North Korea’s Kim Spending Big on Cars, Cognac, Pianos

magic animated gif on Giphy

State spending on luxury items rose from an average of $300 million a year under Kim Jong Il, to $645.8 million in 2012

Kim Jong Il loved to spend. The late North Korean dictator may have dressed in utilitarian khaki, but he splashed money on luxury goods. His one-time sushi chef — sushi chef — says the strongman loved Chinese melon, Uzbek caviar and Danish pork. He drank cognac and golfed (11 hole-in-ones in his first round, or so the story goes). In 2006, the U.S. issued a 60-item list of items not to sell to Kim Sr. — no lead crystal, no ski-dos, no yachts.

But his son, Kim Jong Un, may be spending more, according to the U.N. A comprehensive report released this week concludes that North Korea’s government has committed “crimes against humanity” and should be referred to an international court for prosecution. In hundreds of pages, they catalog evidence of what rights groups have been reporting for years — “extermination,” torture, enslavement and rape. It also notes that amid all this brutality, Kim Jong Un’s regime is buying-up loads of luxury goods.

Thanks to Dennis Rodman, we know that Kim Jong Un likes fine liquor, especially cognac. We also know Kim and his colleagues built a ski resort and an equestrian center. The report says the ruling elite purchased flashy cars, three-dozen pianos, and high-end recording equipment. Citing an earlier estimate, they guess that the total state spending on luxury goods rose from an average of $300 million a year under Kim Jong Il, to $645.8 million in 2012.

The U.N. team blasted Kim and his colleagues for spending “a significant amount of the state’s resources on the purchase of imported luxury goods.” The regime channels revenue from illegal activities to “parallel funds” that are “kept at the personal disposal of the Supreme Leader and used to cover personal expenses of the Supreme Leader, his family and other elites surrounding him,” they said. Revenue from illegal activities, including drug sales, was estimated in 2008 at $50 million per year.

The findings, which North Korea dismissed as a “plot,” do not augur well. There was a time when people hoped Kim Jong Un would usher in a new era for North Korea, ending years of prison camps, poverty and a ruling elite with a callous disregard for ordinary people. The report — and Kim’s spending habits — are just another reminder that those hopes were misplaced, or radically premature. From a distance, Kim looks quite comfortable in his castle. Like father, like son.


Here’s What Happened When Wes Anderson Went to Amsterdam Last Week


Director Wes Anderson has been busy travelling across Europe on what could be described as a modern day whistle-stop tour to promote his latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s not a fan of air travel so he’s been riding the rails, one of his preferred methods of transportation. Actor Tony Revolori, who plays a central character in the film named Zero Moustafa, has joined him on the trek.

The two of them were in Amsterdam on February 12th to screen Grand Budapest at Pathé Tuschinski, a theatre that could easily serve as a set for one of the director’s films. Anderson and Revolori participated in a Q&A before the film with journalist and editor Ronald Ockhuysen. Their conversation covered Austrian literature, what happens when you’re up for a role in a film against your own brother, and whether or not Dutch people know where Anaheim is located. Here it is:
Ockhuysen: When we see one of your movies we can recognise who made it within seconds. There’s always a lot of nostalgia. Why is that? Why are you fascinated with the past?

Anderson: Well, nobody knows really. I will say, as a general rule, I sort of like old things. It’s not uncommon and I fall into that category. With [The Grand Budapest Hotel], the biggest inspiration was the work of Stefan Zweig who I had never read until seven or eight years ago. I read a book of his called Beware of Pity and then I started reading all of his short fiction. I became a big fan. I thought about adapting one of his books but then I decided to try to make my own version of a Zweig story. I don’t know why. It’s acceptable that I can do my own Zweig. He’s in the public domain and no one can really stop me. [laughs] I also read his memoir, The World of Yesterday. The thing that struck me the most in this book was his nostalgia for Vienna and a Europe that sort of began to die very quickly in 1914. Art was at the centre of everything. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past fifteen years in Europe and, for me, it’s always an adventure. I don’t have the sadness of nostalgia. I think there are connections between that Europe and the Europe of now. I’ll leave it at that.

Ockhuysen: You use a lot of sets and things that are clearly fake and they’re always really funny. You also have an eye for perfection. How do you combine these things?

Anderson: In the case of this movie, we began basing it on a real person. We began writing the characters, and they’re all exaggerated, in a way, but I wanted to make them real in a way that felt authentic. At the same time, I wanted to make a world that they live in that’s not necessarily like any other world; a world that we can’t find if we walk out the door and outside. Making a movie like this involves accumulating all of these ingredients. We travelled around Europe and we gathered ideas while in Hungary and the Czech Republic and Austria and Poland, and Germany. All of these things went into the movie. For me, it’s more about sweeping it all together and trying to make something out of it, to bring it to life.


Ockhuysen: You tend to work with people you’ve been working with for years. Actors like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and the Wilson brothers. Same Director of Photography and other crew members. It’s like there’s a Wes Anderson family, in a way.

Anderson: Well, I like all of these people. [For Budapest], we’ve got two posters, one with all of the actors on it. For the film, we all lived together in a little hotel. I’ve learned to do this over the years and this is how we always work. Everybody can go home when it’s finished and, believe me, everybody really wants to go home when it’s finished. While we’re working on it though, it’s more of a pleasure for us to live together like a little family. It’s much better for our working environment. They always come back so that’s a good sign.

Ockhuysen: [To Revolori] What kind of a director is Wes Anderson? Is he nice on the set?

Revolori: I won’t say that he had a whip but, no, he’s great. He’s always the same, even when he directs. Very nice and he has an air of comfortable-ness. It’s like you’re jumping in a river with all of his usual cast and crew members and you go along for the ride.

Ockhuysen: [To Revolori] You’re pretty young. You’re 17 now and you were 16 during the filming. This made you the rookie on the set. The new kid on the block. How did that go? Did you sleep well?

Revolori: Definitely. We had a good hotel. It was great. Everybody made me feel as comfortable as they possibly could and Ralph [Fiennes] was an amazing mentor. I had a lot of fun shooting this and I think it shows on the screen.

Ockhuysen: [To Revolori] I heard that both you and your brother were up for the role of Zero. Is everything still OK with him?

Revolori: No, he’s still suffering from the broken leg I gave him. I’m just kidding. He’s always giving me hugs and saying that he’s proud of me. It’s fantastic. I’m glad to have an amazing brother like that.

Ockhuysen: Was it difficult to find an actor like him? It’s a very peculiar role.

Anderson: For the part that Tony plays, I knew I wanted to find somebody that had never really been in anything before. Over the years, in different movies, I’ve had roles like that. It was the thing I did. After we finished the script, I said we need to hire a team of casting directors. We were looking mostly in the Middle East since his character is from the Middle East. We also looked in France and all over Europe. I didn’t expect to find someone in Anaheim. Do you guys know where that is? It’s where Disneyland is located.

[At this point, several people in the audience nodded their heads. Many of them knew that Anaheim, and Disneyland too, can be found in California.]

Ockhuysen: So he came from right next door?

Anderson: Yes, he came from Anaheim. We looked at over a thousand auditions and then the process ended pretty suddenly. When I saw Tony, I immediately fired casting directors all over the world just like that. [laughs] It can happen. There’s not always five contenders at the end. Many times you find that one person and then you begin shooting the movie.

Ockhuysen: You guys were just at The Berlin Film Festival and you’ve been doing a press trip all across Europe by train. Are you afraid of flying, Wes, or is it because you’re a romantic guy?

Anderson: I’m a romantic guy who doesn’t like to fly. [laughs] There’s a few trains in this film and there was a train in The Darjeeling Limited. If it weren’t for my phobia, I guess I wouldn’t be able to provide these moments cinematically. I have a lot of experience being in trains because I usually refuse to get on an airplane. We just came from Copenhagen by overnight train and I can recommend it. It was very nice and comfortable and lovely. Tomorrow we’re off to Paris. In a train.

Delivery of $2 billion credit from Russia delayed until Friday: Ukraine government source

KIEV (Reuters) – Delivery of $2 billion credit to Ukraine from Russia, the second tranche of a promised $15 billion aid package, has been delayed until Friday, a Ukrainian government source said on Wednesday.

A first tranche of $3 billion, aimed at helping the ex-Soviet republic pay foreign debts this year and prop up its national currency amid widespread unrest, was disbursed at the end of December.

Ukraine’s interim government had been hoping a second tranche of $2 billion would be delivered soon by Russian purchase of Ukraine-issued eurobonds. But a Ukrainian government source said: “The deal has been put off until Friday for technical reasons. We expect the money to come on Friday.”

Ukraine’s Protesters See Hand of Russia in Kiev Crackdown

With the death toll from clashes in Kiev now at 25, Ukraine’s battered but resilient protest movement vents its fury at Russia—the Big Brother next door they believe is calling the shots

Anti government protest in Ukraine

Ukrainian riot police stand in front of a fire ring around Independence Square during the continuing protest in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, early 19 Feb. 2014.

On Tuesday night, as riot troops began their violent assault on the revolutionary encampment in Kiev, Ukraine’s President was on the phone with Vladimir Putin. By morning, news of the call had leaked to the Ukrainian press, even though neither the Kremlin and nor the office of President Viktor Yanukovych mentioned it in any of their daily press announcements. The reports set off a wave of rumors in the Ukrainian press that Russia was either coordinating the violence that took dozens of lives that night or, at the very least, had failed to stop it. Putin’s spokesman denied them all, but admitted the call took place. “The President of Russia has never given and does not give advice to his Ukrainian colleague about what he needs to do and how he needs to do it,” said the spokesman, Dmitri Peskov.

That wasn’t exactly true. On Jan. 31, Putin’s closest adviser on integration with Ukraine, Sergei Glazev, said that Yanukovych must crush the rebellion as soon as possible. “The President has a choice,” Glazev said in a rare interview with the corporate journal of Gazprom, the Russian state energy company that provides Ukraine with most of its natural gas. “Either he defends Ukrainian statehood and puts down the insurrection…or he risks losing power, in which case Ukraine faces growing chaos and internal conflict with no escape to be seen.”

This was a pretty clear piece of advice to Yanukovych, and it was backed up by economic sanctions put in place that same week, cutting off trade and financial support to Ukraine until its leaders resolve the crisis. The order to freeze a Russian loan to Ukraine worth $15 billion came directly from Putin at the end of January, right after Yanukovych began granting a series of concessions to appease the protesters, including the dismissal of his Prime Minister and the entire cabinet. But on Monday, the day before the violence erupted in Kiev, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced that Russia would disburse the next $2 billion payout of that loan after all.

So it is no surprise that the revolutionaries on the square condemned Putin on Tuesday night no less harshly than they did Yanukovych. “The slaves of Putin want to turn us all into slaves,” Yuri Lutsenko, an opposition leader and former Minister of Interior, shouted from the stage as the protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails to fight off police surrounding their barricaded camp. Taking the microphone, another protester implored the ranks of security forces nearby, “Do not obey the Kremlin’s orders! There are peaceful people here!”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Ukrainian military, which has so far stayed out of the fight, threatened the protests with an “escalation” after a violent mob stormed the Central House of Officers, a gathering place for military brass. But the President resisted their calls in January to “immediately restore order,” and his allies have said time and again that they have no intention of sending in military troops to put down the rebellion. Yanukovych again signaled his distrust for the army on Wednesday evening when he reportedly fired the chief of the general staff and promoted the head of the navy to replace him. For the purposes of suppressing the uprising, the forces of the Interior Ministry are in any case larger and more effective, and after months of heated street battles with protesters, the police have more of a personal score to settle with the revolution than the army rank and file. That much was clear from the viciousness of their assault on the protest camp on Tuesday night.

By morning, the national Ministry of Health announced that 25 people had been killed in the violence. Hospitals had filled up, the ministry said, with 241 others who were gravely wounded, including 79 police officers, 5 journalists, one member of parliament and three children. But the riot troops still failed to clear the central square, known as the Maidan, in the center of Kiev. While on a visit to Moscow, Oleg Tsarev, a senior member of Ukraine’s ruling party, explained the resilience of the encampment this way: “The Maidan would have been cleaned out if there had been an order to clean it out,” he told Russia’s leading state-run television network, Channel One. “But no command came to clean out the Maidan yesterday.”

Asked who was calling the shots in Kiev, he said it was only one man – President Yanukovych – but immediately suggested that western powers were also deeply involved. “Ukraine doesn’t have its own statehood. It doesn’t have real independence,” he said. But while Russia was serving as a protector, he added, the West was instigating the violence. “They couldn’t make war with Ukraine, because Russia would have covered Ukraine with its umbrella and not allowed foreign forces to invade Ukraine’s territory. That is why they used other means, creating a civil war.”

Such talk of a Russian “umbrella” has led to widespread speculation on the streets of Ukraine and in western press that Russia could send troops to rescue Yanukovych. But Russian officials have been batting away such suggestions for weeks. “We act on the assumption that it is up to the Ukraine. It is its domestic issue,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month.

At the same time, Lavrov and other Russian officials have been pushing the narrative that the West is behind the violence. On Tuesday, hours before Putin got on the phone with Yanukovych and the brutal clashes in Kiev began, the Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the escalation on “connivance by Western politicians and European structures.”

But that argument did not seem convincing even among some of Yanukovych’s allies. On Wednesday morning, another lawmaker announced that he is quitting the ranks of the President’s ruling Party of Regions. Yuri Blagodir, from the western region of Lviv, was the third member of parliament to do so since the uprising against Yanukovych began in late November.

Outside the halls of power, the revolution meanwhile continued to spread. In the cities of Lutsk, Uzhgorod and Vinnitsa, livid mobs of protesters seized government buildings and forced police to surrender. The authorities have responded by denouncing the protestors as terrorists, and in Kiev on Tuesday night, police warned the demonstrators to clear the square or face a “counter-terrorism operation.” Even in the eastern half of the country, the pro-Russian heartland that forms Yanukovych’s base of support, clashes have spread like brush fire. In the industrial city of Kharkiv, for instance, a mob of young protesters confronted a column of police on their way to reinforce the troops in Kiev, and a brawl broke out between them, local media reported.

So if the Ukraine’s President was hoping to crush the rebellion by force on Tuesday, as the Kremlin adviser had urged him to do three weeks ago, he has so far failed. Riot troops only managed to take back part of the revolutionary camp in Kiev, enraging the protestors in the process and swelling their ranks across the country. What advice Putin will offer his embattled colleague in the days ahead will likely remain a mystery. But now more than ever, the blame on the streets of Kiev is being direct toward Moscow.

Vladimir Putin is totally not upset about disallowed Russia goal vs. USA hockey, casually shames team

Vladimir Putin goes wild at the USA/Russia hockey game

Days later, the epic Russia vs. United States Olympic hockey game is still one of the biggest stories of Sochi. The tight game, thrilling finish, and heroics of Team USA shootout specialist T.J. Oshie have provided plenty of storylines. Plus, a controversial non-goal for Russia has only added to the drama.

Not surprisingly, the conversation over the game in Russia has not been quite so positive. The disallowed goal has been a source of serious anger, with some commentators claiming that it was part of a U.S. conspiracy. Yet, for all those strong feelings, the most powerful Russian is taking it all in stride. From R-Sport:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday chimed in on the national debate surrounding his country’s disallowed goal against the United States in the Sochi Olympic hockey tournament, saying it was a mistake by the referee. […]

“Even referees sometimes makes mistakes, here I wouldn’t tar anybody with any brush, but I thought that we would win by a big margin,” Putin said.

“You and I shouldn’t forget that sport isn’t only about skill but also about the athletes’ courage, and even a good slice of luck.” […]

The disallowed goal featured heavily on Sunday’s evening news on the state network Rossiya, where anchorman Dmitry Kiselyov suggested that it was included in the multimillion dollar deal that saw US network NBC lock down broadcasting rights. The Americans didn’t purchase a defeat, he claimed. Rossiya is part of the state-owned VGTRK media enterprise.

It should be noted that Putin is not brushing off the episode entirely, because he pretty clearly thinks it was a bad call. On the other hand, he seems to accept the mistake as a fact of the sport, not the mark of a conspiracy (maybe because he realizes that claiming NBC paid for a win would bring up a whole bunch of questions regarding the country that is hosting the Winter Olympics in 60-degree weather). It’s a mature reaction, if also a surprising one coming from a head of state with a ruthless reputation.

On the other hand, you can read a veiled threat into the statement, too. Putin looks past the error and casts himself as a kind man, but he also notes that he expected the game to be an easy win for Russia. He’s sending a message that he expects better performances in the rest of this tournament, and both the referees and the players can take it as directed towards them. When the former head of the KGB tells you to get it together, you better listen.

It’s a true master class in how a leader can pass himself off as a totally friendly guy while still demanding satisfaction. Expect the Russians to win their next hockey game against Norway by an ungodly margin. Vlad will not be disappointed.

Why is Ukraine in crisis?

Protester in Ukrainian capital, Kiev, 18 February 2014

18 February saw another escalation of the violence

Violence has erupted in the Ukrainian capital Kiev once again, with several people being killed during clashes between anti-government protesters and police.

The stand-off, which has oscillated between calm and violence for months, escalated dramatically with reports of policemen being shot, and riot police moving in apparently to clear the peaceful protest camp on Independence Square.

The protests broke out after the government rejected a far-reaching accord with the European Union in favour of stronger ties with Russia in November 2013.

But they are now clearly directed at President Viktor Yanukovych.

How bad has the violence been?

Rioters hurl petrol bombs in Kiev, 22 January
Independence Square has at times resembled a war zone

Tuesday 18 February has been the bloodiest day so far. Clashes erupted outside parliament as opposition MPs complained they had been barred from introducing proposed constitutional changes to reduce the powers of President Yanukovych.

Before that, the scenes overnight on 19 and 20 January were some of the worst in nearly two months of demonstrations, with protesters torching police buses and hurling paving stones and petrol bombs. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Two people were shot dead at the site of the Kiev protest camp on Independence Square on 22 January. Another was found dead with torture marks in a forest near the capital. On 25 January a fourth protester was said to have died from injuries sustained in earlier violence.

The interior ministry reported on 28 January that one of three policemen stabbed by protesters in the southern city of Kherson had died.

Hundreds of protesters and police officers have been injured in the unrest. In one of the most disturbing developments, a protest leader Dmytro Bulatov emerged with serious facial injuries, saying he had been abducted, tortured for eight days and left for dead.

Protests have spread to a number of Ukrainian cities, mostly in the west of the country but also in Mr Yanukovych’s traditional support base in the east.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested since the disturbances began.

line break
What caused the protests?
Pro-EU rally on Kiev's Independence Square, 15 December
The pro-EU rallies in Kiev in December drew crowds of some 200,000

The anti-protest laws certainly raised passion among the protesters. They had prescribed jail terms for anyone blockading public buildings and banned the wearing of masks or helmets at demonstrations.

But the original trigger for the protests was President Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a major partnership deal with the EU, despite years of negotiations aimed at integrating Ukraine with the 28-nation bloc.

Thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians poured on to the streets of the capital, urging President Yanukovych to cancel his U-turn and go ahead with the EU deal after all. He refused, and the protests continued.

When riot police first took action on 30 November, the images of them breaking up a student protest and leaving dozens of people injured only fuelled anger with the president and boosted the crowds in Independence Square.

The authorities sought to defuse the anger through measures such as the suspension of the mayor of Kiev and the release of detainees.

On 17 December, Russia and Ukraine announced a major deal under which Russia would buy $15bn-worth (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of Russian gas sold to Ukraine.

The deal appeared to take the wind out of the sails of the protest movement but when a pro-opposition journalist, Tetyana Chornovol, was beaten up by unknown assailants on 25 December, there was a renewed outcry.

Who are the protesters?

Boxer and politician Vitali Klitschko with raised fist at rally in Kiev, 1 Dec 13
Vitali Klitschko, with raised fist, hopes to become president in 2015

There are a number of main actors behind the rallies.

The protesters are mainly from the Kiev area and western Ukraine, where there is a greater affinity with the EU, rather than in the Russian-speaking east and south – though they include eastern Ukrainians too.

Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion and leader of the Udar (Punch) movement, has been a prominent demonstrator. He is very pro-EU and plans to run for president in 2015.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, parliamentary leader of the country’s second biggest party, Fatherland, is an ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who is now in prison.

The far-right group Svoboda (Freedom) is also involved. Led by Oleh Tyahnybok (pictured second from left), it stirred unease on New Year’s Day with a torch-lit procession through Kiev.

Other radical right-wingers include Bratstvo (Brotherhood) and Right Sector.

How has the West reacted?

The US embassy in Kiev revoked the visas of “several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence” after the deaths on 22 January.

EU leaders expressed shock at the deaths and called on all sides to halt the violence. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, warned that the EU’s relationship with Ukraine might have to be reviewed.

The EU’s official position on the agreement abandoned in November is that the door remains open for Ukraine to sign but it has put any new negotiations on hold until there is a clear commitment to do so.

Both the EU and US condemned the now-revoked anti-protest laws, saying they were incompatible with Ukrainians’ democratic aspirations.

The EU and US have raised the prospect of a joint economic plan to help Ukraine bring an end to its crisis. But officials say any proposal would be linked to precise political and economic reforms and are adamant there will be no “bidding competition” with Russia.

Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton has visited Kiev and is playing a key role in negotiating with the Ukrainian government and opposition.

On 6 February, a bugged phone conversation surfaced on the internet – purportedly between visiting Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador – revealing US thinking on key opposition figures. Ms Nuland was also apparently heard to use an expletive to describe the EU’s role in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko supporters protesting in Kiev, 29 Nov 13
Pictures of Tymoshenko have been prominent at the rallies in Kiev

Is Russia pulling the strings in Kiev?

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, 15 December
The gas deal was announced after nearly four weeks of street protests in Ukraine

To many observers, the deal struck between Russia and Ukraine on 17 December points to a carrot-and-stick approach by the Kremlin.

The 2004 Orange Revolution led to Mr Yanukovych’s removal from power after his election was judged to have been fraudulent. Russia backed him then – and backs him now.

For centuries Ukraine was controlled by Moscow and many Russians see Ukraine as vital to Russian interests.

After the riots erupted on 19 January, Russian Foreign Minister SergeiLavrov warned the protests were “getting out of control”, and accused European politicians of stirring up the trouble.

Biathlete Celebrates Before Crossing The Finish Line, Nearly Blows Gold Medal In Dumbest Way Possible

photo finish biathlon

The photo finished showed Svendsen won by a few feet. 

The biathlon men’s 15km mass start was decided by a photo finish after a premature celebration from Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen nearly resulted in one of the biggest blunders in Olympic history.

Svendsen was a few yards ahead of France’s Martin Fourcade down the stretch of the 40-minute race. Right before he crossed the finish line, though, Svendsen held his hands above his hand in celebration, allowing Fourcade to nearly lunge ahead of him.

They finished with identical times of 42 minutes, 29.1 seconds. But Svendsen won gold after the photo finish showed he finished first by a few feet.

He was SO close to blowing it.

Here’s the finish. Svendsen is in blue:celebration fail olympics biathlon

premature celebrationHere’s the premature pose:hands above head

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