May 12, 2012:
One of the many things that make people angry in North Korea are the Arirang games. These are mass gymnastic performances that take place between August and October. Over 100,000 children (most of them teenagers but some as young as 6) are selected in May and then train, often for 12 hours a day, until the games end in October and they have performed many times. Failure in training or the performances leads to punishment of the child and parents. In times of hunger this can mean less food, which is pretty severe. Even if the kid succeeds the family has to pay for some supplies and costume items. Being selected also means that the child loses time at their studies. Wealthy parents use bribes to make sure their children are not selected. Those families that cannot bribe their way out are not happy with the situation. Many North Koreans expected Kim Jong Un to cancel the unpopular games and are bitterly disappointed to find that he did not. The selections for this year's games are taking place now and the grumbling is getting pretty loud.
The games were first held in 2002, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. The games were not held in 2003, 2004, and 2006. The government eventually came to believe that the games were good propaganda and a source of income. From 2007, on the "games" were held partly because foreign tourists were allowed in to see the performances (and pay top dollar for everything they needed while in the north). Over 100,000 foreigners have paid to view a performance of the games, while over 12 million North Koreans have attended as well. North Koreans know what is going on here, that there kids are being tortured and exploited to earn more foreign currency for the national leadership. North Korea is trying, with some success, to attract more Chinese tourists for the games.
Many North Korean officials oppose allowing more foreign tourists in because, despite the stringent controls on their outsiders, more news, new gadgets (smart phones and talk of better living standards elsewhere), and other corrupting influences get in. The biggest corrupting influence is the cell phone, especially those used along the Chinese border (via nearby Chinese cell towers). This news of the outside world (and other parts of North Korea) gets spread by word-of-mouth or even via the legal cell phones allowed in a few cities. Then there are the CD and DVD videos smuggled in, along with illegal radios that can pick up foreign broadcasts. This is a scary situation for a government that, until about a decade ago, had complete control over media in North Korea. This access to outside news has made more North Koreans question the lies they had believed for so long. Those North Koreans who quietly questioned the lies are now harboring a growing anger against the tyranny that causes so much injustice and suffering.
It's been a month since the northern government turned over control of border security to the NSA (National Security Agency, the secret police). NSA agents have been very enthusiastic, and more resistant to bribes, in searching for traitors (cell phone owners, potential defectors, and traders selling goods above the government mandated prices). The new authority of the NSA gives them an edge when competing (to find people to send to labor camps) against military intelligence and police investigators. For example, the families of those who escape into China are more frequently just disappearing, usually overnight. These midnight visits and arrests are meant to terrorize the population as a whole and are an NSA specialty. These new responsibilities spread the NSA thin, especially with so many of their members succumbing to corruption.
Researchers in South Korea have found at least three recent examples of people being publicly executed in North Korea because of cannibalism. This was common during the widespread famine of the 1990s. It is feared that many more cases of cannibalism are not being caught (the victims just disappear, are eaten and remains never found), or many were caught and secretly tried and executed.
May 7, 2012: South Korea and the United States began two weeks of joint air force exercises. These are the largest such exercises in four years and test the ability of the two countries to coordinate their air operations against a North Korean attack. The exercises also test the ability of the Americans to get air force reinforcements to South Korea in a hurry.
May 2, 2012: The UN blacklisted three state-owned North Korean companies for their participation in the unsuccessful satellite launch last month. These bans make it more difficult, and expensive, for North Korea to operate outside the country.
April 30, 2012: Off the west coast South Korean coast guardsmen boarded a Chinese fishing boat suspected of operating illegally in South Korean waters. Four of the Chinese attacked the boarding party, and nine Chinese ended up under arrest for assault and illegal fishing. China claims that South Korean territorial waters do not extend as far as international law says. China is getting more aggressive on this point. South Korea refuses to give in to the pressure. China has been bullying Korea like this for over a thousand years.
April 29, 2012: South Korea officials have received dozens of reports of problems with GPS signals in the last 24 hours. After several days of investigation, it was concluded that jamming signals were coming from North Korea. The jamming continues (as of May 12th) and it has meant some problems for over 600 commercial aircraft operating near the border, as well as over a hundred ships operating near the coast and border. Ships and aircraft have backup navigation systems so the disruption in minimal. North Korea denies responsibility for the jamming. South Korea has filed a formal complaint with the UN, but there has not been any response yet.
April 28, 2012: Two North Korean police who fled to China on the 23rd were captured by Chinese police and returned to North Korea yesterday. The two men will probably be executed, although rumors in North Korea indicate that such traitors are tortured to death. Up north there's not a lot of love for government officials who try to leave the country. These two guys killed seven other police in order to flee, although there are rumors that the cause was personal disagreements.