* Tick, Tock. We’re only a few days from the deadline, but expect our government to be far more permissive with Kim Jong Il’s tardiness than it will be with American taxpayers (Cha: You’re running out of time; Hill: I’m still hopeful!). If the State Department were in charge of tax collection, our streets would be unpaved and guarded by Canadian occupation forces.
* Food Crisis Update. If the World Food Program is sounding increasingly dire about North Korea’s food situation, and the Daily NK reports that market rice prices continue to fall, can both reports be true? They could. Market prices still probably remain beyond the sustainable means of many (perhaps, most) North Koreans, who had lived on public distribution rations. If this Yonhap report is true, the goverment is allowing more of the public food supply back into the markets. On the positive side, if that trend bears out, it would be a sign of either limited reform, or more likely, grudging acceptance that the public distribution system has failed. On the negative side, a country’s overall food suppy — Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard’s book stresses this — is an entirely different thing from the distribution of that supply in a command economy. In other words, allowing more market diversion will ease conditions for those who have money, and worsen them for those who don’t.
* Slave-Catching in “Amazing” Thailand. The Daily NK reports on just how bad things have gotten under the military regime.
* You Can’t Bend Glass. Park Geun Hye may be the smartest candidate in the Korean presidential election. She’s probably the most charming, the most emotionally stable, and without a doubt she’s the coolest under fire. But when she lays out an orderly three-phase plan for a smooth and methodical transformation of North Korea, leading to reunification, I question the depth of her knowledge of history, of political psychology, of the facts of life and death north of the no-smile line. The extraordinary social pressures that build in a society this rigid and controlled are not released gently. A variation of her plan would work if — and only if — South Korean troops occupied the North and kept a firm grip on the social order during the course of this transformation.
* Life As They Know It. We have two new candid views of life inside North Korea today. First, via Richardson, is a Japanese video of a rail journey in the North (here, at Japan Probe). It’s worth watching simply to see the wood-powered truck (not a North Korean invention, by the way; some countries in fuel-thirsty Europe used a similar idea during World War II). Next, the Daily NK has some over-the-border shots of the Sinuiju waterfront.