Dec 19, 2011

Kim Jong-il’s Death Opens Risky Power Vacuum

Today: Kim Jong-un Takes Over N. Korea , House to Vote Down Payroll Tax , Paul Leads in New Iowa Poll
The Daily Beast Cheat Sheet: Morning

December 19, 2011

After a mercurial reign of 17 years, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il met his end while riding a train on Saturday—an apparent heart attack. The announcement came Monday morning on Korean state television from a woman wearing black, and people began crying in the streets of the capital, Pyongyang, as they learned the news. Kim's third son, Kim Jong-un, has been named the "great successor." The Daily Beast's Richard C. Bush, director of Northeast Asian policy studies at the Brookings Institution, on whether real reform could come to the hermit nation, why the son's grip on government is shaky—and why the stakes are so high for the United States. Plus, video of the death announcement, photos of Kim's life, and more breaking updates.


Meet the man with his finger now on North Korea's nuclear trigger: Kim Jong-un, the third son of Kim Jong-il. (The first two sons were "too unpredictable or estranged" to take over, according to The New York Times.) Little is known about Kim, not even his age, though he is believed to be in his 20s. Kim was educated briefly in Sweden, and his father began grooming him for leadership last year. According to the Times, some intelligence officials believe he planned two attacks on South Korea in 2010—a way of proving himself as a military leader. Korean state television is now calling him "the great successor" and called on the Korean people to "faithfully revere respectable comrade Kim Jong-un." It is possible, however, that Kim will simply act as figurehead for the party; the two days between Kim Jong-il's death and its announcement suggest leadership struggles behind the scenes.

On the Hill

So much for compromise: House Republicans are set to vote down Monday a two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut that passed the Senate with huge bipartisan support, 89-10. Most senators have already taken off on vacation, so negotiations with the House are unlikely. Without further action, the tax-cut holiday will end Jan. 1. Most Democrats are expected to support the bill, so Republicans will probably have to vote en masse to kill it.


Newt's "late" surge may have been, in fact, too early. A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows Ron Paul leading in Iowa, with Newt Gingrich falling to third place. The poll shows Paul at 23 percent, Mitt Romney at 20 percent, and Gingrich at 14 percent. Gingrich has fallen 13 percent in two weeks, and his net favorability rating has collapsed from +31 to -1. Meanwhile, Paul's success has a lot to do with how hard he has been working in Iowa: 22 percent of Iowa voters say he's run the best campaign, compared with just 8 percent for Gingrich and 5 percent for Romney. He also leads Romney 26–5 percent with voters who say it's "very important" that a candidate spend a lot of time in the state and 29–19 percent with voters who have met a candidate in person.


Could the United States follow up the withdrawal of troops from Iraq with a diplomatic breakthrough in Afghanistan? Reuters says secret discussions with the Taliban "have reached a critical juncture." The U.S. is reportedly considering transferring Guantánamo Bay inmates into the custody of the Afghan government. In exchange, the Taliban might denounce international terrorism or formally enter peace talks with the Afghan government. Despite the progress, Reuters says a diplomatic breakthrough "remains a long shot."

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