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What Kim Is Thinking: We Can Get Inside the Head of North Korea’s Leader If We Read the Signs

April 19, 2019 in Economics

By Eric Gomez

Eric Gomez

After an extended period of silence since the failure of the
U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, a flurry of activity and
statements by North Korea’s leadership has clarified their
post-summit game plan. A major speech by Kim Jong Un to the Supreme
People’s Assembly (SPA), a rhetorical fusillade against U.S. secretary of
state Mike Pompeo
by North Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs,
and an upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir
Putin
were especially important developments.

These three actions show that Kim is still open to diplomacy
with the United States, but he will pressure President Trump to
change U.S. demands while simultaneously hedging his bets and
preparing for an outcome where Trump doesn’t lift sanctions.

Kim’s silence after the Hanoi summit led to a period of
uncertainty and speculation. Choe Son Hui, a high-ranking North Korean foreign ministry
official
, was vocal after the summit and warned that Kim might reverse a moratorium on long-range
missile and nuclear weapons testing. Choe’s comments coincided with
signs of activity at a North Korean satellite
launch facility
, but there was no rocket launch and Kim did not
personally reveal his calculations.

Kim’s address to the SPA is the first time he has publicly laid
out his assessment of the Hanoi summit’s collapse and his view of
the path forward.

In the speech, Kim said that North Korea came to Hanoi prepared
to take “prudent and trustworthy measures” to build on
the joint statement agreed to at the first U.S.-North
Korea summit in Singapore
. However, he regarded the Trump
administration’s push for a bigger deal at Hanoi as
“absolutely impractical.” Given this experience at the
last summit, Kim is unwilling to meet with Trump again unless the
United States “adopts a correct posture and comes
forward…with a certain methodology that can be shared with [North
Korea].”

In other words, North Korea is still open to dialogue with the
United States if Trump drops the idea of a big deal. Kim probably
wants to move to a step-for-step approach where the United States
relaxes sanctions in exchange for North Korean actions toward
denuclearization.

An example of this approach was on the table at the Hanoi summit. North
Korea proposed to dismantle its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in
exchange for relaxing sanctions that hindered inter-Korean economic
projects. The summit fell apart after the details of the exchange
couldn’t be worked out, including U.S. concerns about the
unclear scope of dismantlement activities that would happen after
loosening sanctions.

The North Korean foreign ministry’s criticism of Pompeo and the call to replace …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Mueller Report — Russia's Unearned Victory Lap

April 19, 2019 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

The release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on
alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian
government, along with allegations of obstruction of justice by the
president, has (seemingly) answered some questions but only
generated still others.

That the president was enraged that Mueller had been appointed
comes as no surprise. What he did in response evokes memories of
Richard Nixon and Watergate.

According to the report (p. 77), Trump viewed Mueller’s
appointment as the “end of his presidency and that Attorney
General Jeff Sessions had failed to protect him and should
resign.”

Sessions submitted, but Trump ultimately did not accept, his
resignation. Trump then apparently borrowed from Nixon’s
playbook, reportedly asking White House counsel Don McGahn to
“have the Special Counsel removed because of asserted
conflicts of interest.”

McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen
as triggering another Saturday Night Massacre and instead prepared
to resign. McGahn ultimately did not quit and the president did not
follow up with McGahn on his request to have the Special Counsel
removed.” (p. 78)

What’s also clear to me from reading the report is that
Mueller and his team apparently considered, but ultimately decided
not, to go after Trump for obstruction of justice.

In the section dealing with the yearlong negotiations with the
White House over getting the president to voluntarily provide
answers to questions about his relationship with Russian entities,
Mueller provided a rather remarkable account (p. 13):

“During the course of our discussions, the president did
agree to answer written questions on certain Russia-related topics,
and he provided us with answers. He did not similarly agree to
provide written answers to questions on obstruction topics or
questions on events during the transition. Ultimately, while we
believed that we had the authority and legal justification to issue
a grand jury subpoena to obtain the president’s testimony, we
chose not to do so. We made that decision in view of the
substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely
produce at a late stage in our investigation.”

The job of a prosecutor is to follow the leads he and his
investigators get, and to secure the necessary evidence and
testimony, via subpoena if necessary. It simply strains credulity
to suggest that on the key question of whether Trump had, by
pattern and practice, obstructed Mueller’s own investigation
that Mueller should back off because of “the substantial
delay.”

Mueller’s team wasn’t facing an expiring clock on
their investigation, and the Special Counsel clearly believed he
had the legal authority to compel the president’s testimony.
When the moment came, he balked. Look for Mueller to get grilled
— probably rhetorically incinerated — by House …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Star Lawyering Protected President Trump from Firing Robert Mueller

April 19, 2019 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

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Ilya Shapiro

Don McGahn is one of the few people who came out looking better
after the Robert Mueller report than going in. The former White
House counsel, who stepped down in October, saved President Donald
Trump from his worst instincts, displaying a legal savvy and high
ethical standard that served both the president and the country
well.

Indeed, by preventing Trump from firing Special Counsel Robert
Mueller, McGahn prevented a political crisis—not to be
confused with a constitutional one—that would’ve made the
Russia-collusion narrative seem like a jaywalking allegation. When
you add that to his execution of a laser-focused strategy on
judicial nominations—including two Supreme Court justices and
a record number of circuit judges—McGahn is the early leader
for MVP of the Trump administration. (Full disclosure: I worked
with McGahn at Patton Boggs more than a decade ago, and we have
remained on friendly terms.)

Mueller’s report concluded that McGahn was a
“credible witness with no motive to lie.” From the 30
hours the White House lawyer spent talking to the special counsel
and his team, we learn many of the some of the most portentous
developments of the seemingly interminable investigation.

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Almost immediately after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
appointed Mueller in May 2017—after Attorney General Jeff
Sessions recused from Russia-related investigations, a necessary
move given his campaign involvements but one the president never
forgave—Trump wanted to dismiss him. McGahn warned that
taking this action would look like an attempt to “meddle in
the investigation.”

The president didn’t let it go, calling McGahn at home
over the course of a June weekend to push him again to tell
Rosenstein to sack Mueller. Here’s what Mueller’s
report says about that fraught moment: “McGahn did not carry
out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather
than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night
Massacre.” McGahn later told White House Staff Secretary Rob
Porter that he had planned to resign rather than follow through on
the order.

When the president later learned McGahn had told Mueller about
the episode, he questioned his counsel’s judgment. McGahn
explained that “he had to” answer truthfully because
there was no attorney-client privilege. The …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Don McGahn Is the MVP of the Trump Administration

April 19, 2019 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

One of the biggest heroes of the Mueller report is Don McGahn,
who served as White House counsel from President Donald Trump’s
inauguration through October 2018. McGahn sat for 30 hours of interviews with special counsel
Robert Mueller. And, in the report, Mueller described him as a “credible witness with no
motive to lie.”

The report reveals that soon after Deputy Attorney General Rod
Rosenstein appointed the special counsel, Trump tried to get McGahn
to remove Mueller. McGahn repeatedly declined — and, in May
2017, he warned this action would appear as an attempt to “meddle
in the investigation.”

When Trump called McGahn in June to prod him again to remove
Mueller, the White House counsel was at his wits’ end. “McGahn did
not carry out the direction,” details the report, “deciding that he would
resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday
Night Massacre.”

Later, when Trump asked McGahn why he had told Mueller about the
order to have him fired, McGahn explained that “he had to” because
their conversations weren’t protected by attorney-client privilege.
This latter point is important because McGahn stood up for the idea
that the White House counsel’s loyalty is to the Office of the
President, not to the President himself.

Trump seemed satisfied by that explanation, but then asked,
“What about those notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take
notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” McGahn replied that he
is a “real lawyer” and that notes create a clear record.

In that judgment, McGahn was right — and more helpful to
the President than Michael Cohen, his personal attorney and fixer,
or any other of the non-notetaking lawyers who made a Trump-related
appearance in the Mueller investigation.

In short, McGahn’s professionalism and commitment to legal
ethics under challenging circumstances shine through in the Mueller
report. When you add all that to his stunning success as architect
of a winning strategy on judicial nominations — including two
Supreme Court justices and a record number of circuit judges — McGahn
comes out looking as the early nominee for MVP of the Trump
administration.

Ilya Shapiro
is director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies
at the Cato Institute. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Is the Trump Administration Helping the Saudis Build a Bomb?

April 18, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

President Donald Trump went dancing with the Saudi royals in
Riyadh, where he tried to sell America’s principles in
exchange for a mess of weapons contracts. Since then, Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo has become Saudi Arabia’s lead PR counsel
in America. The Pentagon is the Saudi regime’s premier
armorer.

Now Energy Secretary Rick Perry is acting as chief nuclear
procurer for the Saudis. “By ramming through the sale of as
much as $80 billion in nuclear power plants,” The
New York Times warned recently, “the Trump
administration would provide sensitive knowhow and materials to a
government whose de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,
has suggested that he may eventually want a nuclear weapon as a
hedge against Iran and has shown little concern for what the rest
of the world thinks.”

Obviously, Trump has not endorsed a Saudi nuclear weapon.
However, his administration’s ongoing attempt to provide the
Kingdom with nuclear technology raises serious questions about U.S.
policy.

The crown prince can’t be
trusted with a bone saw, let alone nuclear weapons.

America’s relationship with Riyadh has long been fraught
with tension, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. The faux friendship
revolves around oil, the lifeblood of the Western economy. However,
the fracking revolution turned the U.S. into an energy
super-supplier, and other hydrocarbon sources have since emerged.
And if Washington stopped routinely sanctioning other governments
for not following its dictates, oil producers such as Iran, Russia,
and Venezuela would be supplying international markets, further
reducing Riyadh’s importance.

American officials like to promote the Saudis’
antediluvian absolute monarchy as the foundation for Middle East
stability. Alas, the price is unrivaled repression. Despite the
crown prince’s reputation as a social reformer, he so far has
not relaxed the Kingdom’s totalitarian political or religious
controls one bit.

And that brutality has not guaranteed stability. Saudi Arabia
looks brittle, an artificial, antiquated governing structure held
together by tyranny and bribery. In time, it will likely lose to
demands for justice, equality, and democracy, which have doomed a
host of other corrupt, brutal, Mideast dictatorships, most recently
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

Outside of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS)
has pursued a wild and reckless strategy of regional domination.
Even Senator Lindsey Graham, perhaps the United States’ most
war-happy lawmaker, has called MbS “crazy,”
“dangerous,” and a “wrecking ball.”

The KSA has backed radical Islamists in Syria, subsidized the
al-Sisi dictatorship in Egypt, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime
minister, used troops to sustain Bahrain’s dictatorial Sunni
monarchy, isolated Qatar, kidnapped and murdered Saudi critics in
foreign nations, invaded Yemen, intensified the Mideast’s
long-running sectarian conflict, and promoted General Khalifa
Haftar’s attack on Libya’s internationally recognized
government. MbS is even willing to court war with …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Questions Medicare for All Supporters Must Answer

April 17, 2019 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders has officially unveiled the latest version of his plan for
a government-run health-care system. This year, his Medicare for
All legislation is co-sponsored by at least five of his fellow
presidential contenders: Senators Corey Booker, Kamala Harris,
Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Eric
Swalwell. Several other prominent Democrats have voiced their
support for the concept, if not Sanders’s specific version of it.
And the polls show that voters might be receptive.

What’s more, there is a genuine need for health-care reform.
Obamacare remains deeply troubled, with costs rising, choices
restricted, and its promise of universal coverage unrealized.
Meanwhile, Republicans are divided, dispirited, and largely
clueless — opposed to Obamacare, but unable to formulate a
plan of their own.

Medicare for All, to a large extent, has filled the vacuum
created by that inability. But before we take it too seriously,
there are a few questions that supporters must answer:

How will you pay for it? We don’t yet know
exactly how much Sanders’s plan will cost, but the price is bound
to be high: Previous versions of the plan were estimated to cost
$32-38 trillion over the next ten years, and the senator’s latest
version would provide even more generous benefits. In fact, both
the legislation and the Sanders campaign’s summary of it are
extremely detailed about all the benefits the plan would provide.
It would cover virtually all hospital and physician care,
preventive services, mental-health services, dental and vision
care, prescription drugs, and medical devices. And, except for
brand-name drugs, there would be absolutely no deductible,
co-payment, or other out-of-pocket expenses. The plan would not
only provide far more extensive benefits than private insurance
plans or today’s Medicare; it would provide benefits in excess of
those offered by other national-health-care plans around the
world.

Bernie Sanders may
currently be riding a wave of political momentum, but his new
health-care plan remains untested.

But when it comes to paying for all these goodies, Sanders is
exceedingly vague. Neither the legislation nor his summary includes
a funding mechanism. Instead, Sanders calls for “a vigorous debate
as to the best way to finance our Medicare for All legislation.” As
far as I know, vigorous debates don’t pay the government’s
bills.

Sanders does provide a helpful list of possible tax hikes that
could be considered: a 7.5 percentage point increase in the payroll
tax; an income-based premium paid by all Americans (roughly a 4
percent income tax); significant increases in tax rates for those
earning more than $250,000 per year; increased corporate taxes; big
increases in the capital-gains tax; and a new wealth tax. Of
course, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Analysis: Charter Schools Yield 53% Greater Return on Investment Than Traditional Public Schools

April 17, 2019 in Economics

By Corey A. DeAngelis, Patrick J. Wolf, Larry D. Maloney, Jay F. May

Corey A. DeAngelis, Patrick J. Wolf, Larry D. Maloney, & Jay F. May

Charter schools are the object of intense national debate. They
shouldn’t be. The data show that public charters are a good
investment.

In five studies that we’ve conducted during the past
several years, we’ve compared traditional schools and charter
schools in a diverse roster of U.S. cities where a substantial
portion of families are choosing charters. We’ve examined how
much funding each sector receives and how much learning each
produces. The facts are quite clear:

Charter schools do more with less.

Our first report, “Charter School Funding: Inequity in the
City
,” identified a significant funding gap between
traditional and chartered public schools. In 14 cities spanning the
country, from the nation’s capital to Memphis to Los Angeles,
charter schools received considerably less funding — an
average of $5,721 per pupil — than traditional schools. To
put it another way, families sacrificed about one third of their
educational resources when they chose to enroll in charter
schools.

Two years later we revisited these same 14 cities and found that
the funding gap between traditional and charter schools had
increased slightly to an average of $5,828 per pupil. Local funding
sources, including property and sales taxes, were the biggest
contributors to the disparity. (A third report that focused on
New York City’s charter and traditional schools
yielded similar findings.)

At the same time, we wanted to factor in academic achievement.
In 2018 we completed a study measuring the cost-effectiveness
— the amount of learning per educational dollars spent
— of charter and traditional schools. To determine academic
performance, we used results from the National Assessment of
Educational Progress and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at
Stanford University.

For that study, we focused on eight cities that, despite their
different sizes and demographics, all have substantial charter
sectors: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, New York
City, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C. In each city, we found that
charter schools were more academically
cost-effective
than traditional schools.

We found that charter schools continued to demonstrate greater
value than traditional schools in a follow-up report released
earlier this month. “A Good Investment: The Updated Productivity of
Public Charter Schools in Eight U.S. Cities
” reports that
in reading, charter schools averaged 4.80 points higher — per
$1,000 funded — than traditional schools, making charters 40
percent more cost-effective in reading. In math, charters average
5.13 points higher per $1,000 funded, making them 40 percent more
cost-effective in math.

We also measured the taxpayer return-on-investment generated by
each sector. Our most recent report …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Opioid Industry Suits Are a Misguided Cash Grab Against Politically Unpopular Target

April 16, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron, Laura Nicolae

Jeffrey Miron and Laura Nicolae

Prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors are under
legal siege. Nearly 2,000 lawsuits from states,
municipalities, and hospitals allege that these companies are
responsible for the opioid epidemic. Purdue Pharma, which makes
Oxycontin, recently settled one such lawsuit for $270 million, but
most will continue, with the first trial set for May 28.

These lawsuits rest on the proposition that opioid makers
misled doctors, hospitals, and patients about
the risk of addiction to prescription opioids, thereby generating a
boom in opioid overdoses.

Whether these companies broke the law is for juries to decide.
But regardless of the outcome, the opioid epidemic has resulted
mainly from the prohibition and regulation of prescription opioids,
not excessive prescribing. Current regulations harm millions of patients with severe or chronic
pain by limiting their access to opioids.

During the early 1980s, doctors prescribed opioids for short-term pain and for
palliative care of terminally ill cancer patients, but rarely for
chronic conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, or
fibromyalgia. In the late 1980s, however, prescribing for chronic
and acute pain increased. This change reflected concerns about
undertreating pain and new evidence that, under medical
supervision, opioids were not unacceptably addictive or
dangerous.

Pharmaceutical companies embraced the new medical attitudes and
scientific evidence. In doing so, they may have understated the
risk of addiction from prescription opioids. Yet the medical
literature since the 1980s is clear that the risks of addiction
from medical use are low: in published studies, the rate of opioid
addiction in chronic pain patients averages less than 8 percent.

Moreover, increased prescribing during the 1990s is not what
catalyzed the opioid epidemic.

After Purdue’s introduction of OxyContin in 1996, prescribing grew at the same rate as before.
Marketing of the drug produced no perceptible change in the
non-medical use of narcotics by high school seniors, which had been
consistently increasing before 1996. Growth in
opioid overdoses actually slowed in the late 1990s.

Further, most overdoses involve illicit opioids, not
prescription drugs. Overdoses involving heroin and synthetic
opioids such as fentanyl now account for roughly 80%
of all opioid overdose deaths, up from 35% in 2011. These drugs
have driven an acceleration in opioid overdoses since 2011, even
while prescribing has decreased. In 2017 alone,
synthetic opioid overdoses increased by 45%, pushing total opioid
overdoses to a record high.

So why did overdoses from illicit opioids spike? Because of
restrictions on legal access.

Prescription opioids are not bought and sold in the same way as
legal goods; consumers can access …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Putin, Xi, Assad, and Maduro vs. the American Hegemon

April 15, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

The American foreign policy Blob’s latest worry is that
Venezuela’s radical leftist government is reaching out to the Middle East for support
against growing pressure from Washington.

Specifically, President Nicolás Maduro is reportedly trying to
establish extensive political and financial links with Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad and his ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The latter has repeatedly condemned U.S. policy towards Maduro, and
already appears to have shadowy economic ties to Caracas. There are
indications that Maduro’s regime may be utilizing Hezbollah to
launder funds from the illegal drug trade.

Washington’s fear is that lurking behind an
Assad-Hezbollah-Maduro alliance is America’s arch-nemesis, Iran,
which has close relations with both Assad and Hezbollah. Tehran’s
apparent objective would be to strengthen the Venezuelan regime,
boost anti-U.S. sentiment in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps
acquire some laundered money from a joint Maduro-Hezbollah
operation
to ease the pain of U.S. economic sanctions
re-imposed following the Trump administration’s repudiation of the
nuclear deal.

Although Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah remain primarily concerned
with developments in their own region, the fear that they want to
undermine Washington’s power in its own backyard is not unfounded.
But U.S. leaders should ask themselves why such diverse factions
would coalesce behind that objective.

It is hardly the only example of this to emerge in recent years,
and the principal cause appears to be Washington’s own excessively
belligerent policies. That approach is driving together regimes
that have little in common except the need to resist U.S. pressure.
Washington’s menacing posture undermines rather than enhances
American security, and especially in one case—provoking an
expanding entente between Russia and China—it poses a grave
danger.

The current flirtation between Caracas and anti-American
factions in the Middle East is not the first time that American
leaders have worried about collaboration among heterogeneous
adversaries. U.S. intelligence agencies and much of the foreign
policy community warned for years about cooperation between Iran and North Korea over
both nuclear and ballistic missile technology. During the Cold War, a succession
of U.S. administrations expressed frustration and anger at the de
facto alliance between the totalitarian Soviet Union and democratic
India. Yet the underlying cause for that association was not hard
to fathom. Both countries opposed U.S. global primacy. India was
especially uneasy about Washington’s knee-jerk diplomatic and military support for Pakistan, despite
that country’s history of dictatorial rule and aggression.

Alienating India was a profoundly unwise policy. So, too, has
been Washington’s longstanding obsession with weakening and
isolating Iran and North Korea. Those two countries have almost
nothing in common, ideologically, politically, geographically, or
economically. One is …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Trump's Remarkable Diplomatic Efforts in North Korea

April 15, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Negotiations between the United States and North Korea appear to
be on life support. President Donald Trump’s talk of another summit
led the North’s Kim Jong-un to condition such a meeting on
Washington’s willingness to loosen sanctions.

Yet official Washington earlier greeted President Donald Trump’s
explanation for cancelling another round of proposed sanctions on
North Korea with guffaws. However silly it is for him to say he
“likes” the North’s Kim Jong-un, the president apparently
understands that diplomacy is better than war and American
escalation is likely to trigger North Korean retaliation. That
would be in no one’s interest.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea long has been a
difficult actor. Yet over the last year there have been no violent
attacks, no missile or nuclear tests, no threats of annihilation
and destruction, and even few insults. That obviously is a major
improvement. And it suggests the possibility of the DPRK evolving
from a heavily-armed, aggressive, and threatening state to a still
heavily-armed, but mostly satiated, even vaguely responsible
state.

Obviously, the North’s history suggests skepticism when
assessing any apparent change in Pyongyang. Nevertheless, Kim
appears different than his father and grandfather — no
liberal, but nevertheless more interested in economic growth and
diplomatic engagement. Moreover, he may have decided that the best
strategy to deter an American attack is to appear nonthreatening
and reasonable.

Ultimately, such a transformation may be more important for the
United States and especially for South Korea than denuclearization.
Washington policymakers do not fear France, Israel, or the United
Kingdom because they possess nuclear weapons — nor India or
even Pakistan, since their nukes are not aimed at America.

Denuclearization remains
a worthy and potentially obtainable objective, but other diplomatic
efforts that have fruitful should not be overlooked.

The end of the Cold War reduced the potential for a nuclear
holocaust because the militarized ideological rivalry with the
Soviet Union, which Ronald Reagan famously called an “evil empire,”
disappeared — not because Moscow abandoned its nuclear
weapons. The People’s Republic of China also possesses nuclear
weapons, but few Americans imagine themselves being targeted by
Beijing, which suggests that genuine reconciliation —
admittedly hard to assure — could deliver both stability and
peace to the Korean peninsula.

There is another reason to pursue diplomacy so long as there is
any chance of success. The Trump administration’s “maximum
pressure” campaign has hurt the DPRK economy and state. However,
North Korean officials insist that the regime will not capitulate,
and history gives their claim credibility. In the late 1990s a half
million or more people died of starvation; neither regime nor
policy changed as a result. Additional U.S. sanctions are unlikely
to force …read more

Source: OP-EDS