Tuesday, May 1, 2012

29 Year Old Writes Book About How He Escaped From A North Korea Prison Camp

Shin Dong-huyk is 29 years old. He loves Mexican food and going to baseball games. But any similarities between Shin and other young men ends there. Shin Dong-huyk is the only person known to have escaped from a North Korean prison camp. He was born into a life of enslavement and torture inside Camp 14, where he was starved, beaten and forced to watch the executions of his mother and brother.

He existed within the camp’s concrete walls, which had no running water or furniture, until aged 23, he escaped. He spent one month on the run before sneaking over the border into China, and eventually reaching the safety of the South Korean embassy.

Last month, a book about his life — Escape from Camp 14 — was published, taking its place at the top of the bestseller lists. I met him in London as he prepared to speak at a House of Commons meeting, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, to raise awareness about North Korean prisoners.

Six years on from his escape, Shin — now based in Seoul — can’t describe the worst thing about life in the camps. “Every single day was the worst possible. You live every moment under the intense fear of being beaten and the guards fault every single movement,” he recalls.

Often, the key to survival was looking after number one. Blaine Harden, the author who transcribed Shin’s story, knew his mother and brother had been executed but wasn’t sure why. During conversations, Shin referred to himself as a worthless individual and a snitch. Eventually, Shin revealed the terrible truth: he was responsible.

Aged 14, Shin overheard them discussing plans to escape. Institutionalised from birth and in exchange for food and fewer beatings, he told a school teacher. He describes feeling no emotion as he watched his mother being hanged and his brother shot — he’d been brought up to believe rules must be obeyed.

Prisoners go to desperate lengths for food: eating rats or eating their own vomit to alleviate hunger.

“Everything we ate was horrendous,” says Shin. “But the worst thing was corn kernels picked out of cow dung.”

His father, whose fate is unknown, became a prisoner for being the brother of two young men who fled south during the Korean war. What is known is that Kim Il Sung had his own interpretation of the power of three, stating that “enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations”. His mother’s name was Jang Hye Gyung. She never told her son why she was imprisoned.

Shin’s conception had been arranged by the guards. They chose his mother and father, Shin Gyung Sub, as prizes for each other in a “reward” marriage. The couple were allowed to sleep together for five nights and then Shin’s father was allowed to visit his family only a few times a year. Their eldest son, Shin He Geun, was born in 1974, Shin arrived eight years later.

Park Yong Chul was a well-travelled North Korean who’d enjoyed a life of relative luxury before arriving at Camp 14 in 2004. Shin was instructed to befriend Park — and extract a confession.

Through him, Shin learned about the existence of other countries, televisions, computers but mostly, he learned about food. Park described chicken, pork and beef, leading Shin to make his first free decision: he chose not to snitch on Park, instead hatching a plan for them to escape together.

“Hearing about the food he’d eaten in the outside world was the main trigger,” recalls Shin. “I wanted to eat that kind of food — things unimaginable within the camp.”

Park was electrocuted during the escape as he squeezed through the electric fence. Shin suffered only burns, a small price after years of torture. His body bears many scars — his finger was chopped off by guards who also stuck a hook through his stomach and suspended him over a fire.

Why don’t more people escape? “People don’t know about the outside world. There’s also the systematic brainwashing — ‘I’ve been born as a criminal, I have to live as a criminal until I die and that’s my fate’.”

“When I was hospitalised in South Korea with psychiatric problems I considered suicide once or twice. But I thought about how I’d escaped and been through such difficult times, and decided I should live on.” This mental illness was due to the new-found guilt he felt over his mother and brother. “That guilt will last until my death,” he adds.

Shin’s response to the outside world shows just how institutionalized he’d become. “The most shocking moment came the day after I escaped and saw North Korean society for the first time. I thought it was paradise! People were walking around without guards. This was the moment that changed my understanding of the world.” He couldn’t believe how the impoverished North Korean villagers lived; how they moved freely without being beaten.

Shin doesn’t tell his story for himself. “It’s not therapeutic,” he admits. “I want the camps eradicated — that’s my driving force. I urge people to sign petitions and write to MPs, and keep raising the human rights issue. Holding talks and events will put pressure on the North Korean government.”
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Navy SEALs Slam Obama For Taking Credit For Bin Laden Killing For Re-Election Campaign

Serving and former US Navy SEALs have slammed President Barack Obama for taking the credit for killing Osama bin Laden and accused him of using Special Forces operators as ‘ammunition’ for his re-election campaign.

The SEALs spoke out to MailOnline after the Obama campaign released an ad entitled ‘One Chance’.

In it President Bill Clinton is featured saying that Mr Obama took ‘the harder and the more honourable path’ in ordering that bin Laden be killed. The words ‘Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?’ are then displayed.

Besides the ad, the White House is marking the first anniversary of the SEAL Team Six raid that killed bin Laden inside his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan with a series of briefings and an NBC interview in the Situation Room designed to highlight the ‘gutsy call’ made by the President.

Ryan Zinke, a former Commander in the US Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, said: ‘The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call.

‘I think every president would have done the same. He is justified in saying it was his decision but the preparation, the sacrifice - it was a broader team effort.’

Mr Zinke, who is now a Republican state senator in Montana, added that MR Obama was exploiting bin Laden’s death for his re-election bid. ‘The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition. It was predictable.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2137636/SEALs-slam-Obama-using-ammunition-bid-credit-bin-Laden-killing-election-campaign.html#ixzz1td1mIy5t

Non-Profit Organizations Helps Get Military Couple New Vehicle

Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (CNN) -- Senior Airman Aaron Becker repairs medical equipment at a clinic for wounded soldiers at Andrews Air Force Base. Co-workers say he is always giving to others, but they also say Becker's a friend in need. A colleague recently submitted his name to a nonprofit military support group to help his family get around.

The nomination paid off Monday as Becker and his wife, Mercy, were handed the keys to a late-model SUV, just in time to get ready for their baby, a girl expected in June.

The donation comes from the group Operation Homefront, which generates and allocates financial support and other assistance for military families.

The couple lives in military housing near the base in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, where getting around without a car isn't all that easy.

Operation Homefront President Jim Knotts presents the keys Monday to Aaron and Mercy Becker.

"There are things you have to do that aren't on the base," Becker said, "so it's needed. Even getting my wife to her appointments at the hospital and everything else, it's something that, at seven months pregnant, she doesn't really want to walk all the way to the hospital."

Jim Knotts, president of Operation Homefront, said the vehicle came from a government contractor fleet service, which donated it with plenty of mileage remaining to do someone else some good.

Becker and his wife rose to the top of the beneficiary list after officials pointed to his efforts maintaining the medical equipment used to treat wounded warriors coming home from battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Poor Families In The Philippines Survive On Restaurants Tossed Food

Home Ownership In U.S At It's Lowest Rate In 15 Years

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Homeownership in the U.S. fell to its lowest rate in 15 years during the first quarter as more delinquent borrowers lost their homes to foreclosure, forcing many to rent.

The percentage of Americans who own their homes dropped a full percentage point over the past 12 months to 65.4% during the first three months of 2012, according to the latest Census Bureau data.

That's the lowest rate since 1997 and down from the peak of 69.2% reached in 2004.

"As foreclosures grew over the last six years, many homeowners became renters," said Alex Villacorte, director of analytics for Clear Capital, a real estate valuation company.

The rental vacancy rate dropped to 8.8% during the first quarter, down from 9.7% a year earlier and from 9.4% in the last quarter of 2011, according to Census.
The growing demand has put pressure on the rental markets, said Villacorte. In many depressed housing markets, investors have been buying up distressed properties -- foreclosures and short sales -- fixing them up and renting them out.

The median asking rent last quarter was $721, up 5.6% from 12 months ago, according to Census.

Rents are highest in the Northeast, where the median is $932, followed by the West ($845), the South ($660) and the Midwest ($607).
Meanwhile, median home prices continue to fall. During the first quarter 2012, the median asking sales price for vacant units was $133,700. That's down from $143,700 during the first quarter of 2011, according to Census.

Homeownership has fallen for all age groups, races and regions since the housing boom, Census reported.

It is lowest in the West, where it has dropped one percentage point over the past 12 months to 59.9%. The Midwest has the highest homeownership rate at 69.5%, down 0.9 point year-over-year; the South is second at 67.5% (down 0.9 point) and the Northeast is third at 62.5 (down 1.4 point).

Read More From CNN Money

National Day Of Reason Set To Compete With National Day Of Prayer

Christina Post---Two groups that represent a large percentage of atheists, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition of America, are joining forces to combat the National Day of Prayer by promoting the National Day of Reason, which is held on the first Thursday of May each year.

Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat, has sponsored a proclamation on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the second year in a row giving his support to the cause and as an alternative for atheist Americans to celebrate "reason," as opposed to prayer. Stark's proclamation reads in part:

"Our nation faces many problems – bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, creating jobs, educating our children, and protecting our safety net from irresponsible cuts. We will solve these issues through the application of reason. We must also protect women's reproductive choices, the integrity of scientific research, and our public education system from those who would hide behind religious dogma to undermine them."

It is no coincidence organizers of the two groups chose the first Thursday in May – the same day as the National Day of Prayer – to celebrate their cause. But while one is a national holiday, the other is a day chosen by groups to celebrate a different set of beliefs.

"The National Day of Prayer demeans millions of Americans who believe that reason, not prayer, is the way to solve the country's problems," Maggie Ardiente, director of Communications for the

American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post via email.

However, the National Day of Prayer website says the day is neither exclusively Christian or political. "This government-proclaimed day is offered to all Americans, regardless of religion, to celebrate their faith through prayer. The National Day of Prayer, as designated by our government, belongs to all Americans. It is not sponsored or owned by any one group. Every American can observe the NDP in his or her own way."

Speaking on behalf of the Christian Coalition, board member Billy McCormack described the National Day of Reason as "simply a blatant assault on Christianity."

"Secular fundamentalists believe in and serve their god called 'reason' and want the nation to equate it with the Lord Jesus Christ," McCormack told CP via email. "France bowed to the god of reason when it adopted its Constitution. Our forefathers founded a Christian nation based on the teachings of Jesus. The difference is plain."

The history of the National Day of Prayer can be traced back to 1775 when the Continental Congress first asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a new nation. The day was first officially recognized in 1952 when President Harry S. Truman signed into law a proclamation for an annual day of prayer.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated the National Day of Prayer to fall on the first Thursday in May.

But in a response to what some considered an overtly "Christian" movement, the National Day of Reason began in 2003 when the coalition of atheist and humanist organizations decided to offer some Americans another alternative.

Lauren Anderson Youngblood, a spokesperson for the Secular Coalition for America, says the day is mainly about raising awareness and making everyone feel included.

"There are a number of laws – many at the state level – that are threatening religious liberty and the separation of religion and government," Youngblood told The Christian Post. "We're not specifically against prayer, yet we wanted to offer an alternative so that many Americans would not feel like second class citizens on a day when the nation is told to pray."

Instead of praying, those who observe the National Day of Reason are encouraged to spend the day performing community service projects of other works-based tasks.
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