February 7, 2012:
Despite recent aid from China and South Korea the north is suffering severe fuel shortages. This can be seen in the capital, which is experiencing an exceptional number of electricity shortages. It's been rare for the capital to go dark but this Winter (with so many days of below-freezing weather) the priority was on heat. Darkness is more survivable than all the below-freezing cold. The situation is even worse outside the capital, with the food shortages making the cold even more of a torment. There are also shortages of crop fertilizer. In North Korea that is largely feces (shit) and all adult North Koreans have been ordered to collect half a ton of shit for farms. This is meant to help farms increase food production. This is more shit than the average North Korea produces but the goal is meant to encourage collection of this precious material.
For the last three months, the north has increased its efforts to stop people from using cell phones. These devices enable information about other revolutions (like in Arab states) to get in and for North Koreans to tell each other about hard times throughout the nation. The campaign is not entirely successful, as cell phone users along the Chinese border are still active, despite the threat of death (in a labor camp) if you are caught.
South Korea is making preparations to deal with North Korean GPS jamming that is expected during the March 26-27 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. Leaders from all over the world will arrive for these talks. Last March, North Korea was found to be directing a GPS jamming signal across the border and towards the southern capital, Seoul. The jamming signal was detected up to a hundred kilometers south of the DMZ. The North Korea GPS jammers were based on known Russian models that North Korea bought and copied. The usual response for GPS jamming is to bomb the jammers, which are easy to find (jamming is nothing more than broadcasting a more powerful version of the frequency you want to interfere with). But such a response could lead to more fighting, so the south began working on alternative responses. The jamming is a nuisance more than a threat and most military equipment is equipped with electronics and other enhancements to defeat it.
February 3, 2012: North Korea refused a South Korean offer to hold peace talks. North Korea demanded that South Korea first apologize for past imaginary offenses against the north. North Korea is being its normal bellicose self, but the North Korean leadership seems more concerned about internal power struggles under their new leader, Kim Jong Un, than in foreign adventures.
January 30, 2012: It’s been revealed that China agreed on December 18 (the day after Kim Jong Il died) to give North Korea 500,000 tons of grain and 250,000 tons of oil. This was a show of confidence in the new leader, Kim Jong Un. The food and fuel only began to arrive in January. Lesser amounts of aid also arrived from South Korea. These are the only two countries sending food and fuel to North Korea these days. These shipments allowed Kim Jong Un to win some love from his people because most of them received a few pounds of grain. This is the traditional Lunar New Year gift from the North Korean government to their starving people. As it comes in the middle of winter it can literally be a life saver, especially this year. In general, North Koreans have a low opinion of their new leader and their government in general. The number of North Koreans who believe the propaganda line that North Korea is a "worker's paradise" is shrinking rapidly. Most North Koreans now regard their government as something that is trying to kill them. This is not a healthy political relationship.
January 26, 2012: South Korean troops on Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands (off the west coast near the North Korean border) held artillery firing exercises, using real ammunition.
North Korea repeated its warning to North Koreans that anyone caught using a cell phone in North Korea, or trying to illegally leave North Korea, until March 26th (the end of the hundred days of mourning for Kim Jong Il) would face more severe punishment. This means longer terms in labor camps, which can be a death sentence for all but the hardiest inmates.
In the last week, Kim Jong Un has made it clear that he likes what the NSA (National Security Agency, the secret police) is doing. He has ordered more imported (and very expensive) monitoring gear for the NSA to use and increased the authority of NSA agents. This came despite the fact that three months ago some senior officials of the NSA were arrested for taking bribes to enable people to escape to China. This was unprecedented, as the NSA was considered the ultimate guardian of the North Korean government. But for the last few years a growing number of rumors described many NSA officials as "approachable" (could be bribed). Seven months ago, North Korea sent agents from two competing agencies (military intelligence and the NSA) to help fight corruption along the border. The agents were ordered to watch their rivals for signs of someone being bribed. Apparently, Kim Jong Un believes that the NSA has been sufficiently purged (the purgees are usually executed). According to reports from North Korean families living near the Chinese border, NSA agents have been far more diligent in the last few months, looking for traitors (cell phone owners, potential defectors, and traders selling goods above the government mandated prices). The new authority of the NSA gives them an edge when competing (to find people to send to labor camps) with military intelligence and police investigators. Kim Jong Un is known to be friends with several senior NSA officials.