NEED TO KNOW
North Korea is officially a "vital threat." South Korean and US combined forces have raised their alert level to Watchcon 2, one up from "important threat" and one down from "all-out war."
Why now? Well, today's the day beyond which North Korea has told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it cannot guarantee their safety. It's also just two days before US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO commander Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrive in Seoul, and five days before North Korea marks the birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung, in what South Korea and its allies fear will be explosive fashion. Their intelligence suggests that North Korea has at least one mid-range ballistic missile fueled and ready to launch.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Not like the Japanese city of Yokohama, which mistakenly announced the launch of a North Korean missile to all 40,000 followers of its official Twitter account. These are days of slippery fingers; we hope Kim Jong Un's don't twitch.
WANT TO KNOW
Iranian aftershocks. Tremors continued throughout the night in southwest Iran, hours after the 6.1-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 37 people and injured 850. Officials say the rescue operation has been called to a halt; emergency workers are now focused on sheltering the hundreds of local residents left homeless.
Unlike their houses, the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant is said to be undamaged. The complex, which lies around 50 miles from the epicenter of yesterday's quake, is designed to resist tremors up to magnitude 8.0 and is reportedly is "operating as usual" today.
Is Israel operating in Syria? The two countries may be in a formal state of war, but according to GlobalPost's sources, Israeli military personnel are deployed in non-combat capacity across the Syrian border. They have entered Syrian territory to identify wounded Syrians and administer basic medical care, a senior Israeli source says.
If so, it would be the first time Israeli forces have been known to set foot in Syria since the 1970s, and roughly equivalent to US military personnel operating in North Korea — if North Korea lay on the American border, and if it was consumed by a civil war in which extremist elements were involved. Read GlobalPost's investigation here.
The death penalty is dying out. Amnesty International's annual report on executions worldwide says the global trend toward abolishing capital punishment continues, despite a number of countries resuming the practice in 2012. Throughout the year, only 21 of the world's countries put prisoners to death, the top five executors being — once again — China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US.
With only one in ten countries still carrying out death sentences, the campaign group says, "their leaders should ask themselves why they are still applying a cruel and inhumane punishment that the rest of the world is leaving behind."
STRANGE BUT TRUE
File under "welcome historical footnote." Newly WikiLeaked US diplomatic cables reveal that the Philippines' former dictator Ferdinand Marcos once had a two-day birthday party, at which his wife Imelda forced top military generals to dress in drag. And then to dance. Dance, skirt-wearing tough guys, dance!
US ambassador William Sullivan, reporting back to his superiors in Washington, described every aspect of the occasion as "too much, too long, and in questionable taste."