North Korea: Life in US is a 'living hell'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves in a 15 April, 2012 photo. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kim Jong-un to US: I know you are, but what am I?

Can turnabout be fair play?

After being the subject of global scorn following a highly critical UN report on its human rights abuses, North Korea has released a "news analysis" on the US human rights record.

Calling the US "the world's worst human rights abuser", the state-run Korea Central News Agency says the nation is "a living hell, as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated".

The writers open the report by noting US President Barack Obama's admission that race is still a problem in the US during his remarks at commemorations on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which they call the "anniversary of the institution of citizenship").

They go on to list a litany of offences that reads like a cribbing from left-leaning US op-ed pages and opinion magazines, mixed with a dollop of Soviet-era revelling in US decadence and decay.

Racism, crime and unemployment run rampant, they write. Lax gun laws are "boosting murderous crimes," and housing prices are soaring, "leaving many people homeless".

(The North Koreans lose points for failing to cite Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Such low-hanging fruit!)

"The number of impoverished people increased to 46.5 millions last year," they continue, "and one sixth of the citizens and 20-odd% of the children are in the grip of famine in New York City."

While the US burns, they say, US President Barack Obama "indulges himself in luxury almost every day, squandering hundred millions of dollars on his foreign trip in disregard of his people's wretched life".

There is, of course, the obligatory reference to drones and the NSA surveillance scandal:

The US government has monitored every movement of its citizens and foreigners, with many cameras and tapping devices and even drones involved, under the pretext of "national security".

And the North Koreans call out the Trayvon Martin shooting:

The US true colours as a kingdom of racial discrimination was fully revealed by last year's case that the Florida Court gave a verdict of not guilty to a white policeman who shot to death an innocent black boy.

(George Zimmerman, of course, was not a police officer.)

Although a few of the insults seem to have lost a bit in translation, such as when they say the US is a "tundra of a human being's rights to existence", the intent seems clear: a glass-house US shouldn't be throwing stones at North Korea.

So how are the US media responding to these allegations? With a resounding "Yeah, but..."

The Daily Beast's Nina Strochlic says it's "disturbing" that North Koreans didn't have to embellish the statistics very much to make their point:

North Korea does manage to hit on the country's most vehemently discussed hot-button topics, and not just those with fringe backing. And the criticism levelled at America wouldn't be entirely ridiculous if it wasn't coming from the mouth of an accuser with much worse charges on its rap sheet.

The Atlantic's Matt Ford takes a line-by-line look at the North Korean allegations and finds quite a few shortcomings, however.

"It's unclear whether North Korea's economic analysis here is intentionally misleading or just factually deficient," he writes.

KCNA did correctly observe that 46.5 million Americans live in poverty and that the number is rising. One in five children in New York City does live in a food-scarce home, but the claim that these children live in the "grip of famine" is hyperbolic.

He adds, however, that "Pyongyang's sins don't make Washington a saint".

At least Americans know about their nation's problems and are actively engaged in debating them, writes PolicyMic's Matt Essert.

"Americans can openly complain about their country and government without fearing a trip to a work camp, so the option to change and improve America is a very real one (even if it's also a difficult one)," he says.

The Washington Post's Adam Taylor says that gun crime is the only part of North Korea's statistics that is "truly debatable":

While it's true that the number of mass shootings has risen in the United States, violent crime in general has dropped over the past few years, with homicide rates down in most major cities.

In the end, he says, the report shows that "whataboutism" - attempting to deflect blame by pointing the finger elsewhere - is "better than ever in the 21st Century".

That North Korea can employ such a tactic and not immediately be laughed out of the room, however, is a bit disturbing for those of us living in the tundra.