Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kim Il-Sung

Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Off Its Mask

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

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Reading (and Misreading) Kim

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

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Castro, Clinging

Last Monday, Fidel Castro, in a letter read on state television, stated that “My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” This Monday, however, his younger brother gave every indication that Fidel has no intention of giving up his formal positions of power. Raul, who has been running the country for seventeen months as “provisional” president, claimed that the 81-year-old leader is fine and hampered only by “some small physical limitations.” Said the younger Castro: “We consult him on principal matters, that is why we the leaders of the party defend his right to run again as deputy of the National Assembly as a first step.”

First step? Castro must keep his National Assembly seat in order to retain his official position atop the Cuban political order as president of the Council of State. Elections take place January 20. Despite his I-won’t-cling declarations, Fidel this month announced he would run for the legislative seat.

Of course, it’s unlikely his constituents will see much of him on the stump. Since last July, when he was hospitalized for intestinal problems, he has released photos of himself in his Adidas track suits, he has met with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he has issued written pronouncements with great regularity, yet he has not been well enough to appear in public. Not surprisingly, therefore, he’s asked Raul to campaign for him for the National Assembly seat.

And there is something else he has been asking Raul. Fidel evidently wants his brother to take over formally when he dies. That will be only the second dynastic succession in a Communist state. In the first, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il assumed power after his father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. At the time, virtually every analyst assumed that the North Korean state would collapse without its charismatic founder. Today, history is repeating itself as most every Cuba watcher thinks there will be great changes after Fidel, who brought Communism to Cuba, goes. Raul is said to be more pragmatic than his hardline brother and appears to want reform.

There is always optimism when leaders in Communist nations change. We hope that Raul is indeed a reformer, yet we have to remember that Marxist states operate according to their own logic. The risk is that, when Fidel finally passes from the scene, the West will reward Cuba in anticipation of changes we assume his successor will make. The better approach is to first watch what happens. After all, North Korea is still the same North Korea, just more dangerous.

Last Monday, Fidel Castro, in a letter read on state television, stated that “My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” This Monday, however, his younger brother gave every indication that Fidel has no intention of giving up his formal positions of power. Raul, who has been running the country for seventeen months as “provisional” president, claimed that the 81-year-old leader is fine and hampered only by “some small physical limitations.” Said the younger Castro: “We consult him on principal matters, that is why we the leaders of the party defend his right to run again as deputy of the National Assembly as a first step.”

First step? Castro must keep his National Assembly seat in order to retain his official position atop the Cuban political order as president of the Council of State. Elections take place January 20. Despite his I-won’t-cling declarations, Fidel this month announced he would run for the legislative seat.

Of course, it’s unlikely his constituents will see much of him on the stump. Since last July, when he was hospitalized for intestinal problems, he has released photos of himself in his Adidas track suits, he has met with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he has issued written pronouncements with great regularity, yet he has not been well enough to appear in public. Not surprisingly, therefore, he’s asked Raul to campaign for him for the National Assembly seat.

And there is something else he has been asking Raul. Fidel evidently wants his brother to take over formally when he dies. That will be only the second dynastic succession in a Communist state. In the first, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il assumed power after his father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. At the time, virtually every analyst assumed that the North Korean state would collapse without its charismatic founder. Today, history is repeating itself as most every Cuba watcher thinks there will be great changes after Fidel, who brought Communism to Cuba, goes. Raul is said to be more pragmatic than his hardline brother and appears to want reform.

There is always optimism when leaders in Communist nations change. We hope that Raul is indeed a reformer, yet we have to remember that Marxist states operate according to their own logic. The risk is that, when Fidel finally passes from the scene, the West will reward Cuba in anticipation of changes we assume his successor will make. The better approach is to first watch what happens. After all, North Korea is still the same North Korea, just more dangerous.

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Evil Empire Symphonies

The announcement that the New York Philharmonic likely will travel to North Korea next February, at the behest of that country’s Culture Ministry, brings up memories of orchestral maneuvers during cold wars past. First Run Features has just issued on DVD the Oscar-winning 1979 documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, in which the great violinist hears direct testimony of the ghastly sufferings experienced by Chinese classical musicians during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Any trip to North Korea looks likely to be just as harrowing. Kim Jong Il, according to his official biography, has written 1,500 books and six operas, “all of which are better than any in the history of music.” In 2001, the University Press of the Pacific published Kim Jong Il’s Art of Opera, which contains such gems as: “An opera singer must sing well. A stage actor’s main task is to speak well and act well. While an opera singer’s main task is to sing well.” We are also informed that an “orchestra must accompany songs skillfully.” These gross banalities are natural from a philistine who requires that all music in his country be in praise of himself and Communism.

Jasper Becker’s Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea from Oxford University Press accuses Kim and his father Kim Il Sung of responsibility for the deaths of 7 million North Koreans from famine, war, and political oppression. Becker particularly condemns politicians, from Vladimir Putin to Madeleine Albright, who returned home after trips to North Korea reporting “how rational, well-informed, witty, charming, and deeply popular Kim Jong Il is.” This kind of flattering publicity is already being churned out by the Philharmonic, whose public relations director Eric Latzky informed the New York Times that Pyongyang, based on a preliminary visit, is “clean and orderly and not without beauty, and had a kind of high level of culture and intelligence.”

Isaac Stern visited Communist China after the worst of the Cultural Revolution was already past, but North Korea is still a tragedy-in-progress. In Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, co-authors Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland point out that Kim Jong Il’s “culpability in this vast misery elevates the North Korean famine to the level of a crime against humanity.” Mismanagement, after Soviet subsidies slowly stopped in the 1980′s, was aggravated by brutal state policies like the notorious 1991 “Eat Two Meals a Day” campaign and the 1997 songun or “military first” policy, giving the army and political hacks first claim on any foreign aid. Haggard and Noland state that by 2005, around 30 percent of foreign aid had been stolen by Kim and his cronies, while the famine deaths continued. New York Philharmonic musicians might choke on their after-concert dinners if they read these books. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but he was not a Philharmonic violinist.

The announcement that the New York Philharmonic likely will travel to North Korea next February, at the behest of that country’s Culture Ministry, brings up memories of orchestral maneuvers during cold wars past. First Run Features has just issued on DVD the Oscar-winning 1979 documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, in which the great violinist hears direct testimony of the ghastly sufferings experienced by Chinese classical musicians during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Any trip to North Korea looks likely to be just as harrowing. Kim Jong Il, according to his official biography, has written 1,500 books and six operas, “all of which are better than any in the history of music.” In 2001, the University Press of the Pacific published Kim Jong Il’s Art of Opera, which contains such gems as: “An opera singer must sing well. A stage actor’s main task is to speak well and act well. While an opera singer’s main task is to sing well.” We are also informed that an “orchestra must accompany songs skillfully.” These gross banalities are natural from a philistine who requires that all music in his country be in praise of himself and Communism.

Jasper Becker’s Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea from Oxford University Press accuses Kim and his father Kim Il Sung of responsibility for the deaths of 7 million North Koreans from famine, war, and political oppression. Becker particularly condemns politicians, from Vladimir Putin to Madeleine Albright, who returned home after trips to North Korea reporting “how rational, well-informed, witty, charming, and deeply popular Kim Jong Il is.” This kind of flattering publicity is already being churned out by the Philharmonic, whose public relations director Eric Latzky informed the New York Times that Pyongyang, based on a preliminary visit, is “clean and orderly and not without beauty, and had a kind of high level of culture and intelligence.”

Isaac Stern visited Communist China after the worst of the Cultural Revolution was already past, but North Korea is still a tragedy-in-progress. In Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, co-authors Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland point out that Kim Jong Il’s “culpability in this vast misery elevates the North Korean famine to the level of a crime against humanity.” Mismanagement, after Soviet subsidies slowly stopped in the 1980′s, was aggravated by brutal state policies like the notorious 1991 “Eat Two Meals a Day” campaign and the 1997 songun or “military first” policy, giving the army and political hacks first claim on any foreign aid. Haggard and Noland state that by 2005, around 30 percent of foreign aid had been stolen by Kim and his cronies, while the famine deaths continued. New York Philharmonic musicians might choke on their after-concert dinners if they read these books. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but he was not a Philharmonic violinist.

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