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The dark past, the dark present in North Korea

From the Financial Times via North Korean Economy Watch:

North Korea’s harvests cannot feed all its people and in recent years the annual food deficit was about 1m tonnes. People are chronically malnourished and as many as 1m are believed to have died during famine in the 1990s. [Emphases mine.]

Link commentary

Radley Balko's morning links were a treasure trove. The highlights:

Police Officer Seeks Protection FROM the Police

When he opened his locker at the NYPD’s 42nd Precinct, Officer Frank Palestro was greeted with a symbolic death threat: A mousetrap with his name on it.

Palestro, who was one of three elected precinct delegates to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, had been outed as a “rat” for reporting acts of official corruption ordered by Lt. Susana Seda, a former midnight platoon commander who is mired in scandal.

The whistleblower “was transferred to another command for his safety,” reports the February 24 New York Daily News.


Lt. Seda, according to Palestro, “told everybody I was a `f****** rat’” because he acted in the interests of the public and conscientious street officers, rather than corrupt figures further up the chain of command. Accordingly, the nine-year police veteran and union rep is being offered protection akin to that extended to defectors from criminal syndicates. [emphasis mine]

They're the largest, best organized, most dangerous gang of all, don't forget it.

God wants gays dead, says beauty queen Lauren Ashley

CARRIE Prejean isn't the only beauty queen open to expressing her objection to same-sex marriage.

Miss Beverly Hills 2010 Lauren Ashley is also speaking out in support of traditional nuptials, Fox News reported.

"The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman," Ms Ashley told Fox News.

"In Leviticus it says: 'If man lies with mankind as he would lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death and their blood shall be upon them.'

"The Bible is pretty black and white.

"I feel like God himself created mankind and he loves everyone, and he has the best for everyone.


"If he says that having sex with someone of your same gender is going to bring death upon you, that's a pretty stern warning, and he knows more than we do about life."

Ms Ashley, 23, will be representing Beverly Hills in the Miss California pageant in November.

Her statements mirror former Miss California Carrie Prejean's answer to a question about same-sex marriage in last year's Miss USA pageant.

That's a direct quote from the book! I agree that it's appalling that anyone would have that belief, but Lauren Ashley is only one of billions who trusts that book. She's given us a good reason to reject the whole thing. It's just plain hypocritical for people who base their religion on this text to get worked up about her comments.

Let us be clear: we can all do whatever we want to you

Obama's Justice Department has cleared some high-ranking Bush officials of any legal ethics violations in authorizing torture of people who were not charged with crimes.

I get paid to interpret signs sometimes

Late last year when the weather started getting cold (and people started getting sick) a sign went up in the mens' room at my office:

Always wash hands with soap and warm running water before returning to work.

My first thought was "Do we really need a sign to tell us this?" My second thought was "When they run out of soap, do I get to go home?" Well, the soap is running low now. Half days all around!

The Greek Crisis

Mario Rizzo on the impending Euro crisis centered around Greece:

People like to deny reality when it is unpleasant. This is not just a problem of bad leadership. It is a problem that goes to the heart of the fantasy world the typical voter lives in. But reality bites. Let’s see how it does so in the next few years.

Greek history is an illustration of a great point by Thomas Sowell: societies that dominate the intellectual, technological, and military scenes in one age do not necessarily keep that lead.

I'm sure the specific numbers are already being gloated about

How handy for Daniel Pipes that the thing he wants most in the entire world--the destruction of as many Iranians as militarily feasible--is exactly what would reinject some vim and vigor back into Obama's presidency! Oh happy day, except for civilized people all over the world.

The lost Tea Party

Whatever momentum the Tea Party movement had--and I view this as a separate movement from the one that arose around Ron Paul--they're now going to squander it entirely.

The Scandalously Non-scandalous Scandal

The bounds of respectable political discourse in Europe are waaaay different than they are in the U.S.A. For instance, what mentions Climategate got here focused on the fact that climate data were completely and artificially manipulated in what was an at least loosely organized effort. This team conspired to block competing viewpoints from the discussion and "lost" raw unmanipulated data when it was requested.

And in Europe, they think that intelligence agencies from oil-producing companies were behind the exposé of this manipulation. And the exposé is the scandal, not the falsification.

Even if it's true that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Russia (or all three) were behind it, um, who cares? If there was a systematic effort to falsify data that have massive, worldwide policy implications, that needs to get worked out.

This is the empire

I'm used to wishing I hadn't read articles about the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the complete indifference to human rights on the part of the occupation forces. So many of them turn my stomach and sour my mood knowing that these things are being done (partially in my name) so frequently and with so little reaction from Americans. If you're not ready to deal with reality, don't read this, the story of a man pointlessly imprisoned for years and tortured at Guantánamo. The only upshot is that he resisted with manly fortitude and was eventually released.

Embedded in that story is another one, also frightening on two accounts. An American soldier who was a guard at Guantánamo was the subject of a training exercise wherein he dressed as a prisoner, and other guards were to "pratice" "extracting" him. This guy was beat nearly to death and given permanent brain injuries before they figured out he was part of their gang. (The video evidence, of course, was destroyed immediately, and nothing of consequence happened to the thugs.) If this happened to him it surely must happen in other situations that we know less about.

The second thing, the cruel icing on the cake, is this:

"So, if you got your health back, I take it, after your experience with the Army, you’d never serve again," Simon asks Baker.

"I’d be in," says Baker. "Till the day I die."

This guy is so brainwashed that he can't even wrap his mind around the nature of the organization that did this to him and abjectly refuses to correct it even in the smallest way. He ought to know better more than almost anybody, and he doesn't.

A Tale of Two Systems

This one can't wait until our May Day memorial:

Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. (See this famous photograph.) Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

Six inches?! North and South Koreans formed a common genetic pool until the Korean War, and now they differ on average by six inches in height? If we needed a clearer sign that Stalinism is always and everywhere an economic failure, this is it.

Adam's Family Jewels

John Payne hipped me to a great article about how dirty the Bible really is. Highly recommended. Here's the intro:

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and He took the bone of Adam’s penis and made him a woman.”

Er, wait, wasn’t it from one of Adam’s ribs that Eve was created?

Not according to Ziony Zevit. A professor of Semitic languages at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles Zevit posits that the Hebrew word tsela (literally “side,” but traditionally translated as “rib”) employed in Genesis refers in fact to Adam’s member.

The Culinary Grammys

I'm thinking of starting my own awards ceremony: the Culinary Grammys. Each year we'd reward truly outstanding culinary creations in the same way that the Grammys reward musical excellence. This year's best burger winner: McDonald's. Best restaurant: T.G.I. Friday's.

I haven't decided on the other ones yet--I mean, the experienced, knowledgeable judges haven't decided on the other ones yet. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

The Second Vermont Republic

There's something awesome brewing in Vermont: a secessionist campaign. If you recall, during the Revolution Vermont was its own republic, and the group is aptly titled Second Vermont Republic.

A former Duke University economics professor, Naylor heads up the Second Vermont Republic, which he describes as "left-libertarian, anti-big government, anti-empire, antiwar, with small is beautiful as our guiding philosophy." The group not only advocates the peaceful secession of Vermont but has minted its own silver "token" — valued at $25 — and, as part of a publishing venture with another secessionist group, runs a monthly newspaper called Vermont Commons, with a circulation of 10,000. According to a 2007 poll, they have support from at least 13% of state voters. The campaign slogan, Naylor told me, is "Imagine Free Vermont."

Another member, Dennis Steele, points out:

"People in Vermont in general are very antiwar, and all their faith was in Obama to end the wars. I ask people, 'Did you get the change you wanted?' They can't even look you in the eyes. We live in a nation that is asleep at the wheel and where the hearts are growing cold like ice."

Obviously, I recommend you get on over there and read it.

Yes We Can! get away with murder

Chris Floyd's excellent blog contains a new entry in response to the disgusting circus known as the State of the Union Address:

As the overflow of pundit effluent after the State of the Union speech continues to sulfurize the political air, Glenn Greenwald brings up a background point that we have been hammering on about here for years: i.e., the fact that the President of the United States claims the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth -- including U.S. citizens -- without charges, without trial, without warning.

As I first wrote in November 2001, George W. Bush proclaimed this divine power shortly after 9/11. And as we have often noted (here, for example), Barack Obama has reaffirmed this megalomaniacal principle. Greenwald focuses on the latest, and one of the most brazen, assertions of the doctrine of presidential murder: the Obama Administration's casual compiling of "hit lists" of people in Yemen that it wants to assassinate, including at least three U.S. citizens. (Fittingly enough, one of the first people murdered by Bush's universal murder racket was an American citizen in Yemen. Continuity, continuity, in all things continuity!)

I like Floyd's stronger wording, so I quote him here, but Greenwald's article is also great.

Doing business in an anti-business culture

A lot of legal climates are fairly hostile to business, but there's a deeper problem in some places, which is that the culture is also hostile. Legal climates can change drastically in the short term, but cultural attitudes are much slower-moving. Here's how one group tries to change their culture, a little at a time. I'll keep my fingers crossed for them.