Cyber World War One

After losing the Democratic Party’s primary in 2006, US Senator Joe Lieberman formed a new party and sought re-election on its ticket. In doing so, he bucked an American branding fad: While many candidates refer to their campaigns as “Smith for America” or “Jones for Arizona,” Lieberman called his “Connecticut for Lieberman.”

Freudian slip or refreshing honesty? Either way, it goes to the heart of Joe Lieberman’s character: Everything’s all about him. The highest purpose of the voters of Connecticut is, in his opinion, to provide him with a Senate sinecure. And that sinecure’s purpose is to extend the reach of his power beyond Connecticut to the whole of the United States and beyond.

All of which is par for the course with politicians, but the events of the last year or so reveal the true extent of Lieberman’s ambitions and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to realize them. The “Internet Kill Switch” proposal, the SHIELD Act, his abuse of office to bring pressure on companies like, all of these boil down to one simple and unavoidable truth:

If the price of keeping Joe Lieberman in power is you staring over a plow at the ass end of a mule all day and lighting your home with candles or kerosene at night before collapsing on a bed of filthy straw, that’s a price Joe Lieberman is more than willing to have you pay.

He’s not comfortable with America’s 21st century unless the key features of its political system resemble those of western Europe’s in the 12th (right down to the Crusades, even), with Lieberman as lord and you as serf. The Internet stands astride his road to that ideal, and therefore the Internet must be reined in or, as a last resort, dispensed with altogether.

Nor does Lieberman stand alone. He’s merely the most visible and forthright advocate of the new medievalism. If push comes to shove, I’ll be surprised if more than a handful of sitting or aspiring US Senators or Representatives recoil in horror from the prospect. Descent to brute force when confronted with limits to power is a feature of, not a bug in, the idea of political government.

As I write this, we’ve seen the opening shots in the first all-out “cyber war” — The State vs. Everyone Else, Round One.

It’s not terribly surprising to see the state’s privileged pets and hangers-on — the corporations — lining up on its side. Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, and so forth are stumbling over themselves to appease their masters. Not only do they know which side their bread is buttered on, they know how easy it would be for Joe Lieberman and Co. to have them figuratively (for now) dragged to the basement of the Lubyanka for a bullet to the back of the skull.

Things don’t look good at the moment. They’ll get worse before they get better. Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange is in the enemy’s clutches. The US Department of Homeland Security conducted a test seizure of Internet domain names last week to see if they could get away with it or if some shred of the rule of law might be successfully invoked to hold them back (to all appearances, the last tattered remnant of that fiction has now gone with the wind). The state, directly and through its proxies, has its hands on freedom’s throat.

My gut feeling is that we’re only feeling the first weak squeezes and haven’t seen anything like “bad” yet. Recent invocations of the Espionage Act of 1917 by Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein, John Ensign and other Senators and apparatchiks provide the clearest clue as to their intentions. The next year is probably going to look like the love child of Comstockery and the Palmer Raids, in high tech format and on steroids.

But, believe it or not, we’re winning, the bad guys are losing, and there’s no chance whatsoever of it coming out any other way. The Wikileaks archives, instant target of Lieberman’s ire, remain widely available to anyone who want them. Nothing short of a “scorched Internet” policy can change that … and most of the people I know aren’t willing to turn the clock back to the Dark Ages just to make Joe Lieberman happy. We’ll see him scuttling for the airport in a bid to flee the country first.

There are only two ways Cyber World War One can end. One is with Joe Lieberman’s surrender (almost certainly highly conditional and pushing most of the real issues off into the future, more’s the pity). The other is with not one stone atop another inside the DC “Beltway.” Your call, Joe.

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