Making the click-through worthwhile: The face of WikiLeaks — now oddly resembling Randy Quaid — is taken into police custody in London; the reign of a notorious dictator appears to be coming to an end; television viewers may already be tuning out the lesser-known Democratic candidates.
Julian Assange, the House Guest from Hell, Gets Evicted
If you think you’re having a rough morning . . . at least you’re not Julian Assange.
“Police entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday morning, arresting Assange and bringing the Wikileaks founder’s seven-year stint there to a dramatic close,” reports CNN.
“Metropolitan Police said in a statement that he was ‘further arrested’ on his arrival at a London police station on behalf of United States authorities, who have issued an extradition warrant.
“Officers made the move after Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum and invited authorities into the embassy, citing the Australian’s bad behavior.”
Seven years! And you thought your houseguests hung around for too long. Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, said in a video statement Thursday that his country withdrew Assange’s asylum due to his “discourteous and aggressive behavior,” “the hostile and threatening declarations of his allied organization against Ecuador” and “the transgression of international treaties.”
Sometimes karma takes the wrong bus and gets delayed, but it almost always eventually arrives at its destination.
Supporters of Assange and Wikileaks would often assert, “Information wants to be free.” Have you ever heard a more nonsensical statement? Information is inanimate; it has no will or desire. What the speaker means is, “I want all information to be free.” When someone says this, ask them for their credit-card numbers.
More important in that statement is that the philosophy requires the obliteration of privacy. Do you want your current account balances at your bank want to be “free”? Do you want people knowing what medication you take? Your medical records? Your relationship and marital ups and downs?
We all operate under some variation of the Japanese concept of honne and tatemae — the private self and the public self. Hopefully, our public selves are polite, appropriate, respectful, dignified, and striking the right note in our interactions with colleagues, neighbors, and strangers. Our private selves may be irreverent, vulnerable, bawdy, ashamed, insecure, angry, envious — intimate aspects of ourselves that we only share under particular circumstances with particular people.
It is erroneous to classify this as hypocrisy; it is more accurate to argue that a functioning society requires us to not always express the first thought that pops into our head. In life, we are certain to encounter people who irk us in one way or another, but our lives run more smoothly if we smile, nod, and act polite, and then quietly grumble about the person who struck us as an idiot. (“What time is the three o’clock meeting?”)
Even after millennia of human existence, we’re still managing the divide between public expectations and private truths. The Internet, in particular, is roiling this issue. Everyone who was a teenager before the dawn of the Internet has cringed as we watch teenagers post all kinds of material that they would later regret. Teenagers have not changed; the ability to create a permanent record of the usual dumb things that teenagers do has.
“Information wants to be free” was a bad idea even before we developed social-media mobs who are eager to go through your online history to find thoughtcrimes and embarrassing or controversial statements and moments, trying to make you unemployable and a social pariah. “Doxing” would not exist if a loose affiliation of malcontents didn’t know what to do with that information. Very few people find the home address of someone they’ve only interacted with online and choose to send flowers.
Governments need to keep secrets, too. We can argue about just how many secrets it should keep, and there’s a strong argument that the U.S. government over-classifies a lot of information that could be released to the public without harm. But besides all the aspects of national security that need to be kept secret — where our forces are, what they’re vulnerable to, what we know about hostile states and terrorist groups, what we don’t know, the identities of agents, case officers, and covert operators, and so on — our government needs to be able to assess and evaluate these issues in secrecy. The public also needs to be informed of at least the general contours of the national-security issues that concern the government, which is why the House and Senate intelligence committees usually hold both public and private hearings.
Countries also need to be able to communicate with each other discreetly. Sometimes a foreign government will privately agree with a U.S. policy and be willing to cooperate but cannot acknowledge their stance publicly because of preexisting public attitudes. For example, in 2010, the United States wanted to launch drone strikes against operatives of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. Because allowing U.S. airstrikes on Yemeni soil would irritate the Yemeni people, president Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This was one of the secrets revealed in the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The choice to reveal that conversation indicates that WikiLeaks finds the secrecy about the American bombing efforts more troubling that what those al-Qaeda members were doing.
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaptation.
On paper or in theory, that might make sense, but the world is full of secretive, unjust organizations that have managed to function with that “consequent system-wide cognitive decline” just fine. The regimes in North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria come to mind, as the various terrorist groups around the world. Then again, we shouldn’t be too surprised; the first guest on Assange’s talk show on Kremlin-funded Russia Today was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Those of us who paid attention figured out early on that Julian Assange always seemed particularly angry with the American and western European governments, and never all that bothered by the world’s indisputably brutal and despotic regimes. Some of us never discovered a newfound appreciation for Assange once he started leaking information from the DNC and John Podesta, and saw the same guy we always did.
One More Dictator May Be Headed to the Exits
We haven’t seen an old-fashioned military coup in a while.
Sudan’s military ousted President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday, the defense minister announced, ending a 30-year authoritarian rule in the face of mass street protests that have swept the country.
Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said that Mr. al-Bashir had been taken into custody and that the government had been dissolved and the Constitution suspended. He said there would be a two-year transition period, with the military in charge, and announced a 10 p.m. curfew.
For a long time, former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren argued that Omar al-Bashir was a brutal dictator who had somehow escaped the worst of the West’s attention, scrutiny, and consequences. The International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide back in 2009. You would think that the name “Omar al-Bashir” would be more widely-known and infamous in light of that.
Are Democrats Hitting ‘Campaign Fatigue’ Already?
Hey, Democrats? With more candidates than ever before, starting earlier than ever before (arguably, 2007 saw a lot of candidates getting an early start), and more intense coverage than ever before, your voters and the electorate at large might hit campaign fatigue surprisingly soon. Kirsten Gillibrand did one of those town hall events on CNN and . . . viewers just weren’t interested.
Gillibrand’s town hall bagged a paltry 491,000 in total viewers and 115,000 in the advertiser-coveted age 25-54 demographic.
For some context: In the first quarter of 2019, CNN’s 10 p.m. host Don Lemon doubled those numbers; on average, he bagged 1.16 million total viewers and 361,000 in the demo.
Kamala Harris’s town hall in January drew record ratings for CNN: 1.95 million total viewers and 712,000 in the demo. But that was the first one in the series; Gillibrand’s is already the tenth.
ADDENDA: Over in the Corner yesterday: Tulsi Gabbard seems to think that your doctor wants to keep you sick; Virginia’s Democratic state legislators apologize . . . to Ralph Northam; and Elizabeth Warren is creating new jobs, sort of.