Saturday, December 08, 2018

World's Worst Houseguest

If there is endangered land these days, it is not the beaches of Miami nor the coastline of California. It is the middle ground, a casualty of the extreme polarization of everything. You are either with us or against us, a hero or a goat, a traitor or a patriot. While most people profess to be in the middle, the reality is that more and more we are on one side or another. Black and white is the new gray.

What's perhaps more surprising is how easily and quickly one can flip from one side to the other, intentionally or not. People use to speak of "evolving their positions" and moving to a different point of view after "careful consideration of the issues." But that kind of gradual change is for Darwin aficionados only. Now the political winds shift with hurricane force, rearranging the goal posts and field of play overnight. James Comey and the FBI were hated by the Democrats and lauded by the Republicans for pursuing Hillary Clinton and her emails. But once they decided there was no there there, the dynamic flipped in an instant with Dems coming to the agency's defense and the GOP castigating the same. It's as if you went to sleep with a mountain view, only to wake up and have the seashore at your doorstep.

Then there's Julian Assange. Some call him a whistle blower, others an information terrorist. A crusading journalist, or an immoral muckraker. An independent agent, or a Russian patsy. And in still one more yin and yang, while Sweden has dropped all accusations related to his case, just this week it was revealed that the US has filed sealed charges against him. This last isn't just about what's printed in the papers. It means that setting foot outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living and has not set foot outside of since 2010, could result in him being seized by the Brits and extradited to this country to stand trial on those charges.

The results of Assange's most recent legal challenge may also force a reappraisal by his supporters, though it's unlikely the other side would rush to his defense. The ruling by Ecuadorian judge Karina Martinez touched on several topics, including those that went beyond the affairs of state. In response to his lawsuit, she rejected his request for an injunction against new foreign ministry protocols which bar him from commenting on topics relating to Ecuador's foreign relations, which the country said made it harder to conduct diplomacy. She also set parameters on his visitation privileges, which he said kept him from seeing his children and conducting his work as a journalist.

However, those two rulings are not the straws that could break a liberal camel's back. No, what may force his defenders to reappraise their support is his personal comportment. It's bad enough that embassy staff complained about Assange riding a skateboard in the halls, of playing soccer on the grounds and of behaving aggressively with security personnel. Those they might be able to forgive, or at least look the other way, as manifestations of the stress from his self-imposed house arrest. But nothing will lose him support faster than the accusations that he makes a mess of the bathroom and worse, doesn't clean up after his cat.

Ecuador is not a particularly wealthy country, but Attorney General Inigo Salvador didn't say that the US$ 6 million it has cost to house Assange was the issue. "If Mr. Assange wants to stay and he follows the rules, he can stay at the embassy as long as he wants." But rules are rules. And in spite of the fact that Assange likes to dress the cat up in neckties and he has given it its own Twitter and Instagram accounts, basic hygiene is more important for both humans and felines than social media presence. Even if that cat is, as its online profile reads, "interested in counter-purrveilance."

In light of all this, Ecuador is probably rethinking the whole asylum thing. When it started, they probably thought what's the worst that could happen? He stays a few weeks, we get some publicity, and on to the next. But every coin has a heads and a tails. They thought they were getting a famous asylum seeker. They got the world's worst house guest.  Can we flip again?


Marc Wollin of Bedford prefers dogs to cats. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.