Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Snare and a Delusion: Ron Paul’s Anti-Imperialism


Ron Paul is the only anti-war candidate running for president. More than that: he wants to do away with overseas bases and reduce the military to the strictly defensive force envisioned in the Constitution; one that only wages wars Congress declares. He also wants to dismantle the apparatus of empire and to halt American meddling in the affairs of foreign countries. This would entail, among other things, the end of all Bush-Obama wars, the demise of the military-industrial complex, and the termination of America’s virtually unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel.

Paul is also the only candidate calling for reversing the Bush-Obama assault on habeas corpus protections and on constitutionally protected due process rights. His views on domestic surveillance and similar intrusions into individuals’ lives and behaviors are more “liberal” than any other Republican candidate’s. But for one gaping exception, they’re more liberal too than Barack Obama’s: Paul’s libertarianism goes missing when the specter of homosexuality threatens, and he loses it when it comes to female sexuality. Thus he’s fine with infringing upon reproductive rights; holding, for example, that states should be permitted to outlaw abortion.

Paul’s anti-militarism, anti-interventionism, and fierce, though partial, support for individuals’ freedoms are not the only reasons he falls outside the governing consensus. His views on economic and social policies are even more discordant and unsettling to the status quo. And so there is a bipartisan consensus that his candidacy is a non-starter – a point with which our media heartily concur.

This is why, should his candidacy garner significantly more support than it already has, the powers that be across the entire political spectrum, from a to b, will mobilize to crush him. But it won’t come to that. His rivals for the Republican nomination are more than up to the task.

Still, as the only anti-war, anti-militarist, and anti-interventionist candidate in the national spotlight, and the most reliable civil libertarian (for straight men), Paul’s candidacy has some appeal for leftists, despite the appalling positions he takes on everything else. Supporting Ron Paul can therefore seem as good a way as any to express contempt for Barack Obama and his liberal supporters. Since they offer up fresh grounds for contempt on an almost daily basis, the temptation is palpable to discount Paul’s antiquarian economic philosophy, his hostility towards the labor movement, and his attraction to social policies of the kind that Ebenezer Scrooge endorsed before three ghosts and the Cratchit family set him straight.

Of course, acting on that temptation requires forgetting a lot – like the racist comments in newsletters released under his name and his voting record in Congress on issues affecting women and people of color. Yes, Paul has spoken out more than any of his Republican rivals or, for that matter, Barack Obama on the evils of institutional racism; the balance sheet is therefore equivocal. Even so, it is hard to dismiss all the reasons for rejecting Paul out of hand, even if doing so is tantamount to making common cause with the scaremongers on the MSNBC evening lineup. But some think it worth the effort – because Paul is against Obama for some of the right reasons, and no one else with his degree of visibility and voter appeal now is.

And so, the idea has been floated in publications, including CounterPunch, that routinely fault Obama from the left that it comes down to something of a toss-up: that if you hate Obama’s murder and mayhem, his unwillingness to hold the mighty accountable to the rule of law, and his disregard of traditional rights and freedoms more than you hate Ron Paul’s economic and social policies and his racist, sexist and homophobic leanings, it’s as reasonable as not to fall in behind the Paul campaign. Some even think that the case for Paul is stronger than that; that he’s our last great hope.

That it would come to this is understandable. Nevertheless, supporting Ron Paul would be a colossal mistake.

* * *
One very obvious reason why is that working for a Paul presidency is pointless because the Republican establishment will quash his campaign if they find they need to, and because the only part of his “message” that the Republican Party has any prospect of taking on board is the appalling part, not the part that some anti-imperialists are willing to overlook. In other words, there’s no “pragmatic” justification for signing on.

There may still be expressive reasons to back Paul over Obama, but surely there are ways to send a less ambiguous message – for instance, by backing Jill Stein of the Green Party of the United States or some other left opposition candidate. That would be a futile gesture too, but at least it would make an unequivocal point.

Arguably, futile gestures can play a beneficial role this election season, but at least let them be long-lived enough to have an effect. The Greens will be on Obama’s case until November and they’ll be around long after that; in all likelihood, the Paul campaign will sputter out just as soon as Mitt Romney clinches the Republican nomination.

There is a chance, some hope, that Paul will run against Romney on the Libertarian ticket. But he said he won’t, and the smart money agrees. If those in the know can be believed, it isn’t loyalty to the Republican Party that would hold him back, and neither would personal ambition. It’s because he doesn’t want to give the Republican establishment a reason to wreak vengeance on his son’s political career.

Parents should not be judged by their offspring. But, in this case, there is little daylight between the father and the junior Senator from Kentucky. That should give anyone considering supporting Paul’s candidacy on anti-imperialist grounds cause for concern. Rand Paul is one of the most high profile Ayn Rand fans on the national scene, and one of the most hapless figures in the Republican menagerie. With the Pauls as with the Bushes, it may not quite be a case of like son, like father – from generation to generation, it gets markedly worse. But could anyone this side of the Tea Party’s most benighted quarters really want to help continue the Paul line?

Therefore rather than expressing contempt for Bush-Obama politics by supporting someone whose domestic policy prescriptions make Mitt Romney’s look good, it would be better just to join the majority of one’s fellow Americans and sit the election out. Since it is never possible to tell what abstentions mean, that would send an equivocal message too. Better that, though, than flirting with Paul family values. Better still to support a candidate clearly to Obama’s left.

A slightly less obvious reason not to back Ron Paul is that electoral politics is not where change happens – especially now when masses of people, energized by last fall’s occupations, are poised to launch a spring offensive. Engaging with the electoral process is hard not to do in an election year, and already there are occupations of various candidates’ offices and speaking venues. This is as it should be; they deserve it, Obama especially. But the campaigns this time around are essentially irrelevant to the movement’s concerns. This would be true of the Paul campaign too, even if its flaws were less compromising, and even if it stood a chance of surviving into the spring.

It is also unclear what a President Paul or any president who would go against the tide could accomplish. Barack Obama came to power with the ruling class united behind him and with massive popular support. That would hardly be the case with Ron Paul, even if per impossibile he were to get the nomination and then to win in November. Obama had enough political capital in the months following the 2008 election to do a good deal more than he did. But he wasn’t up to the task; and it is far from clear, in any case, what he really wanted. Ron Paul seems more principled, or at least more ideological. But even a principled leader can only accomplish so much when the rest of the political class is subservient to the usual paymasters. Obama might have been able to get single-payer health insurance through Congress, for example; he could certainly have gotten a public option and a more robust stimulus. But even if Paul came to office with more political capital than Obama squandered, he could never cut the Pentagon down to size. No one could. That would require either a revolution or a period of years without a threat credible enough to sell to a gullible public. With an enemy like “terror” now inscribed in the collective consciousness, the former is the more realistic prospect.
* * *
For anti-imperialists to support Ron Paul is therefore not just a bad idea; it’s a waste of time and effort. But it’s not a waste of time or effort to examine the reasons that make Paul’s candidacy appealing.

It is telling that Paul does not claim to be anti-imperialist; he and his followers say instead that he is an “anti-interventionist.” They should be taken at their word.

To be sure, the practical difference between anti-interventionism and anti-imperialism is presently moot. But, as noted, Paul’s views are of no practical consequence. His advocacy of non-intervention will not affect on-going debates within the Republican fold; it will certainly not dislodge the neocons from their perch of influence. Therefore Paul’s anti-interventionism will not move the bipartisan consensus a notch. It is only from a theoretical standpoint that the difference matters — for now.

But now may not last for long. As the occupation movements mature, it could soon become timely to gain a clearer understanding of what genuine anti-imperialism involves. One way to gain a purchase on that question is to reflect on Paul’s rationale for taking the positions he does. His reasons contrast with the kinds of reasons opponents of America’s perpetual war regime and its ever-expanding military-national security apparatus need to take on board. The contrast is instructive.

Before his comparatively strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, hardly anyone gave Ron Paul’s views much thought – except for some ardent, mainly college-age, true believers who, in better times and places, might as easily have been drawn into one or another facet of (left-wing) radical politics. Those who did reflect on Paul’s politics mainly assumed that it was a hodge-podge of reactionary positions on domestic issues and far left (actually, just sensible) views on foreign affairs; the only common thread being that nearly everything he advocates falls outside the bounds of “respectable” opinion.

This is probably what most people still believe; and it is almost certainly what left-wingers who find his anti-war and anti-intervention positions appealing think. But the prevailing impression is mistaken; Paul’s views comprise a consistent whole.

It might seem that Paul’s anti-interventionism marks a return to the much disparaged “isolationism” of pre-World War II America. But this too is a mistake. The isolationists cautioned against interventions in European quarrels; they had no problem with asserting American power in the Western hemisphere, throughout the Pacific region or in East Asia. American isolationists were bullies on the order of their European counterparts; the difference was just that they chose to work their own side of the street. After World War II, the whole block became America’s turf, and the isolationist option therefore became moot. Paul’s politics is far from reality-based, but even he is not about to try to revive a position that events long ago made irrelevant. That Paul almost certainly wouldn’t want to do so, in any case, is to his credit. His anti-interventionism is more principled than the isolationism of old, and far less hypocritical.

In pre-modern times, one people would invade another for glory or for any of a variety of other reasons that nowadays defy understanding. But, even those hoary days, material gain was an important cause of conquest and extra-territorial meddling. In modern times, it is the only motive. Thus all modern theories of imperialism, not just those that claim derivation from Marx, assume its preeminence. Paul is not interested in explaining imperialism; the concept falls beyond his ken. His concern is only to get the United States to back off from what others mean when they use the term. But, as much as anyone who does seek to account for the phenomenon, his rationale is driven by the assumption that what matters is material gain.

In brief, he is a true believer in, and ardent defender of, the perfect goodness of untrammeled markets. A full-fledged free market theologian – or, as they would prefer to call themselves, economic theorist – would account for aggressive wars and other efforts by one people to dominate another by claiming that these are all untoward consequences of government intrusions into otherwise beneficent market mechanisms. They would argue that states distort markets; that they create bureaucratic inefficiencies and encourage rent seeking, efforts to gain riches not through market mechanisms but by obtaining government favors. Then they would explain America’s bloated and over-used military and its ravenous military-industrial-national security complex along these lines. They would also account for the problems confronting the domestic economy in the same way. If only free markets and private property were left alone, people would be as well off as they can possibly be in this best of all possible worlds.

This is a lame position to defend. In this respect, free market theology is like the genuine article. But, as we know from the genuine article, with enough ingenuity, arguments can be concocted in ways that obscure their flaws and that mask the preposterousness of the conclusions they purport to sustain. Don’t expect Paul to make those arguments however; he’s only one of the faithful – a consumer, not a producer, of bad ideas.

For garnering votes in the primaries and caucuses, it’s just as well. Theology is nothing if not arcane, and the Republican electorate disdains subtleties as much as it disdains everything else that is or purports to be intellectually serious. Better just to take it for granted that others can make a case for what Paul assumes. It works for God; why not for free markets too?

Whether he would make anything explicit of it or not, the rationale undergirding Paul’s positions posits that wars and foreign meddling are deviations from true capitalism, not inevitable consequences of it. This conflicts with what all plausible theories of imperialism contend, but so what; theologians are accustomed to offending what evidence and sound reason establish.

Therefore Paul would bring the troops home not for any of the reasons genuine anti-imperialists would — because they’re on the wrong side of liberation struggles or because their military adventures sustain a long overripe capitalist order – but because what they’re doing, indeed their very existence, is, by his lights and according to the theology he assumes, bad for business. Paul wants to save capitalism from forces that he thinks lead it astray; forces that, in truth, are inherent in the economic system he supports. If he is on the side of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is for no reason other than that peace is, by his lights, a by-product of getting capitalism right.

It is hard to see how anyone with a modicum of sense could fail to see that just the opposite is true. But this is the way of theology. Endeavoring to make the lesser argument appear the stronger is older than God.
* * *

Because the free market is Paul’s God, and because, following the market theologians, he understands the market’s commandments as he does, Paul would withhold the blank check America gives Israel. Justice has nothing to do with it, and neither does solidarity with victims of oppression. Nor do Paul’s positions on Middle Eastern politics reflect a geopolitical conception at odds with the neoconservatives’; their concerns are not his. The problem, for Paul, is only that supporting foreign states is not something sound, limited governments ought to do. Their job is to assure that free markets work their effects; that, and nothing more.

It is a stretch to attribute coherent thoughts to the other GOP contenders, but to the extent one can, it would be fair to say that, in some vague way, they share Paul’s views on limited government; after all, they say they are libertarians too. But they are also, in varying degrees, in the thrall of a strain of anglo-Protestant evangelical theology, dispensationalism, according to which, for the end time to come, there must be a real world Jewish state in the Holy Land. Before the Israeli Right decided, in the 1970s, to cultivate the crackpots now running the show in evangelical circles, dispensationalism was a fringe, indeed heretical, line of thought. By now, it is almost mainstream in the evangelical community, the most vocal and active component of the Republican base. And so each of Paul’s rivals pay Israeli governments homage, whether from genuine conviction of sheer opportunism is impossible to say.

To the extent that they care about consistency, they, like the faithful whose votes they covet, simply assume that the commandments of the market somehow accord with the will of their Almighty God. To entertain the possibility that Paul might be right would require too much thinking. But, to listen to them talk, on the off-chance that he is right, as they might well conclude if they understood their own positions better, their good pal Netanyahu’s wishes would take precedence every time. It’s the least they could do since he was the one who pioneered their strategy of contemptuous obduracy for putting Obama in his place. Besides that, what God hath given, let not Mammon take away.

Paul counts himself among the godly too. Would that in this respect he were closer to Ayn Rand! But his theology is, by all accounts, more orthodox than the Christian Zionists’ – he sees the end time as a theological construct, not a political project. And so he is not compelled, as the others are, to look upon Israel and Palestine differently from the way he looks upon other potential foreign entanglements, even if he would say, if pressed, that the Creator does indeed takes a special interest in the real estate that lies at the heart of their conflict. For Paul as for other Christians outside the Zionist ambit, the Holy Land’s problems are for its inhabitants to work out on their own. God won’t mind in any case. More importantly, anything else is bad for business, and therefore not our business.

One might think, nevertheless, that in practice Paul’s position is a good one, even if his reasons for holding it leave everything to be desired. But, again, that doesn’t matter because Paul’s campaign will have no practical effect at all – except perhaps on economic policy, where his views, being congenial to the myopic interests of influential Republican backers and being of a piece with those of his rivals for the nomination, might well succeed in moving the GOP even farther to the right, and the bipartisan consensus along with it.

The moral is plain: leave anti-imperialism to anti-imperialists, and forget about Ron Paul. It’s a snare and a delusion, and there are too many better ways brewing to fight back against Obama’s last gasp Reaganite politics, and to resume humanity’s forward march.

Andrew Levine is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press

Basu: 20-cent 'theft' leads to firing of disabled worker

There are some situations in which almost any comment would seem superfluous. This may be one of them.

A complaint was filed this week with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on behalf of a 43-year-old mentally disabled man from Clive, who was fired in November from a Hy-Vee supermarket after 25 years there. According to the complaint, he was accused of theft for trying to cash in 20 cents worth of bottle-deposit credits that a manager claimed were not his.

Kyle Dowie’s job involved handling bottles and cans brought in for redemption to the Urbandale Hy-Vee on 86th Street. His mother, Jean Ann Johnson, said her son has at times picked up credit slips left in the recycling machines by customers, thinking they might come back for them. On Nov. 2, while redeeming $3.75 worth of bottles brought from home, she said he fished an additional 20 cents worth of credits dated in September out of his pocket and presented them for payment.

The civil rights complaint, which alleges discrimination based on his disability, says the store’s operations manager, Curt Sills, accused Dowie of stealing the 20 cents and fired him.

Dowie’s statement says, “I am mentally retarded, but Hy-Vee did not take that into account when ending my employment over twenty cents.”

According to Johnson, Sills also accused Dowie — with no evidence — of going to other Hy-Vee stores to cash in receipts, which Dowie denies doing. His mother said he had been written up before for redeeming unclaimed credit slips, though the most recent time was eight years ago.

She said he’s honest but has gotten confused about slips he was holding. He has consistently gotten excellent
performance reviews, she said.

Hy-Vee isn’t talking, citing confidentiality in personnel matters. But Dowie’s lawyer, Brooke Timmer, calls it “one of those cases that just gets my blood boiling.”

If the facts are as claimed, where is the crime here? So what if the employee took a few dimes worth of unclaimed redemptions? It’s not like it was the store’s money to begin with.

Iowa State University meteorologist; climate change small factor in weather

Des Moines Register Staff Blogs 21, 2012Elwynn Taylor

Iowa suffered its hottest July since the mid-1950s last year and has received below-average moisture since, but agricultural meteorologist Elwyn Taylor of Iowa State University told the Land Investment Expo Friday that climate change accounts for only about 5 percent of whatever weather patterns emerge at a given time.

Taylor told the group that weather patterns tend to run in cycles as long as two decades, and that Iowa has emerged from a period of relatively mild, stable weather to a pattern of colder winters and perhaps hotter, drier summers similar to what happened in the 1950s and again in the 1970s.

“I don’t discount man-made impacts of climate change,’ Taylor said in respones to a question. “But I would put the impact of climate change on our weather right now at no more than 5 percent.”

A greater impact on Iowa’s weather this spring, Taylor said, would be the continuation of the ocean-cooling, La Nina effect that tends to disrupt normal weather patterns. An extension of the current three-year La Nina pattern, he said, could result in a dry spring for Iowa.

If so, that could be bad news for Iowa farmers who already are dealing with inadequate soil moistures in more than half of the state. Western Iowa is particularly dry, with as much as 90 percent of the northwest quadrant classified as in severe drought and with soil moisture deficiencies of 90 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The snow this weekend won’t help much. ISU agronomist Roger Elmore said that while snow does perform a useful service in holding down wind erosion during winter, it accounts for very little new moisture to the soil because the ground is frozen.

The general ratio of snow to precipitation is given as one inch of “effective rainfall,” as agronomists like to call it, for each ten inches of snow.

For more news about Iowa agriculture and energy click here for the Register’s Green Fields page on Facebook.

Bradley Manning, Washington, and the Blood of Civilians


Tomgram: Chase Madar, Accusing WikiLeaks of Murder

By Chase Madar
Posted on January 19, 2012, Printed on January 21, 2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called it “utterly deplorable.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “total dismay.”  General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was “deeply disturbed” that the actions in question would “erode the reputation of our joint force.”  Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos declared them to be “wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history,” and Senator John McCain claimed they made him “so sad.”
Seldom have so many high officials in Washington lined up to denounce an event so quickly or emphatically.  I’m talking, of course, about the video of four wisecracking U.S. Marines in Afghanistan pissing on what might be three dead Taliban or simply -- since we may never know whose bodies those are -- the corpses of three dead Afghans.  (“Have a good day, buddy... Golden -- like a shower, ” you hear them say, seemingly addressing the bodies.) The video went viral in the Muslim world, and the Obama administration moved fast to contain the damage.  After all, no one wanted another Abu Ghraib.
On this subject Washington has been remarkably united (with the exception of Rick Perry, who offered a half-hearted defense of the Marines -- “to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top”). Pardon me, though, if I find this chorus of condemnation to be too little, too late.  It feels like a malign version of one of Casablanca’s famous final lines: “Round up the usual suspects.”
After all, these last years in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan have been utterly deplorable, totally dismaying, and deeply disturbing from start to finish.  On occasion after occasion,U.S. troops, aka “America’s heroes,” as well as private contractors and others in Washington’s employ have run riot.  There is no way to catalogue what’s been deplorable, dismaying, and deeply disturbing, but if you wanted to start, it really wouldn't be that hard.
In fact, you wouldn't have to go farther than this website.  If, for instance, it was deeply disturbing pictures taken by our troops you were curious about, you could have read David Swanson’s 2006 piece "The Iraq War as a Trophy Photo," which focused on the“war porn” photos U.S. soldiers were already taking (or even setting up) and then proudly submitting to an actual porn website for posting (something, by the way, that’s still going on).
Or if checkpoint killings by U.S. soldiers in Iraq were what you were interested in, all you had to do was read Chris Hedges at TomDispatch in 2008, based on interviews he did with American soldiers for the book Collateral Damage: “Iraqi families,” he wrote, “were routinely fired upon for getting too close to checkpoints, including an incident where an unarmed father driving a car was decapitated by a .50-caliber machine gun in front of his small son.”  ("'It's fun to shoot sh-t up,' a soldier said.") And if his word wasn’t enough, you could turn to U.S. Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal who, in a moment of bluntness in April 2010, commented: “We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”
Or consider something no one has yet denounced as deplorable, dismaying, or deeply disturbing: the obliteration of wedding parties.  Over the years, TomDispatch has counted up at least six weddings in Iraq and Afghanistan that were wiped out in part or full by the U.S. Air Force.  All of these, including the first in December 2001 in which a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, armed with precision weapons, killed 110 of 112 Afghan revelers, were reported individually.  But next to no one in our world thought them dismaying or disturbing enough to write about them collectively or, for that matter, to deplore them.  (Of a wedding in Western Iraq in which U.S. planes killed 40 people, including wedding musicians and children, Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, asked: "How many people go to the middle of the desert... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?")
The troves of documents leaked to the website WikiLeaks, for which Army Pfc. Bradley Manning has been charged, certainly caused a stir, but the carnage in them was, in truth, easily available without access to a single secret document.  Washington’s crocodile tears can’t wash away the stain of all this on American honor, as TomDispatch regular Chase Madar, author of the upcoming book The Passion of Bradley Manning, makes all too clear.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the coming trial of Bradley Manning, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Blood on Whose Hands?  By Chase Madar

Who in their right mind wants to talk about, think about, or read a short essay about... civilian war casualties?  What a bummer, this topic, especially since our Afghan, Iraq, and other ongoing wars were advertised as uplifting acts of philanthropy: wars to spread security, freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law, etc.

A couple hundred thousand dead civilians have a way of making such noble ideals seem like dollar-store tinsel.  And so, throughout our decade-long foreign policy debacle in the Greater Middle East, we in the U.S. have generally agreed that no one shall commit the gaucherie of dwelling on (and “dwelling on” = fleetingly mentioned) civilian casualties. Washington elites may squabble over some things, but as for foreigners killed by our numerous wars, our Beltway crew adheres to a sullen code of omertà.

Club rules do, however, permit one loophole: Washington officials may bemoan the nightmare of civilian casualties -- but only if they can be pinned on a 24-year-old Army private first class named Bradley Manning.

Pfc. Manning, you will remember, is the young soldier who is soon to be court-martialed for passing some 750,000 military and diplomatic documents, a large chunk of them classified, to the website WikiLeaks.  Among those leaks, there was indeed some serious stuff about how Americans dealt with civilians in invaded countries.  For instance, the documents revealed that the U.S. military, then the occupying force in Iraq, did little or nothing to prevent Iraqi authorities from torturing prisoners in a variety of gruesome ways, sometimes to death.

Then there was that gun-sight video -- unclassified but buried in classified material -- of an American Apache helicopter opening fire on a crowd on a Baghdad street, gunning down a dozen men, including two Reuters employees, and injuring more, including children.  There were also those field reports about how jumpy American soldiers repeatedly shot down civilians at roadside checkpoints; about night raids gone wrong both in Iraq andAfghanistan; and a count of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, a tally whose existence the U.S. military had previously denied possessing.

Together, these leaks and many others offered a composite portrait of military and political debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan whose grinding theme has been civilian casualties, a fact not much noted here in the U.S.  A tiny number of low-ranking American soldiers have been held to account for rare instances of premeditated murder of civilians, but most of the troops who kill civilians in the midst of the chaos of war are not tried, much less convicted.  We don’t talk about these cases a lot either.  On the other hand, officials of all types make free with lusty condemnations of Bradley Manning, whose leaks are luridly credited with potential (though not actual) deaths.

Putting Lives in Danger

“[WikiLeaks] might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the release of the Afghan War Logs in July 2010.  This was, of course, the same Admiral Mullen who had endorsed a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which would lead to a tremendous “surge” in casualties among civilians and soldiers alike.  Here are counts -- undoubtedly undercounts, in fact -- of real Afghan corpses that, at least in part, resulted from the policy he supported: 2,412 in 2009, 2,777 in 2010, 1,462 in the first half 2011, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.  As far as anyone knows, here are the corpses that resulted from the release of those WikiLeaks documents: 0.  (And don’t forget, thestalemate war with the Taliban has not budged in the period since that surge.)  Who, then, has blood on his hands, Pfc. Manning -- or Admiral Mullen?

Of course the admiral is hardly alone.  In fact, whole tabernacle choirs have joined in the condemnation of Manning and WikiLeaks for “causing” carnage, thanks to their disclosures.

Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, also spoke sternly of Manning’s leaks, accusinghim of “moral culpability.”  He added, “And that's where I think the verdict is ‘guilty’ on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences."

This was, of course, the same Robert Gates who pushed for escalation in Afghanistan in 2009 and, in March 2011, flew to the Kingdom of Bahrain to offer his own personal “reassurance of support” to a ruling monarchy already busy shooting and torturing nonviolent civilian protesters.  So again, when it comes to blood and indifference to consequences, Bradley Manning -- or Robert Gates?

Nor have such attitudes been confined to the military. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Manning’s (alleged) leak of 250,000 diplomatic cables of being “an attack on the international community” that “puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”

As a senator, of course, she supported the invasion of Iraq in flagrant contravention of the U.N. Charter.  She was subsequently aleading hawk when it came to escalating and expanding the Afghan War, and is now responsible for disbursing an annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt’s ruling junta whose forces have repeatedly opened fire on nonviolent civilian protesters.  So who’s been attacking the international community and putting lives in danger, Bradley Manning -- or Hillary Clinton?

Harold Koh, former Yale Law School dean, liberal lion, and currently the State Department’s top legal adviser, has announced that the same leaked diplomatic cables “could place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals -- from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security.”

This is the same Harold Koh who, in March 2010, provided a tortured legal rationale for the Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, despite the inevitable and well-documented civilian casualties they cause.  So who is risking the lives of countless innocent individuals, Bradley Manning -- or Harold Koh?

Much of the media have clambered aboard the bandwagon, blaming WikiLeaks and Manning for damage done by wars they once energetically cheered on.

In early 2011, to pick just one example from the ranks of journalism, New Yorker writer George Packer professed his horror that WikiLeaks had released a memo marked “secret/noforn” listing spots throughout the world of vital strategic or economic interest to the United States.  Asked by radio host Brian Lehrer whether this disclosure had crossed a new line by making a gratuitous gift to terrorists, Packer replied with an appalled yes.

Now, among the “secrets” contained in this document are the facts that the Strait of Gibraltar is a vital shipping lane and that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in minerals. Have we Americans become so infantilized that factoids of basic geography must be considered state secrets?  (Maybe best not to answer that question.)  The “threat” of this document’s release has since been roundly debunked by various military intellectuals.

Nevertheless, Packer’s response was instructive.  Here was a typical liberal hawk, who had can-canned to the post-9/11 drumbeat of war as a therapeutic wake-up call from “the bland comforts of peace,” now affronted by WikiLeaks’ supposed recklessness.  Civilian casualties do not seem to have been on Packer’s mind when he supported the invasion of Iraq, nor has he written much about them since.

In an enthusiastic 2006 New Yorker essay on counterinsurgency warfare, for example, the very words “civilian casualties” never come up, despite their centrality to COIN theory, practice, and history.  It is a fact that, as Operation Enduring Freedom shifted to counterinsurgency tactics in 2009, civilian casualties in Afghanistan skyrocketed.  So, for that matter, have American military casualties.  (More than half of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan occurred in the past three years.)

Liberal hawks like Packer may consider WikiLeaks out of bounds, but really, who in these last years has been the most reckless, Bradley Manning -- or George Packer and some of his pro-war colleagues at the New Yorkerlike Jeffrey Goldberg (who has since left for the Atlantic Monthly, where he’s been busily clearing a path for war with Iran) and editor David Remnick?

Centrist and liberal nonprofit think tanks have been no less selectively blind when it comes to civilian carnage. Liza Goitein, a lawyer at the liberal-minded Brennan Center at NYU Law School, has also taken out after Bradley Manning.  In the midst of an otherwise deft diagnosis of Washington’s compulsive urge to over-classify everything -- the federal government classifies an amazing 77 million documents a year -- she pauses just long enough to accuse Manning of “criminal recklessness” for putting civilians named in the Afghan War logs in peril -- “a disclosure,” as she puts it, “that surely endangers their safety.”

It’s worth noting that, until the moment Goitein made this charge, not a single report or press release issued by the Brennan Center has ever so much as uttered a mention of civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military.  The absence of civilian casualties is almost palpable in the work of the Brennan Center’s program in  “Liberty and National Security.”  For example, this program’s 2011 report “Rethinking Radicalization,” which explored effective, lawful ways to prevent American Muslims from turning terrorist, makes not a single reference to the tens of thousands of well-documented civilian casualties caused by American military force in the Muslim world, which according to many scholars is the prime mover of terrorist blowback.  The report on how to combat the threat of Muslim terrorists, written by Pakistan-born Faiza Patel, does not, in fact, even contain the words “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “drone strike,” “Pakistan” or “civilian casualties.”

This is almost incredible, because terrorists themselves have freely confessed that what motivated their acts of wanton violence has been the damage done by foreign military occupation back home or simply in the Muslim world.  Asked by a federal judge why he tried to blow up Times Square with a car bomb in May 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad answered that he was motivated by the civilian carnage the U.S. had caused in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  How could any report about “rethinking radicalization” fail to mention this?  Although the Brennan Center does much valuable work, Goitein's selective finger-pointing on civilian casualties is emblematic of a blindness to war’s consequences widespread among American institutions.

American Military Whistleblowers

Knowledge may indeed have its risks, but how many civilian deaths can actually be traced to the WikiLeaks revelations?  How many military deaths?  To the best of anyone’s knowledge, not a single one.  After much huffing and puffing, the Pentagon has quietly denied -- and then denied again -- that there is any evidence at all of the Taliban targeting the Afghan civilians named in the leaked war logs.
In the end, the “grave risks” involved in the publication of the War Logs and of those State Department documents have been wildly exaggerated.  Embarrassment, yes.  A look inside two grim wars and the workings of imperial diplomacy, yes.  Blood, no.

On the other hand, the grave risks that were hidden in those leaked documents, as well as in all the other government distortions, cover-ups, and lies of the past decade, have been graphically illustrated in aortal red.  The civilian carnage caused by our rush to war in Iraq and by our deeply entrenched stalemate of a war in Afghanistan (and the Pakistani tribal borderlands) is not speculative or theoretical but all-too real.

And yet no one anywhere has been held to much account: not in the political class, not in the military, not in the think tanks, not among the scholars, nor the media.  Only one individual, it seems, will pay, even if he actually spilled none of the blood.  Our foreign policy elites seem to think Bradley Manning is well-cast for the role of fall guy and scapegoat.  This is an injustice.

Someday, it will be clearer to Americans that Pfc. Manning has joined the ranks of great American military whistleblowers like Dan Ellsberg (who was first in his class at Marine officer training school); Vietnam War infantryman Ron Ridenhour, who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre; and the sailors and marines who, in 1777, reported the torture of British captives by their politically connected commanding officer.  These servicemen, too, were vilified in their times. Today, we honor them, as someday Pfc. Manning will be honored.

Chase Madar is the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, to be published by OR Books in February.  He is an attorney in New York, aTomDispatch regular, and a frequent contributor to the London Review of BooksLe Monde DiplomatiqueAmerican Conservative Magazine, andCounterPunch.  (To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the coming trial of Bradley Manning, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) He tweets@ChMadar.

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Copyright 2012 Chase Madar 

© 2012 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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Etta James Dies at 73; Voice Behind ‘At Last

via Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Etta James in the studio in Chicago with the Chess Records founder Phil Chess, left, and the producer Ralph Bass in 1960.More Photos »
Etta James, whose powerful, versatile and emotionally direct voice could enliven the raunchiest blues as well as the subtlest love songs, most indelibly in her signature hit, “At Last,” died on Friday morning in Riverside, Calif. She was 73.
Her manager, Lupe De Leon, said that the cause was complications of leukemia. Ms. James, who died at Riverside Community Hospital, had been undergoing treatment for some time for a number of conditions, including leukemia and dementia. She also lived in Riverside.
Ms. James was not easy to pigeonhole. She is most often referred to as a rhythm and blues singer, and that is how she made her name in the 1950s with records like “Good Rockin’ Daddy.” She is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.
She was also comfortable, and convincing, singing pop standards, as she did in 1961 with “At Last,” which was written in 1941 and originally recorded by Glenn Miller’s orchestra. And among her four Grammy Awards (including a lifetime-achievement honor in 2003) was one for best jazz vocal performance, which she won in 1995 for the album “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.”
Regardless of how she was categorized, she was admired. Expressing a common sentiment, Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in 1990 that she had “one of the great voices in American popular music, with a huge range, a multiplicity of tones and vast reserves of volume.”
For all her accomplishments, Ms. James had an up-and-down career, partly because of changing audience tastes but largely because of drug problems. She developed a heroin habit in the 1960s; after she overcame it in the 1970s, she began using cocaine. She candidly described her struggles with addiction and her many trips to rehab in her autobiography, “Rage to Survive,” written with David Ritz (1995).
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 1938. Her mother, Dorothy Hawkins, was 14 at the time; her father was long gone, and Ms. James never knew for sure who he was, although she recalled her mother telling her that he was the celebrated pool player Rudolf Wanderone, better known as Minnesota Fats. She was reared by foster parents and moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was 12.
She began singing at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles at 5 and turned to secular music as a teenager, forming a vocal group with two friends. She was 15 when she made her first record, “Roll With Me Henry,” which set her own lyrics to the tune of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ recent hit “Work With Me Annie.” When some disc jockeys complained that the title was too suggestive, it was changed to “The Wallflower,” although the record itself was not.
“The Wallflower” rose to No. 2 on the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1954. As was often the case in those days with records by black performers, a toned-down version was soon recorded by a white singer and found a wider audience: Georgia Gibbs’s version, with the title and lyric changed to “Dance With Me, Henry,” was a No. 1 pop hit in 1955. (Its success was not entirely bad news for Ms. James. She shared the songwriting royalties with Mr. Ballard and the bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis, who had arranged for her recording session. Mr. Otis died on Tuesday.)
In 1960 Ms. James was signed by Chess Records, the Chicago label that was home to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and other leading lights of black music. She quickly had a string of hits, including “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Trust in Me” and “At Last,” which established her as Chess’s first major female star.
She remained with Chess well into the 1970s, reappearing on the charts after a long absence in 1967 with the funky and high-spirited “Tell Mama.” In the late ’70s and early ’80s she was an opening act for the Rolling Stones.
After decades of touring, recording for various labels and drifting in and out of the public eye, Ms. James found herself in the news in 2009 after Beyoncé Knowles recorded a version of “At Last” closely modeled on hers. (Ms. Knowles played Ms. James in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records,” a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Chess.) Ms. Knowles also performed “At Last” at an inaugural ball for President Obama in Washington.
When the movie was released, Ms. James had kind words for Ms. Knowles’s portrayal. But in February 2009, referring specifically to the Washington performance, she told an audience, “I can’t stand Beyoncé,” and threatened to “whip” the younger singer for doing “At Last.” She later said she had been joking, but she did add that she wished she had been invited to sing the song herself for the new president.
Ms. James’s survivors include her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills; two sons, Donto and Sametto James; and four grandchildren.
Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.
A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”

Dismantling Detroit

Dismantling Detroit: The filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady look at young men who salvage scrap metal from Detroit’s derelict buildings, set against the backdrop of globalization.