Monday, December 27, 2010

What About Those Banks, Any Way?

Picking up where I left off yesterday, thinking out loud about WikiLeaks.
Perhaps the most disturbing recent development is the decision by Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal to suspend WikiLeaks banking business.
The question is, what is the justification for doing this?
The most obvious answer is, it came in response to pressure from the U.S. government. Ever since the government figured out that it could put Al Capone in jail for tax evasion, rather than the other crimes he'd committed, money has become the favorite tool for putting the squeeze on people, nations, and movements the government doesn't approve of. If you can freeze accounts, dry up contributions, and disrupt the ability of your target to do business, the thinking goes, you've just put a big dent in their ability to do whatever it is the government disapproves of.
But why would MasterCard, say, agree to cooperate with the government's request?
One reason is that the leadership at the top think it's "patriotic" to help the government.
Another is that the leadership wants to curry favor with the government. Recognizing that there are always quid pro quos exchanged in the world of politics--even geo-politics--it might be smart to throw WikiLeaks under the bus and hope that, at some point in the future, there'll be a little government consideration for a banking problem down the road.
Another possibility that's been mentioned is that the banks are feeling threatened by WikiLeaks--the next set of documents due to appear reportedly have to do with banking scandals--and the government's interests in closing down WikiLeaks and the banking industry's interests happen to coincide.
Or it could be that there's actual evidence that WikiLeaks has done something illegal with its money, and the banks have complete legal justification for their decision.
The last explanation is the only one with any kind of validity--and so far, nobody's actually tried to make that case.
All the other explanations are either craven, cowardly, corrupt, or completely self-serving.
Is it "patriotic" to comply with a government request that has no legal background? What if the government decided it didn't like your blog? Your religious affiliation? Your political beliefs?
What if your banking rights were suspended?
Patriotic? Or pathetic?
This kind of conspiracy stuff has become a staple in the movies--all of a sudden, some one discovers their credit cards cut off, their bank accounts frozen, their creditors knocking on their door.
Usually the hero finds a way out, at least in the movies. Usually there's a buddy who comes to the rescue, who finds out why ordinary life has been disrupted in the interest of some shady version of national security.
This time, however, it's not the movies.
And so far, there's no buddy coming to the rescue, nobody pointing out that the "national security" threat is actually part of what makes America a democracy.
Maybe, just maybe, if we all ask Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal to justify their decisions, we can find out what's really going on--and maybe they'll even change their craven little minds.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb