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The Tinderbox Theory of the Republic

1:24 pm in Uncategorized by lvgaldieri

Glenn Beck favored radio listeners today with excerpts from his email correspondence with Sarah Palin over the shootings in Tucson.

Both correspondents were naturally eager to distance themselves from Jared Loughner’s murderous rampage at the Safeway on Saturday, and say that they abhor violence. They come in peace. “Sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer,” Beck writes:

I know you are feeling the same heat, if not much more on this. I want you to know you have my support. But please look into protection for your family. An attempt on you could bring the republic down.[emphasis mine]

What’s most striking here is not the patently absurd notion that “an attempt” on Sarah Palin’s life would or “could bring the republic down”; it’s the very idea of the republic underlying it.

That is the idea of the republic as a tinderbox. Apparently the place is ready to explode at the slightest provocation. In Beck’s view, or self-serving conceit, most Americans are locked and loaded, ready for civil war. We are teetering on the brink of revolution. Don’t tread on us. In our distressed republic, good people have been pushed to the limit. We are ready to resist tyranny at every turn, or at least before every commercial break, and with every self-aggrandizing tweet.

And all it would take to ignite the tinderbox would be the assassination of… Sarah Palin?

Is this our Helen?

It’s unclear whether Palin thinks her face or her Facebook page could launch a thousand ships, but she shares with Beck the view that her obnoxious behavior and his are of historic importance: “Thanks to all you do,” she replies, sounding vaguely apostolic, “to send the message of truth and love and God as the answer.”

And yet even with good men like Beck out there our future is not secure: “our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence”. So peace is always the answer, or at least truth and love and God are the answer, unless, of course, the “politicos” keep picking on Sarah Palin.

And if they don’t stop? Then all bets are off, I suppose; and all patriots should fear for the republic.

The “Anarchist” and the Literary Agent: Julian Assange’s Book Deal

9:13 am in Uncategorized by lvgaldieri

Sarah Palin may find common ground with Julian Assange after all. The founder of WikiLeaks is now officially trading on his celebrity: he has landed a 1.5 million dollar book deal.

The trouble is, now Assange will have to go from disrupting history to revising it. The man widely reviled as an “anarchist”, a terrorist, an enemy of the state, will have to enter the world of Palin and W., where messy lives merge into books and phony interviews and reality television programs, where serious flaws are glossed over, peccadilloes forgiven, legal expenses met by admirers and detractors alike. In this world, being a governor, a president, or a leaker of state secrets amounts to nothing more than a protracted publicity stunt, the ramp up to a non-stop book tour, the dues you have to pay to trade on your celebrity in the marketplace.

Whether Julian Assange will make this transition successfully remains to be seen, and that is already one part of his story playing into the pre-launch of his book. Everything is grist for the publicity mill. So, we are told, Assange is a reluctant author: as has been widely reported, he told the Sunday Times, “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”

Unlike Sarah Palin, Assange is not comfortable turning himself into a commodity — at least that is what we are to believe. And unlike Palin, he is probably capable of writing a book all by himself, but with the delivery of a manuscript rumored to be scheduled for March, there is no reason to expect anything very polished or any great new insights.

But it sure will sell.

Who can blame him for striking a deal? With mounting legal expenses and a book about WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg due out at the end of January (Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website), “a memoir from Assange is a logical step,” says Sarah Weinman. Pardon me, however, if I react with less than unbridled enthusiasm. Really, what is there to tell? Why is Assange’s short-lived publishing venture worthy of a memoir? Yes, there is the matter of setting the record straight, but given his present legal circumstances Assange will have to be very circumspect about how he or WikiLeaks worked with sources and how they received leaks. He will have to be on message, and everything he says will have to be vetted and cleared by his legal team.

This isn’t going to be a candid, tell-all account (or even a polished celebrity memoir, like the books put out this year by Patti Smith or Keith Richards). But why quibble over the truth when truthiness sells best? There will no doubt be a WikiLeaks movie coming very soon to a theater near you, right after The Social Network finishes its run.

It remains to be seen whether this book deal will rescue Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, whether the publicity machine behind it (Knopf in the U.S., Canongate in the UK) will help Assange win more of the world to his side, and whether it will magically put him beyond the reach of the law, as it seems to have done with Sarah Palin and George W. Bush.

Who Are the Real Anarchists Here?

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by lvgaldieri

You would think the bombings at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome last Thursday would have a sobering effect on some of Julian Assange’s most vocal American critics, especially those who have styled him a “terrorist” or “anarchist.”

The bombers in Rome identified themselves — in a note vowing to “destroy the system of domination” — as belonging to the Lambros Fountas cell of the FAI, the Federazione Anarchica Informale (not to be confused with the Federazione Anarchica Italiana). The parcel bomb they mailed to the Swiss embassy seriously injured a mailroom worker’s hand. A member of the Chilean embassy staff lost two fingers and may not regain vision in one eye.

We are told that the anarchists were striking back after a recent joint Italian-Swiss anti-terror operation led to the arrest of their Swiss and Italian cohorts. The group also aimed to avenge the death of Chilean anarchist Mauricio Morales, who died, in 2009, when a bomb in a backpack he was carrying exploded in downtown Santiago. At least that is the story “according to the bourgeois press”; some of Morales’ supporters counter with the explanation that “the device exploded unexpectedly, and our comrade died in combat” and they point to widespread arrests after Morales’ death to suggest some conspiracy of the authorities against them.

There is no doubt such a conspiracy, but most likely not the one the anarchists imagine. Be that as it may, we are being asked to entertain the idea that these embassy bombings are acts of vengeance, rough justice meted out for perceived injustices, and that these are as it were symbolic or at least significant acts, the Federazione Anarchica Informale having decided “to make our voice heard with words and with deeds.” The allusion here to the “propaganda of the deed” is supposed to dignify or elevate these acts, and accord them some historic significance.

Of course it would be absurd to compare Julian Assange to these anarchists and Wikileaks to the Federazione Anarchica Informale. Anarchists do not always or even usually advocate violent overthrow of government; not all anarchists are terrorists, and most terrorists are not anarchists. These distinctions matter, and it’s not sufficient to use terms like “anarchist” or “terrorist” loosely.

Julian Assange and his supporters have gone to great lengths to distance Assange from the charge that he is an anarchist and to emphasize that no one has been physically harmed by the leaking of diplomatic cables. And — as I noted in a previous post — Assange himself is right to point out that what he is doing is “civil” if not obedient, and certainly not anarchic or violent or a form of terror.

He has also rightly understood the agenda of those who play the terror card when talking about Wikileaks. So when Cenk Uygur recently asked Assange to respond to this loose talk – which we’ve heard from Pete King, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, and a host of other fear mongers and demagogues – Assange didn’t hestitate to call them the real anarchists:

Uygur: Now, I want to give you a chance to respond personally, though, because here Mike Huckabee is making it very personal. You saw that quote we had up. He says, I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty for you. Sarah Palin is saying that you are like al Qaeda and the Taliban and he — you should be pursued with the same urgency.
So how would you respond to Mike Huckabee, who is a top Republican leader, who’s likely to run for president again?
How do you respond to Sarah Palin, a top Republican leader who might run for president again?
Assange: Oh, it’s just another idiot trying to make a name for himself. But it’s a — it’s a serious business. I mean if we are to have a civil society, you cannot have senior people making calls on national TV to go around the judiciary and illegally murder people.
That is incitement to commit murder. That is an offense. You cannot have senior people on national TV asking people to commit an offense.
That is not a country that obeys the rule of law.
Does the United States obey the rule of law?
Because Europeans are starting to wonder whether it is still obeying the rule of law?
And it needs to be very careful.
Is it going to descend into an anarchy where we don’t have due process, where those great Bill of Rights traditions about due process are just thrown to the wind, when — whenever some shock jock politician thinks that they can use it to make a name for themselves?

There may be anarchists among us, but they may not be who we think they are.

Frost/Assange: An Exchange on Anarchy

3:22 pm in Uncategorized by lvgaldieri

David Frost (l.) and Julian Assange (r.) (source: Wikipedia)

Most Americans are probably tired by now of hearing about Julian Assange, but those still paying attention to his story could do worse than his interview with David Frost on Al Jazeera.

Now in his early 70s, Frost is one of the most capable interviewers on television today.

Frost gives Assange ample opportunity to answer his thoughtful questions (without badgering or interruption); he makes no effort to moralize or demand apologies; and he is certainly no tabloid schmuck. Instead of prurience, he offers intelligence, wit and — this is the thing that strikes the American viewer most — seriousness. For 24 full minutes. An interview of this length, on these subjects, would probably never make its way into American living rooms; and if it did, who would be watching?   Read the rest of this entry →

Assange’s Got Everybody Agitated About Anarchy

11:57 am in Uncategorized by lvgaldieri

Anarchists are back in the news again. I haven’t tracked down the first newspaper columnist to use the A-word with reference to Julian Assange, or liken him to “the anarchists of the early 20th century,” as Chas Freeman did in his New York Times editorial this past weekend. But the word has suddenly gained new currency. An old specter is once again haunting the world’s ruling powers.

One of the happier, unintended consequences of Cablegate may turn out to be a public history lesson about anarchists and the role they played in American (and European) political life before the First World War. But right now that outcome seems much less likely than another — that all the hysteria over the new anarchist threat may lead to severe restrictions on the flow of information: Palmer Raids for the twenty-first century, with the Security State raiding and policing its own Cyber-State.

This is the view L. Gordon Crovitz takes in a Wall Street Journal editorial today, labeling Assange an “Information Anarchist”:

The irony is that WikiLeaks’ use of technology to post confidential U.S. government documents will certainly result in a less free flow of information. … The Obama administration now plans to tighten information flows, which could limit leaks but would be a step back to the pre-9/11 period.
Mr. Assange is misunderstood in the media and among digirati as an advocate of transparency. Instead, this battening down of the information hatches by the U.S. is precisely his goal. The reason he launched WikiLeaks is not that he’s a whistleblower—there’s no wrongdoing inherent in diplomatic cables—but because he hopes to hobble the U.S., which according to his underreported philosophy can best be done if officials lose access to a free flow of information.

Crovitz goes on to liken Assange to “Ted Kaczynski, another math-obsessed anarchist,” and connects the “philosophy” of Assange’s writings on authoritarian conspiracy to the Unabomber Manifesto. He has to admit that Assange hasn’t mailed any bombs or killed anyone; but Kaczynski is “serving a life sentence for murder.” Ergo – nothing, really; but it sure sounds alarming, doesn’t it?

(The best Crovitz can do along these lines is to argue that Assange has put lives at risk. This is something everyone likes to say; it adds to the drama and stirs people. To his credit, Crovitz offers the example of Dr. Hossein Vahedi, an American citizen who now fears that his relatives in Iran will be targeted as a result of a leaked cable.)

In this view the state would seem justified in concealing its secrets in order to protect lives. The idea here seems to be that the American state is, mutatis mutandis, benevolent, and those who criticize the state or even seek to thwart the power of the state are likely sinister, violent or evil.

Over at the New York Times, David Brooks does not go that far, but he sees Assange as “an old-fashioned anarchist who believes that all ruling institutions are corrupt and public pronouncements are lies.” I doubt Brooks would really want to defend the counter-proposition, namely, that all ruling institutions are not corrupt and public pronouncements are true. But that’s really beside his point, and not what has him and all his fellow columnists so agitated about anarchists.

It’s really very simple. In Assange and in those who revel in the confusion and embarrassment of Cablegate, these self-appointed guardians of the public welfare see someone who wants to “disrupt the established order,” to quote Freeman. Here you may be forgiven for asking whether it is the job of the fourth estate to defend the established order. An “anarchist” like Assange forces them to declare allegiance; and their allegiance is to the power of the American super-state: these are the champions of the Pax Americana.

Still, that doesn’t keep them from reveling in the confusion and embarrassment of Cablegate. Maybe all the antidisestablishmentarianism is merely a hedge.

Be that as it may, there’s nothing terribly wrong with defending the Pax Americana: in many cases, our lies and corruption are certainly preferable to those of others. The trouble comes when those who have been entrusted with keeping the state honest by investigating its secrets and reporting on its activities turn out to be the State’s most ardent defenders, and present us only with a stark choice between raison d’etat and anarchy.