North Korea's megahotel to finally open for business

Next April, North Korea plans to partially open the Ryugyong Hotel, a quarter century after ground was first broken for its construction. The new opening date coincides with the 100th birthday of North Korea's founding father, the late Kim Il-sung.

The Ryugyong has been referred to in the international press as the 'Hotel of Doom' and "the worst building in the world". During its intitial construction phase, which began in 1982, the clunky but imposing outer space pyramid dwarfed its neighbors on the Pyongyang skyline and had been honored on stamps. But by 1992, continuing to mirror the state of North Korean affairs, the completed but empty 1,080 foot shell was underfunded, abandoned and airbrushed out of official photos.

Through the years of neglect, the 105-story Ryugyong's potential as the highest hotel in the world was surpassed four times by taller (completed) hotels and, though it once might have been the 7th largest skyscraper, it currently ties at #40.

The resurrection of the Ryugyong is said to come as a result of resumed funding by the Egyptian Orascom Group. It's been reported that new construction has already begun and that the forthcoming hotel might boast as many as five rotating restaurants. Critics may argue that North Korea could make better use of the 2 billion dollars it could cost to bring the Ryugyong back to life. But if all goes according to plan this time, the Ryugyong Hotel will soon be an enigma in a country not especially known for its hospitality industry.

Feng Li/Getty Images


Decline Watch: City repeals domestic violence law in budget dispute

A.G. Sulzberger reports from Topeka:

Three arms of government, all ostensibly representing the same people, have been at an impasse over who should be responsible for — and pay for — prosecuting people accused of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence.

City leaders had blamed the Shawnee County district attorney for handing off such cases to the city without warning. The district attorney, in turn, said he was forced to not prosecute any misdemeanors and to focus on felonies because the County Commission cut his budget. And county leaders accused the district attorney of using abused women as pawns to negotiate more money for his office.

After both sides dug in, the dispute came to a head Tuesday night.

By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.

Decline-o-meter: Thankfully, this doesn't actually mean domestic violence has been decriminalized in Topeka. The move was a ploy to force the District Attorney to prosecute the offenses, which remain illegal under Kansas State law. But it's a scary sign of the times and highlights the fact that the prosecutor's office has recently been cut by 10 percent at a time that the city has seen a “recent uptick in violent crime.”

Also worth a read is Michael Lewis' new Vanity Fair dispatch from California, which makes the case that state and municipal governments are the real ticking time bomb of the crisis: 

The market for municipal bonds, unlike the market for U.S. government bonds, spooked easily. American cities and states were susceptible to the same cycle of doom that had forced Greece to seek help from the International Monetary Fund. 

Lewis' piece sketches out what this will mean for public-safety services like police and firefighting in debt-wracked cities like Vallejo.