What’s Going On in North Korea?

kim-jong-un-horseThough it’s prominence in the news has lessened some, North Korea–and the actions and intentions of its young leader Kim Jong-un–continues to be a hot topic. Just this week, North Korea was a key point of discussion between President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye during the two’s first meeting in Washington. “Solidarity on North Korea is going to be the hallmark of this meeting,” Obama said, and both leaders agreed that they wanted to see an end to Kim Jong-un’s threats toward the US and South Korea.

This conference comes on the heels of last week’s (May 2nd) news that the North Korean government had sentenced American citizen Kenneth Bae to fifteen years of hard labor at a North Korean labor camp. Bae, from Washington state, ran a tour company out of China, and was arrested when he took a group of Chinese businessmen into the isolated country of North Korea. Bae was charged with “hostile acts” against the government. (Recent reports have suggested that Bae was a Christian missionary, and his efforts were viewed as a threat to the state’s reverence towards its leader, Kim Jong-un.) Bae’s arrest and sentencing on vague and dubious charges has inspired international criticism and anger towards North Korea.

Even basketball star and TV personality Dennis Rodman, who several months ago visited rodman-kim_2496070bNorth Korea without US state department approval and claims to have befriended Kim Jong-un, has gotten into the discussion. Rodman tweeted: “I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him ‘Kim’, to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.” (Rodman claiming to call the North Korean leader “Kim” as an expression of closeness is a bit odd, since Kim is a surname.)

These stories and others, such as the UN creating a three person panel for its first ever human rights investigation in North Korea, make it clear that the country will continue to be in the news and the world’s attention for some time to come. But still, much about the country is unknown. How did this small, isolated communist country begin commanding the world’s attention? How did its young, eccentric leader Kim Jong-un come to power? To begin to understand where North Korea is going, it’s vital to find out where it came from.

A crucial part of Korean–and US–history is The Korean War. Though not as well known or studied as other 20th century conflicts like World War II or the Vietnam War, The Korean War was a major and influential part of history. Not only was it one of the first and largest armed conflicts of the Cold War, it featured the rise to power of Kim Il-sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-un, setting the stage for the North Korea of today.

To help the students of today understand this war and it’s profound impact on history and current events, Morgan Reynolds Publishing proudly presents our first Ebook exclusive, Modern American Conflicts: The Korean War (ISNB# 978-1-59935-403-3) by Jim Corrigan. To order a downloadable copy for your computer or e-reader, visit morganreynolds.com, Mackin Educational Resources, or Follett.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

A propaganda poster of Kim Il-sung, leader of North Korea during the Korean War and grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

A propaganda poster of Kim Il-sung, leader of North Korea during the Korean War and grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

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Aung San Suu Kyi And The Challenge of Living Up To An Ideal

Aung San Suu Kyi meets with protesters.

Aung San Suu Kyi (right) meets with protesters.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has spent much of her adult life (including twenty years spent mostly under house arrest) opposing Burma’s totalitarian military rule, is learning a hard lesson about the conflict between idealism and politics.

Affectionately called “The Lady,” or “Mother Suu,”  Suu Kyi is largely beloved in her home country. A leading activist for democracy in Burma (also called Myanmar), as well as the daughter of the famed general who led the fight for Burmese independence in 1947, Suu Kyi has long been revered by her countrymen, even idolized. The sacrifices she willingly made for her belief in a free and democratic Burma–living in house arrest, being separated from her children and dying husband, refusing to leave Burma for fear of permanent exile–have only endeared her more to the people she represents.

Her release from house arrest in 2010 and election to Burma’s parliament in 2012 were triumphant moments in her lifelong struggle. Forced to the sidelines by the oppressive government for so long, Suu Kyi would finally be able to be directly involved in shaping her country’s future. But dealing with the complex world of politics has seemingly put Suu Kyi in compromising positions, caught between her need to work within an imperfect system and the hopes of those who view her as a pure symbol of Burmese freedom.

Her current predicament is centered around protests over a proposed copper mine expansion in the Letpadaung Mountain region. The mine is a joint venture between Burma’s military and wealthy Chinese investors, and protesters argue that it greatly pollutes the local land and displaces farmers, while providing few new jobs or economic benefits to offset the damage. As protests to the mine grew in intensity, Burma’s president, Thein Sein, put Suu Kyi in charge of investigating the issue. When Suu Kyi ultimately sided with the government and mine owners, asking the protesters to cease, she earned the wrath of people in the affected villages, as well as Burmese journalists and commentators.

Suu Kyi’s position is a complex one. Opposing the mine expansion would anger China, Burma’s top foreign investor. Even worse, it could seriously hurt relations between the military and the civilian government- the alliance on which the move towards a truly free Burma is built. Suu Kyi has also argued that profits from the mine might, over time, help offset its immediate damages to the Letpadaung area and villages. But for the people in the villages whose homes are threatened by the mine, these considerations aren’t enough. They only see their former idol turning on them.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time Suu Kyi has been forced to compromise. Despite vows to not take the oath of office for parliament until some troublesome wording in the oath was altered, Suu Kyi did indeed recite the oath and take office. And she received criticism for largely remaining silent in regards to the Rakhine State riots, in which violent conflicts between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left 88 people dead and some 90,000 people displaced.

In short, the idealized reality of Aung San Suu Kyi–symbol of freedom–is at odds with the often dirty business of politics. In some ways, Suu Kyi’s struggles to reconcile her symbolic status with the more complex reality of governing is reminiscent of the struggles of Barack Obama. During the 2008 presidential election, Obama was seen as a symbol of hope and change for many. But once elected, Obama frequently found himself caught up in politics, negotiating with his opponents to affect reforms that often ended up seeming compromised and lacking. As such, many Obama supporters turned against him, feeling Obama failed to live up to the promises he was revered for.

That position is understandable, but it’s also important to remember that even the best people are imperfect, and that politics and governing is a complex and often ugly business, one in which it’s impossible to please everyone, and compromise is unfortunately required for any progress to be made. It’s a tough lesson to take, especially when dealing with figures like Suu Kyi and Obama who inspire such passion.  But for better or worse, even the most idealized and beloved are unable to remain untarnished in the eyes of their followers.

Regardless of this controversy, Aung San Suu Kyi will continue fighting for her country and beliefs, even if it means disappointing people. As she said in The New York Times, “I have never done anything just for popularity. Sometimes politicians have to do things that people dislike.”

To learn more about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggles to lead Burma to democracy, check out Champion of Freedom: Aung San Suu Kyi by Sherry O’Keefe (ISBN# 978-1-59935-168-1) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.   To learn about other people who devoted their lives to the fight for freedom and justice, check out Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s acclaimed and award winning Champion of Freedom series, which in addition to Suu Kyi, features biographies of Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Arguments In Supreme Court over Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, February 27, while President Obama and many other politicians honored civil rights icon Rosa Parks with a memorial statue in the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about dismantling the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Specifically under discussion was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states (mostly in the South) with a documented history of discriminating against minority voters get permission from the Federal government to make any changes to its voting procedures. This measure was initially supposed to only be in effect for five years, but has been extended multiple times and expanded to help guarantee the rights of non-English speaking voters as well.

Why is this law, so integral to the Civil Rights movement and ensuring the civil liberties of black Americans (and many other minorities), being challenged now? Though there are a number of technical arguments concerning the fact that the law was extended largely on data from 1975, the principal argument seems to be that times have changed. Lawyers from Shelby County, Alabama, who have brought this case to the Supreme Court, argue that discriminatory voting procedures are no longer being practiced, and the states under the jurisdiction of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are being unfairly punished and slandered.

Shelby lawyers argue that the increasing number of prominent minority politicians, and of course, the first black president, Barack Obama, are signs that the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary. Statistics were read showing that the black voter turnout in Massachusetts (not covered under Section 5) is much lower than in Mississippi (covered under Section 5). While these facts are heartening, it’s hard not to notice that they don’t prove Section 5 is unnecessary as much as they prove that Section 5 is effective, and arguably, should be expanded. (Indeed, New York Times columnist Charles Blow argues that Section 5 should be expanded far beyond the states it currently covers, both to ensure to fair voting practices for every citizen and also to puncture the argument that Section 5 puts an unfair stigma on the covered states.)

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that voter suppression tactics continue today. As author David Aretha points out in his book Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 both raised questions over whether there was an effort to disenfranchise voters (in Florida in 2000, and Ohio in 2004). There were numerous reports of voter suppression efforts during the 2012 election. And Shelby County, Alabama, the county bringing this case to the Supreme Court, had its own voting rights scandal in 2008 when the federal government demanded the state alter it’s district policies to ensure that minority voters were properly represented.

Still, many of the Supreme Court justices seemed amenable to arguments that the Voting Rights Act’s time had passed. One of the most heated moments of the hearing came when Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that the law’s continued usage was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” This prompted Justice Sonia Sotomayor to later pointedly ask  “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Though a decision on this case likely won’t be made for some time, this case illustrates vividly that the fight for Civil Rights, fought so hard by Martin Luther King Jr. and millions of others, is far from over.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act, check out Selma and the Voting Rights Act by David Aretha (ISBN# 978-1-59935-056-1) from your local library, or purchase it and other titles in the acclaimed Civil Rights Movement series from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. Or get Supreme Court Justices: Sonia Sotomayor by Sandra Shichtman (ISBN# 978-1-59935-156-8) to learn more about the Justice, and be sure to check out Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Supreme Court Justices series to learn about many prominent figures in the High Court’s history.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

The First Lady’s Fashions Help Usher Designers Into History

Barack Obama, Michelle ObamaOn Monday, January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States. His inauguration speech focused on a wealth of issues facing the president and the country in the next four years, including climate change.

But in addition to the president’s words, people paid close attention to his wife and confidante, the First Lady Michelle Obama. In particular, many focused on her fashion choices.

First Lady Obama has long been celebrated and scrutinized for her style and taste for designer fashions. While previous First Ladies have had challenges embracing expensive fashions, Michelle Obama has become a style icon. And the Inauguration, during which the eyes of the world are on her and her husband, is a key chance for her to show off.

As she did during President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Michelle Obama wore a pair of shoes created by designer Jimmy Choo to the Inaugural Ball. Though somewhat hidden underneath a long, flowing red dress (by designer Jason Wu, who also created her 2009 dress), the fashion world took note of the red pumps created for the first lady by Choo (which looked similar to these).

Michelle Obama’s fashion choices are obviously a huge boon to the designers she champions; the already famous Jimmy Choo had his profile raised again after the First Lady wore his work in 2009, and her wearing of a dress by Jason Wu helped establish the young designer’s career and led to a popular line of clothes at Target. More than that though, the First Lady’s choices allow the designers to become part of history: the inaugural outfit and its various accessories all go into the National Archives. For Jimmy Choo, who was born on the island of Penang in Malaysia and learned to make shoes in his father’s small shop, this is a remarkable achievement.

To learn more about the life and career of Jimmy Choo, check out Profiles in Fashion: Jimmy Choo by Kerrily Sapet (ISBN 978-1-59935-151-3) from your local library, or purchase it from from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For more about First Lady Michelle Obama, check out Political Profiles: Michelle Obama by Jeff C. Young (ISBN 978-159935-090-5), also available from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on January 22, 2013 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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“I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight…”-Harvey Milk

A gay rights demonstration at the Democratic National Convention in New York City in 1976

This week, tensions have been high as the state of North Carolina voted for Amendment 1, which defines marriage as solely a union between a man and a woman, stopping progress for homosexual couples in the state looking for equal rights.

A day after the amendment passed, President Obama announced that he endorses same-sex marriage, according to the New York Times. Obama said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If civil rights activist Harvey Milk were alive, he would most likely be celebrating, as he is known for his fight for gay rights in the 1970s.

Wrote David Aretha, author of No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk, “[Harvey] Milk, the outspoken voice of the gay community, was a lightening rod for bigotry. In 1977, he had been elected as a city supervisor in San Francisco, making him one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office in a major U.S. city.”

As Aretha put it, Milk “fought for the have-nots and left-outs, especially gays and lesbians,” and in 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

And today, the president has made history regarding the issue of gay rights. The New York Times reported, “A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement, providing the most powerful evidence to date of how rapidly views are moving on an issue that was politically toxic just five years ago.”

It has also been reported that younger generations are slowly taking over the voting booths, and they are in favor of gay rights, for the most part. And so, more and more voters are flipping the script on something that has until recent years been looked at as a non-issue, something that was just never going to happen: giving homosexuals equal rights.

Harvey Milk once said, “We have to make up for hundreds of years of persecution. We have to give hope to that poor runaway kid from San Antonio…. They need hope!”

With younger generations taking the helm and the president’s endorsement, the LGTB community can maintain hope that one day they will receive the same rights that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on Harvey Milk and his work, check out No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk by David Aretha (ISBN 9781599351292)

Published in: on May 11, 2012 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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“There is power in hope.” -President Barack Obama

Last week, President Barack Obama traveled to Asia and the South Pacific in an attempt to revive the U.S.’s economic woes by knocking on the doors of Asia’s free markets.

Obama’s focus on the East has “signaled both a turn toward a part of the world experiencing solid growth and one away from Europe’s dark economic woes, at least temporarily,” the Huffington Post reported.

America’s standing in Asia-Pacific has declined in the past decade as China’s has increased. China now is the top trading partner for many countries across the region. Obama portrayed his trip . . .  as an effort to help open new Asian markets that could lead to more jobs in the U.S. as he strives to help get the nation’s economy back on track . . .

Just three years ago, Obama was elected president under the campaign “Change we can believe in.”  Kerrily Sapet, author of Political Profiles: Barack Obama, wrote, “Obama reminded everyone [during his campaign] that change, while necessary, isn’t easy. Many people chose to focus on the divisions in society, while he chooses to believe that ‘beneath all the differences of race and religion, faith and station, we are one people. . . . there is power in hope.'” He is still striving for global change for the better, it seems.

Obama also announced during his visit east that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting the nation of Burma (also known as Myanmar) in an attempt to re-establish a relationship with the isolated nation and to begin the process of transitioning into a more democratic society. Clinton will visit Burma in December “in a major administration effort to bridge the decades-old divide between the United States and the Southeast Asian country,” according to Politico. Clinton will be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the repressive country in fifty years.

Burma has been long been in unrest, repressed under a military regime. Reuters reported that Clinton’s vision for the nation is to see “a real political process and real elections.” She also said that “Another U.S. priority . . . is ending Myanmar’s ‘terrible conflicts with ethnic minorities.”

And Burma has been taking baby steps. Politico reported:

The Myanmar government has in recent weeks released some political prisoners, approved legislation that could open the political system and relaxed restrictions on media. The government also has initiated new dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition who was released last year from house arrest. “After years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks,” Obama said. “Taken together, these are the most important steps toward reform in Burma that we’ve seen in years.”

If the United States can mend a rather tattered relationship with Burma from its years under a volatile political system, it might open even more doors economically. According to Sherry O’Keefe, author of Champion of Freedom: Aung San Suu Kyi, an upcoming Morgan Reynolds title, “European explorers in the fifteenth century described Burma as ‘the golden land,’ and the British author and poet Rudyard Kipling called it the ‘Pearl of Asia.'” Burma is rich with natural resources, and because of the wedge that developed between Burma and the U.S. (and Europe), for years China has been reaping the benefits of what its neighbor has to offer. But again, change is in the air.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about Obama or Clinton, check out:

Political Profiles: Barack Obama by Kerrily Sapet (ISBN 9781599350455)

Political Profiles: Hillary Clinton by Catherine Wells (ISBN 9781599350479)

And for more information about Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi:

Champion of Freedom: Aung San Suu Kyi by Sherry O’Keefe (ISBN 9781599351681)

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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El Norte

The topic of immigration, particularly from Mexico, has been highly controversial in the United States for years. Lately, it has been grabbing news headlines because President Obama presented as new plan for immigration reform. America’s neighbor to the south, Mexico, continues to have working and living problems that drive many Mexicans to chance crossing the border into the U.S. without legal documentation. Over the years, stricter border patrol and brutal drug wars have made it more difficult and dangerous for Mexicans to cross the border safely and successfully. However, illegal immigration persists.

According to R. Conrad Stein, author of The Story of Mexico: Modern Mexico, published by Morgan Reynolds, for the Mexican poor there has long been an understandable attraction for el norte, the United States.

Inflation has ravaged the Mexican peso in the past few decades. Although it has recovered some, the cost of living keeps going up at a rapid pace. “To most Mexicans it was a matter of simple arithmetic. A man pushing a wheel barrel at a construction site in Mexico earned six or seven dollars a day, whereas the same work north of the border paid that much an hour. It was a matter of survival.”

For years, Stein writes, even after there were efforts made to beef up border patrol, the migrants still came. “They waded across the Rio Grand and climbed barbed wire fences. They crawled through sewer pipes. They endured freezing nights in the windswept Arizona deserts. They hid in shipping crates, car trunks, and railroad boxcars to make the crossing.”

Gangs fighting over the highly lucrative drug trade have added yet another dangerous obstacle to migrants. Immigrants who are found in a gang’s territory are often made to be drug mules—to carry the narcotics across the border. Or they are shot on sight.

Stein writes that Americans are the # 1 reason narcotics have become so lucrative in Mexico. “Mexican narcotics gangs smuggled illegal drugs—cocaine, heroin, and marijuana—over the border to their contacts in the United States. Americans consume more illegal drugs than the citizens of any other nation in the world. The business of drug smuggling was [and is] fantastically lucrative, bringing Mexican narco gangs an estimated $14 billion a year . . . .”

Despite all the obstacles, illegal immigration continues. To develop a fuller understanding of the forces that drive Mexican immigration one needs to be informed of history of Mexico and its relationship with the United States. The Story of Mexico, a series of eight books written by Stein, provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

 

The Story of Mexico: The Mexican Revolution  

(ISBN: 9781599350516)

The Story of Mexico: Benito Juarez and the French Intervention

(ISBN: 9781599350523)

The Story of Mexico: Cortes and the Spanish Conquest

(ISBN: 9781599350530)

The Story of Mexico: The Mexican War of Independence

(ISBN: 9781599350547)

The Story of Mexico: Modern Mexico

(ISBN: 9781599351629)

The Story of Mexico: The Mexican-American War 

(ISBN: 9781599351605)

The Story of Mexico: Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution

(ISBN: 9781599351636)

The Story of Mexico: Ancient Mexico

(ISBN: 9781599351612)

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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