Archive for Useful Idiocy

Help! Help! I’m being repressed! (Part 2)

Christine Ahn’s pursuit of global fame is having unintended consequences, mostly for Gloria Steinem. At Hot Air, Noah Rothman writes, “If women’s rights are also human rights, then North Korea is no friend to either.” He accuses Ahn and Steinem (and other “progressives”) of turning “a blind eye toward real abuses in order to support the cause of totalitarian statism.”

In The Daily Beast, Lizzie Crocker writes that Ahn “has long been uncritical of North Korea, a country that has some committed some of the worst human rights abuses on record,” and wonders how it could be that “this group of women has so far been mum on the violence occurring at the hands of the Kim regime in North Korea: executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement, according to a 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights abuses.” Crocker also prints this poignant quote from a North Korean refugee:

“It’s tragic that Pyongyang will allow a group of foreign women to cross the DMZ, but will not allow its own people to do the same,” says 32-year-old Hyeonseo Lee, who fled North Korea when she was 15 and currently lives in Seoul.

“All of us defectors are heartbroken that we cannot visit our hometown or meet our loved ones. So I hope these 30 brave women will ask the North Korean leadership to allow North Koreans to cross the DMZ as well.”

It’s not clear if Ms. Lee, who is brave, used the word “brave” ironically while referring to Ahn and Steinem, who lack the courage (or the inclination) to ask the North Koreans uncomfortable questions about women’s rights. Crocker also relates the weirdness of Ahn’s media strategy when asked difficult questions:

After agreeing to an interview by email on Tuesday, Ahn declined to answer a series of questions posed by the Daily Beast, referring a reporter to a Buzzfeed story before signing off cryptically, “Be on the right side of history!”

Steinem also declined to comment for Crocker’s article.

This unwanted scrutiny must be quite a come-down after the (metaphorical) tongue bath Ahn’s project received from this New York Times op-ed, which is labeled as a news story. The reporter, Rick Gladstone, does not betray the slightest hint of objectivity, or of having researched Ahn’s background or motives. He never mentions any of the findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that inform relevant-seeming questions about how the North Korean regime treats women, or what Ahn and Steinem plan to say or do about that. Just to give you an idea of what Gladstone didn’t consider fit to print, or even to inquire about, here’s a quote from the COI’s report:

318. Witnesses have testified that violence against women is not limited to the home, and that it is common to see women being beaten and sexually assaulted in public.  Officials are not only increasingly engaging in corruption in order to support their low or non-existent salaries, they are also exacting penalties and punishment in the form of sexual abuse and violence as there is no fear of punishment.  As more women assume the responsibility for feeding their families due to the dire economic and food situation, more women are traversing through and lingering in public spaces, selling and transporting their goods. The male dominated state, agents who police the marketplace, inspectors on trains and soldiers are increasingly committing acts of sexual assault on women in public spaces. The Commission received testimony that while rape of minors is severely punished in the DPRK, the rape of adults is not really considered a crime. 

Gladstone quotes a number of Ahn’s supporters, but not one skeptic or critic. Nor does he ask the most obvious question about Ahn’s objective — what’s the point of a peace treaty with a regime that can’t abide by an Armistice, five U.N. Security Council Resolutions, two agreed frameworks, a Leap Day deal, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

It is, on balance, some of the most biased, shallowest, and least objective reporting I’ve seen in the Times or anywhere else. Maybe I’ll write to the Times‘s Public Editor. Or maybe you will.

Ahn decries CNN’s “shamefulreport, but takes some comfort in the sympathetic writing of one Kathleen Richards, writing at “The Stranger.” “The Stranger” turns out to be a blog I’ve never heard of, although it sounds much more like the name a truck stop serial killer would sign on the notes he leaves for the police on the bodies of his victims. Flippantly, Richards writes, “For some reason, human rights violations are considered unique to North Korea.”

Trigger warning, Kathleen: if you read this and have a soul, you may realize that you’re on the wrong side of history.

* Ms Kim Hye-sook described how the women who worked in the mines of Political Prison Camp No. 18 feared assignment to the nightshift, because guards and prisoners preyed on them on their way to and from work and rape them. None of the victims talked about their experience openly for fear of being punished. However, a number of female prisoners recounted their traumatic experiences to her in confidence.   Another witness reported that the guards of Camp No. 18 were especially targeting teenage girls. 

* A former guard in Camp No. 11 described how the camp authorities made female inmates available for sexual abuse to a very senior official who regularly visited the camp. After the official raped the women, the victims were killed.

As far as I know, human rights violations of this nature and scale, committed by government authorities against female political prisoners with impunity, really are unique to North Korea.

Bang Mi Sun

[North Korean defector Bang Mi-Sun shows scars she received in a North Korean prison camp. Via.]

Richards’ name didn’t ring a bell until an astute reader pointed out that she was also the author of this 2009 article in the Oakland East Bay Express. Yes, that Oakland East Bay Express, that alt-lefty rag with a room-temperature circulation that took up Ahn’s cause by writing, not about the substance of the criticism of Ahn I wrote on my blog, but about what I did for a living when I wasn’t blogging. Richards’s name didn’t ring a bell because at the time, she went by the name of Kathleen Wentz. Wentz/Richards distinguished herself by coming closer than anyone has ever come to being sued by me for libel when she implied — falsely — that I’d used the resources of my place of employment to investigate Ahn. (But no one reads the Oakland East Bay Express. What damages could I prove?) It was a rather ridiculous lie for Richards to tell, given that every quote by Ahn I’ve ever cited has been a matter of public record. It may explain why, six years later, Richards writes for something called “The Stranger.” Award one point to “there is a God.”

Anyway, just in case you believed Ahn when she described Richards as “[a] sane voice in the media,” without mentioning that Richards is actually Ahn’s longstanding associate and hack mouthpiece.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.18.07 AM

[But of course, all defectors lie. All 25,000 of them.]

The same astute reader also saw Ahn’s latest piece-o’work in the Puffington Host,* promoting her “peace” march, and caught that Ahn may have betrayed some T.M.I.: “After I returned from Pyongyang, I received the following confirmation from the DPRK mission to the United Nations.” Ahn then quotes the North Korean reply, expressing Pyongyang’s “full support” — surprise!

The North Korean reply lists a number of Pyongyang’s external propaganda front groups — “Korean Committee for Solidarity With World Peoples, the Democratic Women’s Union of Korea, the Committee for Overseas Compatriots of Korea and other related organizations” — that will watch their every move, “render all necessary assistances to the event for its success” to commemorate the “70th anniversary of liberation and simultaneous division of our beloved country and nation.” Ahn’s handler expresses the hope that the march “will be a specially significant contribution to terminating the current status of war, replacing armistice with peace agreement, and thereby achieving permanent peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.”

That is to say, by her own admission, Ahn been in direct “correspondence or intercourse with” a “foreign government or any officer or agent thereof,” with the undisguised intent to serve as its agent of influence. If you’ve kept up with the Iran debate, you know by now that I’ve just quoted the Logan Act, an antiquated and constitutionally questionable law that a number of pundits and signers of a White House petition recently accused Tom Cotton and 46 Republican Senators of violating. I’ve already expressed the view that the senators should not have sent the letter in question out of deference to the President’s authority, despite my sympathy with the view that Iran is irredeemably mendacious, that the deal is vague and unfinished, and (to any person of average judgment) a license to nuke up. But hey, who’s up for prosecuting Christine Ahn for violating the Logan Act, too?

Not me. Reading further, the Logan Act also requires that the correspondent have the “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” I’m willing to speculate that Ahn is chock-a-block with the intent to defeat the measures of the United States, but the idea of prosecuting any American for non-violent expression, however gargantuan an imbecile or a hypocrite she may be, offends the First Amendment. As for whether Ahn intended to influence the conduct of the North Korean government, I suspect that the opposite is more likely, assuming any influence was even necessary.

One point of raising this issue is to show that the calls to prosecute Senator Cotton were silly, politically motivated, and (if acted upon) unconstitutional. But if proponents of prosecuting Cotton would like to upgrade their position to merely silly and unconstitutional, let them call for Ahn’s prosecution, too. What I would be up for is repealing the Logan Act.

My other point is how remarkably open Ahn is about the directness of her relationship, coordination, and political cooperation with the government of North Korea. A case could even be made that Ahn should register under the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. Whether that would advance any worthwhile goal that can’t be advanced by public debate is another matter.

When Ahn’s critics point out the illogic, hypocrisy, and repugnance of the views she expresses publicly, her defense is to cry, “McCarthyism!” If one defines McCarthyism as responding to the public harangues of anyone to the political left of David Gergen, we’re all Roy Cohn. But to the rest of us, what distinguishes McCarthyism from political debate is that the former is “unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence,” “mak[es] unfair allegations or us[es] unfair investigative techniques,” and usually is done with the intent to “restrict dissent or political criticism.” That’s a far cry from quoting a person’s own public statements, with hyperlinks to allow the reader to see each of them in context.

I oppose censoring Christine Ahn, and I certainly hope Seoul won’t be stupid enough to deny her permission to march. Rather, I’d like to see Ahn march to Seoul along a route flanked by some of the 25,000 North Korean refugees who’ve made it to South Korea, and who might want to express some views of their own. But peacefully, please.

~   ~   ~

* with apologies to James Taranto

Would Christine Ahn please ask Pyongyang to stop deporting the nice aid workers? For the children?

North Korea has deported U.S. citizen Sandra Suh, a humanitarian aid worker and founder of the L.A.-based NGO Wheat Mission Ministries, who had been working in North Korea since 1998. Pyongyang accused Suh of “plot-breeding and propaganda” — specifically, by showing “propaganda abroad with photos and videos” that she “secretly produced and directed, out of inveterate repugnancy” toward the North, “under the pretense of ‘humanitarianism.'”

The North Korean news agency said Suh had “admitted her acts … seriously insulted the absolute trust” North Koreans place in their leader, Kim Jong Un, and constituted “indelible crimes that infringed on its sovereignty in violation of its law.” It added that she had “apologized for her crimes and earnestly begged for pardon” and that authorities decided to expel her “taking into full consideration her old age.” [L.A. Times]

Judging by its nicely designed web site, Wheat Mission Ministries appears to be run by Korean-Americans, and to work exclusively in North Korea. It has a page on monitoring, where it acknowledges “that 100% accountability is a difficult thing to achieve in DPRK.” Interestingly enough, WMM’s web page also has a page for “photos and videos,” which now says this:

WM is going through a revision process to include pictures and videos. Because of the sensitive nature of providing videos, WM is careful to post videos that are neutral in their content. This will be available soon.

And so it goes. I’m sure WMM’s staff are lovely people with compassionate intentions, but who changed who again? Once again, the price of “engagement” with Pyongyang is not only to compromise the very principle that brought you there, but to submit to the extraterritoriality of its censorship forever. In the end, Suh’s family is just thankful that she didn’t end up a hostage like Kenneth Bae.

Suh is the second humanitarian aid worker deported by Pyongyang in a month, perhaps because Pyongyang is now making enough money commercially that aid inputs threaten to create a destabilizing condition: an adequate supply of food for its “wavering” and “hostile” classes. Thankfully for Pyongyang, that condition has not yet been achieved:

The United Nations has launched an appeal for $111 million to help a vast portion of North Korea’s population now facing a food crisis.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for North Korea Ghulam Isaczai told VOA the funding will help five U.N. aid agencies working on the ground to continue providing North Koreans with food, clean water and other basics in 2015.

“We are appealing for more aid and support to keep the U.N. operation going. And if we don’t provide the support, the gains we have made over the years will be reversed,” Isaczai said Wednesday.

The United Nations says 70 percent of the population, or 18 million North Koreans, are food insecure and lack nutritional diversity.

But Isaczai said of those, nearly 2 million, mostly children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly, are in dire need of food assistance, and another 350,000 women and children need vaccines and health supplies.

Malnutrition rates are high, with 27.9 percent of children under five suffering from chronic malnutrition, according to a 2012 national nutrition survey quoted by the U.N. [VOA]

Yes, curse those damn sanctions for starving North Korean babies.

The lifestyle of roughly 200,000 to 300,000 elites, Park said, rivals those of well-heeled residents of Manhattan or the residents of Little Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Their average net worth is $50,000 and they typically own Samsung televisions and household pets imported from China.

Elites also have access to lavish dining options in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The restaurants in question charge $70 for Korean barbecue, $8 for Korean bibimbap, or rice mixed with meat and vegetables, though prices cited were for foreign tourists and not locals, reported South Korea’s Kyunghyang Sinmun.

Luxury vehicles are highly coveted within this population, according to Park.

He estimates there are currently 5,000 BMWs, 1,500 used Nissans parked around the areas where the elites lead their enviable lifestyles.

Park and other experts have said the resulting economic and social inequality is beyond comparison to pre-unification East Germany or even to contemporary China. Jung Eun-yi, a researcher at Kyungsang National University in South Korea said luxury apartments valued at $200,000 have begun to emerge in Pyongyang, according to South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh. [UPI, Elizabeth Shim]

The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang, by the way, wasn’t able to provide any further information about the reason for the deportations, other than to quote a KCNA statement. But it did report the fascinating fact that “[a]uthorities in Pyongyang have also in the past staged news conferences, during which foreign detainees appeared before the media and made statements that they then recanted after their releases.” Really? Pyongyang stages news conferences that feature people who are under duress? And this is news to the AP?

Suh’s deportation comes just as CNN and others are wondering how Christine Ahn could possibly believe that Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il are blameless (or nearly so) for all the hunger, famine, and suffering that the people of North Korea have endured for the last two decades of dynastic misrule.

What a perfect opportunity for Ahn to preempt a growing consensus that she “has long been uncritical of North Korea, a country that has some committed some of the worst human rights abuses on record,” and for Gloria Steinem to answer critics who accuse her of being “mum” about crimes like “executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement.” Perhaps these women are willing to speak truth to power after all, and to call on Pyongyang to let Suh and Feindt return, get on with their work, and resume regular monitoring visits.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 6.33.30 AM

C’mon, Christine. Do it for the children. Show us how much you really care about them.

Why people call Christine Ahn “pro-North Korean”

Last night, CNN became the first news organization to do its due diligence on Christine Ahn, the organizer of the “Women Cross DMZ” march, and to call Gloria Steinem on this questionable association (Steinem stands by Ahn). CNN aired interviews with Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Korea scholar and former CIA Analyst Sue Terry.

CNN’s report is a case study on how quickly a little scrutiny turns fame into infamy. CNN deserves praise for conducting that scrutiny; unfortunately, and probably due to time constraints, it didn’t offer (or give Scarlatoiu or Terry a chance to offer) much evidence to substantiate the charge that Ahn is “pro-North Korean.” It’s possible to believe that the charge is accurate, and also to believe that CNN’s failure to substantiate it was unfair. When you call a person something as odious as a “North Korean sympathizer,” that’s the duty you incur. Here, I feel compelled to prove the charge, using Ahn’s own words to prove it.

~   ~   ~

Ahn has long led a group called the “Korea Solidarity Committee,” or KSC, which describes itself as “a group of progressive Korean American activists, students and artists” in the San Francisco Bay Area, who were inspired by “a desire to debunk the racist portrayals of North Korea, and present a more critical perspective on the continuing North Korean nuclear crisis.” I don’t know if Ahn calls herself a Communist or not, but she is on sisterly terms with Judith LeBlanc, a former Vice-Chair of the Communist Party, USA, a legacy Stalinist rump faction led for years by Gus Hall.

Ahn opposed human rights legislation for North Korea that funded broadcasting to North Korea, and that provided for aid and asylum for North Korean refugees, calling it an effort “by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea.” (As if that would be a bad thing.) To Ahn, “In order to debate about North Korean human rights . . . [w]e must go beyond political freedom to include economic and social rights; we must discuss human rights based on history and facts; and we must prepare not war or sanctions, but a peaceful and inclusive base to improve human rights.”

Ahn claims to be merely “pro-peace,” except that you’ll never catch her criticizing North Korea for breaking it. For example, to Ahn, the “root cause” of North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, an attack that killed two ROK Marines and two civilians, was the illegitimacy of South Korea’s claim to the waters around it, the failure of South Korea to turn those waters into a neutral “peace zone,” and the failure of the United States to redraw the boundary unilaterally in the North’s favor, regardless of South Korea’s views on the matter.

On at least two separate occasions, Ahn has referred to North Korea’s “alleged” sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, an attack that killed 44 South Korean sailors, despite the findings of an international investigation team that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the ship. This was almost certainly a nod to a conspiracy industry that grew up in left-wing South Korean circles that were in denial after the attack. If Ahn has ever acknowledged North Korea’s responsibility for the attack, I can’t find where she ever has.

It hardly gives one confidence in Ahn’s advocacy of a peace treaty with North Korea that Pyongyang can’t abide by an Armistice, or that Ahn won’t hold it accountable for the most flagrant violations of it.

Despite evidence that North Korea wasted resources that would have been enough — many times over — to feed the victims of North Korea’s Great Famine, Ahn doesn’t acknowledge Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for this completely preventable tragedy. Ahn has praised North Koreans for “rebuild[ing] their devastated nation according to the juche philosophy that promoted self-reliance and national independence,” which she credits for developing the North into “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force” — emphasis on disciplined! — until it could no longer withstand “the stranglehold of the United States.”

(I doubt that Christine Ahn has ever read a sanctions resolution, statute, regulation, or executive order, but if you want to understand how little those sanctions really do, here’s my detailed legal analysis of them.)

Ahn decries “the assumption that the famine in North Korea was a result of Chief of State Kim Jong Il’s mismanagement of the country,” and assails “attributing the cause of North Korea’s famine to an ‘evil dictator.’” Ahn blames the famine on a combination of the collapse of the U.S.S.R., “droughts and floods that . . . destroyed much of the harvest,” and “economic sanctions led by the U.S. and its refusal to end the 50-year Korean War.” Ahn never acknowledges that throughout much of the famine, the U.S. was the largest donor to food aid programs in North Korea, or that North Korean authorities diverted much of the aid and manipulated aid workers into distributing it on the basis of political caste, rather than humanitarian need. As for the droughts and floods, those have struck North Korea for 25 consecutive years now, hardly ever crossing the DMZ and never causing a famine in South Korea. For some reason.

Whether there is still famine in North Korea on a smaller scale or not, many people there are still malnourished, and the World Food Program is still appealing for aid. In a 2010 op-ed, Ahn again blamed American sanctions, which at the time were narrowly targeted at North Korean entities linked to proliferation, for restricting Pyongyang’s “ability to purchase the materials it needs to meet the basic food, healthcare, sanitation and educational needs of its people.” Yet according to the economist Marcus Noland, North Korea’s food gap “could be closed for something on the order of $8 million to $19 million — less than two-tenths of one percent of national income or one percent of the military budget.”

Meanwhile, under Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s (known) annual spending on luxury goods has skyrocketed to over $600 million a year. Ahn calls the Obama administration’s enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s weapons and luxury goods imports “problematic,” claiming that some of North Korea’s ships were either falsely accused of smuggling, or were carrying dual-use cargo (ahem).

To Christine Ahn, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the symptom, not the root cause of the conflict” between it and the U.S., South Korea, and the U.N. Security Council. She criticizes the view “that denuclearization must be managed before security guarantees can be addressed.” In a 2013 article for Foreign Policy in Focus, Ahn saw just two reasons for tensions with North Korea — not North Korea’s nuclear test a month before, or the missile test that preceded it, but President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, and the joint exercises that U.S. and South Korean forces have carried out for years. On one hand, Ahn defends North Korea’s military buildup; on the other hand, she wants to “starve the empire” by defunding the Pentagon.

Read, follow the links, and decide for yourself, but you can’t be a selective pacifist. There is a difference between being pro-peace and simply being on the other side. It’s not McCarthyism if you back your charge with evidence, and no one is suggesting that Ahn’s speech should be censored or that her march should be stopped. Its motives should simply be understood for what they are.

An open letter to Mike Bassett

Dear Michael, Thank you for your letter. As anyone who has read One Free Korea knows, I enjoy a good debate, but I respectfully decline to “debate” ideas like these:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.00.23 AMBassett 3

That’s not a debate, those are delusions. Incidentally, I’ve noticed how at some moments, you try to seem calm and rational. At the next moment, your moods swing wildly to some fit of rage. You seem unstable (as in, “Warning: contents under pressure”). You’re not an adversary; you’re a stalker and a conspiracy theorist. I feel great sympathy for your personal circumstances, and I think you need help. That’s why, up to this point, I’ve mostly ignored you. More fundamentally, I really don’t think you have anything interesting to say.

Although I find your tone obsessive and creepy, I’ll choose not to interpret your “ultimatum” as a physical threat. Say what you like on your blog. I really don’t care one way or another, with two caveats: (1) if you libel me, I’ll sue, and (2) if you ever approach me in person, I’ll contact the police and file for a restraining order.

Have a wonderful day.

~   ~   ~

Update: It now occurs to me that that first screenshot entitles me to invoke Godwin’s Law. Also, to be clear, I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. My inferences about Bassett’s emotional stability are just that — my own inferences. I base them on what he writes, how he writes it, and what he has said publicly about his personal history. A healthy mind does not veer Hitler-and-yon the way Mr. Bassett’s does. I wish him a speedy recovery. I also wish he’ll do it at least 500 feet away from me.

So, what “appropriate measures” *did* the feds take against Dennis Rodman for violating N. Korea sanctions?

The newest U.N. Panel of Experts report* on North Korea sanctions enforcement contains this buried treasure:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.21.09 AM

The first question this raises is what those appropriate measures were. The use of passive voice conceals whether the feds took any measures at all.

The second question is why there should be a “lack of information” from Rodman, when the Commerce and Treasury Departments have subpoena powers and an obligation to cooperate with U.N. authorities enforcing North Korea sanctions. The law applies to superpowers and celebrities, too.

There is video evidence of Rodman personally giving Kim Jong Un banned luxury gifts in violation of Commerce Department regulations and Executive Order 13551. I previously explained here why that’s a felony, and there’s no question that at least some of the goods presented are listed on Supplement 1 and were luxury goods.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are bigger fish in this sea than Dennis Rodman. I don’t believe this is the sort of thing that justifies prison time, but it does compel making an example of Rodman and his assortment of camp followers and opportunistic sociopaths, even if only through a modest civil penalty and a (publicly posted) cautionary letter. Ignorance (or willful ignorance) of the law may mitigate punishment, but it’s not a defense.

Having said that, this sort of thing does matter. Cutting off Kim Jong Un’s luxury goods is ultimately about North Korea’s chronic food crisis and the completely needless suffering of its people. The purpose of the ban is to force him to prioritize feeding the 80% of North Koreans who are barely getting through the lean season each year. Conduct like Rodman’s sends a message that the world doesn’t care about their suffering, and that it’s willing to give Kim Jong Un access to the fruits of the world’s fleshpots anyway.

Overall, the POE report paints a picture of a sanctions framework that is being ignored by most U.N. member states. There’s a display of concern when North Korea does something hideous that actually makes headlines, and then everyone goes right back to ignoring them. How are North Korea’s arms clients in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia supposed to react if the U.S. doesn’t appear to be serious about enforcing them, either?

~   ~   ~

* This is from a draft leaked to me; the final still isn’t published.

Ten questions Gloria Steinem should ask the N. Koreans about women’s rights (but probably won’t dare to)

This week, I read that North Korea has granted permission for a group of women, including Gloria Steinem, and led by outspoken North Korean regime sympathizer Christine Ahn, to do a “peace march” across the DMZ. The group also intends to “hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul,” where Ahn will probably repeat one of her favorite falsehoods, that “crippling sanctions against the government make it difficult for ordinary people to access the basics needed for survival.” It’s a statement that could only have been written by a legal illiterate who has never read the actual sanctions, or by a hack who has spent at least a decade overlooking the real causes of hardship and starvation in North Korea.

Steinem, on the other hand, is known for her accomplishments fighting for the rights of women, so rather than rehash old arguments with Ahn, I’d prefer to focus on a point of potential agreement with Steinem — that the women of North Korea could really use the support of a fearless feminist. In that spirit, I decided to suggest a few questions that Steinem should ask her hosts in Pyongyang if she’s truly concerned about the status of women in North Korea:

1. Why do you impose idiotic, despotic, and harmful rules on women, like not allowing them to ride bicycles, or wear pants?

An acquaintance of mine, a North Korean refugee currently living in South Korea, told me how, in the early 2000s, she broke a bone. The incident happened one afternoon when she was on the way home. A few streets away from her house she encountered a patrol of regular police and militia, and she instantly knew she was in trouble because she had done something seriously improper. She had no choice but to run, and while trying to get away from her pursuers she broke a bone in her feet. But she still escaped the hand of law.

What was the crime she had committed? She was wearing trousers while walking the streets of a major North Korean city.

2. Was it really necessary for you to call the female President of South Korea a “whore,” a “political prostitute,” a “crazy bitch,” and a “comfort woman?

What Park did before Obama this time reminds one of an indiscreet girl who earnestly begs a gangster to beat someone or a capricious whore who asks her fancy man to do harm to other person while providing sex to him. [….]

She fully met the demands of her master for aggression, keeping mum about the nukes of the U.S. and desperately finding fault with fellow countrymen in the north over their nukes. She thus laid bare her despicable true colors as a wicked sycophant and traitor, a dirty comfort woman for the U.S. and despicable prostitute selling off the nation. [KCNA]

3. Is your government forcing women to work as prostitutes in China?

A group of female North Korean workers has been forcefully repatriated from China after it was learned that they had been asked to work as prostitutes on the sly by their overseer while officially hired at a food factory, according to a local source.

The women, believed to number about half a dozen, were among North Korean workers sent across the border to gain precious foreign exchange revenue and had been placed under strict living conditions, including being barred from traveling outside their lodging alone, a source from China’s Liaoning province bordering North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service.

However, the women, who worked at a food production factory in Liaoning’s Donggang city, had been leaving their compound at night to engage in illegal activities—including prostitution—at the behest of their handler, infuriating the local community, the source said. [….]

“As a result, some of the workers and their North Korean handler were deported by the Chinese public security personnel.”

4. Why are so many North Korean women trafficked in China, and what kind of society is so insufferable that it forces women to risk that fate?

My parents died of starvation and my two younger brothers were killed by robbers in North Korea. After I lost all my family members, I was left wandering in the countryside, all by myself. One day, I met a North Korean couple who looked little bit younger than me. In November 1999, they suggested I go to China with them. As soon as we arrived in Helong and went into the house where they took me, I was taken to Longjing and then to Yanji by the ethnic Koreans. From Yanji I was taken to Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang Province by train. When we arrived in Mudanjiang, the brother of my current father-in-law was waiting for us. I was then taken to Jidong in Heilongjiang where I live with an ethnic Korean man. I have been told that my current husband paid 10,000 yuan for me.

5. Why have so many North Korean women turned to prostitution to survive?

Current estimates by South Korean and U.S. analysts place the number of fulltime prostitutes throughout North Korea at around 25,000 in the state of 24.5 million people – a figure that Young agreed with. That would mean one full-time prostitute was working per 1,000 people.

The high estimate does not include the far larger number of women who supplement their meager income by occasional freelance participation in prostitution activities. [….]

The age range of women involved in prostitution in North Korea is broad, stretching from 17 to 45, according to Young. The large percentage of women engaging in the practice again reflects the widespread and growing destitution and hunger pervading North Korean society.

A North Korean defector said there are about 500 prostitutes in a city which has a population of 400,000, Young noted. “If [we] depend on the simple arithmetic calculation and put North Korean population as 20 million, we can assume that there should be about 25,000 prostitutes in North Korea.”

A few years ago, that estimate would have been widely rejected as too high. The history of poor harvests, food shortages and the desperate demand for short-term extra income has made its mark. The hard drug pandemic may well have put those numbers too low.

In any case, the boast North Korean spokesmen made until recent years that there was no prostitution in their country rings hollow.

6. If women have to prostitute themselves, can’t you at least give them access to decent birth control and health care? (see also)

“[T]he women have their own ways to deal with STDs,” she adds. “Opium is supposed to prevent STDs.”

“Opium is not considered illegal in North Korea,” she explains. “It is cheap and typically goes for 5,000 won per gram. There is also contraceptive medicine available, but because they are much more expensive than opium, prostitutes don’t consider using them.”

“Contraceptives may prevent pregnancy, but women believe opium prevents and even treats almost all forms of disease. People think of it as a cure-all drug.”

She describes how North Korean prostitutes regularly use opium to protect their bodies: “Lightly mix some water with the opium, and dab a cotton ball in the mixture. Before placing the cotton ball in the vagina, wrap string around it in a cross shape (+) so it can be pulled out more easily.”

7. Speaking of which, I have some questions about North Korea’s “free,” “universal” health care system ….

North Korea says it provides free medical care to all its citizens. But Amnesty said most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. Doctors often work without pay, have little or no medicine to dispense and reuse scant medical supplies, the report said. “People in North Korea don’t bother going to the hospital if they don’t have money because everyone knows that you have to pay for service and treatment,” a 20-year-old North Korean defector named Rhee was quoted as saying. “If you don’t have money, you die.”

8. Same question about North Korea’s “free,” “universal” education system.

[D]efectors testify with one voice to the fact that in modern North Korea, free education is an oxymoron. Instead, they say that even elementary school students must pay money for firewood, the repairing of school facilities and to make donations to the People’s Army or construction units.

The bribes needed to enter university are substantial, too. To gain entrance to a university in Pyongyang can cost up to $1,000, and for a provincial university between $300 and $500.

Kim Yong Cheol, a 22-year old who joined Hyesan College of Education in 2007 but defected to Seoul in 2009, explained to The Daily NK, “If they offer some money to the relevant university and the Education Department then they can possibly get into the university; students who do not have a good school record want to enter that university even though it requires bribery.”

Cho Hyun Mee, a 26-year old studying at Seoul National University said, “When I joined a university in Chongjin, the city Education Department demanded a computer, so I sold a television set to collect money and bought them a laptop.” Thanks to the laptop, Cho was shown the type and range of the entrance examination.

9. Would it kill you to let North Korean women wear their hair the way they choose?

Sure, you say, a list of 18 state-approved hairstyles certainly seems generous and libertine, but on closer examination, it’s actually more like 18 pictures of three hairstyles — three hideous, man-shriveling hairstyles — one of which (6, 10) is a mullet, and the rest of which appear to have been inspired by the 80s metal band Queensrÿche.

10. Why wouldn’t you let Ban Yon-Mee be a doctor?

“The only way I’m going back to Korea is in a coffin,” she said, a look of defiance flashing across her face. “F*** you, comrade Kim Jong-il.”

Sure, feel free to tone the questions down if you must, as long as you ask them. Being asked hard questions might convince the little gray men in Pyongyang that these things matter to us, and that they should matter to the regime, too. By not asking them, you might lead them — and us — to believe that you’re willing to overlook the rights of North Korean women and be Pyongyang’s tool, for no better reason than to attract media attention to yourself.

~   ~   ~

Update: I can’t believe I forgot to mention those racist forced abortions and infanticides, which must be the most extreme anti-choice position of all:

When they are captured, according to testimonies collected by the Washington-based advocacy group U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, those who are visibly pregnant are ridiculed, separated out, and administered painful forced abortions while detained.

Because, it seems, officials assume that the fathers are Chinese, and thus view the soon-to-be-mothers as women who “brought this on themselves” (see “Witness,” below), the women are tortured in sexualized ways and barred from entering the concentration camp system until any detected fetuses are destroyed. According to interviews conducted by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, methods to abort include targeted beatings, forced abortion, and induced labor followed by infanticide: anything to prevent part-Chinese offspring from becoming part of the population.

The U.N. defines ethnic cleansing as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” We are using the term here because ethnic cleansing not only makes women subject to outright murder, but also controls the threat of their bodies as the means of reproduction. For instance, women have been raped in order to occupy “inferior” wombs with “superior” sperm, or forced to have abortions or sterilizations (as have men of “inferior” groups) in order to end future reproduction. In some conflicts, women are also subject to the sex-specific political torture of forcing them to bear the child of their torturer in order to break their will.

So I guess that’s eleven….


Dear journos: If you’re going to cover Christine Ahn’s “peace” march, do some due diligence

A few outlets have picked up on the event itself, but only one has taken note of Ahn’s role in organizing the event, and not one so far has written anything about Ahn’s extensive history as a vocal North Korean sympathizer. In fact, Ahn is a die-hard opponent of North Korea human rights legislation whose writings make frequent use of words like “imperialism,” “struggle,” and “solidarity;” who actually believes that North Korea’s famine was caused by a combination of U.S. sanctions and 21 consecutive years of droughts and floods that miraculously never crossed the DMZ; and who praises the North Korean health care system that later left her weeping in an unlit Pyongyang hospital room over the child she recklessly endangered (fourth item).

So if you’re going to remark on the fact that North Korea is allowing this event to proceed at all, consider the possibility that Ahn and the little gray men in Pyongyang share some common purposes.

Personally, I suspect that Ahn’s real purpose is to get herself arrested and deported like Shin Eun-Mi was. If you’re reading this in the Blue House, just don’t. That’s what she wants.

Not that the Blue House is taking any advice from me, but if it was, that advice would be to let Christine Ahn and her fellow travelers have their day, and pay as little attention to them as possible. But if you must, tell the whole story about what they represent, and ask them where they stand on holding Kim Jong Un accountable before the world for his crimes against humanity.

Christine Hong has been curiously silent about North Korea’s racism

By now, most of you have probably read that North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, referring to President Obama’s failure to censor “The Interview,” said that “Obama Reckless always in words and Deeds Goes like a Monkey in a Tropical Forest.” ( is unlinkable, but I’ve pasted the full article below the fold. The article in question is dated December 27, 2014.)

This is the third racist attack on President Obama KCNA has printed, and the second it has printed under its own name. The language in this latest attack is similar to that in this venomously racist screed, first unearthed by Professor Lee and first printed at this site in May of this year, quoting a (perhaps fictional) North Korean worker. North Korea clearly did not expect the Anglosphere to notice this, or else failed to anticipate the global opprobrium it would draw. Clearly taken aback by the reaction, KCNA attributed the racist language to “individuals of the DPRK,” but also called it “a proper reaction.” Of course, by then, KCNA had itself just called the President “a wicked black monkey.” By now, KCNA has released its grip on both deniability and apology. (For its part, the White House declined to comment on it.)

Of course, racism isn’t new to North Korea’s ideology, but flagrant racism, sexism, and homophobia are recent additions to its external propaganda. Its public embrace of these elements, along with the growing class divide in the North, marks another step in its progression away from any pretense of Marxism, and toward fascism with Korean characteristics.

It also bears repeating that in North Korea, racism isn’t just talk; according to multiple witnesses, it is a justification for infanticide and forced abortion of children of suspect racial purity.

Most of us in America associate “left” with “liberal,” but if the meaning of the word “liberal” still incorporates such notions as equality, freedom, and tolerance, there is nothing liberal about North Korea. Indeed, the arguments of Kim Jong Un’s remaining defenders on the extreme left have converged almost beyond distinction with the swelling ranks of his defenders on the extreme, paleoconservative right.

Which brings me to Christine Hong, an Assistant Professor at U.C. Santa Cruz, Kim Jong Un’s most vocal academic apologist now that even Bruce Cumings has largely abandoned him in disgust, and (as I’ve described her previously) the Florence Foster Jenkins of North Korea scholarship. Hong doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about flagrant, undeniable racism as the contrived kind:

Representations of North Korea as a buffoon, a menace, or both on the American big screen are at least as old and arguably as tired as the George W. Bush-era phrase, “the axis of evil.” Along with the figure of the Muslim “terrorist,” hackneyed Hollywood constructions of the “ronery” or diabolical Dr. Evil-like North Korean leader bent on world domination, the sinister race-bending North Korean spy, the robotic North Korean commando, and other post-Cold War Red/Yellow Peril bogeymen have functioned as go-to enemies for the commercial film industry’s geopolitical and racist fantasies. [Christine Hong, Asia-Pacific Journal, Dec. 29, 2014]

I don’t know if Hong has seen “The Interview,” but there is a small grain of truth in her argument. Whatever the other merits of each film, some of Seth Rogen’s lines in “The Interview” and Kim Jong Il’s dialogue in “Team America” included an offensive pidginization that fair observers could describe as racist. In Rogen’s case, it’s mostly done to parody his own character’s ignorance, but still, creative minds should and can find better vehicles than this to parody the likes of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un. Hong’s error is to seize on these offenses as polemical conveniences, lenses through which to view and distort the universe of society (but only ours) and foreign policy (but only ours).

To cite other examples of this, elsewhere, Hong approvingly cited a description of the Korean War — that is, the invasion of one Korean state with external backing by another — as “racist and imperialist violence” rooted in “the racist logic of American capitalism.” She has even attributed racist motives and white privilege to those advocating human rights for North Koreans. (Hong never quite explains how she extends this attribution to the many such advocates who are ethnic Koreans, or North Korean.)

Most of North Korea’s other apologists have also been silent about its racist slurs against President Obama, but Hong’s frequent, often strained, imputations that racism motivates North Korea’s foes and critics particularly invite the charge of hypocrisy.

If any sin is so mortal as to be grounds for immediate excommunication from the temples of liberalism and socialism — indeed, from nearly every branch of post-enlightenment thought, including mainstream conservatism — it is racism. Christopher Hitchens made the prohibition of it the first of his revised set of commandments. No racism is so dangerous, pernicious, or radioactive as official racism, and no official racism is a greater evil than that which purports to decide that the impure must not be permitted to live.

North Korea owns its racism now. So, I would argue, do those who defend it under the pretense of opposing racism. What other inference should we draw about the calibration of an instrument that detects unsafe levels of racism in every basement, yet which fails to detect it (much less oppose it) in its most highly enriched and lethal forms?

Read more

KCNA cites debunked accusations to deny human rights violations

It all started with a piece of web journalism that printed the demonstrably untrue accusations of two men whose views were never newsworthy, and which would never have been published had they been researched. One is a notorious denier of North Korea’s crimes against humanity who claims to have traveled widely within North Korea, meaning he’s either too blind to read a cuckoo clock at high noon or prevaricating, probably to protect his business interests there. The other is a combustible man (as in, warning: contents under pressure) without any basis for his mean-spirited accusation — an accusation he now both repeats and regrets in one incoherent post that also concedes the broader truth of Pyongyang’s crimes (but only as asserted by numerous other witnesses). Yet last week, their accusations graduated into official KCNA propaganda talking points in Pyongyang’s smear campaign against its accusers:

A journalist of Ireland on Oct. 29, 2014 in an article dedicated to the internet magazine The Diplomat said that Pak Yon Mi, 21-year old girl who defected from north Korea, spoke about “the serious human rights situation” in north Korea in tears at the World Youth Summit held in Dublin early in October and BBC, Al Jazeera, Daily Mail and other media gave wide publicity to it, but not a few critics claimed what she said was contrary to the truth, expressing skepticism about her speech.

Swiss businessman Felix Abt who had worked in north Korea for seven years till 2009 asserted that most of the stories told by those defectors from the north were not confirmed and clearly hyped or they were sheer lies.

Denying the claim mader by Pak Yon Mi, comparing Dublin Canal with a river in the area where she had lived, that she saw dead bodies afloat over the river every morning, Abt refuted her story by saying he had been to north Korea many times but had never seen dead bodies, showing a picture of children in north Korea wading in rivers with joy.

Challenging the assertion of Ri Kwang Chol, defector from the north, who said there is no physically disabled person in north Korea due to infanticide, Abt recalled that Pyongyang dispatched disabled players to the Paralymic Games held in Inchon, south Korea.

Michael Bassett, who served the U.S. forces as an expert for north Korea in the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula for years, said that the story made by Pak Yon Mi, defector from the north, was a shee lie, that Pak described the human rights situation in north Korea as a “massacre”, prompted by her intention to create a great sensation and that such anti-DPRK organizations in south Korea as “Freedom Factory” were behind her. Bassett, referring to the fact that Pak Yon Mi sent him an article refuting his story, ridiculed that her English was too perfect though she was a foreigner. [KCNA]

Congratulations, guys. Your reputations are now secure.

Embracing evil

Michael Bassett is an odd character of a kind that draws an increasingly selective audience–people who really, really hate other people who criticize North Korea about human rights.


The most recent targets of Bassett’s rage are a friend of mine, Casey Lartigue, and this woman:

In an article by John Power for The Diplomat, Bassett calls the woman, a North Korean refugee named Yeonmi Park, “a liar” and a “spinstress” for telling The Irish Independent, in her slightly broken English: “Every morning and every … like … some riverside like this [gesturing out the window] you can see the dead bodies floating, and if you go out in the morning and just people dead there.”

Park’s actual words are on video, but Power–or whatever source he drew from–alters her words slightly but materially to, “Every morning at riversides like this you can see dead bodies floating. If you go out in the morning, they are there.” In search of a controversy, Power confronts Park with this misquote, and she responds, “What I meant was … it was the countryside and special border areas and in winters (you could see bodies in rivers).” Or so says John Power.

Power then quotes Felix Abt, a windbag North Korean apologist and Switzerland’s greatest embarrassment to humanity since François Genoud. Abt also accuses Park of lying: “So I did see poverty-stricken areas, infrastructure in shambles, broken bridges over rivers and I would certainly have seen dead bodies if there were any.” Abt, who has also called the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea “a massive exaggeration,” tells Power, “[T]here may have been floating bodies in rivers in the terrible crisis years of the 90s when 600,000 people starved to death according to an estimate by the U.N. official who was then supervising foreign aid during the famine in the country.” (Abt’s sentences are as long as tapeworms.)

Bassett accuses Park of “sensationaliz[ing] the narrative to make everybody think that, you know, this is the ‘90s North Korea. It’s not.”

That is to say, Abt and Bassett insist that Park must be lying because there haven’t been “any” (Abt’s word) bodies found in North Korean rivers since 2000. Well, now…. If only some journalist who would rather inform his readers about a serious story than make a carnival sideshow of it would do some minimal research and conclusively establish just who’s really full of what here:

[February 11, 2008: Another North Korean “sensationalist”]

I’ll give Felix Abt this much–she certainly isn’t floating. Abt claims to have lived and “traveled unaccompanied to even remote provinces of” North Korea at the time this video was taken. Park is 21 now and was 13 when she fled, which would have been around 2006. I wasn’t with Yeonmi Park, so I can’t really prove she’s telling the truth, but I’ve already proven that Abt and Bassett aren’t, and I’m just getting started. Read more

Don Gregg: “I’ve long sensed that Kim Jong-un is going to change the nature of this country.”

“Kim Jong-un is a smart young man, and this was a very smart move,” Donald Gregg, who served terms as a C.I.A. station chief and the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul, said of the release of the detainees. “I’ve long sensed that Kim Jong-un is going to change the nature of this country.” Now retired, Gregg has worked in recent years to promote engagement between the United States and North Korea, including presiding over Ambassador Jang’s appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in October. During a trip to Pyongyang in February, Gregg told me, he met with North Korea’s vice-foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, who told him to expect Kim to open up the country. [Barbara Demick, The New Yorker]

Hey, you can say a lot of things about Pol Pot, but you can’t deny that he changed the nature of his country. If you look at it that way, there’s plenty of evidence that Gregg may be correct–Kim Jong Un is changing the nature of his country, too.

Adam Johnson: “Everyone who deals with them eventually gets burned.”

Somewhere, the world’s smallest violin is playing a Samuel Barber adagio for Walter Keats, who whines, not about the North Koreans who shut down his tour business after he spent years coddling and enriching them, but about Adam Johnson for writing a Pulitzer Prize winning novel:

Between 2006 and 2012, Walter Keats led dozens of tours as president of Asia Pacific Travel. By 2012, after building trust with North Korean officials, Keats and his wife were permitted to lead groups year-round.

Then, without explanation, Keats and his wife were denied entry. He believes his blacklisting was punishment for organizing a tour for Adam Johnson, a professor of creative writing at Stanford University who was doing research for “The Orphan Master’s Son,” a novel set in North Korea that was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book contains an irreverent portrayal of the late leader Kim Jong Il, which may have upset the North Korean government.

“The way the [North Korean] system works, somebody has to get punished for any kind of transgression that takes place,” Keats said.

Johnson said he has no way of knowing whether his novel was the cause of Keats’ banishment. “I truly hope not. From my sense of it, everyone who deals with them eventually gets burned,” he said in an email. [L.A. Times, Steven Borowiec]

For Keats to blame Adam Johnson for ruining his tour business is like blaming Harriet Beecher Stowe for driving up the price of cotton. Surely Keats does not mean to suggest that his clients should submit to the permanent, extraterritorial jurisdiction of North Korean censorship to protect his profits. Come of think of it, that could be the premise for another half-decent book.

Perhaps unintentionally, Johnson does suggest one potentially effective strategy for sabotaging the North Korea slumming industry. The plan isn’t without its flaws. Not only does a talented writer have to travel to North Korea, but he also has to come back to write about it.

Dennis Rodman, back from rehab, recounts hallucinations from last visit to Pyongyang

So Dennis Rodman is out of rehab and talking to the media again. In this interview, he’s described as “a potential source of information about a country that is inaccessible to most of the world,” so let’s test that.

Rodman’s first major revelation is that Jang Song Thaek wasn’t really executed several weeks before Rodman’s last trip to Pyongyang. In fact, Rodman says that on his last trip, Jang was “standing right behind me.”

Also, Kim Jong Un is “doing everything for these people” by building them the things they need most, like a ski resort and a water park. Asked again about North Korea’s political prison camps, Rodman said, “You name any country in the world… Which country does not have that shit? Every country has that.” Noted.

Somewhere in Langley, a CIA officer is putting down his pen, folding up his pad, and shaking his head in silent pity.

Can Rodman at least give us a lucid response to questions about his reported legal troubles for violating sanctions regulations?

DR: When I go there, it’s going to be a problem coming back. Because they could actually stop me from coming back. They could actually pull my passport. They already told me that. They’re afraid of me because I know so much.

DJ: “They” being…?

DR: Americans. Our government. They’ve got to be careful what they say, what they do, so I respect that. But for me, I mean, it’s freedom of speech. I’m not hurting anybody, I’m not putting anybody in danger, I’m just telling what I see. I have that leverage now that no one in the world has.

DJ: Is it true you’re being indicted by the U.S. Treasury?

DR: They want to indict me. And I’m like, “For what?” Treason. They’ve threatened me. They said I gave his wife a fur coat, a dress, I gave all these gifts. I was like, “I did? No I didn’t!”

I have to say, I’m disappointed that no one asked Rodman about the apocryphal report that he chundered and shat his way through the Koryo Hotel.

More consistent with expert opinion is the observation that Kim’s wife “don’t dress like a typical [North] Korean.” “She likes Gucci, Versace.” Oh, and North Korea wants a peace treaty, and to keep its nukes. What can we conclude from all of this? That they have yet to invent a rehab for what ails Dennis Rodman.

Eagerly awaiting Christine Ahn’s reaction to North Korea’s sexism and homophobia

Now that North Korea’s state media have called South Korea’s female president a “whore,” a “prostitute,” a “crazy bitch,” and a “comfort woman,” no one will ever have to invent sexism again to deflect criticism of North Korea’s crimes against humanity, and whoever does will, from this date forward, have to argue her away around real, vicious, state-sponsored misogyny.

What Park did before Obama this time reminds one of an indiscreet girl who earnestly begs a gangster to beat someone or a capricious whore who asks her fancy man to do harm to other person while providing sex to him. [….]

She fully met the demands of her master for aggression, keeping mum about the nukes of the U.S. and desperately finding fault with fellow countrymen in the north over their nukes. She thus laid bare her despicable true colors as a wicked sycophant and traitor, a dirty comfort woman for the U.S. and despicable prostitute selling off the nation. [KCNA]

Separately, the Rodong Sinmun called Park a “political whore” who had “oil[ed] her tongue on Obama.” In the last month, North Korea has also called Park a “crazy bitch” and “human scum,” and overflown her residence with reconnaissance UAVs. It called her (admittedly implausible) reunification plan “a psychopath’s dream” and told her to “keep[] her disgusting mouth closed.” And as I noted at the time, North Korea called Park “a political prostitute” last November.

Where to begin? I suppose equally statesmanlike ideas can heard at police booking desks anywhere, from men who have been arrested for violating restraining orders, although in every “Cops” episode I’ve seen, the censors left a bit more to the imagination. (Also, those men didn’t learn their English in Pyongyang.) In any event, it’s safe to conclude that the charm offensive and that anti-“slander” deal are both over.

No self-described feminist can ever overlook this language without forfeiting either her claim to feminism or her credibility. In case you wonder, this is not an empty hypothesis. I can name at least one self-described feminist (and maybe one more) who has overlooked this, will almost assuredly continue to do so, and is occasionally invited to appear on broadcasts whose audiences must number in the hundreds (also, Al Jazeera). Something tells me Pyongyang’s latest isn’t a deal-breaker for her. Or, for that matter, for Al Jazeera.

Now, unlike the reporters at AFP, I didn’t find where KCNA allegedly called our African-American President a “pimp,” but “fancy man” suggests as much, and invokes crude racial and sexual stereotypes of pimps in purple leisure suits that even North Korean propaganda writers can’t be ignorant of. Only North Korea could get away with language like this. (I wonder what Dennis Rodman thinks about it. No, on further thought, I suppose I don’t.)

I offer no opinion as to whether these words lower KCNA’s own bar after last week’s homophobic slurs against Justice Kirby. But I do hope Stephen Bosworth and Robert Gallucci read this part:

The outcome of Obama’s south Korean junket clearly proved that the DPRK was entirely just when it judged and determined that it should counter the U.S., the sworn enemy, by force only, not just talking, and should finally settle accounts with it through an all-out nuclear showdown. 

Oh, and North Korea is saying that it’s done with South Korea as long as Park is President.

There is no remedy for Park and there is nothing to expect from her as far as the inter-Korean relations are concerned as long as she remains a boss of Chongwadae. [….]

Genes remain unchanged. Needless to say, her present behavior suggests that her fate will be just the same as that of her father Park Chung Hee who met a miserable death after being forsaken by his master and public while crying out for “unification by prevailing over communism” and “unification by stamping out communism”. 

The DPRK will never pardon anyone who dares challenge its dignity, social system and its line of simultaneously developing the two fronts, the statement warned. 

On a related note, North Korea, which was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, also threatened a preemptive attack and to obliterate South Korea this week. Discuss among yourselves.

Oh, and North Korea’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador, Ri Tong-il, enlarged the definition of diplomacy recently by saying that “Pyongyang has drawn a ‘red line’ for the U.S.,” accused arch-neocon Barack Obama of being “hell-bent on regime change,” and said that “[t]he U.S. itself may be in danger if it keeps denying our self-defensive military measures.” (Ri also said that there “are no [human rights] abuses” in North Korea, and that North Korea has “best social system in the world.”)

It’s sad to consider that somewhere in this world, the composition of such language is deemed a talent that qualifies a person for high diplomatic office. But these are, after all, just words. The more important feminist grievances against North Korea ought to be against petty despotisms like forbidding women from wearing pants or riding bicycles, or telling them what hairstyles they can wear, or the greater despotisms that deny them their life’s aspirations and force them into sexual slavery instead.

Feds investigating Rodman for violating N. Korea sanctions


U.S. Commerce ** 2014-01-10 at 12.48.39 PM

You’re welcome, feds! Email me and we’ll do coffee sometime. On me.

Hey … isn’t that video of Dennis Rodman personally giving banned luxury goods to Kim Jong Un?

Skip to the two-minute mark. Well, that certainly looks incriminating. (Hat tip to a reader.)

[I guess he picked the wrong week to quit drinking.]

If you haven’t read my post explaining the ban on importing luxury goods to North Korea, you should probably start there.* And since you ask, yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe the bottles are engraved with likenesses of Kim and Rodman.

Just to be clear, I don’t think Dennis Rodman should do time over five bottles of liquor, but when you flaunt your disregard for the law, you almost force the feds to do something about it, even if that something is a modest civil penalty and a Cautionary Letter.

Of course, five bottles of liquor may not be quite the full extent of it, either. Chad O’Carroll at NK News has done some first-rate investigation of this story. Don’t miss this one — it’s an absolute must-read.

It’s hard to watch something this … insane and not laugh. Try harder; so will I. The luxury goods ban is in place because most of the other 23 million North Koreans are living on the verge of starvation while this tiny oligarchy lives like this. There’s nothing funny about that.


* Or, you can watch it on Arirang News, whose report uses language nearly identical to my post, but spares me the burden of attribution. Start at 1:45. You’re welcome.

So, Dennis — other than that, how is the trip going so far?

Dennis Rodman’s September trip to North Korea included a trip to Kim’s yacht near Wonsan, which Rodman described as “like going to Hawaii or Ibiza.” Evidently, this trip hasn’t been as pleasant:

A day after the former basketball star sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and led a squad of former NBA players in a friendly game, Rodman issued the apology through publicist Jules Feiler in an email message to The Associated Press.

“I want to apologize,” Rodman said. “I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It’s not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the truth.

“I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae’s family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I’m very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.” [AP]

Even Kim Jong Un appears to have been taken by surprise when Rodman burst into “Happy Birthday.” And Max Fisher, who often emphasizes the quirky aspects of North Korea, thinks “Rodman may have crossed some sort of line,” and has reached “the point where what he’s doing stops being funny and becomes something more serious.”

So, to summarize — Rodman has fallen off the wagon, made himself into a national pariah, driven away some of the retired players who joined his tour, hardened global attitudes against his new best pal, and quite possibly freaked out Kim Jong Un himself — which may be the most unwise thing he’s done all week.

If anyone asks Rodman what he gave Kim Jong Un for his birthday, we might also learn whether he’s also in legal trouble for violating U.S. sanctions laws.

But at least he still has Jesse Jackson, who isn’t wrong when he says that Rodman is the reason we’re talking about North Korea. And to be fair here, a lot of us have piled on Rodman for not talking about human rights, but he is, after all, just a washed-up basketball player. What people are really upset about is Rodman’s effusive and cretinous affection for a mass murderer. If Rodman had just stuck with the story that he’s not a diplomat and that’s not his job, plenty of people would have accepted that.

As Rodman implies, it’s the diplomats who are responsible for talking to Kim Jong Un about human rights. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un isn’t willing to meet with them, and the specific person whose job it is to “promote and coordinate North Korean human rights and humanitarian issues“ is a nice, quiet man you’ve never heard of because he’s wholly ineffective in that role, because he’s trying not to rock any diplomatic boats (or, if you prefer, yachts).

But strategic silence isn’t going to change North Korea or achieve our national interests. We brought Iran back to the bargaining table by sanctioning it to the edge of extinction. Why not North Korea? Because the Obama Administration has no North Korea policy, and its sanctions against North Korea are pale shadow of our sanctions against Iran. Our sanctions against Iran were forced down the Obama Administration’s throat by Congress. Hopefully, that will happen with North Korea next.

But what then? Even when our diplomats do meet with the North Koreans, they do everything they can to sideline, bury, and marginalize the question of human rights. Rodman certainly is the easiest target here, but the smarminess of our diplomats, the incompetence of the Obama Administration, and — above all — the atrocious conduct of Kim Jong Un himself are really more deserving of serious criticism.

[Update: This post has been corrected to note that Rodman’s “Ibiza” experience in Wonsan was in September 2013, and not his “last” trip to North Korea (which was in December). Oh, and it was Rodman, not Kim Jong Un, who sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong Un.]

And now, a long list of people who think Dennis Rodman is a tool.

Update: Jesus wept (hat tip):

~  ~  ~

Charles D. Smith, one of the former players who went to Pyongyang with Dennis Rodman, is still in Pyongyang, but he’s already saying he feels “remorse” for going because of the public backlash against the trip, and because of Rodman’s mouth:

“The way some of the statements and things that Dennis has said has tainted our efforts,” Smith said. “Dennis is a great guy, but how he articulates what goes on — he gets emotional and he says things that he’ll apologize for later.”


“I feel bad for Dennis, I feel bad for the players,” Smith said afterward, adding that when he played for the United States in the 1988 Olympics he felt elation. “I felt huge, I felt on top of the world. But I feel the reverse now,” he said. “I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it’s a lot bigger than us. We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are. We can’t do anything about that, if we could we would. 

“We’re not skilled in those particular areas,” he added. “Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas.”

Smith isn’t the only one:

Many of the players on Tuesday expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home in the United States.

As of yesterday, both the NBA and the National Basketball Retired Players’ Association had publicly denounced the trip.

I know I’ve already reported on the press event with Suzanne Scholte, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, and Rep. Elliot Engel, but I have to link Time’s report on that event, which notes that Engel “is working on bipartisan legislation to expand and enforce sanctions on North Korea.” Also joining Engel were “a mother and daughter who escaped North Korea.” The daughter said this:

Jo Jin Hye, a 26-year-old North Korean escapee who fled the country with her mother and sister and now lives in Virginia, echoed the appeal to call off the match. Jo had previously testified before a United Nations commission on human rights abuses in the country.

“I want to say, NBA player people, please don’t make Kim Jong Un happy. And I want to say if you want to help North Korea, just help normal people like us. Just the North Korean people, not the North Korean government,” he said.

Next up, Kenneth Bae’s sister, who really should be doing more interviews and making more public statements about her brother:

His sister, Terri Chung, told Anderson Cooper 360 that Rodman’s comments were shocking and outrageous. But she said she was upset because Rodman didn’t use his relationship with Kim to help gain her brother’s release from the hospital. “He was in a position to do some good and to help advocate for Kenneth,” she said. “He refused to do so. But then instead he has chosen to hurl these outrageous accusations against Kenneth. He clearly doesn’t know anything about Kenneth, about his case. And so we were appalled by that.”

She said her brother was in North Korea legally working as a tour operator. She hoped one of the former basketball players would take a chance to ask for amnesty for him. “This isn’t some game. This is about a person’s life,” she said. [CNN]

The White House piles on:

“I did not see some of the comments that Mr. Rodman made, but I am not going to dignify that outburst with a response,” Carney added. “I am simply going to say that we remain gravely concerned about Kenneth Bae’s health and continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.” [CNN]

I’ll close with the most surprising source of criticism.

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN he was “disappointed” by Rodman’s performance. I think Dennis Rodman crossed a line this morning by implying that Kenneth Bae might be guilty, by suggesting that there was a crime,” the politician said. “There is no crime. Kenneth Bae is an American detainee that’s been there a year in bad health, who deserves to come home.”

He said Rodman “drank a little bit too much of the Kool-Aid from the North Koreans.” [CNN]

Anything to stay relevant, I suppose.

Thanks to Dennis Rodman, several hundred million more people now know that North Korea is one of the world’s worst human rights violators, has a massive gulag system, is inhabited by shrunken, half-starved people, and is led by an impulsive, morbidly obese playboy. Keep on rocking, Dennis.