Kim Jong-il's Big Flop
His hopes to intimidate the West fizzled with the failed missile tests.
Updated Friday, July 7, 2006, at 5:20 PM
Economist, July 8 An article psychoanalyzes Kim Jong-il's decision to conduct missile tests. Jealous of the incentives currently being offered to Iran, the North Korean leader may hope to intimidate the international community into negotiating on his terms. But the failure of the long-range Taepodong-2 saps the move of much scare factor and may encourage an American crackdown. While Japan allies with the United States, South Korean and Chinese trade keeps the struggling North Korean economy afloat. … As homemade Palestinian rockets incite fear in Israeli citizens, a piece argues that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under increasing domestic pressure to take a hard line on security issues. The author notes that Israel's siege of Gaza was planned long before the kidnapping of Cpl. Shalit and may be "the death-knell for Mr Olmert's plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank."—N.R.
New York Times Magazine, July 9 The cover story weighs the economic arguments for and against regulating immigration, noting that immigration law is rarely rooted in economics. The author adopts the view that immigrants are competing less with native-born Americans than with one another. The influx of unskilled Mexican workers may hurt unskilled American workers, the piece concludes, but the damage is minimal compared to the broader societal benefits, including rising national wage levels. Economists credit an increasingly educated workforce and the U.S. economy's "mysterious but powerful" capacity for absorbing labor. … A piece airs the dirty laundry of the Minot siblings, the talented progeny of a Massachusetts banker whose wealth has subsidized their literary ambitions. Ever since their mother died in a car accident, the siblings have turned their childhoods into fodder for the page. The result is "a kind of New England 'Rashomon,' divergent and sometimes conflicting accounts of their collective past."—C.B.
New Republic, July 10 and 17 With their electronics shops and restaurants, Chinese entrepreneurs blended well into Iraqi society during wartime, according to a compelling cover piece. The Chinese valued hard work and family and weren't threatening like the democracy enforcers from America. But as the war wore on, the small Chinese community began to be menaced by Iraqis who "no longer saw the Chinese as neutral purveyors of cheap televisions but as foreign interlopers." Eventually the abduction by the Islamic Resistance Movement of Chinese workers halted their hopeful brand of capitalism in Iraq. … An article complains that health-care providers and insurers do not offer consumers standardized stats on the success rates of their facilities and doctors because of bad administration and the desire to duck demanding customers, which leads to an ignorant public and compromised care. The writers argue for increased federal pressure for standardized guidelines, more results tracking, and competition among providers to drive down prices.— M.M.
The Nation, July 17 and 24
A cover piece reveals the woeful state of Ohio's electoral system. Since the controversial 2004 election, the state's GOP-dominated electoral boards have implemented voting policies that benefit Republicans, including a voter-identification requirement that hinders poor and elderly voters and a price hike for recount petitions. The author claims that, given several close races and a new electronic voting system that could malfunction, Ohio faces a potential meltdown: "It's not that anyone will be out to steal the election necessarily," one voting activist said. "They don't need to—we can screw it up all by ourselves."… An article explores Democratic concerns that Howard Dean's DNC is not adequately preparing for a fight in November. The party's failure to win a special election to replace scandal-ridden California Republican Duke Cunningham in June, as well as the RNC's comparatively flush coffer, has only compounded fears. Dean claims that his flood-the-zone "50 State Strategy" will deliver, but key party operatives remain dubious.— C.B.
Harper's, July 2006 An article claims that Wal-Mart has established a dangerous monopsony (meaning it can dictate prices to its suppliers) because Ronald Reagan reversed America's longstanding tradition of antitrust legislation. "The problem is that Wal-Mart, like other monopsonists, does not participate in the market so much as use its power to micromanage the market, carefully coordinating the actions of thousands of firms from a position above the market." Wal-Mart's expanding power is "slowly freezing our economy into an ever more rigid crystal that holds each of us ever more tightly in place, and that every day is more liable to collapse from some sudden shock."… An article filed from Tehran bleakly diagnoses the Bush administration's chances at driving a wedge between the Iranian people and government by an attack on Iranian infrastructure: "In a country where between 60 and 70 percent of the economy is publicly owned, millions of citizens are dependent on the state in the most basic way imaginable."— B.C.
National Review, July 17
The cover story suggests Mexico's emigration problem is a result of its intransigence in its outdated leftist politics and economic policies. Particularly problematic are Mexico's ban on foreign investment in its energy industry and its communalized agriculture. The article suggests the answer is to "end the state monopolies, desocialize agriculture, simplify tax and labor laws, decentralize and improve the education system." The disputed Mexican presidential election leaves little room for optimism: "Calderón has the right ideas … but would likely face an intractable congress. López Obrador would be vastly worse."… A piece on the successful push by a small number of House Republicans to delay a vote reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 highlights some of the act's provisions, along with subsequent judicial interpretations, that hurt Republicans: "Both the text and the legislative history of the act suggest that it enshrines, rather than eliminates, the double standard on partisan gerrymanders. … The bill will thus promote the racial balkanization of the electorate without helping the Republican party."—B.C.
The New Yorker, July 10 and 17 A damning piece vividly details the miscommunication between the FBI and the CIA that led to Sept. 11. One agent—the FBI's "secret weapon," according to his boss—who had linked al-Qaida to the 2000 USS Cole bombing might have predicted the hijackings, had a protective policy known as "the Wall" not prevented the agencies from sharing vital intelligence. Petty rivalries, personal vendettas, and sometimes mere complacency constituted "a strange trend in the U.S. government toward hiding information from the people who most needed it."… A piece wades into the world of Jeff Foxworthy's Blue Collar Comedy Tour, where Southern comedians set out to earn Hollywood's patronage, if not its respect. Even lucrative acts like Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy find themselves on the losing end of a cultural divide: "Why is an accent that one quarter of the people in this country have a liability?" Foxworthy asks.— C.B.
Time, July 10 Since Supreme Court's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision mandates that the White House find new methods to try terror suspects, an article offers the Bush administration a few suggestions: The executive branch must cozy up to Congress to forge a new trial plan, quickly "repatriate" less dangerous suspects, allow courts to hear habeas corpus cases, and follow the Geneva Conventions on trial and interrogation techniques. … A piece details how the Army is using techniques honed by companies like Toyota to "streamline" administration and equipment repair, creating efficiency rarely seen in government. The Lean Six Sigma system turns "disorganized" work spaces into "gleaming" assembly lines and cuts out extraneous jobs. Projected yearly savings are in the billions. "Why shake up the Army now, in the midst of a difficult war?" the writer asks. "We need to free up resources so we can apply them to the operating side of the Army. We need to equip our soldiers better and faster," an official answers.— M.M.
Ben Crair is an associate editor at the Daily Beast.
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Noam Rudnick is a Slate intern.