Thursday, July 30, 2015

Patrolling the Pacific: Korean Clashes

Not even the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could prevent them:

"Kerry brings vows of support in visit to South Korea; North’s Kim has stirred concerns" by Carol Morello Washington Post  May 18, 2015

SEOUL — Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spent much of this month in the air, tending to issues that were put on the back burner earlier this year when he was consumed with negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. This trip to Asia is his third overseas visit in two weeks, after swings through Africa and to Russia, where he met with President Vladimir Putin.

Yeah, and strangely, his leg was soon broken (thanks for contributing to the greenhouse gas problem, too).

Kerry came to Seoul after two days of talks with top officials in Beijing. He repeatedly expressed Washington’s displeasure with China’s bid to extend its sovereignty by building man-made islets on top of reefs in the South China Sea.

For the most part, though, Washington and Beijing appeared to be talking past each other.

After meeting with Kerry, the office of Fan Changlong, China’s top military officer, said he had told the top US envoy that China’s islet-building was well within its rights.

‘‘China’s determination and will to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity is unswerving,’’ Fan is said to have told Kerry, according to an account his office issued.

US officials said that when Kerry met with President Xi Jinping of China, they discussed their mutual desire that the Korean Peninsula be rid of nuclear weapons.

In a news conference Saturday in Beijing, Kerry said he hoped an agreement to cut back Iran’s nuclear program and ease international sanctions would have a ‘‘positive influence’’ on North Korea, by demonstrating that relinquishing nuclear weapons can lead to economic improvements and an end to being considered an international pariah.

International negotiators are rushing to compte the nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June. Under the deal, Iran’s enrichment program would be curbed to prevent it from developing atomic weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

I've got 60 days to get back to Iran, but I'm planning on something next month.


Time to fire a shot at North Korea:

"John Kerry hammers N. Korean ‘atrocities’; Urges resumption of nuclear talks" by Carol Morello Washington Post  May 19, 2015

SEOUL — Using strong language, Secretary of State John Kerry said during a stop in Seoul that the Pyongyang government led by Kim Jong Un had shown a ‘‘flagrant disregard for international law while denying its people fundamental freedom and rights.’’

USrael does it all the time. It's not a big issue.

‘‘The world is hearing increasingly more and more stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous public displays of executions on a whim and a fancy by the leader against people who were close to him and sometimes for the most flimsy of excuses,’’ he said.

How many cop killings they average a day?

South Korea’s spy agency reported recently that the North Korean defense minister was publicly executed with an antiaircraft gun after he fell asleep during a meeting led by Kim.

Kerry vowed to speak out against ‘‘North Korea’s atrocities against its own people’’ and warned that Kim’s mercurial behavior is likely to lead other nations to press for charges against North Korea and its leader at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Kerry’s visit, though planned weeks ago, comes in the wake of fresh concern about Pyongyang’s behavior.

Earlier this month, North Korea fired what it claimed was a ballistic missile from a submarine, though some analysts downplayed its capabilities.


"The intelligence agency didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true.... Pyongyang has a habit of making exaggerated claims, and Wednesday’s assertion comes amid widespread doubts. But.... 

war-promoting WaPo wants a war, so.... 

Kerry’s Seoul stop was designed to underline the United States’ ‘‘ironclad’’ commitment to South Korea’s security and to intensify pressure on Pyongyang to return to the denuclearization talks it abandoned three years ago. Since then, Kerry said, North Korea had rebuffed overtures from the United States, Russia, Japan, and China to return to the negotiating table and instead is showing greater belligerence.

Have they?

‘‘They have grown the threat of their program and have acted with a kind of reckless abandon,’’ he said at a news conference alongside South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

Kerry said he hoped the negotiations over curbing Iran’s nuclear program, now entering their final stretch, could serve as a model for North Korea to follow if the hermit kingdom wanted to end its isolation....

If the deal is killed by Congre$$, it will be U.S. that is isolated. 


Maybe the North Koreans are the ones that left the bomb outside his house.

Time to put the blockade and sanctions on the North:

"US and allies to tie N. Korea’s rights record to nuclear talks.... Officials here said that other options under discussion included tightening inspections of cargo traveling in and out of North Korea, and squeezing the source of hard currency North Korea earns through the tens of thousands of workers it sends to factories, logging camps, and building sites in China, Russia, and countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. The North Korean workers are estimated to earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but toil in poor conditions and have most of their wages confiscated by their government, rights groups and former workers say." 

They are called taxes over here.

"3 North Korean sailors defect to S. Korea" New York Times News Service  July 08, 2015

SEOUL — Three North Korean sailors have defected to South Korea after their boat strayed into the South’s waters over the weekend, the government here said Tuesday.

The North Korean vessel with five sailors on board was found adrift Saturday in waters near Ulleungdo, an island off the northeast coast of South Korea, the Unification Ministry said in a news release. Their ship was sinking when the South Korean coast guard arrived, according to the statement.

That North Korean Navy is a real threat.

Three of the sailors told South Korean officials that they wanted to defect, the ministry said, while the others wanted to return home.

Seoul told the North on Monday it would send the two back Tuesday through Panmunjom, a border village that serves as a contact point between the two nations.

“The North demanded that all five be returned,” the ministry said, “but our Red Cross told the North that from a humanitarian standpoint we will respect the wishes of the three who have clearly expressed their intention to defect.”

That could lead to trouble.

North Korean fishing boats occasionally drift into the South’s waters after developing engine trouble, and South Korea returns the sailors home unless they want to defect.

When such sailors have chosen to stay in the South, the North has accused South Korea of holding them against their will. South Korea has also accused the North of holding hundreds of fishermen from the South against their will after their ships strayed into or were taken in North Korean waters in the decades after the 1950-53 Korean War.

More than 28,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since famine hit their isolated and impoverished country in the late 1990s.


With more U.S. ships on the way, the country was to be quarantined:

"South Korea faulted on MERS response; UN agency says it failed to share full information" by Choe Sang-Hun New York Times   June 14, 2015

SEOUL — The South Korean government’s failure to share information quickly with the public and establish an efficient disease-control system contributed to worsening the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in the country, a joint panel of experts from the World Health Organization and South Korea said Saturday.

Who divulges their battle plans?

The experts have spent the past week visiting hospitals and meeting with health authorities to assess the outbreak, which has killed 14 people, and make recommendations.

“One of the things South Korea failed to do was a transparent and rapid distribution of information, which is the most important thing to do,” Lee Jong-koo, leader of the South Korean side of the joint mission, said at a news conference Saturday.

A “failure to establish proper governance” in controlling the outbreak in its early stages also contributed to “confusion” among the public, Lee said.

The disease, known as MERS, is known to have infected 138 people in South Korea since the first patient was identified May 20. The outbreak is the largest to date outside the Middle East, where the virus first emerged in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has killed more than 400 people.

One of the tasks of the joint mission was to determine why so many people were infected in South Korea in a relatively short time.

Maybe it has something to do with the anthrax shipped to them (note how the coverage just dissolved on that?).

On Saturday, Keiji Fukuda, the chief World Health Organization official on the panel, noted several factors: South Korean doctors’ unfamiliarity with MERS; the country’s overcrowded emergency rooms; a practice of “doctor shopping” for care at different clinics; and the fact that hospital rooms here tend to be bustling with visitors.

Nearly all the country’s confirmed MERS patients were infected while seeking care or visiting hospital patients. Hospital staff were also infected.

Fukuda said the panel had found no evidence to indicate that MERS was spreading in the broader population. “However, continued monitoring for this possibility is critical throughout the entire outbreak,” he said. “Now, because the outbreak has been large and is complex, more cases should be anticipated.”

Both Fukuda and Lee said the rate of new infections was decreasing, as South Korean officials have improved their communications with the public and carried out stronger infection-control measures. Twelve new MERS cases were reported Saturday.


"MERS death toll rises to 19 in South Korea" Associated Press   June 17, 2015

SEOUL — The death toll in South Korea’s MERS outbreak increased Tuesday even as schools reopened and people recovered from the virus.

Nineteen people have died in the largest outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East, with three more dying since late Monday, the Health Ministry said.

About 150 people in all have been infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome and nearly 5,600 have been quarantined.

The government says the outbreak is slowing, but fear and misinformation are widespread. The virus is believed to be spread in respiratory droplets, such as by coughing, and infections have been occurring in close-contact situations, such as caring for a sick person.

Health workers are spraying disinfectant at karaoke rooms, on public transportation, and in other businesses, and teachers are sprinkling salt on school grounds in a misplaced attempt to protect themselves as many schools reopen this week.

About 365 schools and kindergartens were closed as of Tuesday afternoon, compared with up to 2,900 last week.

That is where my print version ended.

The discovery of new cases and a growing number of quarantine orders have critics questioning the control measures.

Officials have struggled to trace and identify people who had contact with MERS patients at a major hospital in southern Seoul. More than 70 people, including patients, medical staff, and visitors, have been infected from the facility, which has temporarily stopped accepting new patients and postponed non-serious surgeries as part of its quarantine efforts.

MERS belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia, and kidney failure. Most of the fatalities in South Korea have been people with existing medical conditions, such as respiratory problems or cancer.

The World Health Organization has downplayed the possibility of a pandemic, saying the virus is not spreading in the wider community and has not mutated to spread easily among humans.

The South Korean outbreak originated from a 68-year-old man who had traveled to the Middle East, where the illness has been centered, before being diagnosed as the country’s first MERS patient last month.


"South Korean cites progress in containing MERS outbreak" New York Times  June 20, 2015

SEOUL — South Korea’s outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, the largest outside Saudi Arabia, appears to be easing, a senior government health official said Friday.

Kwon Deok-cheol gave the cautious assessment after reporting just one new case of the syndrome, known as MERS, as well as the country’s 24th death from the disease.

Since its first case was reported on May 20, South Korea has had 166 confirmed cases of MERS, which emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The number of new cases reported daily has generally declined since peaking at 23 on June 7.

In recent days, South Korean officials have expressed increasing confidence that the outbreak was coming under control. But they have also cautioned that enforcement of quarantine and disease-control measures must continue.

MERS cases have been traced to 14 South Korean hospitals, but infected patients seeking care at multiple facilities may have transmitted the disease elsewhere as well.

There are signs that the country is returning to normal, despite widespread fear of the virus. Of the nearly 3,000 schools that were shut down amid the outbreak, just 126 were still closed as of Friday.


I'm afraid of the virus of war. 

How about a preemptive apology?

"Samsung heir-apparent apologizes for MERS outbreak" New York Times  June 24, 2015

SEOUL — The man being groomed to run Samsung Group, the largest of South Korea’s family-controlled conglomerates, apologized Tuesday for a Samsung hospital’s failures in dealing with the country’s outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The hospital, Samsung Medical Center, has been at the heart of the outbreak, which has killed 27 South Koreans. Of the country’s 175 confirmed cases of the virus, known as MERS, 85 were found to have been infected at the hospital, which before the outbreak was widely considered the country’s best.

“Our Samsung Medical Center has caused too big a pain and worry for the people by failing to prevent the infection and spread of MERS,” the Samsung executive, Lee Jae-yong, said Tuesday in a nationally televised speech before bowing deeply. “I bow my head in apology,” he said.

Lee, 47, whose father, Lee Kun-hee, is Samsung Group’s chairman, has been a subject of close scrutiny here as he prepares to assume control over the sprawling conglomerate, a crucial engine of South Korea’s export-driven economy. His father, who is 73, has been hospitalized at Samsung Medical Center since suffering a heart attack more than a year ago, a fact that the younger Lee mentioned in his speech, saying that he could understand the anxiety and pain of MERS patients and their relatives.

Lee promised thorough reform at the hospital, including its emergency room, where overcrowded conditions were cited by experts as a central factor in the disease’s quick spread.

That is where my print copy ended.

A patient who was treated in the emergency room in late May was later identified as a superspreader of MERS, infecting dozens of patients, visitors and medical staff members there. The hospital has apologized for the loopholes in its infection control.

The younger Lee, who is also known as Jay Y. Lee, replaced his father in May as chairman of Samsung Life Public Welfare Foundation, which runs the hospital. That move, along with his ascension to the chairmanship of a Samsung cultural foundation, was seen as part of a succession plan. The two foundations hold stakes in Samsung Life Insurance, an important piece in the complex web of Samsung subsidiaries through which the Lee family controls the group. Lee is also vice chairman of Samsung’s flagship company, Samsung Electronics.

They sold Tom Brady a bad phone.


"South Korea sees end of MERS threat after outbreak killed 36" Associated Press  July 29, 2015

SEOUL — South Korea said Tuesday it is virtually free of the deadly MERS virus that killed 36 people and sickened nearly 200 since an outbreak was declared in May.

Speaking at a government meeting, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn urged people to return to normal as the country hasn’t had a new MERS case in more than three weeks. More than 16,000 people were isolated at hospitals and homes as the government tried to stop the disease’s spread, and the last person was lifted from quarantine Monday....

The World Health Organization in a statement Tuesday said the outbreak was under control, crediting South Korea’s public health measures, such as broadly tracing patients’ contacts.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, discovered in 2012, is caused by a coronavirus in the same family as the common cold and SARS.

The disease usually spreads poorly, but experts suspect South Korea’s crowded emergency rooms and hospital wards might have contributed to a wider-than-expected transmission.


"S. Korea tightens quarantine laws" New York Times   June 27, 2015

SEOUL — Stung by the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, South Korea has passed a law authorizing prison terms of up to two years for defying quarantine orders or lying about potential exposure to an infectious disease.

South Korea has had 181 confirmed cases of MERS, including 31 deaths, since last month. It is the worst outbreak outside Saudi Arabia, where it was first identified.

The spread here has been attributed mainly to poor infection control at hospitals, and coordination missteps by the government. But the public has also been angered by reports of people flouting orders to stay home while being monitored for symptoms.


It was then that the ground invasion began:

"Female activists cross demilitarized zone separating Koreas" by Choe Sang-Hun New York Times  May 25, 2015

PAJU, South Korea — A group of 30 female peace activists, including the feminist leader Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, on Sunday crossed the demilitarized zone from North Korea to South Korea, calling for an end to the Korean War, whose unresolved hostility has been symbolized by the heavily armed border for six decades.

Steinem is CIA (and Jewish), if that helps.

It was rare for the two rival Korean governments to agree to allow a group of peace activists to pass through the border area, known as the DMZ.

Yet some of the symbolism the activists had hoped to generate with their Women Cross DMZ campaign was lost when South Korea denied them permission to walk through Panmunjom, a border village where a truce was signed in 1953 to halt, though not formally end, the conflict, leaving the divided Korea in a technical state of war.

The agenda-pushing was not.

Instead, the women, who had traveled from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, were detoured to a checkpoint southwest of Panmunjom.

There, convoys of South Korean trucks go to and from a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong. The women, carrying banners, were again barred from walking across the border and had to cross by bus.

Still, they considered the endeavor a success. “We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights, and a trip to which both governments agreed,” Steinem told South Korean media shortly after crossing the border. “We were able to be citizen diplomats.”

The women — including the Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia — arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for the cross-border march that they hoped would highlight the need to build peace and set the stage for Korean reunification by formally ending the war with a permanent peace treaty.

I've always been for it, but now....

The border crossing, however, took place amid tension about the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and about its human rights record.

Two days before the women’s arrival in Pyongyang, the North’s state-run media hurled one of its harshest — and most sexist — screeds against President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, calling her “a fork-tongued viper” and one “not worth calling a woman” because “she has never given birth to a baby.”

She is unpopular at home, too.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called the North Korean government, led by Kim Jong Un, “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights.”

The government you are a part of right there with 'em, John.

Some rights activists in the United States and South Korea opposed the women’s trip, saying that it would be used as propaganda in North Korea, where a peace treaty with Washington is a staple demand. They urged the peace activists to call on the North to dismantle political prison camps and end human rights abuses.

When the activists marched in Pyongyang on Saturday, North Korean women in colorful traditional dresses lined a boulevard waving red and pink paper flowers, according to North Korean television footage.

One of the roadside signs said, “Let us reunify the divided country as soon as possible!” On the other side of the border Sunday, hundreds of South Korean activists welcomed the women who crossed into the South Korean city of Paju, north of Seoul.

Nearby, hundreds of conservative South Koreans, including defectors from the North, also rallied, accusing the women of “flattering Kim Jong Un” and promoting a “fake peace.”

“Go back to the North!” they chanted.

The conservative protesters cited reports in the state-run North Korean media, where some of the visiting women were quoted as praising North Korean leaders.

The organizers stressed that their trip was aimed at easing the mistrust and hostility that divided not only the two Koreas but also people in the South.


Nothing but a bunch of whores, right?

In the confusion of invasion, there were incidents of friendly fire:

"A South Korean reserve soldier went on a shooting spree Wednesday, killing a fellow reservist and injuring three others before killing himself, the Associated Press reported, sparking worries about mental health conditions in the country’s armed forces. Most of those who were jailed for refusing to perform the country’s compulsory military service belong to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination, who object to serving in the military on religious grounds."

Korea has its own Orthodox.

"S. Korean agent an apparent suicide" Associated Press  July 20, 2015

SEOUL — A South Korean government agent who was found dead in an apparent suicide left a note denying suspicion that the National Intelligence Service has been spying on South Koreans by intercepting cellphone and computer conversations, police said Sunday.

So what was he going to say that he shouldn't have?

The 46-year-old NIS agent was found dead Saturday in his car parked on a hill in Yongin, just south of Seoul.

In his note, as revealed by police on Sunday, the agent said that the intelligence service ‘‘really didn’t’’ spy on civilians or on political activity related to elections. He apologized to colleagues and NIS senior officials, including director Lee Byoung Ho, saying that overzealousness in doing his job might have created ‘‘today’s situation,’’ police said.

The intelligence service told lawmakers on Tuesday it had purchased hacking programs capable of intercepting communication on mobile devices and computers in 2012 from an Italian company, Hacking Team, but it used them only to monitor agents from rival North Korea and for research purposes.

The revelation is sensitive because the NIS has a history of illegally tapping South Koreans’ private conversations. The NIS is planning to reveal to lawmakers the details of how the programs were used to quell suspicions that it had been unlawfully monitoring civilians.

This guy going to spill the beans on it all?


And what did they find as they moved north?

"Looking for somewhere exotic to visit? North Korea says it’s just the place. Fresh off a half-year ban that closed its doors to virtually all foreigners over fears of Ebola, its leaders are determined to show off the socialist country. Just 100,000 tourists visited last year, mostly from China. Kim Sang Hak, a senior economist at the Academy of Social Sciences, said the North hopes for 2 million tourists by 2020. He said the push is seen as a potentially lucrative revenue stream, and ‘‘many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country,’’ he said, brushing aside criticism of its human rights record, lack of freedoms, and problems with hunger in the countryside. Critics say tourists who go to North Korea help fill a rogue regime’s coffers. In Pyongyang, tourist sites include a high-tech shooting range (above), a new equestrian center, a water park, and revamped ‘‘fun fairs’’ with roller coasters. Tourists can expect constant monitoring from ever-watchful guides and visits to model hospitals and farms, and they’ll have few opportunities to interact with average people. Tourists can also expect severe repercussions if they step out of line. Recently, an American who impulsively left a Bible in a nightclub was detained for nearly six months."

I was told Ebola has been beaten, but that might just be a hoax.

So invading forces were welcomed, 'eh? 

As they moved further up the Peninsula:

"North Korea reports its worst drought in a century" by Kim Tong-Hyung Associated Press  June 18, 2015

SEOUL — North Korea says it has been hit by its worst drought in a century, resulting in extensive damage to agriculture during its main planting season.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the drought has caused about 30 percent of its rice paddies to dry up. Young rice plants normally need to be partially submerged in water during the early summer.

‘‘Recently in our country, there has been a severe drought with sudden extremely high temperatures and nearly no rain,’’ Ri Yong Nam, a senior North Korean weather official, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. ‘‘Now the drought is causing a water shortage and great damage to agriculture, and we foresee this drought will continue for a while.’’

He said temperatures in May were 9 to 12 degrees higher than normal. Both North and South Korea have had unusually dry weather this year.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said precipitation in North Korea was abnormally low in May, and food production could decline significantly if the shortage continues. However, a ministry official said he couldn’t confirm North Korea’s contention that it was experiencing its worst drought in a century.

Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Rome, confirmed that North Korea has been experiencing water shortages since late last year because of low rain and snowfall. ‘‘The lack of water now could seriously affect the main crop season later this year,’’ she said.

The main crop season is planted in June and July and normally accounts for 90 percent of total food production, she said in an e-mail.

‘‘We are very concerned that if there is poor crop production this year, there will be a significant increase in malnutrition, especially among children,’’ she said.

The Korean Central News Agency said South Hwanghae province was one of North Korea’s worst-hit areas. Farmers at Gangan Cooperative Farm in the province said they have been unable to grow rice seedlings.

‘‘This is the first drought damage in my 20 years of farming experience,’’ said Sin Jong Choi, head of a work team at the farm. He said the seedlings dried out, so farmers plowed the fields again and planted corn instead.

But even the corn plants ‘‘are completely burned to death,’’ said Bae Tae Il, the farm’s chief engineer. ‘‘We are launching all-out efforts to overcome the drought damage.’’

In Pyongyang, the capital, the water level of the Taedong River was very low Wednesday.

The United Nations said in a report in April that about 70 percent of North Korea’s people face food insecurity, and more than a quarter of children under age 5 experience chronic malnutrition.

That's the politically-correct term for hunger.

It said North Korea continues to restrict proper monitoring of aid operations, while international financial sanctions targeting the country’s nuclear and missile programs have added to the difficulties of aid distribution.

International aid donations to North Korea have fallen in recent years as it continues to pursue nuclear development.

How many dead children are worth it?


"Drought in North Korea strains electricity generation, growth" by Anna Fifield Washington Post   June 28, 2015

TOKYO — The torrential downpours that drench northeast Asia this time each year have not yet reached North Korea. And even when the rains arrive, they will almost certainly not be enough to fill the reservoirs in the hydropower-dependent country, which is suffering from severe electricity shortages.

This is creating major problems in North Korea, a country already struggling after decades of economic mismanagement, and it could jeopardize the slight improvements seen in the past couple of years. 


Now, after a dry 2014 followed by an unusually dry winter and a dearth of rainfall during spring, North Korea is facing a devastating drought and severe power shortages. More than 60 percent of its electricity comes from hydropower, but rivers and dams are low.

‘‘There is no doubt that there is a serious water shortage in this country, which obviously also affects electricity generation,’’ said one resident of Pyongyang. The resident and several others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering authorities.

‘‘The power situation is pretty bad now, actually. There are definitely major power issues,’’ added another person who had just returned from visiting North Korea, including areas outside the showcase capital. ‘‘There was hardly a place we went that was not experiencing electricity issues.’’

Other than the nuclear pop gun they have, North Korea is a threat to no one. They won't be able to sustain any war effort.

Electricity is crucial for economic growth, especially in the mines and factories that have been powering some of the recent improvements. Electricity is also crucial for Kim Jong Un’s stated ‘‘byungjin’’ policy — the idea that North Korea can simultaneously develop its economy and nuclear weapons.

The United States’ current approach toward North Korea is founded on a ‘‘counter-byungjin’’ policy, betting that the country’s economy will face enough challenges that the regime will be forced to negotiate the end of its nuclear program.

That has not happened yet. But water shortages are inflicting pain on North Korea.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency recently reported that the country had been hit by ‘‘the worst drought in 100 years,’’ causing ‘‘great damage’’ to its agricultural sector and to water-intensive rice fields in particular.

As if famine were not bad enough.

Many analysts tend to discount such reports from Pyongyang, viewing them as exaggerations and a way for the regime to get additional donations from the international community, although aid agencies say the prospect of severe food shortages this year is very real.

Now, if they were to deny the Holocaust™....

But there is no doubt that at least part of the KCNA statement was accurate: ‘‘Water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams [are] getting dry.’’

‘‘International organizations point to the fact that last year also was very dry and that in all probability reserves were overused in order to cope and save harvests,’’ a Pyongyang resident said. ‘‘That means that North Korea has entered this year with practically no reserves. Apparently it will take years, not months, of normal precipitation in order to restore normal levels in the reservoirs.’’

Foreigners who live in Pyongyang and recent visitors to North Korea report that power cuts are more prevalent than usual, hitting the capital and even the hotels where foreigners stay, including the landmark Koryo in the center of Pyongyang.

‘‘Many of the rivers are at very low water levels, with exposed riverbeds in some parts,’’ said another regular visitor.

Randall Ireson, an expert on North Korean agriculture, wrote in an online publication that although North Korea had been experiencing sharply lower rainfall than average, ‘‘If there’s no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry.’’

In a commentary on North Korea’s drought for 38 North, a website related to North Korea, he added: ‘‘Abnormal weather in [North Korea] is always of concern, given the very fragile nature of the agricultural recovery that has been progressing for the last several years.’’

Even at the best of times, North Korea’s electricity situation is dismal. The country’s energy infrastructure was built by its founding patron, the Soviet Union, and has been decaying at least since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago.

Very little data is available on North Korea’s energy supply, but US Energy Information Administration figures suggest North Korea produced almost 19 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. That compares with 500 billion kilowatt hours in South Korea.

Solar panels are popular imports in North Korea these days. They sell for as little as $75 in Dandong, the Chinese border city, and can power a television and some lights. They can be seen on apartment balconies around Pyongyang, as well as further afield.

OMG, the North Koreans are going solar!

North Korea has recently switched to diesel trains reserved for wartime use because it does not have the power to run electric locomotives, Radio Free Asia has reported. A journey that was taking 10 days — because trains ground to a halt when the power failed — now takes two days with diesel trains, the radio station reported, citing local sources.

They aren't going to be attacking anyone.

Electricity shortages mean residents reportedly don’t want to live above the 20th floor of the new high-rise apartment towers in Pyongyang — although 20 flights is still a lot of stairs to climb.

Kim acknowledged the energy problems in his New Year’s address, saying North Korea should be ‘‘waging a campaign to economize on electricity to the maximum, while taking realistic measures to resolve the electricity problem in a prospective way.’’


But early the next morning, the North Koreans counter-attacked:

"In heat, North Korea orders early start" Washington Post   July 25, 2015

WASHINGTON — At the best of times, life is not great for most North Koreans. They live in an isolated totalitarian state beset by food shortages and ruled through fear by one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Look familiar, Amerikan?

But spare a thought for the denizens of the Hermit Kingdom toiling there right now, amid a brutal heat wave. In a bid to get work done in cooler hours, Pyongyang has mandated that all state workers start their day at 5 a.m. during this monthlong peak summer period known as the ‘‘sambok.’’

An anonymous source told the Daily NK site, in an article published also by the Guardian’s North Korea network, detailed the hardships brought on by the new schedules, including exhaustion among children and the absence of eateries at dinner time (they are closed because of the early start).


Time to call in the reinforcements:

"Japanese, South Korean officials meet" Associated Press  June 22, 2015

TOKYO — Foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea held a rare meeting Sunday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of their countries normalizing relations marred by Japan’s colonization and World War II conquest.

Yet, the ties between the most important US allies in Asia are so strained that the major outcomes of the talks were an agreement to keep discussing difficult historical issues and to work together to achieve a first meeting between leaders. As a small step, the two countries’ leaders will attend Monday’s ceremonies in their respective capitals.

Yun Byung-se’s visit Sunday was the first by a South Korean foreign minister since 2011. Yun and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, shook hands but made no comment during the media coverage at the outset of their highly sensitive talks.

That is where the print copy ended.

The ministers then held talks for two hours before talking for another hour over Japanese “tempura” cuisine, which Japanese officials said was a good start. But Japanese officials were tight-lipped about whether any progress was made on Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women and other outstanding issues related to wartime history.

Yun is set to pay a courtesy visit to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday before attending anniversary events in Tokyo.

Kishida told reporters late Sunday the two ministers agreed to regularly meet and make efforts to have their leaders meet “at an appropriate time.” He also said that the two sides agreed to cooperate to promote UNESCO World Heritage listings of each other’s sites, but did not elaborate on whether either side made concessions. Seoul has objected to Japanese industrial sites, criticizing Japan for neglecting their dark history of using Korean slave laborers.

Japanese officials said Monday’s appearance by both leaders at the ceremonies would be a significant step to show their intention to improve the relations.

Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have yet to hold fully fledged bilateral talks since taking office in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Washington has been concerned about its allies’ strained relations.

“It’s a grave situation, and what’s more serious is that Japan’s diplomacy toward South Korea has turned harsher against the backdrop of public sentiment,” said Junya Nishino, a political science professor at Keio University.

They are rooted in Japan’s colonization of Korea, from 1910 to the end of World War II. The relations improved in the late 1990s, after Japanese apologies, cultural exchanges and a Korean pop culture boom in the 2000s, but nosedived a few years ago largely because of differences over their shared history.

Many Koreans still remember Japan’s 35-year colonization as the era of brutality and humiliation, during which they were forced to use Japanese names and language while their pride, heritage and sense of identity were severely threatened. After ties were normalized, three more decades passed before Seoul officially allowed Japanese films and other popular culture back into the country.

That seems to come with the colonizing, yeah.


"Leaders of South Korea, Japan mark anniversary of normalized ties" New York Times  June 23, 2015

SEOUL — The leaders of South Korea and Japan called Monday for their countries to leave behind historical disputes and improve ties, a rare exchange of conciliatory remarks that came as the leaders observed the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations at embassy events in their capitals.

Ties have been so strained in recent years over issues rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of Korea in the early 20th century that the attendance of the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, at a reception hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and that of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a corresponding ceremony in Tokyo is being hailed as a rare triumph.

Park spoke of the nations’ need to “free ourselves of the heavy burden of history, our single greatest impediment, in the spirit of reconciliation and harmony. In Tokyo, Abe emphasized shared “strategic interests” between the neighboring countries.

History can be an incredible burden, especially when the one you've been taught and told is a distortion or lie.

The United States has repeatedly urged Japan and South Korea to improve ties at a time of regional anxiety over a more assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

That's what this is all about.


Time for me to leave this post behind and head for Japan.