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Spicer confirms meetings with candidates to fill WH press jobs

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:31
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Tuesday that he is meeting with potential candidates to fill communications jobs in the Trump administration -- amid expectations he is poised to take on a new role.

After Otto Warmbier death, officials push to restrict tourism in North Korea

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:03
U.S. officials renewed efforts Tuesday to ban or restrict tourism in North Korea after the death of college student Otto Warmbier.

After Otto Warmbier death, lawmakers push to restrict tourism in North Korea

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:03
Congressional lawmakers renewed efforts Tuesday to ban or restrict tourism in North Korea after the death of college student Otto Warmbier.

State Department probes Clinton handling of government emails, could pull her security clearance

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 12:53
The State Department has opened a formal inquiry into whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her aides mishandled classified information while she was the nation’s top diplomat, Fox News has learned. Despite the investigation, Clinton and her staffers still have security clearances to access classified information.

States raising gas taxes to fund transportation improvements

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 12:52
Since the federal government last raised the gasoline tax at the start of the Clinton administration to 18.4 cents per gallon, 39 states have hiked their at-the-pump fees -- sometimes more than once -- to cover the costs of road construction and maintenance.

It’s unanimous: Obama, Pelosi & Reid’s First Amendment flop

Michelle Malkin - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 12:45

**Written by Doug Powers

In the last few years, high profile Democrats have railed against Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and promised him the days were numbered for that name.

Harry Reid in June of 2014:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — a vocal opponent of the Washington Redskins name — took to the floor Wednesday and continued to slam the team’s owner in light of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the team’s trademarks.

“The Redskins no longer have trademarks. They are gone,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it’s just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name.”

Nancy Pelosi around the same time:

Today’s great actions by the @USPTO show that slurs have no right to trademark protections. The DC football team must choose a new name.

— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 18, 2014

Here’s what the Obama administration, led by the Left’s favorite self-described constitutional law expert, was up to in January 2015:

The Obama administration joined a lawsuit opposing the Washington Redskins‘ team trademark on Friday, filing court papers to defend the federal law that gives the government the power to deny recognition to trademarks it believes to be disparaging.

The Patent and Trademark Office’s appeals board had revoked the NFL team’s trademarks last year, finding that they were offensive and so they weren’t protected under federal law.

Fast forward to yesterday:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights.
[…]
Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he was “thrilled” with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and team attorney Lisa Blatt said the court’s decision effectively resolves the Redskins’ longstanding dispute with the government.

“The Supreme Court vindicated the Team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion,” Blatt said in a statement.

Here’s the best part:

This was also 8-0. First Amendment is extremely well protected by this Court. https://t.co/O7VfUjqTh5

— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) June 19, 2017

It’s unanimous — Obama, Reid and Pelosi were wrong again.

**Written by Doug Powers

Twitter @ThePowersThatBe

No 'moral victory' available in Georgia showdown

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 12:03
Who will come out victorious?

Does Classical Liberalism Have a Chance in South Africa?

Cato Recent Op Eds - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:44

Marian L. Tupy

Last week, the Cato Institute hosted a policy forum with Herman Mashaba, a self-made millionaire businessman and libertarian, who serves as the executive mayor of South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg. Reason interviewed him shortly after Mashaba’s political party, the Democratic Alliance, unseated the African National Congress in a number of South African metropolitan areas during the 2016 local elections. Since then, Mashaba has made some progress in tackling corruption and failing public service delivery in Johannesburg, but he has his work cut out for him.

Over the last 23 years, South Africa has been run by a tripartite alliance consisting of African nationalists (the African National Congress), communists (the South African Communist Party) and trade unionists (the Congress of South African Trade Unions). Since 1994, the government has done some good. Millions of houses, for example, have been built and either given or sold (at a heavy discount) to poor Africans. Drinking water and electricity were delivered to shantytowns and far-flung rural areas.

The bad news, unfortunately, does not end there.

Being a relatively rich country, South Africa could afford to finance public works out of the general tax revenue. In normal countries, people buy houses (including piped water and electricity) with the money they earn in the market place. Providing jobs to the populace, alas, is something that governments in general and South African government in particular are very bad at doing.

The country is in a recession and the overall unemployment rate is 36 percent. Close to 50 percent of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed. In the last 23 years, incomes per person rose by about 1 percent per year. In neighboring Botswana, they rose (cumulatively) by over 80 percent.

Over the same time period, life expectancy in Botswana rose by 7 years. It declined by 5 years in South Africa. Both countries were hard hit by HIV/AIDS, but whereas the government of Botswana did everything it could to stop the spread of the disease, the government of South Africa denied the link between HIV and AIDS and actively hindered the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. (It does not help that South Africa also has eighth highest homicide rate in the world.)

The bad news, unfortunately, does not end there. The World Economic Forum in Davos has ranked South Africa’s healthcare as 132nd out of 144 countries surveyed. The country’s Corruption Perception Index ranking fell from 21st in 1994 to 62nd in 2015. And, according to The Economist, South Africa’s education system is “one of the worst in the world.”

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the ANC-led government is increasingly unpopular, with much of its remaining support coming from rural areas, where the least educated and most traditional people live. The question on everyone’s mind, therefore, is: What will the ANC do before the next general election in 2019? Will it observe South Africa’s democratic Constitution, freedom of the press, and the independence of the courts and of the Electoral Commission?

If so, it will almost certainly be defeated and have to retreat into opposition. A break-up of the tripartite alliance, which is held together by political patronage, would be certain to follow. Or, will the ANC-led tripartite alliance opt for the “Zimbabwe option” and attempt to steal the 2019 election? Either way, expect to hear more from Herman Mashaba, and his principled stance for freedom and classical liberalism in South Africa.

Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and editor of www.humanprogress.org.

Ivanka Trump visits Capitol to talk family tax credit

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:42
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ivanka Trump visited Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with Republican lawmakers on a proposal to expand a tax credit for families.

Senate confirms Trump's nominee to head FEMA

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:58
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate has confirmed the nomination of President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Treasury moves to 'pressure' Russia with new sanctions in Ukraine conflict

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:52
The Trump administration on Tuesday announced sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities tied to the Ukraine conflict, in what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described as an effort to “maintain pressure on Russia.”

Sean Spicer held White House press briefing amid his expected promotion -- live blog

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:16
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press briefing on Tuesday amid expectations he is set to take on a new role in the Trump administration.

Sean Spicer holds White House press briefing amid his expected promotion -- live blog

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:16
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer leads Tuesday's press briefing amid expectations he is set to take on a new role in the Trump administration.

China invites Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner to visit Beijing

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:13
The Chinese government invited Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to visit the country's capital later this year, a White House official confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday.

Team Obama keeps delivering on the ‘historic levels of transparency’

Michelle Malkin - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 09:40

**Written by Doug Powers

Call it “Historic Levels of Transparency: The Next Generation“:

Judicial Watch today announced that the National Security Council (NSC) on May 23, 2017, informed it by letter that the materials regarding the unmasking by Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” have been removed to the Obama Library.

The NSC will not fulfill an April 4 Judicial Watch request for records regarding information relating to people “who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities.”

The agency also informed Judicial Watch that it would not turn over communications with any Intelligence Community member or agency concerning the alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election; the hacking of DNC computers; or the suspected communications between Russia and Trump campaign/transition officials. Specifically, the NSC told Judicial Watch:

Documents from the Obama administration have been transferred to the Barack Obama Presidential Library. You may send your request to the Obama Library. However, you should be aware that under the Presidential Records Act, Presidential records remain closed to the public for five years after an administration has left office.

The rest here. Maybe the place should be called the Obama Presidential Lie-bury. Also, if the DNC talking points memo about Russia “hacking the election” and installing Trump as president were indeed factual you’d think the Dems would be publicly calling for the release of that evidence instead of using it as the foundation for Obama’s still under construction library.

**Written by Doug Powers

Twitter @ThePowersThatBe

Team Obama keeps delivering on the ‘historic levels of transparency’

Michelle Malkin - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 09:40

**Written by Doug Powers

Call it “Historic Levels of Transparency: The Next Generation“:

Judicial Watch today announced that the National Security Council (NSC) on May 23, 2017, informed it by letter that the materials regarding the unmasking by Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” have been removed to the Obama Library.

The NSC will not fulfill an April 4 Judicial Watch request for records regarding information relating to people “who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities.”

The agency also informed Judicial Watch that it would not turn over communications with any Intelligence Community member or agency concerning the alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election; the hacking of DNC computers; or the suspected communications between Russia and Trump campaign/transition officials. Specifically, the NSC told Judicial Watch:

Documents from the Obama administration have been transferred to the Barack Obama Presidential Library. You may send your request to the Obama Library. However, you should be aware that under the Presidential Records Act, Presidential records remain closed to the public for five years after an administration has left office.

The rest here. Maybe the place should be called the Obama Presidential Lie-bury. Also, if the DNC talking points memo about Russia “hacking the election” and installing Trump as president were indeed factual you’d think the Dems would be publicly calling for the release of that evidence instead of using it as the foundation for Obama’s still under construction library.

**Written by Doug Powers

Twitter @ThePowersThatBe

America Is Getting Sucked into Another Middle East Quagmire

Cato Recent Op Eds - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:43

Doug Bandow

It’s sadly evident that President Donald Trump doesn’t know much about other nations or international affairs. Still, during the campaign he had at least one very sensible foreign policy belief: the United States should stay out of purposeless wars in the Middle East.

Now his own appointees are dragging the country into the Syrian conflict. Jumping into a multisided civil war, filled with parties who deserve to lose, would be dubious even if America had some recognizable interest at stake. But the United States does not. Worse, if Washington becomes an active combatant, it would find itself in a military standoff with Shia-giant Iran, NATO ally Turkey and nuclear-armed Russia over minimal geopolitical stakes.

In short, the administration’s slide toward confrontation in Syria policy is mad.

Syria almost certainly is the greatest tragedy growing out of the 2011 Arab Spring. President Bashar al-Assad refused to compromise with peaceful demonstrators. But the latter, backed by Washington’s seeming commitment to his ouster, saw little reason to accept anything less. Minority religious and other groups, having seen how the play ended in Iraq when the secular dictator was overthrown, preferred the devil they knew. Outsiders—individuals, groups and nations—joined the bloody fray. From whence developed one of the more horrid civil wars in human history.

The administration’s slide toward confrontation in Syria policy is mad.

The good news, such as it was, for America was that the United States had no cause for involvement. Syria had been a Soviet client state during the Cold War, but had neither attacked nor threatened America. Assad was essentially a geographical nullity for Washington.

Damascus was a more active enemy of Israel but had lost repeated military confrontations and was observing a cold peace. Syria even tolerated Israel’s destruction of a nuclear reactor. The Assad regime meddled in Lebanese politics, mostly a humanitarian rather than strategic concern. Syria’s alliance with Iran was more a sign of weakness than strength for both regimes. The Bush administration’s misbegotten invasion of Iraq far more dramatically shifted the regional balance of power in Iran’s direction than did any action ever taken by Damascus.

The belief from hindsight that the Obama administration merely need to have backed the right opposition faction to have defenestrated Assad, established a democratic Syria, and promoted religious and ethnic harmony always was a fantasy. One need only look next door at Iraq in judging Washington’s ability to remake the Middle East. Hillary Clinton would have done no better in Syria as America’s governor-general than she did as U.S. secretary of state.

Nothing in the ensuing six years of horrendous conflict changed the imperative for America to stay out. The Islamic State and other radical groups took advantage of Syria’s implosion, but they threatened virtually every government in the region, not the United States. Yet their rise was promoted by Washington’s nominal allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States—who were more determined to oust Assad than defeat Islamic radicalism. America’s attempt to forge an anti-ISIS coalition merely encouraged the Gulf States to pull back, and Riyadh to launch its own counterproductive sectarian war against Yemen.

Moreover, while the odious Assad regime is no friend, it was the single strongest force blocking the advance of the Islamic State and other Islamists. Washington should have learned from the debacles in Iraq and Libya that who replaces the dictator is as important as getting rid of the dictator. Forcing out Assad would have triggered the second round in the civil war, in which the radicals almost certainly would have triumphed. Then there would have been calls for the United States to save Christians, Yazidis, Druze and Alawites, as well as preventing the ISIS flag from flying over Damascus. One can imagine just how long the American people would have stomached involvement in that fight.

Washington doesn’t like Syria’s allies, but that is no change from before. Although Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Russia all backed the Assad government, they are desperately attempting to salvage the past, not optimistically working to remake the future. However the conflict ends, the Assad government will be but a shell of its former self. Iran remains under siege in the Gulf, opposed by well-armed Saudi Arabia, most of the smaller Gulf States and Israel, backed by Washington’s ample military strength. Moscow has asserted its interests, but in influence still lags dramatically behind America. Indeed, given the hideous mess that the United States has consistently made of Middle Eastern affairs, Washington should welcome having another great power to share the blame for future follies.

The Trump administration’s slow walk into war is extremely dangerous. Washington has been introducing special operation forces to aid Kurdish and Arab forces advancing on Raqqa, the ISIS capital. With Turkey and its allies devoting more effort to attacking Kurdish militias than Islamic State militants, Washington recently put American troops between warring factions. The United States also has twice struck Iranian-backed militias in Syria’s south as well as destroyed an Iranian drone, near an American training base.

On Sunday the administration took a far more dangerous step, shooting down a Syrian jet which had been attacking the coalition Syrian Democratic Forces backed by Washington. U.S. planes staged a “show of force” to rebuff a Syrian ground assault and then downed a Syrian SU-22 which was bombing the SDF. No Americans had been threatened. Rather, explained a U.S. military spokesman, Washington acted out of “collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces.”

In fact, Damascus accurately characterized the act as “flagrant aggression.” When did the U.S. Congress declare war on the Syrian government and ratify an agreement creating a system of collective defense with a motley group of rebels who are considered terrorists by America’s neighboring NATO ally? Does the Trump administration claim the unilateral authority to establish “collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces” with any militia, group, faction, band or other amalgamation of combatants anywhere on the planet favored at a particular time?

The best case for the shoot-down is as a one-off, like the missile attack on a Syrian military base in retaliation for its apparent use of chemical weapons. Given the president’s limited attention span, he might quickly move on to other crises yet created. However, his very lack of interest in policy could allow his aides to concoct a new war, possibly with multiple combatants.

U.S. Central Command stated that its objective was “to de-escalate” and not to issue “any ultimatums.” At the same time, however, it announced that “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.” Which raises the question: is the Trump administration prepared if Syrian air defenses targets U.S. planes? How will the administration respond if Iran spurs retaliation on American forces through Shia militias that it backs in both Iraq and Syria? Is the president ready to shoot down Turkish and Russian warplanes if they attack insurgents backed by America? And bear the cost of military retaliation?

War is a real possibility. So far Damascus has responded with words, but if it feels secure in Moscow’s backing it might engage in what would amount to self-defense if attacked by the United States. Downing an American plane would force the administration to decide if it was all out or all in. Iran, too, has yet to respond to America’s strikes on its allies. But Tehran might not be so quiescent if sporadic attacks turn into a sustained campaign—after all, Syria matters far more to neighboring Iran than far away America.

Moreover, the Erdogan government has vociferously criticized U.S. cooperation with Kurdish forces, which it sees as linked with Kurdish separatists in Turkey, which whom Ankara is at war. As his authoritarian government’s relations with Washington have deteriorated, his military has been attacking the Syrian Kurdish militias. Having reestablished strong ties with Russia, Erdogan is unlikely to retreat from his aggressive policy. Indeed, he has effectively used nationalism to his political advantage. He might be prepared for a high-stakes game of geopolitical chicken with America, which is widely disliked by the Turkish people.

Finally, Russia responded by suspending the hotline, or “deconfliction” channel, used to avoid inadvertent aerial confrontations, and threatening to track U.S. planes operating in Syria. What if Moscow takes over bombing runs on America’s “coalition or partner forces” in the name of fighting “terrorists?” Shooting down a Russian plane would be an act of war, an aggressive act with no basis in international law or American interest. And it almost certainly would trigger retaliation, whether against U.S. forces directly or America’s rebel friends.

Such an action would bring the globe’s two biggest nuclear powers to the brink of war. If they started shooting at one another the situation would be far more dangerous than it was during the Cuban missile crisis, when Moscow and Washington merely threatened to shoot at one another. Moreover, then, at least, America had significant security interests at stake. It has nothing comparable in Syria.

Maybe the water in Washington, D.C. just turns policymakers mad. The United States has consistently botched its Mideast policy: intervening in Iran, backing Iraq versus Iran, giving Israel a blank check, intervening in Lebanon, embracing the Gulf royals, supporting Egyptian tyranny, blowing up Iraq, creating chaos in Libya, taking over the fight against ISIS, backing Saudi aggression in Yemen and supporting Riyadh’s self-serving attack on neighbor Qatar. None of these have turned or will turn out well.

Becoming an active combatant in Syria is an even worse idea. Apparently the National Security Council’s Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey, two holdovers from the discredited Mike Flynn, are Washington’s latest generalissimo-wannabes. But U.S. intervention is unlikely to stop at an occasional bombing run against a vulnerable Iranian-backed militia and firefight against an outgunned Syrian plane. Washington risks lighting the fuse to a much bigger war.

The stakes in Syria are incredibly high. The United States has no fundamental interests to protect. Washington is incapable of imposing any sort of stable order. Yet the United States is risking an unnecessary military confrontation with three nations, including America’s great nuclear rival.

President Trump should rediscover the common sense expressed by candidate Trump. After being at war in the Middle East for decades, Washington should leave the fighting with others. Starting with Syria.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

I Was in Pyongyang When Otto Warmbier Was Released

Cato Recent Op Eds - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:40

Doug Bandow

In the popular mind, there may be no more forbidding destination on earth than Pyongyang. Other than a war zone, I’ve never had as many people ask if I was serious when I mentioned I was heading to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Some seemed convinced that I would end up as the latest American featured in a televised show trial.

In fact, I had no worries on that score. I was going as an official guest, invited by the Institute for American Studies of the Foreign Ministry. I’d visited once before, twenty-five years ago; that trip proved fascinating but uneventful—at least in returning as planned. Having invited me, the North Koreans wanted the trip to proceed smoothly. I also understood what not to do.

Failing at the latter has proved to be the undoing of a number of Americans, most spectacularly student Otto Warmbier, who died after being released while in what Pyongyang claimed was a medically induced coma. Three other Americans remain in custody: two who worked at a Christian school, leading to suspicion that they had engaged in evangelism, and a Korean-American businessman, convicted of espionage, about whom little is known.

Until the DPRK changes, individual travelers may end up being America’s most important and perhaps only ambassadors to North Korea.

Some attributed Warmbier’s release to the Trump administration’s greater assertiveness, though this administration has no more leverage than its predecessor. A U.S. diplomat held talks with the DPRK, but his writ supposedly was limited to the four incarcerated Americans. If the president made a deal, the administration has not disclosed what was given in return.

While Washington demanded Warmbier’s release, it did so only after the North Koreans unilaterally disclosed his condition. Moreover, the president didn’t similarly demand the release of the other three U.S. citizens, presumably because he knew the answer would be no.

While in the North last week, I asked if the government sent Warmbier home as a conciliatory gesture to the Trump administration. The unequivocal response was that it was strictly a humanitarian matter. In fact, a Foreign Ministry official told me that a court had released Warmbier, rejecting any inference that the DPRK sought a diplomatic opening to Washington.

Although the United States should urge the release of its citizens, it is in no position to dictate. Successive administrations used most every tool to try to stop the North from developing nuclear weapons and testing missiles, without success. War is no option, sanctions won’t work without Chinese acquiescence and negotiations so far have failed. There isn’t much more to do to free those seen as unjustly imprisoned.

Otto Warmbier’s family blames the Obama administration for failing to win his release, but the decision always was Pyongyang’s, not Washington’s. Why the DPRK released him now is impossible to know: perhaps Kim Jong-un decided that holding a comatose prisoner was a political liability, and this was the right moment to offer a gambit pawn in the global chess game. The DPRK has more to gain from a conciliatory gesture to incoming Donald Trump, a man who built his career on flamboyant gestures and claims of victory, than to outgoing Barack Obama, who largely avoided serious negotiation with the North.

The cases of Warmbier and the other Americans, some going back years, are uniformly tragic: people punished, sometimes severely—and perhaps lethally in Warmbier’s case—for actions that should not be considered criminal. But Americans are not the only victims. At the moment, the DPRK holds six South Koreans and seven other non-Americans.

Moreover, the DPRK is not alone in penalizing foreigners for dubious crimes, such as evangelism. Even though China has relaxed legal strictures against religion, persecution remains real. And most authoritarian countries are sensitive to activities that appear to be directed against regime control. The main difference may be that Pyongyang, more than most other “hostile” states, sees potential political value in jailed Americans.

Still, while no American should want to end up in North Korean custody—the treatment of the seventeen detained in recent years has varied dramatically—there’s no reason any American should end up in North Korean custody. Indeed, several hundred Americans visit annually and don’t get arrested. There’s no evidence that the DPRK lures tourists to the North for the purpose of jailing them, as suggested by Warmbier’s understandably distraught father. (What happened to Warmbier remains a mystery; the medical examination discounted Pyongyang’s explanation but revealed no evidence of physical abuse.)

The North receives many visitors. Young Pioneer Tours, which organized the trip on which Warmbier traveled, pointed out that it had brought in more than eight thousand other travelers without incident. On my plane entering North Korea, I sat next to a British citizen who was making his third tourist visit. This time he was planning helicopter and microlight flights over Pyongyang. He was in a group made up of other veteran travelers, and introduced me to the tour company leader, who brought people in regularly. The worst trouble my seatmate had had was being told to delete photos deemed inappropriate.

A number of humanitarian groups, some explicitly religious, work in the officially atheist nation. When I went to breakfast on my first morning I heard Christian songs as I approached the common area on the way to the elevator. Several NGO staffers and volunteers, in the midst of a lengthy sojourn providing medical care, gathered for worship in the morning. They wore clothes with their organization’s name, drove vehicles with their logo on the sides and brought in medical supplies in boxes marked with the name as well. None had ever ended up in jail.

There also are quite a few Westerners making more official visits, like mine. Most have a higher profile in their home nations, including America, than the average tourist. But apparently none of them ever has been targeted.

In fact, arrests aren’t random but, in North Korea’s view, for cause. DPRK officials say they punish intentional, not accidental, rules violations. I chatted with the head of a Western NGO active in the North who explained that her group had looked into the cases of those jailed: all had committed some illegal act. That doesn’t mean their conduct warranted punishment. Neither do the North Koreans deserve the oppression visited on them. But visitors to the North are under its authority. By violating its laws, they singled themselves out.

Some had conducted evangelism or aided defectors. Discovery made their arrest inevitable, no matter how brave they were. Washington could urge their humanitarian release, but it couldn’t claim Pyongyang had no legal authority to punish them. It’s the same for Americans and other foreigners sometimes sentenced to death for smuggling drugs in other nations. The punishment is disproportionate, even outrageous, by America’s standards, but other states have full authority to impose it.

Warmbier’s case looks extreme even by North Korean standards. Other visitors have been caught trying to take home DPRK propaganda items, but were not jailed for doing so. Some knowledgeable Westerners suggest that his actual offense was more egregious and more humiliating for the North, a calculated insult to the North Korean system and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un; the poster incident merely became the cover story. That would better explain Warmbier’s public “confession” and harsh sentence of fifteen years. But we are unlikely to ever know for sure.

The State Department warns against travel to the North, but Americans remain free to go. Now there’s a move in Congress to ban travel to the North. That’s a bad idea. A free society should protect the liberty to travel and explore. This right shouldn’t be limited without compelling justification. The fact that some tourists might make a mistake and get arrested isn’t a good reason for banning everyone else from going.

Moreover, visiting the DPRK has educational value. Those who spend time in North Korea are more likely to understand it. Since the U.S. government lacks a diplomatic presence, American visitors are the best alternative. Simply learning more about the system’s culture and operation, what motivates people, what they really think and how they relate to one another is worthwhile.

Going to the North also causes those living in free societies to better appreciate their systems. There really is nowhere else on earth like the North. Eritrea may be as brutally repressive, but the DPRK’s symbols and controls are more fully developed. People should see the system. On both my visits I more tightly clutched my U.S. passport as I left, thankful I lived in a society in which the will of more than one person mattered. Indeed, arriving in Beijing left me feeling like I had landed in a free country.

Americans also can teach much to North Koreans. The result might not be a libertarian revolution. But watching, meeting and especially working with people who don’t fit the official stereotype provide North Koreans with an education as well. My British friend met some of the same guides on a return visit, building relationships. Humanitarian workers talk of getting to know patients over time. Knowledge is transmitted, curiosity is aroused. Engagement is no panacea, but is more likely than isolation to encourage Pyongyang’s evolution in a more liberal and peaceful direction.

Banning Americans from visiting the North would be especially perverse when the rest of the world remains free to go. The embargo against Cuba has the same character: a politically determined policy without any serious chance of weakening the ruling regime. Congress should think how best to transform the North’s people as well as its government over the long term.

We may never know what happened to Otto Warmbier. His tragic case—nothing he did could justify his fate—offers a stark warning: visiting North Korea requires more than the usual caution when traveling abroad. But that’s no reason to block Americans from going. They have much both to learn and teach. Until the DPRK changes, individual travelers may end up being America’s most important and perhaps only ambassadors to North Korea.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Cooking: From Full-Time Job to Hobby

Cato Recent Op Eds - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:33

Chelsea Follett

A wealthy Manhattan woman died after her clothes caught fire while cooking last week. Her tragic death was unusual, but there was a time when cooking was far more dangerous and time-consuming. Even today, more than 4 million people lacking modern stoves die prematurely each year from breathing in cooking fumes. Not only was cooking once unsafe, it left time for little else.

As Professor Deirdre McCloskey once noted, “[in] 1900 a typical American household of the middle class would spend 44 hours [a week] in food preparation,” and most of that work fell to women. In other words, back in the days of churning one’s own butter and baking one’s own bread, food preparation took up the same hours as a full-time job. That estimate includes time spent on purchasing, cooking and serving food as well as dishwashing. Keep in mind that in addition to cooking, women were also often responsible for cleaning the home, laundry, mending clothes, and tending to children.

Things started changing quickly. In 1910, U.S. households spent approximately six hours daily cooking meals, including cleanup; by the mid-1960s (when more reliable estimates began), that fell to one and a half hours. By 2008, the average low-income American spent just over an hour on food preparation each day and the average high-income American spent slightly less than an hour on food preparation daily.

The world is spending less and less time in the kitchen.

Disaggregating the data by gender reveals even more progress for women. In the United States, from the mid-1960s to 2008, women more than halved the amount of time they spent on food preparation (whereas men nearly doubled the time they spent on that activity, as household labor distributions became more equitable between the genders).

Mass production of everyday foodstuffs helped transform how women spent their time. In 1890, 90 percent of American women baked their own bread. Factory-baked, pre-sliced bread debuted in 1928. By 1965, 78 out of every 100 pounds of flour a U.S. woman brought into her kitchen came in the form of baked bread or some other ready-prepared good. Today, baking bread is an amusement for foodies, rather than a necessary chore for all women.

Over time, markets brought about and lowered the cost of such innovations as microwaves, convection ovens, ranges, grills, toasters, blenders, food processors, slow-cookers and other labor-saving kitchen devices. Markets have even produced grocery delivery services that bring food to one’s door with the touch of an application on a smartphone. Market processes also lowered the cost of dining out, and today Americans spend more dining out than eating in.

The liberation of women from the kitchen is ongoing, as technological devices and mass-produced goods spread to new parts of the world. Globally, as many as 55 percent of households still cook entirely from raw ingredients at least once a week. A 2015 survey found that average hours spent cooking among those who regularly cook are as high as 13.2 hours per week in India, and 8.3 in Indonesia, compared to 5.9 in the United States.

The gap in time spent on food preparation between rich and poor countries remains wide. But even in India — the poorest country surveyed, and the one with the highest reported average food preparation hours — women devote almost 31 fewer hours to food preparation per week than U.S. households did in 1900. Even allowing for compatibility problems when comparing those figures (the estimate for 1900 was for the household and included meal cleanup time), the sheer size of this difference suggests some improvement.

Much room for progress remains. In 2016, only 0.6 percent of Chinese households and 0.1 percent of Indian households had a dishwasher, compared to 67 percent of U.S. households, according to Euromonitor data. In 2016, microwave market penetration was just 23.4 of Chinese households and 3.1 percent of Indian households, compared to 91.3 percent of U.S. households. Only 15 percent of Indian households owned a refrigerator in 2006.

If prosperity continues to spread and poverty to decline globally, kitchen appliances and ready-made goods will free up more and more hours of women’s food preparation time around the world. There may always be freak accidents like the one in Manhattan, but there is no reason why innovation cannot lessen the risk by liberating women everywhere from kitchen chores.

Chelsea Follett is Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org

Jeff Sessions announces plan to help 12 cities find ways to fight crime

Fox News (Politics) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:32
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday announced a new initiative to combat violence and bolster public safety by promising federal resources to help 12 cities strategize on the best ways to fight crime.

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