Week In News: North Korea's Posturing

North Korea has officially declared itself in a state of war with both the United States and with it's South Korean neighbors. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent with The Atlantic, about that story and others from the past week.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

Coming up, a same-sex couple in the military coping with the Defense of Marriage Act and some surprising things about Samsung. But first...

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SULLIVAN: On Friday, North Korean President Kim Jong Un ordered his country's missiles to be ready to strike the United States. This morning, he declared his country, quote, "in a state of war" with its South Korean neighbors. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. is taking these threats seriously.

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: We are unequivocally committed to that alliance with South Korea as well as our other allies in that region of the world. And we will be prepared, if we have to be prepared, to deal with any eventuality there.

SULLIVAN: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there. And Jim Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura.

SULLIVAN: This is some harsh rhetoric, even for North Korea. Is this just more attention seeking from Kim Jong Un, or should we be taking this seriously?

FALLOWS: This does seem a little different from what we've seen over the years. Over the years, we've seen North Korea having as its only real lever in international affairs is the threat to do military harm. The other thing we've seen is that when new presidents come into South Korea, as has happened recently there just last month, there's usually a time of testing and provocation from the North Korean government. But this seems a little more than before.

I think Americans should not believe that the new North - that the North Korean regime is able to carry out its threats to hit Austin, Texas, or Hawaii or Seattle with nuclear weapons as they were purporting it with the press conferences. But the problem seems to be on both sides of the Korean divide. There's an increasing tensioned desire to sound tough, and it's just an unstable situation.

The North Koreans very certainly could damage South Korea and even Japan with their weapons. So I think this is - it's more than just the normal saber rattling - nuclear saber rattling we've heard from the North.

SULLIVAN: Well, let's turn now to a domestic issue and look ahead to next week. The sequester is set to actually kick in. The Federal Aviation Administration has said it will start closing hundreds of airport control towers. Does this mean we can't fly?

FALLOWS: No. It's going to mean that flying will mainly be slower in certain parts of the country. One thing that many people may not understand about the role of control towers in aviation is they don't really do anything to keep the plane in the sky or keep it from falling down. Their functions are essentially those of traffic policemen at busy intersections or like stop traffic lights at intersections too.

And so at these 140 odd towers they're going to close next week, what it'll mean is that anybody who's coming into that airport - whether it's a regional airliner or a private plane or an executive jet - is going to have to check with the other planes headed in via kind of CB radio. And they'll report on five miles out to the north, anybody else headed for Lancaster Airport in Pennsylvania, et cetera. So presumably, in ways in which it would be less safe would be if there was some collision at a crowded airport, mainly it'll be one more sort of slowing down of the air travel system.

SULLIVAN: Lastly, Jim, there are rumblings that there's been a breakthrough on immigration reforms. Senator Chuck Schumer reportedly says there may be a deal between business and labor on how to manage low-wage foreign workers. What do you make of this?

FALLOWS: Yes. I think we've seen the macroelements of a deal for quite a while now in the sense that the Republican Party has recognized that for both the nation's good and its own long-term positioning, it needs to seem something other than just flatly resistant on immigration reform. And now it's been the micro level, essentially a question of how many temporary guest laborers and at what wage levels can be brought in to alleviate certain regional or seasonal labor shortages.

And it looks as if the labor representatives and some of the big business representatives are agreeing between themselves, which is what a number of the senators from both parties have been looking forward. So I would expect that next month, this will be an actual sign of progress in public affairs.

SULLIVAN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic, and you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Laura.

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