Old Fashioned Democracy in the Internet Age

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by Neil Godfrey

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What a quaint idea that has only rarely been heard since the days of Thomas Jefferson: “Information is the currency of democracy” — Thank John Pilger for this reminder of something fundamental, yet that has been so lost in recent years that when people see it in action today they run scared and cry treason! Just like when our eyes are so used to the dark that the light hurts.

Hear the interview with John Pilger on the current tragicomedy over WikiLeaks at  http://www.abc.net.au/rn/breakfast/stories/2010/3083583.htm

(I loved his “They read our emails, so why shouldn’t we read theirs?” 🙂

Heartening also to see human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is still active on the side of basic decency, as he is most times:

Do read Crikey’s report on his call for us to stand up for Julian Assange at http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/09/14/we-should-stand-up-for-assange-geoffrey-robertson/

Or if all of that is too heavy for you, how about John Lennon’s

Imagine there’s no country
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for

Is that what the fear is all about? That our favourite country is embarrassed about the exposure of its lies and true face?

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29 thoughts on “Old Fashioned Democracy in the Internet Age”

  1. By way of reminder of what WikiLeaks has been about:

    Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.

    We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. Many governments would benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly – in terms of human life and human rights. Wikileaks will facilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement.

    Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to a much more exacting scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency could provide. Wikileaks will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document for credibility, plausibility, veracity and falsifiability. They will be able to interpret documents and explain their relevance to the public. If a document comes from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document arrives from Iran, the entire Farsi community can analyze it and put it in context. Our first sample analysis is available from the news page, providing a look into the future of what Wikileaks can provide. Of the analysis, Said S. Samatar, the Professor of African History at Rutgers University said, “This is a remarkably well researched and written piece. Informative, lucid and incisive.”

    In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” We agree.

    The ruling stated that “paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”

    We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government. That is why the time has come for an anonymous global avenue for disseminating documents the public should see.

    From http://web.archive.org/web/20070114162346/http://www.wikileaks.org/index.html

    Unfortunately cowardice of server owners has led to the removal of WikiLeaks for now. Hopefully others will rise to take their place. Given the history of the courage of the human spirit I am optimisitic this will happen soon.

  2. Yes.
    I listened to Pilger and I loved his succinct summary of the essential point, that governments lie to us and truth is essential to democracy, and I loved the way he did not allow Fran Kelly to divert him from his message.
    We need people like Pilger.

    1. Not really. Jefferson was a hypocrite in a lot of ways (a LOT of ways). That his insights into how democracy should work don’t mesh with how he practiced democracy once he was in office doesn’t mean that his quote isn’t applicable here. It just means that he found it difficult to live up to his ideal once he was in office.

  3. Two rejoinders:

    (a) Attacking Jefferson is missing the point of the quotation;

    (b) Pilger is apparently mistaken in repeating the popular opinion that the saying is Jefferson’s. The quotation probably originated with Ralph Nader;

    (a) Attacking Ralph Nader, or John Pilger for getting the source wrong, will be missing the point of the quotation.

    1. Thanks for the link. After reading it and the one from Democracy now, I feel reassured that they are intelligent people still on the Left. I think Julian is an egomaniac who isn’t really concerned if his action produce good our bad, just so long as they make a big splash and his supporters are terribly naive of the way politics and history work.

  4. And if the leaked government documents happened to contain a list of social security numbers including your own, would you be hailing the wikileakers as heroes then? I would not call that “freedom of speech.” Or what if google decided to leak your name, ip, and every search you’ve ever made to wikileaks and have it published online for all to see? Rather than hailing them as champions of free speech you’d probably call for a criminal prosecution. But since it is the government that’s embarrassed, not you, its all good, right?

    That the government is embarassed for their own studidity and lack of ability to secure their secret documents seems to be a good thing. Maybe it will help the opposition to the new bill they are trying to pass where the government gets to dictate security standards for private sector servers in order (supposedly) to cut down on viruses, phishing, and malware on the Internet. But on the other hand perhaps in only seems to be good but in reality is bad, for perhaps the whole wikileaks situation could be a ploy to enable them to pass that bill! The government might have purposefully leaked those documents in order to create public outrage that will give them a tyrannical control over the Internet!

    Excuse me is I see the whole thing as a joke that amounts to nothing but a ruse or a game or a ploy. It amounts to nothing. It has more likely-hood to help the US government take away freedom of speech on the Internet than anything else.

    1. And if the leaked government documents happened to contain a list of social security numbers including your own, would you be hailing the wikileakers as heroes then? I would not call that “freedom of speech.” Or what if google decided to leak your name, ip, and every search you’ve ever made to wikileaks and have it published online for all to see? Rather than hailing them as champions of free speech you’d probably call for a criminal prosecution. But since it is the government that’s embarrassed, not you, its all good, right?

      In a democracy government is understood as the people’s creation for the benefit of the people. It should be responsible to the people. If governments begin to think of themselves and act as if they are not accountable to the people, then we have a threat to democracy. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and all that. Governments are only kept accountable through public pressure, pressure from those they represent and serve.

      Democracy depends on governments being open with and accountable to their electorates.

      What WikiLeaks has revealed is that governments have been functioning without regard to the notion that they are accountable to their people. We all believe they act this way much of the time anyway, but WikiLeaks has provided the public with hard, specific evidence of this. WikiLeaks has revealed some embarrassing things about what Australia’s former prime minister has said and what other diplomats (US) have said about him. Had the public known about these “embarrassing details” at the time — had they not all been kept secret — no doubt there would have been a strong public outcry and pressure on the Australian government to open up a public debate or change its way of relating to China, and to how foreign affairs were conducted generally.

      What WikiLeaks has revealed is the sort of information that is not normally declassified till decades later so that the only interested parties will be the historians. They can then write histories of the times showing how ignorant the public was, and how undemocratically the governments behaved in those bad old days.

      Politicians in that future time will then be able to tell their electorates how bad their previous leaders were, and how they will do things differently. But of course the same secrecy prevails, and the cycle continues.

      WikiLeaks is probably the second greatest milestone in recent times in the history of western democracy. I think of the worldwide demonstrations of millions in 2002/3 in an attempt to pressure their governments NOT to start a war with Iraq. (Those demonstrations failed in their immediate objective, but they did show the possibility now of people mass-organizing internationally against their governments. So the people lost the first round, but the stage has been set for internationally cooperative resistance and pressure on governments that are supposed to be accountable to their people.)

      Governments have become the servants of powerful institutional and corporate interests instead of servants of the people. Hence Amazon, Ebay, MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, media magnates, have all sided with their servant, the government that serves their (big business) interests, in calling for a clampdown on the people’s right to have open government representing “them”, the people.

      There is currently an open letter to Australia’s Prime Minister signed by many prominent names calling on government support for basic democratic values and rule of law regardless of what one thinks of specific content released by WikiLeaks: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/41914.html

      This is what the current issue over WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is all about (my emphasis) — see the full details and signatories — and sign it yourself if inclined — at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/41914.html or on GetUp!

      Dear Prime Minister,

      We note with concern the increasingly violent rhetoric directed towards Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

      “We should treat Mr Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets: Kill him,” writes conservative columnist Jeffrey T Kuhner in the Washington Times.

      William Kristol, former chief of staff to vice president Dan Quayle, asks, “Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are?”

      “Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?” writes the prominent US pundit Jonah Goldberg.

      “The CIA should have already killed Julian Assange,” says John Hawkins on the Right Wing News site.

      Sarah Palin, a likely presidential candidate, compares Assange to an Al Qaeda leader; Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and potential presidential contender, accuses Assange of “terrorism”.

      And so on and so forth.

      Such calls cannot be dismissed as bluster. Over the last decade, we have seen the normalisation of extrajudicial measures once unthinkable, from ‘extraordinary rendition’ (kidnapping) to ‘enhanced interrogation’ (torture).

      In that context, we now have grave concerns for Mr Assange’s wellbeing.

      Irrespective of the political controversies surrounding WikiLeaks, Mr Assange remains entitled to conduct his affairs in safety, and to receive procedural fairness in any legal proceedings against him.

      As is well known, Mr Assange is an Australian citizen.

      We therefore call upon you to condemn, on behalf of the Australian Government, calls for physical harm to be inflicted upon Mr Assange, and to state publicly that you will ensure Mr Assange receives the rights and protections to which he is entitled, irrespective of whether the unlawful threats against him come from individuals or states.

      We urge you to confirm publicly Australia’s commitment to freedom of political communication; to refrain from cancelling Mr Assange’s passport, in the absence of clear proof that such a step is warranted; to provide assistance and advocacy to Mr Assange; and do everything in your power to ensure that any legal proceedings taken against him comply fully with the principles of law and procedural fairness.

      A statement by you to this effect should not be controversial – it is a simple commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law.

      We believe this case represents something of a watershed, with implications that extend beyond Mr Assange and WikiLeaks. In many parts of the globe, death threats routinely silence those who would publish or disseminate controversial material. If these incitements to violence against Mr Assange, a recipient of Amnesty International’s Media Award, are allowed to stand, a disturbing new precedent will have been established in the English-speaking world.

      In this crucial time, a strong statement by you and your Government can make an important difference.

      We look forward to your response.

  5. By the way, from everything the media has mentioned from the documents, I don’t see anything about our government lying to us. It seems its just insulting assessments of foreign leaders that our government obviously doesn’t want those leaders to know our diplomats think about them. How does knowing this help us any?

    1. There is no law Assange has broken so we have two governments now publicly declaring that they trying to find some law that he must have broken. PayPal has been leaned on and they do not cite — because they cannot — what law was broken.

      To know what is in the documents I would not rely on the U.S. media. See http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26970.htm

      Facts suppressed until the recent Wikileaks exposure:

      • Kidnapping and torturing of the German citizen Khaled El-Masri and dumping him in Albania when the CIA realized it had made a mistake. No compensation, no apology, and a warning to Germany not to launch an investigation into what had happened to him.
      • US Secretary of State ordering the spying on UN diplomats.
      • The evidence that the US is once again seeking to manufacture lies for a war with Iran just as it concocted lies to “justify” a war against Iraq.
      • The confirmation that US treats other power representatives with contempt and is not interested in diplomacy but consistently opts for force and threats of force, and bribes.
      • The evidence that the largest financiers of Al Qaeda are still untouched and untouchable and existing freely within one of the US’s favourite Taliban-like dictatorships, Saudi Arabia.

      It’s all there in reports linked on informationclearinghouse.info and on the new wikileaks.ch site.

  6. Paypal terminated Wikileaks’ account. Wikileaks is dead in the water now.

    “PayPal said in a blog posting that cutting off WikiLeaks’ account was prompted by a violation of the service provider’s policy, ‘which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.'”

  7. It is interesting that the right wing pundits who normally are happy to decry the power of govts and to claim that less government is better than more, yet, in this case, are chorusing their support for the rights of govts to lie and deceive their citizens and calling for nasty things to happen to those who have exposed the lies and deceptions.
    It seems that the right is not actually against the power of govts but rather is more interested in whom that power is directed and for what purposes.
    Raising taxes on the rich is a no-no, telling lies to the public so countries can be invaded is OK.

    Strange morality.

      1. So Blum says Zogby’s poll found most Arab/Muslims in the Middle East don’t feel threatened by Iran having nuclear weapons. Considering Israel and the United States are #1 and #2 on Iran’s target list, why would they?.
        I’ve heard several “experts”,(on conservative radio), say that nuclear deterrance won’t work against Iran because Iran’s religious establishment believe that dying while destroying Israel will cause the return of some ancient religious figure, (kind of a suicide-bomber nation).
        Invading Iraq was a mistake that may have ruined the chance to stop the real threat, Iran.

        1. I’m glad you put “experts” in quotation marks.

          Sounds like they are projecting the old Likud Samson complex or the Reagan/Bush Armageddon theology.

          (Gosh, they might be like us. Better wipe them off the map before they have a chance to lift a finger.)

          1. mikelioso,
            Why the swipe at the U.S. south?.
            Economically, the U.S south is doing better than much of the rest of the U.S..
            California and New York are bankrupt jokes.
            Put your Deliverance DVD away.

            1. I’m from Tennessee, and let me tell despite the influx of jobs seeking our union free environment, education is a low priority, truck nutz are a high one. Also check out the high rate of diabetes.
              for education
              for poverty

        2. The wikileaks cables seem to suggest that the leadership in the middle east has a different mentality that the common people. This is of course a major component of middle east politics, the tremendous gap between ruler and ruled. The fears of the leaders is not unfounded, but I’m not surprised that it doesn’t resonate with the population, poverty rates in the middle east far exceed the U.S. south, and the U.S. south is not an ivory tower full of intellectuals by any means.

          I’m not worried about an Iranian suicide attack, even Al-Quada knows God is one the side with the best artillery, so I suspect they won’t go for suicide unless all other options are exhausted. What the bomb will do is give a security blanket to so it can work more boldly in other areas to meddle with rivals and relious/ideological foes.

          1. It is well known that the ordinary people of the Middle East would like a bit of democracy and for this reason need to be kept under control by brutal dictatorships. Those dictatorships owe their existence, their ongoing support in financial and military backing, first to the British and French, and now mainly to the US, who need to keep them in power to guarantee US/European resource (oil) and strategic control interests.

            The Iranian democracy was overthrown by the US who instituted the Shah’s dictatorship in 1953. The Shah wiped out much of the secular democratic resistance leaving the mullahs to step in and lead the resistance and ousting the US puppet Shah in 1979. The US has been chaffing to put Iran back into its subservient place ever since.

            Mid Eastern peoples do not see the US as the supporter of democracy in their region for some strange reason, but the supporter of anti-democratic regimes. Elections are only tolerated by the US if the only people who will be elected are those who will guarantee an open door to US/European business plundering and strategic interests.

            Iraq was invaded because it did not (yet) have WMD and only after it was first ruined by ten years of siege warfare; north Korea will never be invaded because it does have the bomb. The lessons are plain as day for anyone who does not submit to US hegemony. Iran knows that the only security it can have against US or Israeli attack is to get the bomb.

              1. No, “they” didn’t. Only 30% voted for the Nazi party. Hitler was not appointed leader by democratic vote. As for the middle east, you are forgetting Lebanon, and the internationally confirmed free democratic election in Palestine in 2006. External powers (Israel, US), as usual, keep interfering (with bombs and things) to undermine these democracies that arrogantly want to assert their own independence and maintain and restore control over their own land and resources.

              2. 30% is no small margin. If a fascist ever got 30% in a U.S. election, start building a bomb shelter. The politics in Lebanon and Palestine seems shaky at best. In the case of Palestine, it is a good example of democracy being overrated, but in a tough neighborhood sometimes all have to choose from is the mob and the gang.

              3. Much less than half of the votes cast were for Hitler and that was in an election held under the intimidation of many acts of violence. Hitler was never democratically elected and did not come to power with a majority of Reichstag seats. He was appointed head of a minority government. It was the failure — the collapse — of democracy that led to Hitler. To blame democracy for Hitler is total nonsense.

                Why is Palestine’s free and democratic election “overrated”? It led to Hamas dropping its extremist goals in order to be elected. That’s a positive. The Hamas government observed a ceasefire with Israel and dropped its call for the destruction of Israel, demanding only the restoration of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

                On the truce, the Israeli government admitted not a single rocket was fired by Hamas. Israel on the other hand failed to observe its part of the truce agreement by continuing the siege of Gaza. Then 4th November 2008 Israel again violated the cease fire by invading Gaza and killing several Hamas militants. Then December 2008 Hamas was calling for a renewal of the ceasefire, but Israel rejected this, and chose to resume bombing instead. The rockets were fired in retaliation.

                All of this is reported in the mainstream western media as Hamas breaking the truce by launching rockets and Israel having to defend itself.

                So what is wrong or “overrated” about a people freely and democratically electing a government that observes a truce despite ongoing provocation by a party refusing to keep its side of the agreement, and calls only for the liberation of its occupied territory and an end to continual dispossession of its people by expanding illegal settlements?

          1. I just assumed it.
            Ahmadinejad, and many Iranians, await the return of the 12th Imam, who has been missing since about 870. He will return after an apocolyptic event. Ahmadinejad has made many references to this. So Iran may want to start a nuclear war with Israel to bring that about.

            North Korea doesn’t need the bomb to prevent an American attack, it has China, which would never tolerate an American-dominated unifed Korea on it’s border.

            1. Pentagon and US intelligence reports inform us that Iran is not working towards building a nuclear weapon, has demonstrated that it is subject to international pressure in this respect, and that its military intentions are defensive — to ward off the threat of an Israeli or US attack. Wikileaks releases have recently demonstrated the falseness of the reports that Iran is targeting European cities with missiles.





              A recent NBC interview with Ahmadinejad makes rumours about his propensity to seek to bring about an apocalyptic scenario to hasten the return of the 12th imam look rather silly. One needs only be informed of how limited the Iranian President’s power is to recognize that even if he were a psychotic suicidal nutcase he could not do anything like that anyway: his powers are limited by Supreme Leader and checked by the Parliament. (Unlike the US President he is NOT commander in chief of the military.)



              As for North Korea, if it did not need nuclear weapons to prevent attack then why did it develop them? China already has American dominated countries and military bases and operations on its borders — Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, and now pro-American India — so I don’t know what the argument would be that just one more would send it into “intolerable” mode.

              Again according to recent WikiLeaks documents, China is actually finding North Korea something of a liability and would have no problem accepting a unified Korea dominated by Seoul and the West.



              There is a good case for more of the American public to be active in movements to break the monopolization of the media by a few companies and support free and independent media such as WikiLeaks:



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