discovers her luggage was searched, and expresses her shock and outrage, that sense of being violated.
You’re right Marie, that certainly doesn’t happen in America. Except in major subway systems like New York and Washington DC where the cops do “random” bag searches as a condition of riding. Or at the airport where full-body scanners are employed on children, the elderly and the disabled.
As someone who, during my whistleblower fight against the State Department, found myself “randomly selected” for detailed searches by TSA, and who has friends on the No Fly list with no explanation offered, and who is aware how the U.S. government detained and searched and confiscated the electronics of journalists like Laura Poitras because she covered Edward Snowden’s story, yeah, f*ck yeah, I can understand that sense of being violated.
Only I didn’t need to go all the way to North Korea for it. I just had to open my eyes here at home. And yes, I understand about “matters of degree,” but caution that it is just a matter of degree, and the North Koreans have been in the police state game longer than the U.S. has. But we’re catching on.
Look around; there’s no place like home.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
So what do you call it when America’s bestest friend violates UN sanctions the U.S. pushed for by helping enrich America’s bestest enemy? And all the while the U.S. remains dead silent over the whole thing?
Israel has exported an estimated $400,000 worth of gold to North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. Israeli ministers made the admission during a Knesset session after the UN had earlier questioned Tel Aviv on suspected exports to North Korea.
“Unfortunately there have been exports of gold and sadly they were exposed and we had to give explanations to the UN,” David Houry, director of exports at the tax authority in Israel told the Knesset hearing.
UN Security Council Resolution 1718 was passed in 2006 in response to North Korea’s program to develop nuclear weapons. The resolution prohibits exports of luxury goods. Precious metals are among the products barred from being sold to Pyongyang, along with alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, motor vehicles and perfumes. The theory behind the specificity of the sanctioned items is that they punish North Korea’s elite without affecting regular people. Except when Israel wantonly walks all over the rules.
During the session the Knesset economics committee passed an order forbidding luxury exports to North Korea, nearly 10 years after the 2006 UN resolution.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Economy Ministry, said the near decade-long delay in implementing the UN resolution was due to “bureaucratic difficulties.”
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
We all famously know the U.S. government directly blamed North Korea for the Sony hack, allegedly in retaliation for the sad Seth Rogen “comedy” The Interview. Serious questions arose almost immediately about how the U.S. could be so sure it was the boys from Pyongyang at fault, and not some outside hacking group pretending to be North Korea, or a disgruntled Sony insider. After all, the initial contacts between the hacker and Sony (below) mentioned nothing about The Interview, and of course, even after the movie was released, nothing happened.
Snowden Docs Suggest an Answer
According to new Edward Snowden documents published by der Spiegel and others, the source of the U.S. government’s confidence may be simple: the NSA claims to have inserted malware into North Korea’s computer systems in 2010, years before the hack even happened, creating backdoor access. The malware was targeted specifically at North Korea’s own hackers, not necessarily the government their per se. The NSA was watching North Korea’s geeks the whole time.
So Where was the NSA?
Assuming that U.S. malware tale is true, it begs the question: if the NSA had such broad access to North Korean hacking resources, why didn’t they know about the Sony hack and warn the company? It seems unlikely that the North Koreans just plopped down one day and zoomed into Sony’s networks, hoovering up the mass of data someone got a hold of.
It appears that whoever hacked into Sony took their time. The New York Times reports the first step was a simple “spear phishing” attack on Sony, the use of emails that insert malicious code into a computer system if an unknowing user clicks on a link. This took place in early September 2014. The intruders then stole the credentials of a Sony systems administrator, which allowed them to roam freely inside Sony’s systems. Investigators have concluded that the hackers spent more than two months, from mid-September to mid-November, mapping Sony’s computer systems, identifying critical files and planning how to destroy computers and servers. The damage only began on November 24.
One counter-argument offered is that the NSA did not want to disclose their access into North Korea over something as small as Sony. The response is quite obvious. All that needed to be done is for someone to make a quick call to Sony and say “Hey, don’t ask who I am or how I know, but you might want to take a look at XYZ on your network. Bye!” Like the way the NSA uses the FBI and DEA as cut outs to pass data to local law enforcement, nobody at the receiving end knows how or why the lucky information fell into their laps.
Another counter-argument is that the NSA was focused on protecting U.S. government systems and did not see anything all that important about Sony. The first thing wrong with the idea is that one of NSA’s stated missions is cybersecurity for the U.S. as a whole, not just Federal systems. The other argument is that if Sony being hacked was just not that big a deal, the rest of the U.S. government sure acted like it was. And all over a movie.
So Seriously, Where was the NSA?
So where was the NSA? With claimed access directly into North Korea’s systems, access that made attributing the Sony hack post-facto a supposed slam dunk, where was the NSA when it came to stopping the attack? This question is the one looming over the entire world-wide spying operation the NSA has become, given its stated purpose of protecting things. Where was the NSA ahead of the Boston Bombings? Ahead of the attacks in France? Ahead of all the shootings and lone wolves wandering around America? Ahead of the much more financially-damaging hacks against the credit card processing systems of Target and Home Depot?
The question remains thus begged: if all the money spent, and civil liberties shunted aside, in the name of protection, doesn’t protect us when it matters, then what is the point of the NSA?
We’ll call that a rhetorical question.
The competition was heavy, but the results are in: the dumbest article you’ll read this week about North Korea, and Seth Rogen’s ugly stain on his sheets The Interview, was published by the web site Business Insider. Second place goes to the Washington Post. Respect, bros.
Psst… Wanna Buy a Copy of “The Interview?” Only $50…
In a piece of turgid so-called journalism, Business Insider states “demand for The Interview has been shooting up among North Koreans. People are willing to pay almost $50 a copy of the movie…” The web site’s sole source for this information is an anti-Kim propaganda site, Free North Korea Radio, an online radio network run by North Korean defectors.
The article mirrors an Op-Ed piece from the Washington Post, which tells us to “Think of the movie as Chernobyl for the digital age. Just as the nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union and the dangerously clumsy efforts to hide it exposed the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt, overseeing a superpower rusting from the inside, so does The Interview risk eroding the myths, fabrications and bluster that keep the Kim dynasty in power.”
Let’s Break This Down
As for the idea that there is any demand for The Interview, let alone a “shooting demand,” within North Korea, one wonders how people there might even have heard of the film. Aren’t we bombarded with constant tales about how information into the country is so tightly controlled, and of how the internet is available to a tiny handful of super-loyal people unlikely to be a fertile audience for an anti-Kim film full of adolescent jokes? And who’s got fifty bucks laying around in North Korea for a movie that if owned could send you to a labor camp for the rest of your life? Do you think the film is available on Betamax or LaserDisc or whatever 1980s format North Korea uses?
For any news outlet to push out such nonsense, especially sourced only to an obvious propaganda site, is just sad.
As for the Washington Post Op-Ed, really? After decades of economic sanctions and international shunning, it’ll be a stupid bro comedy that brings down the Kim dynasty that has held power since 1945? While we are at it, was it really the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that exposed “the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt?” Chernobyl happened in 1986; it was three full years later that the Berlin Wall came down, not exactly cause and effect. And the ascension to power of Mikhail Gorbachev also had some connection to the changes in the then-Soviet Union, apart from the nuclear mess.
It is just possible the writer of that Op-Ed really doesn’t know what he is talking about. To be fair, maybe Wikipedia was broken the day he wrote his piece.
So Why Publish Such Transparent Crap?
Why publish such transparent crap? Because people want to believe it is true, and the media gives the people what they will pay for.
In the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world where the U.S. flounders for purpose and staggers like an aged fighter who went into the ring one too many times, Americans want black and white villains. They want a nation-state, ruled by a Bond villain, to fight, and if they can’t have one they’ll allow one to be created. Remember how Saddam was portrayed pre-2003 invasion of Iraq?
North Korea represents little threat to the United States (as with Saddam, or Syria’s Assad, or ISIS for that matter.) It is a small, isolated country. Granted, it has a nuke or two that might work, but no way to deliver them. Pakistan, on the Taliban’s doorstep if not in its lap, has a much more robust nuclear arsenal and missiles with which to deliver it. There are any number of “threshold” nations (Iran and Saudi come to mind) that could field nukes very quickly if desired. The U.S. wants nothing from North Korea — other than to be the evil super villain we all love to hate, the fat kid on the playground that is always fair game to bully. After all, other than a little bluster no one takes seriously, he never fights back.
None of this is to say “fair and balanced” reporting on North Korea need tell us the trains run on time or that people are thrilled to be there. There is no doubt that North Korea is a dictatorship, like many that exist and some that the U.S. supports, which abuses its people. But fear-mongering and outright silly reporting accomplishes nothing but the churning of always-ready America jingoism, and distracts from real global issues at hand.
After all, there was a reason circus freak shows were popular, and the phrase “dog and pony show” has an honored place in our vocabulary.
A handful of ragtag, plucky patriots defended their own misguided understanding of free speech by seeing the Seth Rogen-James Franco assassination bro-movie The Interview on our most American of holidays, Christmas.
God Bless The Interview
At the Austin Alamo Drafthouse (Remember the Alamo!) a few, proud moviegoers stood before the film ran to sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”, and posted the effort to YouTube. The brave representative of that band of brothers and female virtual brothers, risking near-certain death at the hands of any North Korean sleeper agents in Austin, reminded the audience that beer is better in a democracy. The sing-along ended with chants of “USA! USA!”
The owner of the Alamo Drafthouse said “It’s more than watching a silly Seth Rogen buddy comedy. Today it’s really, in a small way, it is sort of an act of patriotism to come and watch this movie this week.”
In Atlanta, similar selfless acts were seen as the sold-out crowd sang along to Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” before the screening of Sony Pictures’ ode to free speech and assassination. “The movie, and the singing,” said the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “served as a statement from many theatergoers that a foreign power would not dictate what forms of entertainment Americans could or could not enjoy.”
Perhaps a little insight is needed in these heady times.
In November someone hacked deeply in Sony Entertainment’s U.S. computer network. They dumped all sorts of data onto the Internet, including embarrassing racist emails by Sony execs mocking Obama, salary details of big stars and silly things about how bad Adam Sandler movies are. The initial hacks included nothing specific about “The Interview.” American mainstream media feasted on the dumped gossip, ensuring any embarrassment to Sony reached a worldwide audience. The FBI stated the hacks were not committed by North Korea (a suspect given the topic of Sony’s film) and DHS dismissed threats someone claiming to be the hackers made later against theatres that would show the film at Christmas. “The Interview” had its premiere in Hollywood and was shown in many locations as part of the usual media preview PR campaign. Nothing violent happened.
Oops! Major theatre chains decided on their own to not show the film. Sony pulled the film from distribution, a business decision, albeit a lame and weak one.
Then, in some sort of chum-churning all-American exercise (following the release of the Senate torture report — coincidence!) blame for the Sony hack was re-directed squarely at North Korea not only by the revised FBI, but by the President of the United States himself. This in spite of fairly weak explanations from the FBI about why the hacks seemed to come from North Korea, and fairly robust explanations from the tech media explaining why the hacks did not seem to come from North Korea.
The President vowed revenge on the North Koreans for what had morphed overnight from just another example of corporate hacking into a literal act of war, the first shots in the endless cyberwar the Pentagon had been
hoping for predicting for years. It was on! And Americans rose to the bait, fueled by a growing media hysteria over… free speech?
The First Amendment of the Constitution makes clear the government is not allowed to restrict speech: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The concept of free speech in the Bill of Rights is directed at OUR government stopping us, not whether or not some other government wants to stop us.
The First Amendment was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
“Free Speech” in our Constitutional context is speaking truth to our own government and society, not imagining you are flipping off Kim Jong Un.
What the faux-patriots ignore is that what Sony and the theatre chains did and did not do is far short of the ideals of “free speech” and much closer to the bowels of cold, hard business decisions. Sony’s and the theatre chains’ lawyers very likely decided that showing the film in light of weak threats would open them to liability should some nut case have done something, and/or that the weak threats would have scared moviegoers off anyway and they wouldn’t have made any money. That’s it. Cash.
The true patriotic exercise of free speech is not masking a business decision as a principled stand. It is not recycling some old jingoistic songs in front of a sympathetic group of beer drinkers. You want courage? Say something unpopular against the government. Blow the whistle at great personal risk on a wrong that needs to be exposed. March in protest at risk of a police beating or arrest.
By all means, go see any movie you want, and have fun (reviews suggest the Seth Rogen character hides an explosive device in his own butt in one scene from The Interview). But don’t conflate that with acts of true patriotism and the exercise of free speech.
While we wait on more news of now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t Kim Jong Un, let’s peek into his country. What kind of world is it when North Korean propaganda about the United States is more correct than crazy? Let’s fact-check and see how the Northerners did.
The Korean Central News Agency Schools You
North Korea isn’t known as a big internet kind of place, but they do have a propaganda/news agency in Japan that stays busy. The funny ties between North Korea and Japan are always worth a look; Japan imported vast numbers of Koreans during World War II as slave labor. Many ended up staying as the Korean War broke out, and divided themselves into groups supporting the North and South. There are now some 600,000 Koreans in Japan, many of whom are second- and third-generationals born in Japan.
So, the Korean Central News Agency, run by sympathtic Koreans working out of Japan, had some issues with the U.S., excerpted here. Let’s see what they have to say using their original English, with the fact-checking part in [brackets]:
Model for Human Rights
As the world’s worst human rights abuser, it [the U.S.] pretended to be a “model” in human rights performance. [Note: See “a shining city on a hill” claims by presidents from Obama back]
Racialism is getting more severe in the U.S. The gaps between the minorities and the whites are very wide in the exercise of such rights to work and elect. The U.S. true colors as a kingdom of racial discrimination was fully revealed by last year’s case that the Florida Court gave a verdict of not guilty to a white policeman [sic] who shot to death an innocent black boy. [Note: See Michael Brown, Donald Sterling, Trayvon Martin or this.]
At present, an average of 300,000 people a week are registered as unemployed, but any proper measure has not been taken. [Here the North Koreans are wrong; the Labor Department reported 377,000 people filed for initial unemployment benefits in the week ended January 21, up 21,000 from a revised reading of 356,000 claims the week before.]
The housing price soared 11.5 percent last year than 2012 and 13.2 percent in January this year than 2013, leaving many people homeless. [Close; prices in 20 cities rose 12.9 percent year over year.]
The number of impoverished people increased to 46.5 millions last year, and one sixth of the citizens and 20-odd percent of the children are in the grip of famine in New York City. [North Korea nailed it! In 2012, 46.2 million people in the United States lived in poverty. The nation’s official poverty rate was 15.0%. By the way according to the U.S. government, if you as a single person earn more than $11,344 you are officially not impoverished. The bar seems pretty low– the average one-bedroom apartment rent in Tulsa, Oklahoma is about $7500 a year, leaving you as a non-poverty person with a sweet, sweet $3800 to eat, pay utilities, car, clothes, etc. Most places in America have higher costs of living than Tulsa.]
All sorts of crimes rampant in the U.S. pose a serious threat to the people’s rights to existence and their inviolable rights. [North Korea again! Here’s a map showing crime in the U.S. outstrips most of its peers in Europe and elsewhere.]
The U.S. government has monitored every movement of its citizens and foreigners, with many cameras and tapping devices and even drones involved, under the pretext of “national security”. [Don’t make me Google Snowden and NSA for you on this one please.]
Meanwhile, bills on easing arms control were adopted in various states of the country, boosting murderous crimes. As a result, the U.S. has witnessed an increasing number of gun-related crimes in all parts of the country and even its military bases this year. In this regard, the United Nations on April 10 put the U.S. on the top of the world list of homicide rates. [OK, the North Koreans are a little fuzzy on this one, depending on how you define homicide. For large swaths of the MidEast and the developing world, people get killed all the time, in great numbers. Here’s the data. I was unable to tease out any broad statistics that separate a criminal kind of murder like on TV from war and suicide bombs kind of murder. But here’s one stat that supports the North Korean assertion: in 2006 in the US, there are roughly 17,000 murders, of which about 15,000 were committed with firearms. By contrast, Britain, Australia and Canada combined saw fewer than 350 gun-related murders each year. In the year that the U.S. saw 17,000 murders overall, there were only 794 in Germany.]
The U.S. also has 2.2 millions of prisoners at present, the highest number in the world. For lack of prisons on the part of the government, individuals are providing detention facilities to make money. [Wrong! The U.S. has 2.4 million people behind bars, about one percent of our entire population. The most serious charge against 51 percent of those inmates is a drug offense. Only four percent are in for robbery and only one percent are in for homicide. Racism? Black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated.]
Hail to the Chief
Its chief executive, Obama, indulges himself in luxury almost every day, squandering hundred millions of dollars on his foreign trip in disregard of his people’s wretched life. [Gotta call this one for the North Koreans. While the White Houses never discloses costs for trips because “so much of the money is for security,” Air Force One, the president’s personal 747, costs $228,000 an hour to operate. A typical overseas trip involves eleven or more aircraft, including C-5 transports, aerial refuelers and small passenger jets that fly along with Air Force One. The president also likely enjoys fighter air cover and AWACs support, costs unknown.
About a decade ago, the General Accounting Office released two fairly detailed reports on President Bill Clinton’s foreign travels (here and here). Secret Service costs were omitted as classified, but other government expenses were tallied up. A Clinton trip to six countries in Africa in 1998 rang up at $42.8 million, most of that for military aircraft costs. A trip to Chile came in at $10.5 million. A trip to China that year cost $18.8 million.
Details are hard to find online, but my own experience with presidential visits from 24 years in the State Department is that typically entire floors of hotels or more are booked “for security,” hundreds of local cell phones are purchased and usually the president’s food is flown in, sometimes the water he’ll drink as well. One unsubstantiated report said Obama’s party booked over 500 hotel rooms on a trip to India.
(Former Foreign Service Officer John Brown has a detailed, funny, from-the-ground account of a presidential visit)
(North Korea is an awful place with horrendous human rights abuses. This article is about the U.S., not North Korea.)
(Drumbeat) On June 26, 2008, the President issued Executive Order 13466, declaring “a national emergency to deal with the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the current existence and risk of the proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula,” and continued certain restrictions with respect to North Korea that had been imposed under the authority of the Trading With the Enemy Act.
(Drumbeat) On August 30, 2010, another President issued Executive Order 13551, expanding the scope of the national emergency declared in E.O. 13466 and adding new restrictions.
(Drumbeat) On April 18, 2011, the President issued Executive Order 13570 to take additional steps to address the national emergency declared in E.O. 13466 and expanded in E.O. 13551 that will ensure implementation of the import restrictions contained in several United Nations Security Council Resolutions and complement the import restrictions provided for in the Arms Export Control Act.
(More Dramatic Drumbeat) Criminal fines for violating the E.O.s range up to $1,000,000; individuals may also face imprisonment up to 20 years. In addition, civil penalties of up to the greater of $250,000 or twice the amount of the underlying transaction may be imposed administratively for each violation.
The path was clear: The United States would apply a variety of economic sanctions to both punish North Korea for going nuclear and, more importantly, choke off its access to the world markets and the hard currencies needed to keep the evil regime alive. By cutting off its money supply, sanctions wold starve North Korea of the real fuel– money– needed to drive its nuclear program.
Except of course if real money is involved.
Meanwhile, a South Korea-North Korea joint venture project happily churns away, generating some two billion dollars a year in hard currency for the North. At the Kaesong project, 123 South Korean firms employ more than 50,000 North Koreans to make whatever “household goods” are. In addition, Kaesong also generates more than $80 million a year in cash in wages, paid directly by South Korean firms to the North Korean government rather than to workers.
Business is done in the international currency of U.S. dollars, ensuring North Korea of plenty of sanctions-free moolah.
Business Could Not be Better
In fact, business couldn’t be better. According to North Korean Economy Watch, despite rising cross-border tension, the trade between South and North Korea reached a record high last year. South Korean products worth $896.26 million were shipped to North Korea, up 13.4 percent from the previous year. The amount of products that came from the North jumped 19.3 percent on-year to $1.07 billion.
In fact, since 2004, total wage payments for North Korean workers in Kaesong totaled $245.7 million, rising from $380,000 in 2004 (the first year of operation) to $61.76 million in 2011 and $45.93 million in the first half of 2012. To keep things humming along, electrical power and telephone service are supplied from South Korea.
All About the Benjamins
The appeal to South Korean industrialists is counted in dollars and cents; the monthly wage for a North Korean worker in Kaesong is about US$128, pennies compared to the labor costs in the South. The Kaesong complex is only a short one hour drive from Seoul, rail service exists to move goods and heavy raw materials, the labor force speaks Korean and shares cultural ties and hey, if a worker gets out of line, demands labor union rights or simply a day off, he can be “replaced,” replaced with extreme prejudice as they say. This is capitalism on steroids, baby.
And while on April 3 the North Koreans banned South Korean personnel from Kaesong, they continue to accept South Korean money there. In addition, some 261 South Korean workers remain in Kaesong; although new workers are banned from coming in, the old ones are conveniently allowed to stay on. Follow the money.
One sweet deal: while the U.S. throws sanctions at North Korea in a hissy fit because they went nuclear while we were looking the other way (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), what really matters on the Peninsula is money. It’s all about the Benjamins.
BONUS: The U.S. just spent $5.5 million of your sequester tax dollars flying two B-2 bombers over South Korea to intimidate North Korea. They did not bomb the industrial complex at Kaesong described above.
Well, she sounds like a candidate. Hillary said this recently, and I could not agree with her more on priorities:
Rather than spending money on implements of war, feed your people, provide education and health care.
The problem of course was that Dear Hillary was talking through the media to the Dear Leader in North Korea. While America slides endlessly into its Wiemar state, Clinton is all full of good advice for North Korea.
The bad news is that she once again coupled her good advice with the same old passive-aggressive crap that the US seems to peddle as a foreign policy. Hils just couldn’t stop herself from adding “Kim Jung Un has a choice to make– become a transformative leader or continue the Communist nation’s existing policies, which would lead to its demise.”
Yawn. On Syria, Clinton said “Assad’s days are numbered,” and “the sand is running out of the hourglass.” With Iran, it was “We want them to take concrete steps,” and “I am convinced that one of the reasons that Iran came back to the negotiating table was because of the success of our pressure strategy.” On Libya, it was famously “We came, we saw, he died.”
We keep the old myth alive that America is some special place, but in fact we’re like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself yelling at the kids to get off the lawn. In my town, that was Mr. Voriseky. He’d always be upset about anyone stepping on his grass, or a ball in his yard. Sometimes he’d come out shouting with a baseball bat, or, in some versions, a shotgun (though repeated by generations of high school kids no one ever actually saw a gun, though many older brothers’ friends’ friends did). Nobody respected old man Voriseky, even after we found out he was in the war or was some survivor of something or whatever. We stayed off his lawn because he had that bat, nothing more.
What’s so surprising is how quickly it all happened. American went from big empty space to king of the world in a handful of generations, rode the wave for only two or three and now this. The generations that lived this dream we keep hearing about could fit into a weekend family reunion but we keep talking about them like they lasted longer than the dinosaurs. People stay away because of the big bat but it isn’t respect and doesn’t last after the old man turns his back, cursing, and goes back inside to Family Feud reruns.
Hillary, haven’t you heard? No one is listening.
The White House mocked North Korea’s claim that it aims to put a weather satellite in orbit, saying it should just “go to weather.com.”
Taking aim at North Korea’s unprecedented media blitz ahead of the planned launch, US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters that “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this is propaganda. North Korea is trying to advance, test and show off its ballistic missile technology. The UN bans this activity, which is why they’re using the press to pretend it’s a satellite launch.”
“North Korea doesn’t need to spend this kind of money on a weather satellite,” Vietor said in an emailed statement. “Go to weather.com.”
So there you have it, what historians of the future will no doubt refer to as the high point of the American Century, making fun of countries who do stuff we don’t like is now a tool of American Foreign Policy.
We need a new word, the definition of which will be “When satire and reality are no longer distinguishable.”