All the uproar over Wikileaks, founder, Julian Assange and who’s trying to bury whom – is far from over. Feels to me like we just cracked open Pandora’s box – all the questions that have always been out there about “free speech,” unregulated by “totalitarian” regimes. Now online for all to read and ponder.

With so very much of our lives now dependent on the web, we do really want our eyes wide open, right? So all this may well be a great boon to us long term – whole new definition of journalism, of free speech and global communications. Doors open. We need to look closely, consider carefully, keep looking, keep considering. If we want to maintain free speech into the future.

Fascinating for me to read about the Espionage Act of 1927 (CA), proposed to be used against Assange by some pols here. The Espionage Act was a process of review of ethics, law, values, initially taking up a number of years and beginning its life with a couple of Yiddish anarchist writers who supported the Russian Revolution in two brochures. They were sentenced to 15-20 years for publishing statements you might read any day in a copy of Revolutionary Worker in San Francisco or New York City. (more below)

So after Wikileaks released huge troves of data considered government “secrets” (though often found somewhere online) the machines of international governments began to turn against Assange. The British government took Assange into custody to comply with a Swedish criminal inquiry. “Wanted for espionage” morphed into “wanted for sex crimes” modified into wanted for questioning about possible sex crimes rumored to have taken place with a member or more of the CIA. We may never know that one. May not even matter much. Sounds like the guy has a lot of fun with a lot of women and two complained. I heard “two broken condoms” – that Sweden has a law stating that a woman is “raped” if her consensual sex is interrupted by a condom breaking. Don’t actually know the validity of this but I’m sure we’ll hear – its just too juicy for silence.

There are rabid anti-Assange accusers coming to the fore. Sad to say, Joe Biden (thought I liked him vaguely) among those. Calling up the Espionage Age of 1927?!? Represents the height of red-baiting early on. Here’s what I found: Abrams v. United States…”On 23 August 1918, Jacob Abrams, a Russian immigrant and an anarchist, was arrested in New York City along with several of his comrades…They had written, printed, and distributed two leaflets…which condemned President Woodrow Wilson for sending American troops to fight in Soviet Russia. The Yiddish leaflet also called for a general strike to protest against the government’s policy of intervention. Abrams and the others were indicted under the Sedition Act of 16 May 1918, which made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States’ form of government, or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production” of things “necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war … with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of the war.” …They were found guilty and sentenced to 15‐ to 20‐year prison terms. Read more:

But by the time the Court ruled in Abrams, Holmes had modified his view. Disturbed by the repression resulting from antiradical hysteria and influenced by the views of several friends and acquaintances…Holmes edged toward a more libertarian interpretation of the clear and present danger standard.

…Congress, Holmes now declared, “constitutionally may punish speech that produces or is intended to produce a clear and imminent danger that will bring about forthwith certain substantive evils that the United States constitutionally may seek to prevent” (p. 627). Holmes denied that “the surreptitious publishing of a silly leaflet by an unknown man” (p. 628) created such a danger, and he denied, too, the existence of the requisite intent, since Abrams’ “only object” was to stop American intervention in Russia. Holmes reasoned that the First Amendment protected the expression of all opinions “unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country” (p. 630).

The Supreme Court would wrestle with reformulations of the clear and present danger standard for fifty years, until, in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), it substituted a direct incitement test. What endures in Holmes’s Abrams dissent is his eloquent discussion of the connection between freedom of speech, the search for truth, and the value of experimentation: “when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe in the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment” (p. 630). See also Clear and Present Danger Test; Espionage Acts; First Amendment Speech Tests; Speech and the Press; World War I.

Bibliography * Richard Polenberg, Fighting Faiths: The Abrams Case, the Supreme Court, and Free Speech (1987)

Read more:

(back to me) True, we do have way more free speech than do those in many countries. You’re not going to jail for swearing or insulting our President anytime soon – but consider that our economic future is interdependent with that of China, Russia, India, more countries. So how do we meld our free speech culture with that of China where there is much that cannot be said?

My two cents: keep writing in public places to keep speech free – or give over your life to controlled messages from mass media (Corporate Overlords). Seriously! Want to think independently? Keep doing it publicly. Read widely, write widely and not just for or with people with ideas identical to your own. And check Wikileaks from time to time.

Fascinated by observations that the whole conundrum is like a graduate course in international relations (I’d take that) and that it is journalism – reporting out to the public. So it deserves protecting.