North Korea has a deadline: For years, it's promised that an age of prosperity will begin in 2012, the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung's birth. With 18 months to go, two journalists accompanying Bill Richardson on an unprecedented trip to North Korea found that the government will be hard-pressed to achieve that goal, though its desire to do so may be behind a few recent conciliatory measures undertaken by Pyongyang. Sharon LaFraniere reports on her trip to the Dear Leader's domain in the New York Times.
Economic mismanagement and years of sanctions have left the North an empty husk of a nation—electricity is limited for most to a few hours a day, as coal production is half of what it was two decades ago. Three out of four factories lie idle for want of power, even in the capitol, and outside Pyongyang the lack of basic necessities is so dire that groups of child beggars stalk village markets while families scavenge the hillside for edible roots and mushrooms. Despite this, the government maintains its extravagant, Oz-esque attempts at hoodwinking guests—the visiting reporters were shown staged gatherings in support of the nation's rulers, and fake, show-piece factories and universities organized to give the illusion of a functioning economy.