Trump’s Declaration of North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terror Is Just Another in a Long Line of Policy Flip-Flops

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

President Trump’s objective of getting North Korea to abandon
its nuclear arsenal is clear. His strategy for achieving that goal,
however, is not.

Even less clear are Trump’s communications to the world, and
North Korea, about American intentions. He has flip-flopped and
changed his tune on North Korea multiple times in just his first 10
months in office, making it impossible for anyone to know what he
will do next. Effective foreign policy, on the contrary, requires
the president to signal credible and consistent assurances to
allies and threats to adversaries.

Trump’s recent trip to Asia and his
designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism
,
unfortunately, reveal either an inability or disinclination to
conduct foreign policy in this manner. The consequences of
Trump’s inconsistency are potentially dire.

Prior to the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump characterized
his North Korea strategy as “What I would do very simply is say,

China, this is your baby
. … You solve the problem.” Months
later the president appeared to abruptly end that strategy,
tweeting, “I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi
& China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out.

At least I know China tried!
” During his recent trip to
Asia, however, the president changed back to an earlier refrain:
China can fix this problem quickly and
easily.”

On the diplomatic front, in June of this year Trump noted,
“The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime
has failed, many years it has failed. Frankly, that
patience is over
.” A month later he offered an answer to
what might come next: “North Korea best not make any more
threats to the United States,” or else “[t]hey will be
met with
fire and fury
like the world has never seen.”

Then, during his recent Asia trip, he again changed course.
Instead of elaborating on his implied military threat and trying to
amplify its coercive power, Trump called for “progress, not
provocation … stability, not chaos, and … peace, not war.” Those words sounded a
lot like a call to the hard and slow work of diplomacy. Bolstering
that notion, during the trip Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
indicated that Trump had invited the North Korean regime to direct
negotiations; an extension, perhaps, of the “direct contact” that Trump appeared to
have ruled out previously but that the secretary said had in fact
been ongoing.

But again on Monday, Trump reversed course yet again, declaring
North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and imposing further
sanctions on the regime.

So what is the Trump administration’s strategy towards
North Korea? Does China play a critical role or not? Have
diplomatic means and patience been abandoned? Is the U.S.
prioritizing direct talks with the North Korean regime or will only
threats and force resolve the situation? In the past year, the
president has suggested the answer is “yes” to each of
those strategic options. At times, he has said both yes and no to
the same option at the same time.

If Americans cannot determine what the president’s
strategy is, then how can the North Korean regime? Media reports
indicate that the North Koreans are indeed confused by Trump and
have contacted former American officials trying to
ascertain what exactly Trump is doing.

Trump’s defenders argue that his vacillations are
strategic, designed to pressure North Korea into negotiations by
threatening “devastating
attacks. But Trump’s threats have been anything but clear and
credible.

Not only does North Korea have trouble understanding Trump, his
threats are in fact empty. Analysts agree the United States has no
real military option at this point. According to a Pentagon assessment and other analyses, any
attempt to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal by force would
require a ground invasion, likely resulting in hundreds of
thousands of deaths in the first few days of conflict and creating
a significant risk that North Korea would use nuclear weapons
against Seoul and Tokyo.

Nor is there any reason to believe that re-designating North
Korea a sponsor of terrorism or imposing additional sanctions will
have much impact. Indeed, the very fact that North Korea was able
to develop nuclear weapons while laboring under heavy sanctions
over decades makes clear
how unlikely
it is that additional penalties will encourage Kim
Jong Un to change course.

In light of the facts, Trump’s rhetorical inconsistency makes
conflict more likely, not less. If the North Koreans can’t figure
out what Trump’s strategy is, but they start to believe his threats
about using military force, then the risk of a North Korean
pre-emptive strike rises significantly. The risk of U.S.
miscalculation also rises. If North Korea begins preparations to
defend itself against what it believes is an imminent American
attack, the United States might misread the signs and think North
Korea was about to attack, thus setting off a conflict that neither
side desired.

Instead of flip-flopping between approaches, the president needs
to focus on sending North Korea consistent and clear messages. If
he doesn’t, Kim Jong Un could miscalculate, and that’s a nuclear
mistake we cannot afford.

Erik
Goepner
, a retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force, is a
visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute. A. Trevor Thrall is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy
Department and associate professor at George Mason University’s
Schar School of Policy and Government.

Let’s Talk about Respect: Chicago Police Officers Continue to Fail the Communities They Are Sworn to Serve

Jonathan Blanks

When police departments face criticism for
high-profile officer-involved shootings or more general calls for
reform, some talking heads tend to fall back on crime statistics,
particularly violent crime statistics in majority black
neighborhoods, saying that crime is the underlying problem of those
areas, not the police who work there. The “what about
black-on-black crime?” canard deflects criticism of police
and their often-abusive practices in communities of color. The
argumentative sleight of hand shifts responsibility from the police
back onto the community that lodges the complaint of police abuse,
as if the existence of high crime neighborhoods negates complaints
of police abuse. Police accountability is not an ancillary issue
that should take a back seat to crime fighting. Accountable police
officers are paramount to public safety and security.

The increase in violence on the streets of Chicago
particularly has become the go-to shibboleth of the “tough on
crime” set. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decried
Chicago “lawlessness” and
underscored that the “most critical factor to our success
is the strength, training, and morale of the Chicago Police
Department
.” The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac
Donald explicitly blamed Chicago’s murder spike on what she
called the “Ferguson effect”
: chilled by the public
outcry following Ferguson officer Darren Wilson’s killing of
teen Michael Brown, line officers retreated from proactive policing
and, consequently, a spike of violent crime followed. This causal
relationship was not backed by data—though “de-policing” has shown to have
correlative effects in other cities like Baltimore
—but
Chicago continues to be a buzzwordfor
those who believe police are not getting the respect they deserve
and that lack of respect is enabling violent crime.

Police accountability is
not an ancillary issue that should take a back seat to crime
fighting.

OK. Let’s talk about respect and the Chicago
Police Department (CPD).

For almost 20 years, Chicago Police Commander Jon
Burge
tortured men—primarily black men—to elicit
confessions to murders and other crimes. Many men spent decades in
prisons after these torture sessions, often for crimes they
didn’t commit. When he was finally fired, the statute of
limitations had expired for his most barbaric acts. He was
eventually convicted of lying in a civil case about the torture he
inflicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Burge
still receives a $4,000 per month
pension
, despite the City setting up a multi-million dollar
reparations fund to compensate his many victims.

More recently, Officer Dante Servin was charged for
fatally shooting Rekia Boyd, 22, from his car in 2012. Servin
claimed he was trying to shoot a man who had reached into his
waistband and pointed a gun at him, but shot into a crowd of
unarmed young black people ordered to disperse, killing Boyd and
injuring another man. The gun Servin claimed he saw was a cell
phone. Servin was charged with involuntary
manslaughter
, but the judge dismissed the case in
2016
, saying that Servin was mischarged because the facts supported first
degree murder
. Servin quit before he could be terminated for
killing Boyd so, like Burge, he too kept his pension. The City paid
Boyd’s family $4.5 million for her wrongful death.

But CPD’s problems go well beyond one or two bad
cops.

In 2015, The Guardian published a massive, multi-part investigative reportabout a
secret interrogation site in Chicago known as Homan Square. The
Guardian
had to sue to get much of the official information
about Homan Square, which held more than 7,000 individuals
functionally incommunicado from friends, family, and legal counsel.
An estimated 82 percent of the individuals held
at the black box site were African American
, and fewer than 100 had documented visits
from legal counsel
. People detained there reported being
shackled for hours and held for days at a time without outside
contact. At least 14 reported being subjected to “punches, knee strikes, elbow
strikes, slaps, wrist twists, baton blows and Tasers

that were not performed in the course of a lawful arrest and
at least two individuals died while
held at Homan Square
. One man alleged he was sexually abused in an
effort to coerce his cooperation in a drug case.

The most famous misconduct case to come out of Chicago
in recent years was the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by CPD
officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. The shooting itself was troubling
on a number of levels—Van Dyke emptied his magazine into the
black teen’s body well after he suffered a head shot that
left him motionless on the ground—but the aftermath and the
video evidence point to even larger, systemic problems within the
CPD.

The delay in releasing the dash cam video of the
incident—forced by an investigative journalist’s
Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent
lawsuit—raised questions of politics, specifically that the
release was delayed, in part, to protect the reelection prospects of
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
. When the footage was released, none of the
dash cams had operating microphones to capture audio of the
incident. An internal CPD review showed that 80 percent of CPD dashcams had
dysfunctional audio due “to operator error or in some cases
intentional destruction” by officers
, strongly suggesting
widespread tampering with potential criminal evidence. The manager
of a Burger King near the scene reportedly told a grand jury that
police destroyed 86 minutes of surveillance
footage
he turned over to them that corresponded with the time
of the killing. Ten officers were recommended to be fired and
four officers and a sergeant were
brought up on administrative charges
for covering-up the
shooting by filing false reports about the incident. Van Dyke was
indicted for the killing and only three other CPD officers were
indicted on misconduct and obstruction charges for the
cover-up
. (The Chicago Tribunecompiled an ongoing
timeline of the case here.)

The stories above are just a few of the many cases of misconduct known
within and outside of Chicago.The CPD continues to operate in an
environment that protects officers from accountability for many
years, even in the most egregious cases of misconduct. Those who
point to Chicago to decry the lawlessness in the communities there
would do well to examine the police who patrol those streets and
why they continue to fail the people they are sworn to serve.

Jonathan
Blanks
is a Research Associate in Cato’s Project on Criminal
Justice and a Writer in Residence at Harvard University’s Fair
Punishment Project.

House Tax Plan: Good for Affordable Housing

Vanessa Brown Calder

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate’s tax reform
plans dropped this month, and affordable-housing advocates
described the former as the “worst-case scenario” and “devastating for affordable housing.” But
unless you’ve been following federal affordable housing
policy closely, it may be hard to understand why.

Affordable-housing advocates are mainly concerned about the
House’s proposal to eliminate private activity bonds. These
bonds are frequently paired with low-income housing tax credits to provide
equity for qualifying housing projects.

Without the bonds, developers will not be able to utilize one
version of the low-income housing tax credit. As a result,
advocates have decided the affordable housing sky is falling.

But there is reason to be more upbeat. For one thing, the LIHTC
program isn’t what supporters make it out to be. The
program is arguably one of the least-efficient housing subsidy
programs overseen by the federal government.

Affordable-housing
advocates are concerned about the House’s proposal to eliminate
private activity bonds.

Research suggests a majority of LIHTC benefits go to developers
and intermediaries, rather than low-income tenants. In one study,
Economist Gregory Burge found evidencethat only one-third of the value of
LIHTC benefits low-income tenants. That leaves two-thirds of the
benefit for developers, lawyers, accountants and financiers
involved in the process.

There are other issues, too. For example, LIHTC housing seems to
displace private-market housing that would be been built without
taxpayers’ help. A 2010 study indicates “nearly 100 percent
of LIHTC development is offset by a reduction in the number of
newly built unsubsidized rental units.” That is a problem
because it means taxpayers are paying for something that would
exist even in the absence of a subsidy.

The LIHTC program also has abysmal oversight, described in two
different reports as “minimal” by the Government
Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency. In a Senate
hearing earlier this year, the GAO auditor said the “IRS
and no one else in the federal government really has an idea of
what’s going on.” The IRS has audited only 13 percent of the local
groups administering the program.

This lack of oversight leads to corruption and fraud. For
example, NPR detailed a string of LIHTC corruption cases
in Florida earlier this year that included a major LIHTC developer
stealing $34 million from 14 different projects before getting
caught.

It would be nice if this were an anomaly. Yet the Assistant U.S.
Attorney investigating the cases told NPR he “know[s] that this
fraud doesn’t just reside in South Florida. There’s too much money
involved, and based upon other information that we’ve looked at,
this fraud exists in other jurisdictions.”

But there is an even more important reason to approve of a
reduction in the scope of the LIHTC program: LIHTC serves as a
distraction from the crux of the housing affordability problem.

In most states, zoning and land-use planning drive up housing
costs. For example, I find that increasing land-use regulation is
associated with increasing home prices in 44 states in my recent
report “Zoning,
Land-Use Planning, and Housing Affordability.

But don’t take my word for it. Economists Edward Glaeser
and Joseph Gyuorko have estimated the cost of housing is 30 percent to 50 percent higher in certain
major cities as a result of the regulatory tax associated with
zoning regulation. And restrictive zoning and land-use regulation
is associated with fewer multifamily housing developments in U.S.
cities.

Because inefficient programs like the LIHTC exist, policymakers,
lobbyists and housing advocates can go on pretending that spending
more money on housing subsidies will resolve housing affordability
problems for once and for all.

Local policymakers won’t be able to continue living under
such an illusion if Congress eliminates private activity bonds and
reduces the LIHTC as a consequence. With fewer inefficient
subsidies to point at, citizens and policymakers will have to get
serious about reforming costly regulation. Eliminating private
activity bonds is the first step, and we may have the House tax
plan to thank for it.

Vanessa Brown
Calder
is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

One Step Forward, but Many More to Go for Telemedicine

Shirley Svorny

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently released
its final rule for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee
Schedule, including an increase in Medicare coverage for select
telehealth services. CMS indicates that its aim is to transform
“access to Medicare telehealth services by paying for more
services and making it easier for providers to bill for these
services.”

This is good for Medicare beneficiaries, and a promising step
for the burgeoning practice of telemedicine. But a major obstacle
remains: state physician licensing laws restrict the practice of
interstate telemedicine.

According to existing state laws, to treat an out-of-state
patient, a doctor has to be licensed in that state. To be available
to patients in 50 states, the telemedicine doctor needs 50 state
licenses. Some doctors already do this, but securing and
maintaining multiple licenses is an expensive and time-consuming
process. Distinct state-specific requirements for continuing
medical education and questionable variations across states in medical practice
standards add to the cost of compliance.

The benefit of
eliminating state licensing barriers to interstate practice has
never been greater.

Don’t take it from me: When the American Telemedicine
Association surveyed health care executives in March 2017,
they asked, “What are the key challenges you see with
telehealth in the next three years?” Fifty-three percent of
those surveyed picked “licensure/privileges” as a key
challenge. A 2012 survey of telestroke programs funded by the
U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration found
“inability to obtain physician licensing/credentialing”
as one of the most important barriers to the expansion of
stroke-related telemedicine programs.

MedLicense.com, which helps physicians get
state licenses, offers a discount for physicians who apply in more
than 20 states at one time. Michael Brooks, MedLicense.com’s
managing member, says annual license renewal fees discourage many
physicians from seeking additional state licenses.

Although state licensing requirements were first identified as a
barrier to interstate telemedicine in the late 1990s, only one
state has considered revising its law. In 2016, Florida lawmakers
failed to pass a bill that would have allowed out-of-state
telemedicine providers to offer services in the state. Such a law
would have facilitated continuity of care for the approximately one
million seasonal residents who visit Florida each year.

Congress could solve the problem. Currently, the location of the
patient determines the location of the practice of medicine. If
lawmakers were to change the definition from the location of the
patient to that of the doctor, doctors would only need one license
to practice in multiple states. It has always been legal for a
patient to travel to seek care from a physician in another state;
this change would allow the same visit to occur remotely. Legal
scholars suggest that the Commerce Clause of the U.S.
Constitution would support congressional action on this front.

The current system not only results in problems with access to
care but complicates matters for state medical boards. When a
complaint is filed against a physician with a multi-state practice,
the various state medical boards that license that physician must
cooperate—a herculean task. In contrast, moving to a system
that allows physicians to practice across states on the basis of
their home-state license would be less complicated, with the
physician’s home-state board receiving all complaints.

The benefits of opening state markets to out-of-state providers
can be substantial. For example, care from out-of-state cancer
specialists would no longer be reserved for patients with the
financial wherewithal (and physical stamina) to travel. As for
direct-to-consumer telemedicine, which offers patients care from
their home, office, or mobile device, it is reasonable to expect
the same increase in efficiency that followed the national
expansion of retail chain stores and the end of regulatory barriers
to interstate banking and trucking.

The time is ripe for reform. With the CMS moving to expand
reimbursement of telehealth services under Medicare and the
National Business Group on Health predicting near universal
adoption of telemedicine by large employers by 2019, the benefit of
eliminating state licensing barriers to interstate practice has
never been greater.

Shirley
Svorny
is a professor of economics at California State
University, Northridge, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute
and author of the forthcoming study, “Liberating Telemedicine:
Options to Eliminate the State-Licensing Roadblock.”

Here Is How America Can Bring Peace to Ukraine

Doug Bandow

The Trump administration reportedly plans to propose a
peacekeeping force for Ukraine. The initiative would have a greater
chance of success if Washington offered a package that made Ukraine
a neutral country, backed by a promise not to further expand
NATO.

Washington policymakers just can’t seem to imagine life without
an enemy. However, the supposed Russian menace falls short.
Vladimir Putin is an unpleasant autocrat, but his kingdom is freer
than that of American allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Turkey. On them Washington lavishes attention, money and
weapons.

Moscow’s election interference, which appears to have
had a minor impact at most, was obnoxious, but Washington has
little room to complain. By one count the U.S. has interfered in
elections in eighty-one countries. Indeed, the Clinton
administration did its best to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s 1996
reelection, which, ironically, ultimately resulted in the Putin
presidency.

The United States and its
allies should indicate that they have no intention to further
expand the NATO alliance.

The Russian Federation is not an ideological competitor.
Putinism has little appeal to anyone other than Vladimir Putin and
his cronies. While Putin demonstrated his authoritarian tendencies
early, he was no Communist ideologue. Rather, he bridled at the
West’s treatment of Russia. In fact, he was not otherwise
anti-American, and looks like a traditional czar, demanding respect
and emphasizing security for Russia.

Which explains Russian foreign policy. For instance, Putin
believes Moscow’s interest should be taken into account
in Syria, which is far closer geographically to
Russia than America and has been a military ally of Moscow for
years.

More important, Russia is determined to prevent Georgia and
Ukraine from entering NATO. It should surprise no one that Moscow
opposes expansion of a historically hostile alliance up to its
border, incorporating territories once integral to its predecessor
states, both Soviet Union and Russian Empire. That is unfortunate
for Georgia and Ukraine, but Washington rarely allows
“fairness” to get in the way of pursuing its security
interests.

Despite extensive wailing and gnashing of teeth in Europe over
Moscow’s behavior, there is no evidence that Putin is
contemplating aggression-what could he hope to gain even if he did
not face almost certain defeat? Rather, he has perfected the art of
unsettling nations determined to leave most hard military work to
the United States.

Only a Europe that has become hopelessly dependent on America
could seem so vulnerable to a declining power like Russia.
Collectively Europe has some twelve times the economic strength,
three times the population and two times the military outlays of
Russia. The latter lost its superpower status a quarter century
ago: today it is a serious regional military power with weak
economic and uncertain political foundations. The possession of
nuclear weapons alone gives Putin serious international heft, but
America has them in abundance and even Europe possesses a couple
small arsenals.

Washington and its allies continue to impose sanctions for no practical purpose.
Russia isn’t going to disgorge Crimea short of war. By
encouraging continued turmoil in eastern Ukraine Moscow ensures
that Kiev won’t enter NATO. Congress believes it can use
American economic clout to remold the rest of world, but sanctions
rarely cause nationalistic governments to abandon perceived vital
interests. That should come as no surprise to Americans, who would
not likely give in to Russia (or anyone else) if the situation was
reversed.

Improving relations with Moscow should be a top U.S. objective.
Western policymakers look forward to Putin’s departure, but
he represents larger political forces in Russia. He almost
certainly will not be succeeded by anyone liberal in a Western
sense. Certainly not from the circle around him. Nor even from the
opposition. Those who know Alexey Navalny, the leading opposition
activist, warn that he may be no less authoritarian and nationalist
than Putin. Waiting for change means waiting for something that may
never come.

Yet everyone would benefit if conflict in the Donbas ended and
perceived threats against Europe dissipated. Russia also can help
or hinder Western objectives elsewhere, including in the Middle
East, particularly Syria, and Asia, most notably North Korea. Other
important issues include Afghanistan and the Arctic. If U.S.-Russia
relations improved, Moscow would still pursue its independent
interests but might be more willing to accommodate allied
concerns.

Most important may be pulling Moscow away from the
People’s Republic of China (PRC). Richard Nixon’s
geopolitical masterstroke was opening a relationship with the PRC
to balance against the Soviet Union. Presidents Bill Clinton,
George W. Bush, and especially Barack Obama reversed course,
pushing Moscow and Beijing together. In fact, one of the only
interests which binds the two governments is the determination to
prevent U.S. hegemony. Yet if America faces a future military
threat, it is far more likely to come from China than Russia.

The administration’s policy toward Moscow has been
hindered by charges of electoral collusion against the Trump
campaign. Although little evidence appears to back the claim,
Congress dominated relations with Russia by intensifying sanctions,
making positive change less likely. The 2015 Minsk accord over
Ukraine remains unfulfilled, but Kiev shares the blame, having
failed to make promised constitutional changes.

The administration reportedly plans to propose a 20,000-man
peacekeeping force for the Donbas, where some 10,000 have died in
fighting since 2014. The ultimate objective is remove Russian
forces, disarm separatists and reintegrate the region into Ukraine
with greater autonomy.

Moscow’s agreement would be more likely if Washington offered to
address Russia’s larger security concerns. NATO still is formally
committed to including Ukraine and Georgia. The United States and
its allies should indicate that they have no intention to further
expand the alliance. While they would go to war to defend present
members in the unlikely event of Russian aggression, they will not
drive Western commitments, troops, and arms into what once was the
heart of the Soviet Union.

Taking NATO membership off the table would remove Moscow’s
incentive to keep the Ukrainian conflict alive. A peaceful Ukraine
would no longer pose a paradoxical military threat to Russia.
Moscow could rid itself of a costly conflict which has consumed
resources and lives for no good purpose. Ukraine could develop
economically and politically as it wished. Sanctions could end,
encouraging economic integration from Europe through Ukraine into
Russia.

 

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

How to Deal with Newly Empowered Xi Jinping

Doug Bandow

The long-suffering American hope that economic liberalization
would yield intellectual and political freedom in China is
officially dead after President Xi Jinping’s coronation at
the recent party congress. He emphasized party control,
strengthened personal power, and stifled intellectual dissent. He
used the meeting to cement his dominance and demonstrate his
intention to rule beyond a second five-year term.

Xi appears to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng
Xiaoping if not Mao Zedong. Xi’s thoughts even have been
included in the Chinese Communist Party’s charter, just like
Mao’s. At the congress Xi outlined his vision for the future:
The People’s Republic of China is to develop into a
“fully modern economy” and become “a global
leader of composite national strength and international
influence.”

The PRC already is arguably close to achieving both objectives.
Although the country faces significant economic and political
challenges, so far it has confounded the doomsayers. Even if China
suffers setbacks in coming years, it almost certainly will become a
great power with broader global reach. Beijing is likely to pose a
substantial challenge to U.S. interests and values. That
doesn’t make conflict inevitable or even likely, but to
effectively respond policymakers should better prioritize
Washington’s objectives.

The Trump administration
must demonstrate maturity and sophistication if Washington is going
to respond effectively.

Indeed, America’s leaders, if they deserve to be called
that, should start by rescuing the U.S. political system from
laughing-stock status. Compare presidents and America loses. By all
appearances, President Xi is serious, determined, and competent; he
knows both privilege and hardship; he even lived in America, now
his country’s chief adversary. Today he dominates one of the
world’s most formidable political systems. Even Chinese
inclined toward democracy have trouble defending the American
system these days.

The operation of Congress, too, fails to live up to what the
world’s most powerful nation requires. The democratically
elected U.S. body should easily outdistance China’s
rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, but the inability of
American legislators of both parties to work effectively with each
other also seems to discredit America’s democratic
experiment.

Moreover, Washington needs to restore its economic
self-confidence. The Trump administration has multiplied trade
complaints against the PRC. The U.S. should emphasize opening
Chinese commercial and investment markets, not closing the American
economy, as President Trump would prefer. Low cost foreign goods
benefit both consumers and producers. In fact, many imports are
intermediate goods, destined for use in exports. The U.S. economy
needs to become more competitive and efficient.

The administration also should press President Xi to live up to
his past emphasis on market reforms, which would benefit American
businesses and Chinese consumers. Not incidentally, doing so would
help counteract the Xi regime’s ongoing expansion of state
control over the economy. Indeed, achieving further liberalization
would be worth concessions—including forbearance on the
president’s counter-productive threats of a trade war.

Politically, Washington should treat the PRC as a serious
competitor. Depending on the issue, China may be adversary or ally.
The U.S. should emphasize areas where the two nations’
interests coincide and look for compromises where interests
diverge. Perhaps most important, American officials must recognize
that Washington cannot dictate: negotiation over contested issues
is inevitable.

North Korea may be the most important current controversy
between the U.S. and Beijing. Washington obviously wants to prevent
Pyongyang from acquiring an ability to target the homeland with
nuclear weapons. However, the PRC desires neither a failed state on
its border—consider how Americans view Mexico—nor a
reunited Korea allied with America hosting U.S. troops. The Trump
administration should offer concessions, such as pledge to remove
American forces from a reunited peninsula.

Overall, Washington must channel the two nations’ rivalry
away from military confrontation. Despite real geopolitical
differences, the U.S. and the PRC must not come to military blows.
China would be a formidable opponent even now. It would not win a
global war with America, but has demonstrated no interest in
matching the U.S. around the world. Rather, China hopes to deter
Washington from intervening against the PRC in its own
neighborhood. While the Pentagon has developed tactics to
counteract China’s anti-access/area denial strategy,
deterrence is much cheaper than power projection. A few missiles or
torpedoes are far less expensive than the aircraft carrier they
might sink.

Moreover, even victory for the U.S. would not mean the end of
conflict. A resentful, still growing PRC would be an even more
formidable foe in the future. The American people aren’t
likely to fund endless conflict far from the U.S. when their own
defense is not directly at stake. Washington might prefer to limit
Beijing’s influence in its own neighborhood. But that
objective is not worth catastrophic conflict.

However, Americans in and out of government should do what they
can to expand the free information flow to Chinese citizens.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s soft spot for authoritarian
leaders seeming reaches Beijing, even though he freely attacked the
PRC before taking office. But the administration should not launch
an official propaganda campaign—they rarely turn out
well.

Younger, well-educated Chinese, in particular, are highly
nationalistic. Telling them what to believe would be
counter-productive. But they resent their government’s
internet controls. Widening their access to information while
allowing them to draw their own conclusions would be a better
approach. Washington should cooperate with private organizations to
blow holes in the Great Firewall. Washington also could use the
access of Chinese media to the U.S. as a bargaining chip to address
Beijing’s restrictions on American journalists.

President Xi is likely to lead China for many more years.
Although the PRC’s climb to greatness is not assured, it is
likely to pose an ever more serious challenge to the U.S. The Trump
administration must demonstrate maturity and sophistication if
Washington is going to respond effectively.

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Can Marijuana Help Addicts Kick Opioids?

Jeffrey A. Singer

Late last month Donald Trump’s administration declared the
rising death rate from opioid overdoses a national public health
emergency. Thirty-three thousand lives were lost to this scourge in
2015, and early reports from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention paint an even bleaker picture for 2016.

Policymakers working for the president are doubling down on a
policy aimed at restricting opioids. But this policy isn’t
working. In fact, it might even be contributing to abusers’
switch to more potent drugs such as heroin in
recent years.Yet there is an approach that can truly curb the
rising rate of overdose deaths that is staring them right in the
face: legalizing marijuana.

According to research published earlier this month in the
American Journal of Public Health, Colorado’s
legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014 coincided with a 6.5
percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths. The researchers
studied the opioid overdose rate in the state from 2000 to 2015,
and found that after 14 years of a steady rise in opioid overdose
deaths, the rate decreased by an average of 0.7 deaths per
month.

Research shows this once
maligned ‘gateway’ drug could be an off-ramp.

This is not the first study to find that marijuana is associated
with a drop in the use and abuse of opioids and other dangerous
drugs. A 2014 study examined states where marijuana was
available for medical use between 1999 and 2010 and found, on
average, a 25 percent reduction in annual opioid overdose mortality
compared to states in which marijuana was illegal. Researchers at
the RAND Corporation found similar results in 2015. And in June of
this year, a study of chronic pain patients by the University of
California at Berkeley found that 97 percent of patients decreased
opioid consumption as a result of using medical marijuana, and 81
percent found marijuana alone was more effective than using both
marijuana and opioids.

Clearly some patients require fewer opioids to treat their pain
when they have access to marijuana. But Colorado’s
encouraging data reflects the impact of recreational marijuana
access—not medicinal. These new findings suggest the
possibility that people seeking to get “high” on
mind-altering drugs, when given the opportunity, tend to choose the
safer option—when it’s legal and available from sources
other than black market drug dealers. There might even be a
pharmacological basis to these findings. Research published in 2013 in the journal
Addiction Biology suggests cannabis “interferes with
brain reward mechanisms responsible for the expression of the acute
rewarding properties of opioids…”

And a 2017 article by researchers at Mt. Sinai School of
Medicine points to animal models that suggest cannabidiol, found in
cannabis, might reduce withdrawal symptoms as well as
opioid-seeking behavior. This is an area that needs further
investigation, but one thing is clear: marijuana availability is
associated with a decrease in opioid use, abuse, and overdose.

Opponents of marijuana legalization have claimed for years that
marijuana is a dangerous “gateway drug” that leads users to more
treacherous and addictive drugs, like heroin. These claims are
premised on the fact that most users of heroin, cocaine, and other
dangerous drugs also report that they use marijuana. But they also
report the use of tobacco and alcohol. Critics of the gateway
theory are quick to point out that correlation is not the same as
causation. Now there’s evidence of a negative
correlation between marijuana and harder drugs. More marijuana
correlates with less opioids.

Even proponents of opioid restriction agree that
Medication-Assisted Treatment is a useful tool for dealing with
opioid addiction. This employs medications such as methadone,
suboxone, and naltrexone to wean addicts away from opioids.
Marijuana’s potential for medicinal use has been recognized
by healthcare professionals—and realized by
patients—for many years. Now, it offers the potential for
averting and treating opioid abuse.

Rather than a gateway, marijuana may be an off-ramp to opioid
abuse. Opponents of marijuana legalization should keep that in mind
before they try to close this ramp off.

Jeffrey A.
Singer
practices general surgery in Phoenix, is a visiting
fellow at the Goldwater Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Cato
Institute.

Libya: The Forgotten Reason North Korea Desperately Wants Nuclear Weapons

Ted Galen Carpenter

The United States and its allies continue to cajole and threaten
North Korea to negotiate an agreement that would relinquish its
growing nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. The latest verbal
prodding came from President Trump during his joint press
conference with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Trump urged Pyongyang to “come to the
negotiating table,” and asserted that it “makes sense
for North Korea to do the right thing.” The “right
thing” Trump and his predecessors have always maintained, is
for North Korea to become nonnuclear.

It is unlikely that the DPRK will ever return to nuclear
virginity. Pyongyang has multiple reasons for retaining its nukes.
For a country with an economy roughly the size of Paraguay’s,
a bizarre political system that has no external appeal, and an
increasingly antiquated conventional military force, a
nuclear-weapons capability is the sole factor that provides
prestige and a seat at the table of international affairs. There is
one other crucial reason for the DPRK’s truculence, though.
North Korean leaders simply do not trust the United States to honor
any agreement that might be reached.

For a country with an
economy roughly the size of Paraguay’s, a bizarre political system
that has no external appeal, and an increasingly antiquated
conventional military force, a nuclear-weapons capability is the
sole factor that provides prestige and a seat at the table of
international affairs.

Unfortunately, there are ample reasons for such distrust. North
Korean leaders have witnessed how the United States treats
nonnuclear adversaries such as Serbia and Iraq. But it was the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in
2011 that underscored to Pyongyang why achieving and retaining a
nuclear-weapons capability might be the only reliable way to
prevent a regime-change war directed against the DPRK.

Partially in response to Washington’s war that ousted
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, ostensibly
because of a threat posed by Baghdad’s “weapons of mass
destruction,” Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi seemed to
capitulate regarding such matters. He signed the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty in December of that year and agreed to
abandon his country’s embryonic nuclear program. In exchange,
the United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and
pledged that they no longer sought to isolate Libya. Qaddafi was
welcomed back into the international community once he relinquished
his nuclear ambitions.

That reconciliation lasted less than a decade. When one of the
periodic domestic revolts against Qaddafi’s rule erupted
again in 2011, Washington and its NATO partners argued that a
humanitarian catastrophe was imminent (despite meager evidence of that scenario), and
initiated a military intervention. It soon became apparent that the
official justification to protect innocent civilians was a cynical
pretext, and that another regime-change war was underway. The
Western powers launched devastating air strikes and cruise-missile
attacks against Libyan government forces. NATO also armed rebel
units and assisted the insurgency in other ways.

Although all previous revolts had fizzled, extensive Western
military involvement produced a very different result this time.
The insurgents not only overthrew Qaddafi, they captured, tortured
and executed him in an especially grisly fashion.
Washington’s response was astonishingly flippant. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton quipped: “We came, we saw, he
died.”

The behavior of Washington and its allies in Libya certainly did
not give any incentive to North Korea or other would-be nuclear
powers to abandon such ambitions in exchange for U.S. paper promises for normal relations. Indeed,
North Korea promptly cited the Libya episode as a reason why it
needed a deterrent capability—a point that Pyongyang has
reiterated several times in the years since Muammar el-Qaddafi
ouster. There is little doubt that the West’s betrayal of
Qaddafi has made an agreement with the DPRK to denuclearize
even less attainable than it might have been otherwise. Even some U.S. officials concede that the Libya
episode convinced North Korean leaders that nuclear weapons were
necessary for regime survival.

The foundation for successful diplomacy is a country’s
reputation for credibility and reliability. U.S. leaders fret that
autocratic regimes—such as those in Iran and North
Korea—might well violate agreements they sign. There are
legitimate reasons for wariness, although in Iran’s case, the
government appears to be complying with its obligations under the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action that Tehran signed with the United
States and other major powers in 2015—despite allegations
from U.S. hawks about violations.

When it comes to problems with credibility, though, U.S. leaders
also need to look in the mirror. Washington’s conduct in Libya was
a case of brazen duplicity. It is hardly a surprise if North Korea
(or other countries) now regard the United States as an
untrustworthy negotiating partner. Because of Pyongyang’s other
reasons for wanting a nuclear capability, a denuclearization accord
was always a long shot. But U.S. actions in Libya reduced prospects
to the vanishing point. American leaders have only themselves to
blame for that situation.

Ted Galen
Carpenter
, a senior fellow in defense and foreign-policy
studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the
National Interest, is the author or coauthor of ten books,
including
The
Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South
Korea

How to Realistically Solve the North Korea Crisis

Doug Bandow

Washington sees North Korea as a security challenge. Yet the North threatens
America only because the United States intervened in the conflict
between the two Koreas. The case for defending now populous and
prosperous South Korea expired long ago.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sees nuclear weapons as its primary means of regime
survival. When I visited Pyongyang in June, North Korean officials
pointed to Washington’s “hostile policy” and
“nuclear threats.” America’s enthusiasm for
regime change weighed particularly heavily on DPRK officials: they
cited Afghanistan, Iraq, and especially Libya, whose dictator
negotiated away his nuclear and missile programs—only to be
ousted a few years later by his erstwhile friends.

The potential cost of America’s commitment will rise
dramatically once the North gains the ability to retaliate against the U.S. homeland. Yet
preventive strikes to take out North Korea’s deadliest weapons and/or decapitate the
leadership likely would trigger horrendous, full-scale war. While
Americans would die fighting, the Republic of Korea would become
the principal allied battleground and suffer mass casualties and
destruction. North Koreans, too, would die prodigiously.

With the North becoming a
genuine nuclear power, it is time for Washington to try something
new.

In fact, the chief victims of decades of hostility and
confrontation on the Korean Peninsula are the DPRK’s
citizens. The Kim dynasty, begun by Kim Il-sung and continued
through his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un, was never
likely to rule gently. But isolation—North Korea has few real
friends, not even China, which barely qualifies as a
frenemy—has left the North essentially under siege. The
result is a more repressive (and essentially totalitarian)
regime.

Facing the world’s sole superpower alone discourages
reforms that might unravel one of the world’s most formidable
national-security states. China long encouraged Kim Jong-il to
adopt the Chinese model and relax economic controls, but he paid
Beijing no heed. He was unwilling risk calling forth the genie of
change.

Kim Jong-un, despite a brief educational sojourn in Switzerland,
is no liberal. In late October the State Department released a
report on human-rights abuses in the DPRK. State noted
“extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged
arbitrary detention, as well as rape, forced abortions and other
sexual violence inside the country.” Brutality doesn’t
stop at the nation’s borders: “The government deploys
security officials on assignments overseas to monitor the
activities of North Koreans abroad and to forcibly repatriate
individuals seeking asylum abroad.” Workers sent overseas
often endure the status of de facto forced labor.

The Department’s more formal human-rights report stated
with sublime understatement that the DPRK’s “most
recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor
fair.” The people could not choose their government, which
“subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of
their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press,
assembly, association, religion, movement and worker rights. The
government operated a network of political prison camps in which
conditions were often harsh, life threatening and included forced
and compulsory labor.”

The North usually tops the list of religious persecutors
worldwide. Explained State, “there was an almost complete
denial by the government of the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion.” The Kim cult is quasi-religious,
and the authorities see traditional faiths as a grave threat. Added
State, it appears that “the government’s policy towards
religion has been to maintain an appearance of tolerance for
international audiences, while suppressing internally all
non-state-sanctioned religious activities.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom targeted
North Korea’s “deplorable” record and rated the
DPRK as a Country of Particular Concern. Explained USCIRF:
“The North Korean government relentlessly persecutes and
punished religious believers through arrest, torture, imprisonment
and sometimes execution.” The State Department published a
series of factsheets on individual camps, each holding thousands of
prisoners.

Kim Jong-un, known as the supreme leader, is tougher than his
father and grandfather—at least toward his top officials. Kim
has executed some 140 members of the elite, including his uncle,
long at the center of power. Kim has tightened border controls in
an attempt to reduce defections.

Yet he offers one small reason for hope. Kim has implemented
substantial economic reforms. It is not capitalism, as his
embarrassed officials rushed to assure me on my recent trip. But
there are private markets and increased economic autonomy even for
state firms. The benefits were evident on the streets of Pyongyang
(the countryside remains far more primitive).

Apparently, Kim recognizes that a stronger, more successful DPRK
must use the power of market forces. While that does not guarantee
reform elsewhere, his father was right to worry that economic
liberalization tends to loosen state controls and empower
individuals. Moreover, Kim might come to recognize that human
creativity, exploration and entrepreneurship are all essential to
economic dynamism. Then he will have to choose between economic
development and political control, or at least make some
compromises, accepting greater risk of dissent.

While the United States has little leverage to force change in
Pyongyang—a regime determined to survive no matter what isn’t
going to change its political practices at Washington’s
request—engagement might create conditions more conducive to
an improvement in human rights. Taking steps which reduce the Kim
regime’s paranoia and insecurity would eliminate one impetus for
tougher repression. While a more secure Kim might feel freer to
abuse his population, he would face less pressure to do so from
fear of upheaval. Increasing the regime’s sense of security may be
a necessary—if not a sufficient—condition for
improvement.

Moreover, engaging the North diplomatically would create an
opportunity to talk about human rights. Although Pyongyang
routinely dismisses human-rights concerns, it has on occasion
engaged in talks with U.S. officials on the issue, including over
the return of Otto Warmbier, the college student jailed last year.
Washington could offer the direct diplomatic contacts which the
DPRK long desired, while insisting on a human-rights dialogue as
part of the process.

Such a conversation wouldn’t lead to dismantlement of the DPRK
police state, but still might increase outside access to North
Korea and greater exposure of abuses—and encourage at least
modest change. Creating an ongoing dialogue would give Pyongyang a
stake in the bilateral relationship and reason to consider
concessions.

The North Korean people deserve a transformed government.
However, the ability of outside states to influence the DPRK is
extremely limited. Refusing to talk to Pyongyang only increased its
sense of threat and corresponding incentive to oppress its people.
Engagement might fail to shift today’s seemingly hopeless dynamic,
but nothing else has worked. With the North becoming a genuine
nuclear power, it is time for Washington to try something new.

Doug Bandow is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed
World
and The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with
North and South Korea

Tax Reform Must Not Keep Tax Breaks for Real Estate

Ike Brannon

As the House Ways and Means committee proceeds with the markup
of its landmark tax reform proposal, one change that seems
inevitable is the curtailment of the modest reforms of the myriad
home ownership tax breaks contained in the original legislation.
These included capping the deduction for mortgages below $500,000,
limiting the deductibility of property taxes to $10,000, and
eliminating the deductibility of state and local taxes
altogether.

While the realtors, homebuilders, and mortgage bankers howled at
the original proposal and look as if they will soon get their way,
mostly, the reality is that no tax reform worth its name can keep
these expensive and economically unproductive tax breaks and still
manage to lower rates and boost economic growth—the
ostensible goals of the entire exercise.

The tax writers’ acquiescence is politically expedient, of
course: The realtors and home builders are angry because the
proposed doubling of the standard deduction, combined with
curtailing the deductibility of state and local taxes, would result
in most taxpayers ceasing to itemize and thus foregoing the
mortgage interest and property tax deductions. Should that come to
pass, the pretense that these actually boost home ownership would
be exposed as the bald faced lie it actually is.

The whole thing becomes
pointless unless we reform the mortgage interest
deduction.

The partial cave-in to Big Housing has not diminished its
outrage one bit and sets a lamentable precedent for when we need to
eliminate even more tax breaks for reform to succeed. Other losers
from tax reform will be agitating for a similar appeasement as
well, and the more tax breaks that remain, the less we can cut
rates.

But the larger problem this surrender creates is that deductions
for home ownership are costly and economically harmful. Under
current law, the deduction for mortgage interest and property taxes
alone will reduce tax revenue by over $1.3 trillion in the next
decade, which would finance a sizeable reduction in tax rates.
Keeping both around, even in diminished form, would significantly
reduce those potential savings.

The various deductions for home ownership also happen to be
amazingly regressive, since only 30 percent of all
taxpayers—pretty much the wealthiest 30
percent—currently find it worthwhile to eschew the standard
deduction and deduct mortgage interest as well as state and local
taxes. And since the savings from these deductions go up sharply
with a homeowner’s income and home value, the benefits increasingly
accrue to the richest homeowners in the most expensive homes.
Marquette University professor Andrew Hanson discovered that the
average household in well-to-do Redwood City, California, receives
fifty times the tax savings from the mortgage interest deduction as
a household in Mossville, Illinois, a blue-collar community in
Central Illinois that happens to be my hometown.

The tax breaks for housing would become even more regressive
under the Ways and Means plan: The doubling of the standard
deduction would result in just five percent of households
itemizing. For reference, the 95th percentile for income starts at
$225,000.

The staggering regressivity of the deduction for mortgage
interest and property taxes—both before and after the
proposed reform—means that in neither scenario does it do a
whit to boost home ownership, since the tax breaks don’t go to the
middle class families who might need help to afford a house. In
fact,
research
by Federal Reserve economist David Rappoport suggests
that the mortgage interest deduction actually boosts home
prices at all price levels, even homes likely to be bought by
people who can’t avail themselves of the mortgage interest
deduction. In short, the home ownership tax breaks probably
reduce homeownership rates in the aggregate.

The tax deductions for homeownership also reduce economic
growth. Encouraging the well-off to buy or build bigger, fancier
homes, which are economically unproductive assets, results in them
putting less savings into their banks or retirement accounts, where
it could be lent to businesses to invest and expand.

To be sure, getting rid of the deduction for state and local
taxes, along with the mortgage interest deduction, might hurt some
homeowners: Rappoport’s
research
estimates housing values would decline by 6.9 percent
if the mortgage interest deduction disappeared. But to put that
into perspective, that happens to precisely equal the average price
increase
for a home in 2016.

If we want achieve a tax reform that is constrained to be
progressive, boosts economic growth and does not grow the deficit
then there cannot be any room in the tax code for regressive,
growth-reducing and costly provisions that do not even accomplish
their ostensible purpose, even if their supporters happen to be
politically powerful. If Congress feels compelled to make sure no
one loses from reform, the answer is not to maintain costly tax
breaks for well-to-do homeowners but to lower tax rates for all
households to the greatest extent possible.

If that is insufficient then we may as well dispense with the
entire exercise.

Ike Brannon is
a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute.