Bradley Manning and the War on Whistle Blowers

Bradley ManningThese really are the times that try men’s souls. And I wonder whether the liberal apologists for this administration will continue to think cheery thoughts while basic levels accountability are abandoned. The sunshine patriot will shrink from holding his country accountable; only those who demand transparency, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Bradley Manning has admitted to releasing classified documents. But he is claiming innocence regarding the more serious charges like aiding and abetting the enemy. This all ends badly for a young man who is the very definition of a whistle blower. The problem is that the United States takes all of this stuff very seriously. And sadly, under Obama it has gotten even worse. What is it about people who become president that they go crazy over secrecy? Such behavior should cause them to be disqualified for the job.

Instead, the government manages to focus all of its power on relatively powerless men like Bradley Manning who just want to get the truth out. Reading parts of his 35 page testimony, it is clear that he is a typical whistle blower: a once true believer who was crushed to find out that the shining city on the hill was a mirage. He tried to get his superiors to act on various aspects of the disinformation campaign that the government seems to think is their primary function. When that failed, he tried to get regular news agencies to listen: Washington Post, the New York Times and Politico. And like the corporate lackeys we know these outlets to be, he got nowhere.

And that brought him to WikiLeaks. Where the major media in the United States are primarily concerned about helping the government, WikiLeaks doesn’t care who they embarrass. And that’s mostly what this is all about. The Manning leaks embarrassed the United States government. There were important stories in the documents, of course. They showed many cases of the government denying actual crimes and generally trying to finesse the news. But there are no troop movements here. There is nothing that should have been classified.

Even the charges that Manning has admitted to could keep him in jail for decades. But the government will almost certainly try to prosecute him for the more insane charges. Yochai Benkler wrote today in The New Republic, The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case. His basic argument is that this isn’t about Manning; it is about sending a single to whistle blowers everywhere: we would have prosecuted Death Throat if we could have. He wrote:

It makes the Manning prosecution a clear and present danger to journalism in the national security arena. The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison—more than enough to deter future whistleblowers. But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too.

This is a case we should all be very interested in. Will Obama supporters continue to claim that everything is fine as long as such a good and noble president is in office? Will they imagine Obama will pardon Manning before leaving office? If they do, then the Obama administration must be passing out some very sweet Kool-Aid, because these people are guzzling the stuff.

Mythical Government Waste

Wasted MoneyConservatives have a special fondness for government waste. As I pointed out leading up to the Fiscal Cliff, John Boehner seemed to think there were wasteful government programs, he just needed Obama to tell him what they were. This goes along with polls that shows that the American people want to cut government spending. But when asked about specific programs, they always want to continue funding those—in many cases they want to increase that funding.

There is one exception. Americans want to cut foreign aid. Of course, that wouldn’t do much because foreign aid is generally a bit less than 1% of the federal budget. But Americans think it is much higher. An American Public Opinion poll from two years ago found that the median American thought that foreign aid was 25% of the budget. So there you have it! In the minds of most Americans, we could balance the budget and then some (Quite some!) if we just stopped handing money out to people who hate us.

This kind of thinking is pushed by the conservative movement without actively lying. It is the reason we have Republican politicians constantly talking about “waste” without mentioning what the waste is. It is just a given that the government wastes money. When they do, they present spending on projects that sound wasteful but almost never are.

This process unfortunately dates back to a democrat, William Proxmire, who gave out the Golden Fleece Awards from 1975 to 1988. Much of the supposed waste that Proxmire noted was good and even critical government spending. He, like his modern day conservative heirs, liked to go after research contracts. It is often easy to dismiss as crazy a piece of research based only on its title.

Last year, “Michael” at End of the American Dream wrote, 30 Stupid Things The Government Is Spending Money On. But there are many other lists to be found throughout the conservative media ecosystem. What’s really interesting is that it contains “wasteful government spending” claims that I’ve heard make the rounds this week:

The federal government has shelled out $3 million to researchers at the University of California at Irvine to fund their research on video games such as World of Warcraft. Wouldn’t we all love to have a “research job” like that?

As it turns out, this program is using video games that have their own social and economic systems to study some social science problems. This is fairly standard stuff. A lot of economists use these programs to study markets. They are in effect large computer models with lots of free research subjects. Now, I can’t say that the research is a particularly great use of money. I don’t know, because I haven’t be able to find more than the briefest of summaries of it. And this makes me think that the conservatives who are complaining about it know no more than I do.

But I do know about other things. The article complained, “The U.S. government spent $200,000 on ‘a tattoo removal program’ in Mission Hills, California.” Here’s the problem: this is part of a gang prevention project. Gang members get out of jail and want to go straight. But they have all these gang tattoos. (In one case, a young man had “Fuck You” tattooed on his forehead!) Does this sound like government waste? It sounds like violence prevention to me.

Some of the items do seem ridiculous. Take for example, “The U.S. government once spent 2.6 million dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly.” Of course, as usual, it sounds worse than it is. This is a program to “establish and evaluate whether an alcohol and HIV intervention center can assist in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS among sex workers in China.” Now maybe that money isn’t worth spending. We could discuss that. But we can’t do anything if the conversation stops at: government teaching prostitutes to drink responsibly, te he!

And some of the “waste” is just pathetic. A great example of this: “The U.S. Postal Service spent $13,500 on a single dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.” There are several problems here. First, $13,500? Really?! That’s the best they can come up with for the “30 stupid things”? But it’s worse, because the government didn’t pay for that dinner. The USPS is independent; the government doesn’t fund it at all. And finally, that dinner was for potential corporate customers—a completely legitimate expense.

What all this shows is that the conservative movement wants to imply that the government is this hugely wasteful institution. The data just don’t indicate this. So they mislead and even lie. It is shameful.

Justin Bieber’s 12th Birthday

Justin Bieber on his 12th BirthdayJustin Bieber turns 12 today. It is the eighth time he has turned 12. He’s like Peter Pan: he can’t grow up. I don’t know why Peter Pan couldn’t grow up. In Justin Bieber’s case, it would ruin his brand.

I am quite serious when I say that Bieber’s entire brand is being a cute little boy. This is also Taylor Swift’s brand. But it isn’t her birthday.

I don’t have a lot more to say about Bieber than I’ve already said. Let me just quote from my article, Justin Bieber and the End of Western Culture:

From the first syllable out of Bieber’s mouth, I was assaulted by the worst technological innovation since the atomic bomb: pitch correction. I hear it everywhere. It first came to prominence in Cher’s hit Believe (You know: “Do you believe in love after love?”). The effect on Cher’s voice is pitch correction used at a high level. But it was an effect. It wasn’t being used because Cher (1) couldn’t sing in tune or (2) had a very weak voice that required some help. After that song, the effect became a fad. It finally died away, but afterwards, there was this residue of the stuff. I could always hear this effect used on some (many) singers’ voices. It wasn’t as strong as in the case of Believe, but it was there nonetheless. And then it hit me: these people (e.g. Taylor Swift) couldn’t sing in tune! Why not? That makes the job of record companies much easier: find someone cute who can move. The pitch correction works in real time, so these tone-deaf savants can even perform live. Ladies and gentlemen: Island Records recording artist Justin Bieber!

So happy birthday Young Bieber. Thank you for doing your best to destroy my culture. My mother always said, “Go with your strengths!” And that seems to be yours.

Afterword

Some decent artists or at least entertainers were born today. Ron Howard is 59. The fine young British actor Jack Davenport is 39. Alan Thicke is 66. The last remaining Hogan’s Hero, Robert Clary is 87. The fine actress Joan Hackett would have been 79 today, but she died at 49 of ovarian cancer.

Gratefully, we don’t need to suffer through another year with Robert Bork on the planet. But he did make it to 85. What is it with conservatives? Do they live so long because they’re rich or is it just to spite the world?

Shared Delusions of Ross and Ezra

Ross DouthatRoss Douthat had some interesting things to say the other day, Rand Paul, Realism, and Republican Reform. It is mostly about how Rand Paul, in terms of foreign policy, is a non-interventionist (His best quality!) but is trying to re-brand himself as a realist like Colin Powell.

The problem that Rand is having is that in the Republican Party, no one listens to him because he doesn’t think the best thing in the world is spending all our money on the military and going to war as often as possible. By becoming a realist, he can make more acceptable arguments like, “Sure we could go to war with Iran but it would cost a lot of American lives and money.”

Republicans Don’t Like Reality-Based Foreign Policy

I’m sure you’ve already caught the problem with this approach: Republicans are just as much against reality-based foreign policy as they are against non-intervention. Douthat rightly notes that Republicans don’t have a general foreign policy platform.

Instead, they just have gut feelings: military spending is good; Iran is bad; Israel is always right; and, of course, “We’re number one!” Douthat claims that the party could be sold on a realist platform, but that it requires that people like Rand Paul actively sell it.

Why Douthat Is Delusional

What Douthat is missing about Republican foreign policy thinking is the same thing Ezra Klein missed about Republican economic thinking: all the things they care about are not created equal. Above all else, Republicans want a foreign policy platform that tells them that America is the best and baddest.

They don’t particularly want to go to war with Iran over vague Israeli ideas that a country in the region might someday have a nuclear bomb like they themselves have. They just want to make a big deal of the fact that if America goes to war with some country, that country is fucked (regardless of all the recent lessons from history).

It is good that Douthat is talking about ways that the Republican Party could actually change as opposed to just talk nicer. But his hopes are bound to be dashed, for the same reason that everyone else in the party only wants to deal with cosmetic changes. The main thing that drives Republican voters is the thought that America has gone hopelessly wrong. This requires dramatic changes. And the voters are no closer to accepting a realist approach to foreign affairs than they are measures to make the economy more egalitarian.