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When Moderates Attack

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The world continues to reel in the wake of the shocking execution of a top ranking North Korean official. The Korean Central News Agency confirmed Jang Song Thaek’s death, due to his attempt “to overthrow the state.” Jang, DPRK Leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle, having helped his potentially moderate nephew consolidate power, was widely regarded as the second most powerful man in the Hermit Kingdom.

Kim, or course, having attended school in Switzerland, had inspired hopes that he might take a more moderate approach to foreign relations. Indeed, as an aide to Secretary of State John Kerry commented, “We had hoped that President Kim might prove to be as effective a reformer as (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, and possibly even more moderate than (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani.”

In the wake of this stunning development, pundits across the political spectrum, from MSNBC to NPR, struggled to explain it. A reporter on NPR’s Morning Report expressed her dismay at “this bloody purge, which is not at all typical of North Korea.” This is true. The People’s Republic of North Korea has often been called “The Switzerland of the Northern Part of the Korean Peninsula,” primarily due to its benign governance. Indeed, rather than public executions, members of the Kim Dynasty have traditionally dealt with political foes by merely arresting them and their entire families, sending them to what are affectionately called “labor camps” in the county’s bucolic northern regions, where they are fed a starvation diet . . . and worked to death. But outright execution is a rarity among the elite.

At first, White House Spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on President Barack Obama’s reaction, but he did eventually relent. “The President has not been informed of the execution,” Carney announced. When asked when he would be, Carney replied, “He’ll find out just as soon as he watches the news, which is where he usually finds out what’s going on in the world.”

Carney explained that the President’s schedule had been disrupted of late, “What with Mandela’s Memorial Service and all, plus he’s been busy uploading photos to his Instagram account, #HotDanish, so he hasn’t been able to catch Rachel Maddow’s show.”

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