Friday, December 10, 2010

Even More on Assange

Our administration has caved completely to the Republicans and is preparing yet another major takeover of the country by the ultra-rich. Now we will hand over to them the Social Security, gut the sad remnants of the middle class so that Blankfein can buy yet another yacht, and finally destroy education. Yippee.

In the meanwhile, the public that has been getting all antsy is given this delicious story where a brave freedom-fighter is being chased all over the world by the CIA agents. Then, he is accused of rape by two women. Who later turn out to be radical feminists. Or not. Who later turn out to be CIA agents. Or not. Who later are said to have worked undercover in Cuba. Or not. These two women are appropriately Swedish because a good spy story cannot do without some blondes in it. The brave freedom fighter a.k.a. the James Bond of the New Millenium has made some revelations, which are not really revealing anything, just the stuff everybody has known forever. Still, everybody is riveted to this story, while the new Congress is robbing us blind. And when this whole drama finally blows over, we will wake up to the reality where we are all poorer, more overworked, and have less to hope for.

That's how I see this story. That's why I believe that engaging in the "save brave Assange!" show is detrimental to the progressive movement in this country.


zunguzungu said...

What Wikileaks is doing is important because it reveals exactly how the American state actually acts abroad, giving us proof that a great deal of what the state department keeps secret, is only secret because it prefers to act unfettered by any kind of democratic check.

Assange is unimportant, compared to this, which is why all the news media is focusing on him: it takes attention away from the real story, which is the substance of things Wikileaks has revealed. People who say things like they are "not really revealing anything, just the stuff everybody has known forever," tend to be -- I'm sorry to say -- people who either haven't been following the substance of the revelations very closely at all or are getting all their news from people who are actively disinterested (and seeking to draw attention away from) the actual cables. I don;t think I'm doing you an injustice to say that you don't seem like you've actually been following the issue that closely.

Which is why, in other words, I think you're right that engaging in the "save Assange" show is detrimental. But you're right for the wrong reasons: Assange and Wikileaks are unimportant compared to the larger issue of our "progressive" government's basic antipathy to democracy, human rights, and international justice. Wikileaks has done a great deal to illuminate what our government actually does, but *only* to illuminate it, and they're only one of the biggest and most visible organizations that are doing the sort of things they're doing. As part of a larger movement, they're doing some important things. But Assange himself is relatively unimportant, as is, ultimately, Wikileaks itself. Yet what they've shown us in their cables does a great deal to demonstrate how and why our administration caves to the republicans, as you say, and has a great deal to teach us about what we need to do next. I imagine that the next leak they've promised -- from a domestic bank -- will be even more revealing.

In other words, I think Assange's rape charges are a sideshow; whether he committed rape is a very different issue than is raised by the cables themselves. It needs to be taken seriously on its own terms: he should face his charges, and the Swedish court and British extradition should be scrutinized as close as we can to ensure that it isn't just a way of getting at a politically inconvenient figure whose real crimes are being "against" the US government. He should face justice, not politically motivated persecution.

But if all you do is look at Assange himself -- which is all you've done -- you're falling into the media narrative trao about wikileaks, which makes the international scandals revealed by the cables (some of which I've summarized here) disappear behind the soap opera of a single man.

Clarissa said...

zunguzungu: I tried to make it as clear as I can that I think either Assange is a CIA operative or he is being fed this stuff by CIA operatives whose corporate bosses are laughing all the way to the bank. Literally.

I looked at your great blog. It is truly a very good blog and it's doing important work. However, the sad truth - and I really want to be wrong here - is that the American people en masse couldn't care less about how many bombs their government drops on innocent civlians somewhere across the ocean, how many military bases it opens, and how many coups it orchestrates. Look at the Iran-Contras scandal. After everybody found out about it, Reagan still left office with the highest approval ratings ANY president ever had since FDR. What more can I say?

The people of this country haven't been moved to massive political action based on things its government is doing abroad since Vietnam. Do you think there is a single politician who doesn't realize this? Who doesn't know that Americans see what happens abroad as entertainment. Do you remember how the beginning of the Iraq war was televised? I'd never seen anything so horrifying in its cynicism in my life. And did anybody care? No, people just enjoyed the show. Just like they are enjoying the show right now.

zunguzungu said...

I can't tell if you're serious about saying Assange is a CIA plant or not. But I would say two things:

1. You don't fight cynicism by presuming its victory and being cynical about its inevitable victory. Americans are cynical, by and large, but many are capable of being shocked and scandalized. We need to think about how to do this, and then we need to do it. It is worth doing, even if we only succeed a little.

2. What is happening inside the United States is horrible; we are seeing the social safety net replaced by a systematic Hobbesian state of nature, in which predatory capital eats us all alive. That's very bad. But the things we are doing overseas are at least as bad, and -- frankly -- a lot of people cared then, and care now. I marched in a crowd of thousands through Washington DC the day the Iraq war began, and even though the media didn't report it, it happened. One of the other shows the media gives us is a picture of apathetic citizens who don't care. I think reality is pretty different. And we change the picture by refusing to be cynical.

Clarissa said...

"You don't fight cynicism by presuming its victory and being cynical about its inevitable victory. Americans are cynical, by and large, but many are capable of being shocked and scandalized."

- This isn't about people being cynical, in my opinion. Things are much more serious than that. Americans do not have a stable national identity because the country is so huge and people who live in it are so different as to have pretty much nothing in common. In such cases (every single time, mind you), national identity is reaffirmed through a lot of violence a group addresses to outside entities. For the US to stop being so aggressive against other countries, Americans either have to give up on any coherent national identity altogether or find some other way of reaching this sense of national identity. If anybody knows of any examples where it has been done without major violence, please let me know.

Meredith said...

I hope this isn't too off-topic, but it is closely intertwined with your most recent posts on Assange. One thing I thought was fascinating is that two nights ago, the Daily Show, supposedly progressive in nature, laughed off the "sex by surprise" with the broken condoms, but last night, the Colbert Report, which has the schtick of being faux-conservative, said that the women underwent "molestation that [Assange's] attorney is characterizing 'sex by surprise.'" (This is as close to a direct quotation as I can remember.) I thought the use of "molestation" was very, very interesting. It seemed like a rare moment when we got Colbert and not "Colbert," judging from the look on his face.

DJ said...

This is a very different argument from the one you made in your previous post. Since this is also a comment you made on the other post, I'll repeat the essence of my response to that here: Saying the attention to WikiLeaks is bad because of the political deals being cut doesn't really work unless you assume a) progressives can only pay attention to one thing at a time, and also b) progressives have any influence over what's going on with legislation. Neither of these things are true. Not every progressive is against the tax cut deal, because it does offer some good things (basically, as Krugman says, the math works but the policy implications don't), so that might explain a response more subdued than you would expect. And none of this legislative nonsense would be happening if the Senate filibuster didn't exist. Progressives and WikiLeaks and Assange and whatever don't have anything to do with that.

Moving right along... it's hard to disagree with the idea that relatively few Americans really care about what we're doing to other countries. I know there were a lot of rallies against the Iraq war, zungu, but how many of those people do you think were there because they didn't want to see the horrors of war visited upon the Iraqi people compared to the number who were most actively against America becoming entangled in an unnecessary and uncalled-for war? It was the effect it was going to have on America that people were against. If Russia went balls out on Iraq, we'd hardly hear a peep- except, of course, for opinions on how it would affect us. Likewise, I think it's important in principle that we know the U.S. has been bombing targets in Yemen, but given the relative lack of danger involved to the pilots and unlikeliness blowback from Yemen itself, few people will really care.

If change is going to come, it has to come from tying all these various actions to direct detrimental effects on America. But in some cases that requires tying a lot of elements together, and unless those cases can be greatly simplified, they won't gain traction with the public. I don't know how you fix that.

Clarissa, you might find this interesting:

It's more a response to your last post on the topic than this one, but it describes the most recent mega-failure of the mainstream media to display any willingness to partake in good investigative journalism, and how it's led to an opening for WikiLeaks to fill.

Tom Carter said...

Clarissa and zunguzungu, both of you have a pretty negative view of the U.S. and the role it plays in the world. Thankfully, that view isn't reality.

Clarissa, kind of unfortunate that you picked a name like "Blankfein" as an exemplar of the ultra-rich who want to gut the middle class, buy yachts, and "finally destroy education." (I don't know what you meant by "hand over to them the Social Security.") In any case, it would have been better to pick a name like Gates, Walton, Dell, or at least mixed a few of those names in, too. Otherwise, it looks like you're falling back on an unfortunate ethnic stereotype, and I'm sure that's not true.

Clarissa said...

What ethnic stereotype? Are you suggesting I'm anti-semitic? That would be kind of hard for me, what's with being Jewish and all. :-) As a Jew, I can tell you that there are many jerks among Jews. Just as many as among any other ethnic group.

Clarissa said...

Hand over to them Social Security means privitaze it.

Anonymous said...

Well, I still want the information even if the majority of Americans don't care. You need every document you can get. Remember how documents are important for truth commissions. International courts and whatnot. It's possible to support both whistleblowing and social security and a few more things at once -- this would be a political platform.

National identity, that's what so many of these various battles have always been about. Land of the free but what is freedom? Freedom from the Church of England and the King? Freedom, as in space (the land belonged to other people, or had, but it was there)? Freedom to join the exploiting classes, because there were barriers to that at home? Or something less individualistic than that? Lucy Parsons and the Haymarket martyrs were also Americans, Frederick Douglas was an American, and Langston Hughes famously also claimed to "sing America." The question of national identity is a question of what the civic culture will be and what the point of having a country is. This is why people keep arguing about the proceres (as is said in Spanish, the founding fathers), what they really said and what it meant, and which one(s) one should listen to, or whether the whole place should be reconceptualized. (The Christian and other Rights are very serious about this.)

Clarissa said...

"If change is going to come, it has to come from tying all these various actions to direct detrimental effects on America. But in some cases that requires tying a lot of elements together, and unless those cases can be greatly simplified, they won't gain traction with the public. I don't know how you fix that."

-This is very true. There is one other thing, though. If the people are to give up on the idea of American exceptionality, superiority and being the world's #1 freedom enforcer, they need to get something in return. And what can that possibly be? The living standards at home are failing, so what's left other than imposing oneself on other countries? Unless there is a specific answer, I see no way to convince the American public that bomb-droppings and invasions should stop.

I'm very glad to see so many truly thinking Americans come to this blog, though.

Clarissa said...

The last sentence of the last comment sounds kind of condescending, for which I'm sorry, I didn't mean it this way. I'm just beyond exhausted, people. I meant it in a good way.

And I'll stop rambling now.

Tom Carter said...

Clarissa, I didn't say that you're anti-Semitic, and I certainly don't think you are. However, there are way too many anti-Semites out there (regardless of their personal backgrounds), and promoting the idea that Jews control all the money, perhaps through a conspiracy of some sort, is one of their favorite tools. When they pick a name to represent that imaginary evil, it's always Jewish-sounding, at least to them. I think we risk being misunderstood when we do essentially the same thing, however innocent it may be.

The only "privatizing" proposal actually pursued was Bush's, in which a small part of SS could be privatized as a matter of individual choice. Hardly a threat to anyone, and as benign as it was, it went absolutely nowhere. This isn't something worth worrying about.

Whatever Assange may be, he's no "brave freedom fighter." He's a self-promoting jerk who would be pursued and proscuted by virtually any country whose sensitive information was stolen by someone and published by someone like Assange. Some of you may find it particularly delicious that it's the U.S. that has been hit, but there isn't anything unusual about the U.S. reaction.

Clarissa said...

Tom: unfortunately, your comment is just as emotional and light on any factual information as the comments of Assange defenders. In what way has "the U.S. been hit"? What does this mean? What is the actual damage that has been done?

I keep asking everybody to point me to one piece of valuable information that was actually secret and that was disclosed by Assange, but I get nothing but very emotional responses from both sides of the debates.

My own view here is that this is nothing but a huge show, and I'm sorry so many people waste so much time and emotional engagement on something so soap-operish. Of course, if you know of any important, real secrets that were revealed, please tell me about that, and I will gladly change my mind.

Tom Carter said...

Clarissa, I wrote a piece on my site that says I think there's nothing particularly new in the leaked State Dept cables so far. They're embarrassing, to be sure, but we'll get over that. However, there could be cables still coming that might be actually damaging. We'll see.

As for the larger question, I probably take classified information a bit more seriously than some other people. The hard fact here is that Bradley Manning committed a crime when he stole the information and sent it to Wikileaks. He's highly likely to spend many years in prison, and that's appropriate. Assange has arguably committed espionage in violation of U.S. law, and I would guess that he'll be indicted and tried for it if we get our hands on him. That would be OK with me, too.

Those who feel that the U.S. is a rotten country with a rotten government are perfectly free to hold that opinion. It requires a lack of information and a high degree of bias to think that way, but rotten country that the U.S. is, those who express those views can get away with it. That's OK with me, too.

Clarissa said...

"Those who feel that the U.S. is a rotten country with a rotten government are perfectly free to hold that opinion."

-I'd say it's a good country with a very unfortunate foreign policy.