James P. Freeman: Using the espionage act against journalists


“Some of these people [columnists and commentators] have been known to make up, or willfully distort, information to support their political preferences.”

—        Jody Powell, 1984, The Other Side of the Story  

It may be a gnarly revelation.

President Trump is not the first president to wage war with journalists. As Jody Powell,  a  press secretary to  Jimmy Carter in his presidency, understands. Forty years ago, Powell explains over 314 pages, “when the news seemed to me, then …, to be wrong, unsupportable, and unfair.” And, perhaps, fake.

Every president from George Washington to Barack Obama has expressed dismay about the press but, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “none have gone as far as Trump in their public derision.” Even so, few should be surprised by the graffiti artist from New York who came to Washington to deface standard protocols of public life, including media relations. So why is there such acute anxiety over Trump’s repeated calls this year about his arbitrarily defined “fake news” (“the enemy of the people”) against a further arbitrarily- defined “failing media”? Because some fear that he will invoke The Espionage Act as a form of retribution against journalists.

That prospect was recently broached by George Freeman (no relation to me), executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and a former longtime New York Times attorney.

In June 1917, a couple of  months after America’s entry into World War I, Congress passed The Espionage Act, further strengthened and amended by The Sedition Act of 1918. The laws were intended to ensure the nation’s security after President Woodrow Wilson had demanded protection from what he called “the insidious methods of internal hostile activities.” Thousands of dissenters were prosecuted. While the Sedition Act was repealed after WWI, major portions of the Espionage Act remain part of U.S. law today.

At their core, many provisions sought to fundamentally bar many forms of communication (profane, abusive and disloyal speech) concerning the government, the flag, military forces of the United States, or any uniform connected to the American military. Such sweeping legislation, which placed severe and undue impediments on free speech, was challenged early  in U.S. courts.

But no other modern legal challenge to free speech, as it relates to the freedom of the press, was more important than the landmark First Amendment case of New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Times. Free and open debate about the conduct of public officials, the court reasoned, was more important than occasional, honest factual errors that might hurt or damage officials’ reputations. Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote:  “An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be minimum guarantee of the First Amendment.” The decision largely eliminated sedition as a crime. Fifty years later, Roy S. Gutterman, a journalism and communications law professor at Syracuse University, reasonably concluded, “This decision changed the way reporters and journalists could operate and transformed commentary, newsgathering, criticism, even parody and satire.”

Still, The Espionage Act is potent.

Freeman is concerned about the present, given the extreme unpredictability of a president who equally craves and crucifies the press -- especially a president whose administration seems oddly susceptible to frequent leaks of its own, and a president with a remarkable proclivity for calling any news he is discomfited by fake news.

While Freeman concedes that act has never been used to prosecute a journalist, let alone successfully, “that crucial distinction is somewhat in doubt.” If President Trump “actually tries to prosecute a journalist or publication that,” Freeman fears, “merely accepts and publishes a leak of information arguably covered by the Espionage Act — as opposed to just the leaker him/herself — that’s when the Trump offensive against the press will go to a whole new and terribly dangerous level.” He adds that, despite leaks of sensitive government information that the press has published throughout its history, “no president nor prosecutor has {fully} gone after the press.”

However, provocative Freeman’s thesis, though, he is wrong in believing that President Obama “defended ordinary newsgathering, including the reception of leaks.” Indeed, President Obama opened the door for waging a larger war on the press.

In eight years, the Obama administration prosecuted nine cases involving leakers and whistle blowers, compared with a total of three cases by all previous administrations. An analysis appearing in The New York Times last December by James Risen shows that Obama repeatedly used the Espionage Act “not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.” Risen, an investigative reporter, writes that, under Obama, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI “spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting, and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.”

In 2010, Obama’s Justice Department obtained a search warrant for Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private email during an investigation. In an affidavit supporting the search warrant, an FBI agent accused the reporter of conspiring to violate the Espionage Act.

Obama’s team may have adopted a “zealous, prosecutorial approach” due to large-scale leaks by Chelsea Manning and later by Edward Snowden, says Risen. And he cites the Valerie Plame case during President George W. Bush’s administration, where Plame was outed as a C.I.A. employee and former operative, which in turn “led to a series of high-profile Washington journalists being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and name the officials who had told them about her identity.”

Today, Risen asserts, many press freedom groups believe that Obama’s “record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit.” So, what has Trump been up to? Following Obama’s lead.

In Part III of a compelling series by Freedom of the Press Foundation, on the 100th anniversary of The Espionage Act, senior reporter Peter Sterne last month wrote, “Espionage Act prosecutions of journalists’ sources have continued under the administration of President Donald Trump and only look to get worse.” While Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was the recipient and publisher of the classified documents leaked by Manning, Obama’s Justice Department, we are reminded, declined to publicly issue charges against WikiLeaks. But the case is still technically open. Nonetheless, the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that it intends to seek Assange’s arrest.

This past spring, The New York Times reported a purported conversation earlier this year between President Trump and then-FBI Director James Comey, alone together in the Oval Office. A reporter wrote: “Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

Regarding "fake news'' (2016’s “Words of the Year”), a phrase modernized, not coined, by Facebook, the social-media company has made efforts to supposedly combat fake news and help support journalists. Facebook Journalism Project has led to modifications in its publishing tools, among other changes. Could Facebook, as a distributor of news, one day be implicated or prosecuted in the dissemination of sensitive and classified information, let alone fake news? President Trump might think so.

Meanwhile, history repeats itself at the White House.

Jody Powell believed “that our relations with the press began to fray in the late summer of 1977,” a few months into Carter’s first term, a president whose party controlled both houses of Congress. With abject chaos surrounding his relationship with journalists, culminating (so far) with the resignation of his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, the same sentiments may be echoed in the summer of 2017, a few months into Trump’s first term, a president whose party also controls both houses of Congress.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal, newenglanddiary.com and nationalreview.com. This piece first appeared in the New Boston Post.

David Warsh; McCain and looking for the road back to 'regular order'


I wasn’t surprised in the least when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) flew back to Washington last week to put a stake through the heart of the Republican Party’s effort to kill  the Affordable Care Act. That’s because I remember the last time that McCain interrupted himself to fly back to town.

He was running for president then, against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, in 2008. The financial crisis had come to a head after a year of growing apprehension. Lehman Brothers had failed on Monday, Sept. 15.  Panic was taking hold in global credit markets for the first time since 1933.

Acute problems had spread beyond the banks.  By Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, insurance giant American International Group was on the verge of failure, thanks to the effect of plummeting share prices on its derivative and stock-lending businesses. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., had begun calling both candidates daily to brief them, hoping to keep them from saying something that might upset the markets.

On the stump Sept. 16, McCain said, “We cannot have the taxpayers bail out AIG or anybody else.”  Paulson phoned immediately to talk him back from that position. The next day McCain reversed himself, foreshadowing the days ahead.

Two days later, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke persuaded President George W. Bush and leaders of both parties, meeting in the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to accept the hastily drafted Troubled Assets Relief Program  (TSRP) bill.  And on Friday, Sept.  19, Friday, Bush stood in the White House Rose Garden, along with Bernanke, Paulson and SEC chairman Christopher Cox, to ask Congress to approve a hazy $700 billion bailout plan.  By the following Tuesday, it was clear that the measure lacked the necessary Republican votes to pass in the House.

With the first presidential debate scheduled for the following Friday, McCain announced  that he was suspending his campaign in order to fly back to Washington.  He asked for a meeting with President Bush and Obama. Paulson later wrote that he was “dumbfounded” that the president had agreed to such a conclave. (I am relying here on Paulson’s memoir, On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System.) Bush explained that he felt he had little choice.

The meeting was held; Obama and his chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers danced rings around the Republicans:  McCain spoke only when called upon at the end, and the meeting dissolved in chaos at its end. In their televised debate that Friday, Obama and McCain condemned Wall Street, but neither mentioned the bailout. Mostly they argued about Afghanistan and Iraq.  Obama decisively won the debate.

The following Monday the TARP bill was defeated in the House.  When it finally passed three days later, as the banking system continued to threaten to collapse, McCain got little credit for his dramatic gesture. Paulson wrote:

"His return to Washington was impulsive and risky, and I don’t think he had a plan in mind. If anything, his gambit only came back to hurt him, as he was pilloried in the press afterward, and in the end I don’t believe his maneuver significantly influenced the TARP legislative process.

"A number of people I respect on the Hill have a different view. They believe McCain ended up being helpful by focusing public attention on TARP and galvanizing Congress to action. And John did later try to find ways for House Republicans to support legislation.   But Democrats absolutely did not want him to get any credit. They wanted the economic issue as their own.''

Looking back, McCain was a central player in one of the great dramas of the 21st Century. The leaders of both parties in Congress, a reluctant administration, central bankers around the world, and both U.S. presidential candidates in an election year – they all agreed on measures that, after many adjustments behind the scenes, prevented a second Great Depression.

Granted, it had been ugly. Every actor displayed a wart or two. “There was no hiding McCain’s rudderlessness over the [first few] days, as he lurched from blunder to blunder,” was how John Heilemann and Mark Halperin described his introduction to the crisis in Game Change.  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) repeatedly helped his good friend McCain maintain his bearings.  But strip away all the self-interested accounts of the matter by technocrats, and what’s left is a distinct harbinger of McCain’s dramatic action last week.

In a speech two days before his fateful vote last week, McCain took stock of the battles of the last eight years.

"Our deliberations today are more partisan, more tribal more of the time than any other time I remember…. Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline – either by deliberate actions or neglect…

"The Obama administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.''

Since I clearly remembered the White House event, in March 2009, with which Obama opened his campaign to reorganize healthcare-insurance markets, I couldn’t resist a taking a little peek back at the history of what happened next. Obama’s proposal’s was patterned on Massachusetts’'s 2006 adoption of “Romney Care,” itself based on a Republican proposal for an individual mandate advanced ten years before, in opposition to Hillary Clinton’s more ambitious plans. Obama invited 150 participants to a conference, drawn from all corners of the debate, including Congressional Republican leaders.

 In “The Party of No,” a chapter in The New New Deal:The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, author Michael Grunwald describes the evolution of the Republican leadership’s thinking the wake of Democratic victories – not just the White House, but control of both houses of Congress. Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) was the minority whip then, transparently coveting minority leader John Boehner’s job.  Cantor’s deputy, Kevin McCarthy (R.-Calif.), and Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) were said to be the GOP’s “young guns.” Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind. chaired an initial conference of the party’s leadership in Annapolis. Grunwald wrote:

"The new leaders who gathered in Annapolis had a new mantra.  Our mistake was abandoning our principles, not following our principles. They saw John McCain as a typical Republican In Name Only (RINO) who had sought electoral salvation in ideological equivocation – and look what happened to him.  They even revised their opinions of George W. Bush, who in retrospect seemed less a conservative hero, more a big-spending apostate.''

“Most important, Republicans need to stick together as a team,” exhorted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  And so they did.  The Tea Party election came next, in 2010. Republicans took back the House.  Obama was re-elected in 2012. In 2014, Republicans took back the Senate. And by 2016, the strategy of full-throated opposition seemed to have worked. Republicans won the White House.

At least in the matter of healthcare legislation, the Republicans clearly fired the first shot, opposing a program of their own invention just because the opposition party had embraced it.  Let McCain’s exaggeration on this count pass. In the offer of olive branches, no more than in lapidary inscriptions, is a man upon his oath. The path back to the state of mind Senate rules describe as “normal order” is much as McCain described it:

Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours.

In “The Sanctimony and Sin of G.O.P, ‘Moderates',''  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, writing last week before McCain’s vote last Thursday against his party,  invited readers “to consider the awfulness of Senator John McCain.” Indeed, Krugman condemned all politicians “who pretend to be open-minded, decry partisanship, tut-tut about incivility and act as enablers for the extremists again and again.” Krugman wrote:

"I started with McCain because so many journalists still fall for his pose as an independent-minded maverick, ignoring the reality that he’s a reliable yes-man whenever it matters.''

Krugman has got it exactly backwards.  On the two occasions of the last 10 years when it has mattered most, McCain stood in the center, with the majority consensus, against his party’s leaders (and, often enough, in matters of lesser issues as well, especially immigration and campaign finance). Krugman, himself an unbridled partisan, should stop insisting that there are no Republican moderates.  The road back to “regular order” begins with giving credit where credit is due.

David Warsh, a longtime business and political columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.


And now he's our capo di tutti capi

Grandiose Trump Tower, in midtown Manhattan,  base of the Trump Organization and presenting a hugely difficult and expensive (for the taxpayers) security challenge.

Grandiose Trump Tower, in midtown Manhattan,  base of the Trump Organization and presenting a hugely difficult and expensive (for the taxpayers) security challenge.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column on GoLocal24.com:

Many Americans, the great majority of whom remain surprisingly ignorant of Donald Trump’s business career, have been taken aback by the volatile, seat-of-the-pants way he acts as president. But that’s how he runs the Trump Organization (runs, not ran: whatever the bad ethics involved he is still  effectively running the Trump Organization, and indeed seeking to make lots of money for it in his new gig in the Oval Office). I’m also impressed by how much this man, who has so successfully avoided paying federal income taxes, is, with his jet-setting family, costing the taxpayers around $10 million a month in travel expenses – 10 times the rate of President Obama and his family. Mr. Trump is on track to be by far our most expensive president.

The president’s company was never publicly owned. Rather it is a secretive family enterprise centered on the  intensely narcissistic if sometimes paternalistic Donald Trump, with power radiating out from him through family members and retainers. It recalls a Mafia operation (and the Trump Organization is not entirely unfamiliar with mobsters). Compared to a public company, the Trump Organization has had relatively few constraints on how it operates and has been able to operate with remarkable opaqueness.

Given Mr. Trump’s history, age and character, it seems very unlikely that he’ll change his operating style in any major way. Rather, he will tend to run the White House as he runs his company – very arbitrarily. He must tell himself: “Hey, it got me this far!’’ Let us hope that some of the grown-ups in the Cabinet can moderate his worst impulses.


Chris Powell: The Democrats' ignore their role in bringing Trump to power


On his way out of the White House this week, President Obama assured the country that all will be well. But Obama is not returning to Chicago, which is engulfed by the violence of social disintegration, nor even to Illinois, the most insolvent of states, and if everything was well he wouldn't be delivering the White House to anyone like Donald Trump.

Trump has been elected precisely because most people, including even many people who did not vote for him, understand that the country has declined during the Obama administration -- that living standards for the majority are eroding, that the touted national health-insurance legislation has only made costs explode without covering everyone, and that the country's standing in the world has diminished with both imperial wars and appeasement in the Middle East.

Having lost the popular vote by a large margin, nearly 3 million votes, Trump has no mandate. His election was largely a fluke, caused first by the Republican Party's division among a dozen more responsible candidates and, then, more so, by the Democratic Party's inability to hold on to its own voters in three usually Democratic “Rust Belt” states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin --whose economies are not half as strong as the Obama administration pretended.

Trump's Cabinet nominees, a bizarre mix of plutocrats and ignoramuses, may make even Warren Harding's look ethical and brilliant. With their evasions and comments contradicting their boss, they already have made the incoming administration seem incoherent.

But unable to recognize its responsibility for Trump, the political left is apoplectic and would not even concede him an ordinary inauguration. Trump's every tweet must be protested. Under no circumstances can the left allow any dialogue that might imply the right of the other side to its contrary views and that might acknowledge that much of the country is opposed to the largely failed agenda of the Democrats and their cheerleaders in the news media.

There cannot be even a prayer that Trump, like other people suddenly installed out of their depth, could be humbled by his new office and sense a profound obligation to try to rise to the occasion.

As he seems always to be spoiling for a fight and thumping his chest, it  is hard to imagine such an effort from Trump. He has given much cause to be considered temperamentally and even psychologically unfit to wield power in a democracy, where some respect or ordinary courtesy must be paid to dissenters so that divisions don't turn the country against itself and weaken it against its enemies.

But circumstances soon may force Trump to realize that always spoiling for a fight is not the path to political success, especially since public opinion of him has gotten only lower since the election and since the Senate is almost evenly divided, its narrow Republican majority including members who are both sensible and capable of putting the country's interests above partisan interests. Indeed, moderate Republican senators may come to control the agenda.

The apoplectic protest is premature but people on the left and right alike should resolve not to be intimidated, as dissenters were during the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Johnson was as megalomaniacal as Trump, and Nixon as much of a liar -- and when enough people stopped being intimidated and started resenting lies, democracy brought both presidents down.

For in the end the people themselves are the guardians of their own liberty, and even if Trump works out for the worst, he will have reminded some people who very much need reminding that ever-larger, more powerful and centralized government is a two-edged sword, one that can cut on the left side as well as the right side of politics.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


David Warsh: The gapping Clinton-Obama differences on policy toward an aggressive Russia


Blue nations are in NATO .

Blue nations are in NATO.


Given the high degree of partisan divide following the U.S. election, a discomfiting fact is that Donald Trump is likely to espouse many responsible positions in his role as president, even if he can’t make the case for them himself. This confusing state of affairs has not become obvious yet. But it is inevitable, and we will get used to it.  A case in point is the current confusion about Russia.

Trump campaigned throughout the last year and a half on a promise to roll back the Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Putin government in Ukraine in 2014. He never mentioned the much larger issue that lies behind it, the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Russia’s southern borders, but that is likely what he meant.

In contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton was equally clear throughout that she intended to increase the pressure on the Russian Federation.  She now blames Putin (and FBI Director James Comey) for her loss.


As it happens, Mark Landler, White House correspondent of The New York Times, earlier this year gave us a very good account of her foreign policy views. Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle over American Power (Random House 2016) was written when Clinton was concerned to burnish her credentials as a hawk in anticipation of the general election.


The climax of the book is worth quoting at length. It  comes in September 2014, when Obama invites a dozen foreign-policy experts to a dinner at the White House that has been “planned down to the minute”: an hour of discussion on the Islamic State; another on Russia, and, in particular, the proposal to supply Javelin antitank missiles to Ukrainian troops then fighting the Russian army. Mr. Landler writes:

“As the second hour began, Obama threw down a startling gauntlet.

“’Will somebody tell me, What’s the American stake in Ukraine?’ he asked his guests.

“Strobe Talbott [Deputy Secretary of State for seven years under President Clinton], who spent much of his professional life studying the Soviet threat during the Cold War, was slack-jawed. Preserving the territorial integrity of states liberated from the Soviet Union was an article in faith in Washington, at least for those of Clinton’s generation, who had watched the Soviets invade Hungary in 1956.  Talbott argued that the West couldn’t simply stand by while Russia had its way with one of its neighbors. Stephen Hadley, who had been George W. Bush’s national adviser, echoed him. ‘Well, I see it somewhat differently than you do,’ Obama replied. ‘My concern is it will be a provocation and it’ll trigger a Russian escalation that we’re not prepared to match.’ That was a legitimate concern, Talbott granted, but not a reason to give Russia a free pass. ‘Having known Hillary for a long time,’ he told me [Landler wrote],’ I’m pretty sure she would have seen the invasion of Ukraine in a different way, mainly as a threat to the peace of Europe.”’

‘’A year and a day after that dinner, Talbott’s assumption was borne out. Standing on a stage of the Brookings Institution, of which he is president, Talbott introduced Clinton for the first major foreign policy speech of her 2016 presidential campaign. During a question-and-answer period afterward, she was asked how the West could put more pressure on Vladimir Putin. The United States, Clinton said, needed to dial up the sanctions and bring other pressure to bear. Though she didn’t specify it that day, her aides said that would include providing defensive weapons to the Ukrainians…

‘’Clinton wasn’t just talking about guns and butter. Washington, she said, urgently needed a new mindset to deal with an adversary that was going to plague the United States for years to come.  It wasn’t so much new as back to the future: The White House would have to recruit old Soviet specialists –‘and I’m looking right at you, Strobe Talbott,’ she said – to dust off their playbooks and devise new policies for fighting Russian aggression. Like the Soviets, the Russians planned ‘to stymie and confront and to undermine American power whenever and wherever they can.”’

On this and many other issues, Landler writes, Obama and Clinton were the product of the experiences of their very different childhoods. She grew up in a middle-class suburb of Chicago, the daughter of a conservative Methodist businessman.  Obama grew up in Hawaii, the son of a single mother who moved with him to Indonesia in fourth grade. That, and his “Kenyan roots,” created “a carapace of suspicion,” Landler writes. “Clinton viewed her country from the inside out; Obama from the outside in.” Maybe so, but Trump, who is mentioned twice, fleetingly, in the book, is president-elect.

Obama’s own instincts have served him well enough in foreign policy – in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But the two secretaries of state he appointed, both of them frustrated presidential candidates, have gone on pursuing the agenda of an enlarged NATO military alliance as devised by Bill Clinton, which they inherited intact from George W. Bush.  This is, of course, the deepest source of Russia’s grievance at the United States –Russian leaders thought they had received assurances from James Baker, secretary of state to George H. W. Bush, that there would be no expansion east if Germany was permitted to re-unite under the NATO banner.  But the enlargement of the alliance that began in 1997 with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic admitted to membership, that precipitated a short war in Georgia in 2008, and another in Ukraine in 2014,  is still going forward, zombie-like, in the present day.

NATO enlargement never became an issue in the presidential campaign.  In a 10-part “Blueprint for Donald Trump to Fix Relations with Russia,” national security expert Graham Allison, former dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, goes as far as he dares.  “NATO is the greatest alliance in history and played an essential role in America’s Cold War victory. But today it stands in need of substantial reform.” Its expansion is not mentioned.

Leaders of the United States are henceforth going to have to become accustomed once again to living in a multi-polar world.  That won’t be easy to explain, but Trump is going to have to try.  Here is Graham Allison again, this time on the likelihood of war with China, from his article last year in The Atlantic, “The Thucydides Trap” (soon to be a book). He is reflecting on the vision of China’s role in the world that President Xi Jinping presented to a meeting of its political and military leadership in 2014:

“The display of self-confidence bordered on hubris. Xi began by offering an essentially Hegelian conception of the major historical trends toward multi-polarity (i.e. not U.S. unipolarity) and the transformation of the international system (i.e., not the current U.S.-led system). In his words, a rejuvenated Chinese nation will build a ‘new type of international relations through a ‘protracted’ struggle over the nature of the international order. In the end, he assured his audience that ‘the growing trend toward a multipolar world will not change.’’’

The nerve of those guys!

Obama is preparing to give a farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10.  Here’s hoping the explainer-in-chief leads with foreign affairs. As good an overall job as he has done in the the past eight years, he still has a lot of explaining to do.

David Warsh, a longtime economic historian and business journalist, in proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this first ran.



Chris Powell: The origins of the contempt shown by Trump voters

As many people are, Gov. Dannel Malloy is appalled by President-elect Trump's selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for secretary of the U.S. Energy Department, since Perry, as a presidential candidate, pledged to abolish it -- that is, when he could remember the department at all. Perry's selection, Malloy says, is "contemptuous."

But then Trump's election itself is a gigantic gesture of contempt by many of those who voted for him.

Yes, in the popular vote for president Trump, nominally a Republican, trails Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, by around 2.8 million. But Clinton received only 48 percent of the popular vote, and a majority of the votes for minor presidential candidates, 5½ percent of the vote, probably would have gone for Trump if people had been forced to choose among the top two candidates. Clinton, President Obama's candidate, represented continuity with the Obama administration and most of those voters for minor candidates wanted change.

Since there will be more elections soon enough, those who are appalled by Trump's election and some of his Cabinet appointments might do well to try to understand the contempt he embodies.

Maybe it arises from the contemptibility of so many voters themselves, people Clinton disparaged as "deplorables" for their supposed racism and other prejudices, as well as their supposed ignorance. But many of them live in the previously Democratic states that threw the Electoral College to Trump -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin -- and four years ago many voted for Obama.

Or maybe the contempt felt by so many voters arises from the performance of the Obama administration. Even some leading Democrats acknowledge that living standards for the majority have been declining, and theoretically at least it is possible to resent the trend toward ever-larger, politically correct, special interest-serving, and dependence-inducing government without wishing harm to racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.

With certain nominees to head federal departments, the new president's contempt and arrogance may take him too far. Being narrowly divided between the political parties, the Senate will be in a good position to check him. If Trump's administration fails to improve conditions in the country, as the expiring administration has failed, the people themselves may check him at the next two elections.

But Trump did not spring forth out of nowhere; he did not even create himself. Rather Trump is a reaction, just as he will produce a reaction. As the liberal sloganeering goes, "This is what democracy looks like," even if this time liberals don't like it.


* * *

HIMES IS TOO LATE ON THE WARS: Fearing that President-elect Trump will strive to get the country into more wars, Connecticut U.S. Rep. Jim Himes has introduced what he calls the Reclamation of War Powers Act. It would prevent deployment of the armed forces into hostilities without a declaration of war by Congress, similar congressional authorization, or an attack on the country or other national emergency.

These days, Himes says, "we operate in state of perpetual pseudo-war where neither the executive nor Congress is ultimately responsible. That has to end."

Valid as that criticism is, it has nothing to do particularly with Trump's ascension. While he is ill-tempered and reckless, Trump didn't get the country into and sustain its stupid imperial adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Lately those adventures have been sustained by President Obama, the head of Himes's own party. So Himes's legislation should have been introduced a long time ago.

Instead the congressman is turning against the wars only when a president from the opposing party is about to become responsible for them -- just as Democratic congressmen who supported the Vietnam War while a Democrat was president turned against it only when Richard Nixon, a Republican, took office in 1969.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Lan Anh: Building a foundation for close U.S.-Vietnamese relations


By Lan Anh

On the night of May 22, President Obama landed at Noi Bai International Airport to start his official visit to Vietnam. U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had also visited Vietnam while in office.

The American War in Vietnam was a long and sad chapter but that conflict ended 41 years ago.

President Obama’s visit to Vietnam  was a dramatic turning point as the two countries establish stronger ties  to promote the development, peace and security of the both countries, the Asia/Pacific region and the wider world.

Vietnam has spent  much blood,  wealth and time defending itself from invadersto regain and preserve its independence.  The country  has constantly faced threats to its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But, overcoming the sorrow of historical events, and some missteps in its economic-development strategy, Vietnam has  today achieved remarkable improvements in the economic and other aspects of its development. It has great potential strengths from its location and its population of 100 million, (making Vietnam the 13th most populous nation) including its large number of young people who are very receptive to new technology. It is also playing an increasingly important role in global economic development.

Meanwhile, Vietnam preserves many of its ancient traditions while it stays open to learning and accepting the best aspects of cultures and values all over the world.  

Vietnam has become an inspiring story of a country in transition.  A nation that suffered the sorrow of  a long war with the U.S., Vietnam has since normalized the relationship with America and is taking steps to improve it further.  Vietnamese-U.S. relations are now a world-recognized symbol of reconciliation and of progress toward a peaceful, more secure and developed world.

America has the  world’s largest economy and is the global military superpower.  Thus,  the U.S. plays a crucial role in preserving stability around the Earth. American military power can be deployed quickly to any place in the world.  Further, America is the innovation hub of the planet. It’s where leading technologies are constantly being invented and refined with great international impact.

Since World War II, the U.S.  has led the establishment of a network of multilateral organizations  -- most notably the World Bank, the  International Monetary Fund (IMF) and such regional  security organizations as NATO. In part becase of these organizations, the U.S. has strong allies around the world.

These factors are crucial parts of the foundation for stronger Vietnamese-U.S. relations.

Prof. Thomas Patterson, a leading Harvard scholar on politics, press and public policy,  and a co-founder and director of The Boston Global Forum (BostonGlobalForum.org), said that the bases for a strong and sustainable relationship between  the U.S. and Vietnam are trust and respect for each other and mutual understanding of each other’s needs and values. Despite some inevitable differences, the two countries have many shared goals, which include building their own and each other’s prosperity, friendly cultural exchanges and peace and security in the South China Sea (called in Vietnam the East Sea). Strong andfriendly U.S.-Vietnamese relations will foster the strong growth of the two countries in the Pacific Era.

The U.S. can help Vietnam with capital and advanced technology so that Vietnam can continue growing its knowledge and innovation economy via such technology solutions as  artificial intelligence (AI) and network security.

After the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TTP) comes into effect, Vietnam’s GDP is projected to increase to $23.5 billion in 2020 and $33.5 billion in 2025. Its exports are projected to rise by  $68 billion by 2026.  Under the TPP, big markets,  such as the U.S., Japan and Canada, willeliminate tariffs for goods imported from Vietnam, which will obviously give its exporting activity a big boost..

Meanwhile Fulbright University Vietnam has officially been granted approval to open. This  is a milestone  in the journey of  cooperation between U.S. and Vietnam in education. Further, the University of California at Los Angeles ( UCLA ) will soon work with Vietnam to carry out new initiatives in global citizenship education.

To establish itself as a major global player, Vietnam needs to be independent  of bigger countries so that it can strategize its  path ahead while following universal standards and values. Vietnam will raise its visibility in  the world with a loving,  tolerant and generous attitude.

Vietnam has overcome sorrow and loss to make peace with other countries that caused it pain. Hence, Vietnam has become a symbol of reconciliation and can play an important role in preserving  international peace and security in the Asia/Pacific region and around the world.  

For example, Vietnam can contribute to the effort to resolve conflicts between the U.S.  and Russia,  between Europe and Russia,  between China and Russia,  between the U.S.,  Japan and North Korea,  and between the U.S. and China. Vietnam could also become a centerfor finding solutions to conflicts in the Middle East and forhelping North Korea integrate with the rest of the world (as when Vietnam helped Myanmar reintegrate). And it can be a pioneer in building harmony and security in online space in South East Asia and around the world. This can include educating people  to be responsible online citizens in Internet era; teaching them to respect each other’s culture, knowledge and morality, and  promoting initiatives for global citizenship education.

Building strong Vietnamese-U.S. relations, as well as the other initiatives cited above, can’t be completed overnight but the path to a brighter future is opened. Tomorrow has started today.

Lan Anh is a journalist for VietNamNet.

Don Pesci: Senator Murphy's bizarre climate-Mideast brutality link

Only a few years ago a politician might have been laughed out of Congress for postulating that the troubles in the Middle East – Islamic irredentism; the emergence of Iran, still considered a terrorist state, as a regional Middle East power; the attempt by Shiites, rebuffed during the Iraq war, to establish a caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria; the threats against the United States and other Western nations that pour like a flood of mighty waters from the throats of its former enemies; the scurrying of foreign states once friendly to the United States from a U.S to a Russian protectorate; the sea of women, children and young men murdered, homeless and enslaved Christians, immigrant hordes persecuted by Islamic terrorists now flooding Europe’s shores, largely owing to the recession of U.S. power and influence in the Middle East; all this and more --  were traceable to global warming, the tocsin of a boisterous environmental movement.

The civil wars in Syria and Mali, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, noted in a New Haven Register interview “… were preceded by a ‘massive multi-year drought,’ which were consequences of global warming. ‘The instability that we are seeing in the Middle East and in Africa is today the result of climate change,’ with more challenges coming, Murphy said.”

The connection between global warming and world-altering disturbances in the Middle East, remote at best, is one of the CliffsNotes taken from the current Democratic Party campaign playbook. The global warming bell will be sounded ad nauseam during the coming political campaigns. Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has already warmly embraced the queer notion. Surprisingly, Mr. Murphy has thrown his support to Hillary Clinton, not Sanders.

Mr. Murphy’s current term in office ends January 2019, and so he can well afford to flourish ideological banners on behalf of movement progressives, which includes the environmental lobby. Nothing Mr. Murphy says, however absurd, will cost him a vote in the near future. Mr. Murphy’s present assertion entails no immediate political cost to him; it is a form of cheap grace. Mr. Murphy’s comrade in the Senate, Dick Blumenthal, is up for re-election in the current cycle, and the remote prospect of losing an election has made the always cautious Mr. Blumenthal wary. Off-election year senators are usually able to find their spines.  

Mr. Murphy’s assertion – Middle East instability is caused by climate change -- is a near-perfect example of the post hoc fallacy, which may be stated as follows: A occurred, then B occurred; therefore, A caused B. The rooster Chanticleer crowed, then the sun rose; therefore, the crowing caused the sun to rise.

Messy thinking is the principal cause of a messy foreign policy, and the Obama administration is full of threadbare thoughts. Dangerous errors in foreign policy are the product of political procrusteanism, which occurs when politicians seek to fit the wide and various world into their narrow ideological beds: Feet are lopped off, fingers are sheered away, and one ends up with a dead and useless mutilated corpse, an apt description of U.S. foreign policy in the Age of Obama. Far-fetched claims such as those made by Mr. Sanders and seconded by Mr. Murphy obscure the wreckage. But these bizarre notions can be exploded by an application of “Occam’s Razor,” which holds that the most economical explanation of a phenomenon that accounts for all the important facts is usually the right one.

Here is an economical explanation that embraces real-world data in the Middle East:

Syria is ruled by Bashar Assad whose father, Hafez al-Assad, was only slightly more bloodthirsty than his son. In 2012, President Obama drew his famous “red line in the sand” in Syria. He said that the use of chemical weapons by Assad would cross “a red line” that would entail “enormous consequences” and “change my calculus” on American military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A year later, In August 2013, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus was attacked with sarin gas, and Mr. Obama’s red line inauspiciously disappeared.

Concurrent with Mr. Obama’s red line doctrine, American troops that had ousted Saddam Hussein in Iraq were withdrawn from that country, fulfilling an Obama campaign pledge. The improvident withdrawal of troops created a vacuum in northern Iraq and Syria that soon was filled with the soldiers of Allah, peace be upon him, whose ambition it was to recreate a caliphate. They expressed their fidelity to the Koran by capturing territory from the infidel, killing men who might oppose them, enslaving their children and making concubines of their wives. They also drew the sword of Allah, peace be upon him, across the throats of infidel Christians, which caused Mr. Obama to claim that the ruffians were not behaving in a manner that was faithful to Islam, the Koran or the prescriptions of Mohammed, peace be upon him.

Islamic scholars who are more faithful interpreters of the Koran would heartily disagree. 

With the supposed failure of President George W. Bush’s policy towards Iraq before her and the imprecations of Democratic politicians ringing in her ears, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the leading Democratic candidate for president, simply repeated the so-called “policy errors” of Mr. Bush and persuaded Mr. Obama to oust Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi from power. The ouster was a success: “We came, we saw, he died,” boasted Mrs. Clinton. Libya descended into chaos, and the Obama administration – refusing steadfastly to let a crisis go to waste – began shipping war material from a Libyan compound to American-supported, anti-Assad forces in northern Syria. The American compound in Benghazi, Libya, soon was destroyed by Islamic terrorists. It is no exaggeration to say that the terrorists who murdered Christians, among others, in the newly established caliphate and in Paris and Brussels and the United States and Canada and London and the Netherlands were, all of them, faithful followers of Mohammed, peace be upon him. 

This is only a thimble full of real-world data that should be included in any assessment of the origin and causes of the bloody mess in the Middle East, a good part of it attributable to Mr. Obama’s failed foreign policy. Mr. Murphy’s fanciful theory that Middle East instability is the result of climate change is little more than a head-fake designed in an election year to draw public attention from inconvenient truths. Mr. Murphy, who certainly is no Joe Lieberman, has until 2019 to get it straight before he comes up for re-election, plenty of time for visions and revisions that time will soon erase.

Don Pesci is a political writer based in Vernon, Conn.

Peter Certo: Americans' absurd exaggeration of the terror threat against them

Via otherwords.org

One in 3.5 million: That’s the risk you’ll die from a terrorist attack in the United States, Ohio State Prof. John Mueller estimates. Rounded generously, that chance comes to 3 one-hundred thousandths of a percent.

That’s not how most Americans see it, though.

In a recent Gallup poll, 51 percent of respondents said they’re personally worried about becoming a victim. If you’ll forgive my amateur number crunching, that means we’re overestimating the terrorist threat by factor of about 1.7 million.

No wonder people play the lottery.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is trying hard — with mixed results — not to get pushed into another Middle Eastern war. But that’s a tall order when Americans are more fearful of attacks than at any time since 9/11 — and when politicians like Ted Cruz are calling for bona fide war crimes like “carpet-bombing” Syria.

Obama tried hard to walk that line in his final State of the Union address.

He dismissed critics who likened the fight against the Islamic State to “World War III,” and insisted (correctly) that the group poses no existential threat to the United States. But he also assured listeners that the militants would be “rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”

To that end, Obama boasted, American planes had already launched 10,000 airstrikes on Iraq and Syria.

This appeal to the carpet-bombing constituency was Obama’s attempt to break the political taboo against counseling modesty about the threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, it only illustrates a much deeper taboo against admitting that foreign terrorism against our country is almost always a response to our foreign policies.

You know, policies like launching 10,000 airstrikes.

Political scientist Robert Pape should know. He’s studied every suicide attack on record.

Pape argues that while religious appeals — Islamic or otherwise — can help recruit suicide bombers, virtually all attacks can be reduced to political motives. “What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common,” he concludes, “is not religion.” Instead, there’s “a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention.”

In the years before al-Qaida pulled off the 9/11 attacks, for instance — and since, for that matter — Washington propped up repressive regimes in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which ruthlessly subjugated Islamist and liberal challengers alike. It armed and enabled Israel, even as the country bombed its Muslim (and Christian) neighbors in Palestine and Lebanon.

And in between its two full-scale invasions of Iraq, Washington imposed devastating sanctions that caused well over half a million Iraqi children to die from a lack of food or medicine.

In his letter explaining the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden mentioned all of these things and more to argue that U.S. intervention in the Muslim world had to be stopped. That’s an opinion shared by plenty of people who aren’t mass murderers.

Similarly, before it expanded to Syria, the infamous Islamic State emerged out of a Sunni rebellion against the repressive Shiite government Washington set up in Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein. To the extent that it’s engaged in international terrorism, ISIS has mostly targeted countries — like France, Turkey, Lebanon, and Russia — that have plunged into Syria on the side of its enemies.

None of this excuses terrorism in the least. But it strongly suggests that senseless wars only increase the risk of attack — especially when there’s not a bomb on this planet (much less 10,000 of them) powerful enough to put Iraq and Syria back together. Diplomats may do that someday. Carpet-bombing won’t.

Until then, a 0.00003 percent risk of terrorism is high enough. Why multiply it by acting rashly?

Peter Certo is the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus and the deputy editor of OtherWords at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org