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Online activists and exemplary punishment

Across the world, authorities are wildly overreacting to the threat posed by online activism. History says it won’t work. Expect more Aaron Swartzs, Bradley Mannings and Kim Dotcomes in coming years.

Much of the discussion following the death of Aaron Swartz relates to the issue of disproportionate prosecution.

Legal heavyweights and online activists discuss whether Massachusetts prosecutors were pursuing him overzealously, and the nature of Swartz’s alleged crimes when he downloaded 4 million articles from JSTOR, an archive to which he had legitimate access. Swartz faced up to 35 years in jail for downloading the articles. The prosecutor responsible for the pursuit of Swartz, Carmen Ortiz, last week tried to wash her hands of responsibility for his death.

Whatever the legal and procedural merits of Ortiz’s pursuit of Swartz, aggressive over-prosecution is normally the fate of anyone deemed to be an online activist.

Bradley Manning faces life imprisonment for leaking evidence of US war crimes, should the US military ever cease regularly delaying his trial. Manning was even found by a US military judge to have been systematically mistreated while in custody.

Barrett Brown currently faces 45 years in prison for, inter alia, posting a URL and quoting a Fox News threat to kill Julian Assange in a tweet.

Hacker Jeremy Hammond faces life in prison for allegedly breaking into the emails of self-promoting “alternative CIA” Stratfor, a global intelligence company. Hammond’s case is in the hands of a judge who is married to one of the hack’s victims.

Then there’s the case of Julian Assange, who is either the victim of an international conspiracy to keep him permanently entangled in criminal prosecution, or who has a strange capacity to induce irrational and obsessive overreactions from governments.

The list goes on and on — there’s the over-the-top raid on Kim Dotcom in New Zealand, which turned out to be illegal, along with the spying on Dotcom by a New Zealand intelligence agency that is now the subject of an inquiry.

We have our own version here with the absurd overreaction to Jonathan Moylan’s Whitehaven Coal hoax, with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission “raiding” his camp and “seizing” his belongings for the crime of making lazy investors and journalists look stupid. As Clive Hamilton pointed out, the hoax achieved a rare consensus across the political spectrum, from coal apologists like Nikki Williams and right-wing whingers like David Murray to Paul Howes and Joel Fitzgibbon, from Fairfax to The Australian, all united in condemning an act the actual damage of which, apart from to egos, is rather hard to delineate.

There’s some legal reasoning —  cited by a critic of Swartz’s — that ideologically-motivated acts of public disobedience should be punished more harshly than common criminality, because ideologically-motivated protesters are likely to continue to break what they see as bad laws, whereas those motivated by personal gain may be deterred by punishment. It’s called “special deterrence”.

Evidence shows this theory is actually applied, at least the other way: large corporations that have engaged in repeated, systemic, even industrial-scale invasion of privacy, either with the cooperation of users (Facebook) or not (Google), have managed to escape substantial penalties or avoid prosecution of any kind. It’s a similar story in Australia with Telstra being repeatedly guilty of privacy breaches, for which it has only receiving “warnings” and been asked for undertakings.

ASIC, which is threatening Moylan with 10 years’ imprisonment, has a similar record of failing to punish large corporations. Instead it prefers to cut deals with companies like the Commonwealth Bank and Leighton. ASIC is widely acknowledged to be one of the country’s most ineffectual regulators; as Ian Verrender once noted, the regulator is so inept at successfully prosecuting large companies that it appears to prefer the pre-emptive surrender of the “enforceable undertaking”.

So, if you’re a large, powerful corporation breaking laws, even systemically, the prosecutorial zeal demonstrated toward online activists vanishes, replaced with a willingness to accommodate you on the basis that you commit not to do it again… and again, and again.

… activists, whistleblowers and business opportunists [are] using the flattened information hierarchies and easy, rapid distribution systems of the internet to undermine government and corporate élites.”

But the selectivity of governments in punishing online lawbreaking can rapidly undermine any legitimacy “special deterrence” has. There’s an entire market for zero-day exploits in which hackers and “exploit brokers” profit from selling undisclosed software security weaknesses to whoever will pay for them — including government agencies, and not just the usual suspects like China, but US government agencies. The sale of these exploits isn’t only for cyber defence but to enable surveillance and to develop cyberweapons, the best example being Stuxnet.

This is consistent with the US government’s own relaxed approach to laws around surveillance. This is the government that, not content with having some of the most surveillance-friendly laws outside of Beijing, spied on the internet usage of all American citizens, then got Congress to retrospectively make it legal; this is the government that has admitted committing a breach of the constitution in its surveillance of Americans; this is the government that has declared “war on whistleblowers”, even when they have revealed the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars by the government.

And the logic of “special deterrence” is further undermined by the treatment of Dotcom, a man transformed by his persecution into an online activist hero but whose motivations have always been purely commercial.

In fact the legal response to Moylan — and to Swartz, Hammond, Manning, Brown, Assange Dotcom and many others — is part of a much longer tradition, of exemplary punishment. Exemplary punishment is a technique used by élites when they become aware that their power is being undermined by forces or technologies beyond their capacity to handle. Unable to strike directly against oppositional forces, they rely on heavily punishing those offenders to deter others.

An important component of this technique, and one that highlights the lie that this is about deterring ideologically-motivated lawbreakers, is to overhype the actual threat posed, and to displace the target of the threat from what it actually is — those in power — to the community. Moylan’s prank was thus said to have caused “untold harm” by Fairfax; a Daily Telegraph hack claimed Moylan had cost “mum and dad investors” hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dotcom, the US Department of Justice had claimed, ran “an international organized criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy… causing more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners.”

This reflexive overhyping echoes the response to Assange. The WikiLeaks diplomatic cables had, numerous critics initially claimed, placed people lives in danger, done “untold damage to diplomacy” and Assange was a “high-tech terrorist”. Manning has actually been charged with “aiding the enemy” by placing material in the public domain, a charge that should terrify every journalist. Hillary Clinton declared the material released by WikiLeaks and allegedly leaked by Manning “an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity”.

What all of these incidences have in common is activists, whistleblowers and business opportunists using the flattened information hierarchies and easy, rapid distribution systems of the internet to undermine government and corporate élites who have long relied on information control. Indeed, Swartz’s action was the quintessence of this. Even Moylan’s prank reflects how once-trusted forms of information distribution — an official, authentic media release — can be easily mimicked in an online media environment. Pranks can also reveal how few journalists, especially in business media, have the time or, apparently, even the inclination to display scepticism toward what they are being fed.

But here’s the problem for lawmakers and law enforcers: exemplary punishment doesn’t work. Exemplary punishment merely serves to draw attention to acts of civil disobedience or ideologically-motivated lawbreaking — exactly what their perpetrators want — to motivate supporters and engage the uninterested by outraging their sense of justice. Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches in the south in the early 1960s were perfect examples of this, despite the very “special deterrence” handed out via billy clubs, dogs and fire hoses. Exemplary punishment didn’t work in England in the 16th or 19th centuries in the face of threats like Protestantism or trade unionism. Indeed, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a collection of stories about Protestant victims of persecution, became a key propaganda work in the English Reformation.

Eventually, élites either have to shift to a full-scale surveillance state like East Germany or Iran, inculcate self-censorship like the Chinese government or accept the power balance between citizens and their governments has shifted in favour of the former.

Anyone whose job relies on controlling information, of any kind and in any way, needs to understand that that job is changing rapidly because the internet has massively reduced the cost and difficulty of moving large amounts of information around. Regulators, law enforcement and policymakers need to understand that whether they like it or not, there will be more Aaron Swartzs, Bradley Mannings, Julian Assanges, and Kim Dotcoms. Reacting like a 16th century monarchy isn’t going to help one bit.


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  • 1
    stephen Matthews
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    How do the courts react to pleadings by the authorities of “special deterrence ” ?. Being a victim of such deterrence and witnessing in court the pathetic, fear mongering by ASIC’s counsel it is more disturbing to find the judges evidently swallow this confected hysteria.
    If I failed in my own defence- and I did - the greater failings were by the many Australian judges who allowed themselves to be so comprehensively traduced.

  • 2
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Yep the united States of America the world’s greatest democracy; land of the free and opportunity; honor, justice; freedom of speech and expression; christian values, freedom of religion; and, under the second amendment the right to bear arms carry all sorts of guns, etc. etc. But… Bradley Manning faces life imprisonment for leaking evidence of US war crimes, should the US military ever cease regularly delaying his trial. Manning was even found by a US military judge to have been systematically mistreated while in custody. Says it all really …you even in the USA cannot talk about some things you will be put away for life.

  • 3
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    For every Aaron Swartzs or Moylan, there are another 300 odd people with the knowledge and inclination to do this, but are held back by the threat of punishment.
    That is why exemplary punishment is required. You can’t stop the true believers (who are going to do it regardless, martyr style), but you can stop the casual punter who does it for fun/laughs etc.

    As for your statement that governments “accept the power balance between citizens and their governments has shifted in favour of the former”, what tosh.
    In a democracy, the power balance has always been in favour of the citizen (as they elect the government).
    You don’t think that Governments are prosecuting these cases on behalf of their citizens? The household is the basic economic unit of a developed country (as everything flows down to them, including company profits) and they are the ones demanding protection from a minority that believe the internet is their personal play thing, where the normal rule of law/property do not apply.

  • 4
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Welcome back Bernard and what a cracker of a piece to start the new year. An excellent read.

  • 5
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Its a sad fact of life that communities and people only get concerned about governments involvement in people’s life to the point of harrassments when it affects their own “back yard” .

    As an aside I noticed a small article in the newspaper that stated that the US security department was cancelling their orders on those over intrusive airport scanners stating that they were’nt designed as per specifications. They even lie when they try to tell the truth. Guess what scanners have already been ordered for Australian airports???

    I wish someone in Australia would analyse how many new bits of legislation come in with each new government. The politicians that walk away after being kicked out of government and leave behind a legacy of legislation littered with acts that removes more and more responsibility from the individual and burdens society with gobsmacking intervention in daily lives.

  • 6
    Chris Williams
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on an excellent article - I do see this as a significant statement the likes of which we don’t see enough of in mainstream media or in Crikey itself.

    This really should be just the beginning of a new focus for Crikey, which spends far too much time on the trivia of Australian politics and not enough on the deeply troubling issues of the world. Yes corruption and incompetence of Australia’s politicians is worthy of proper investigation but Crikey’s focus is far too facile, and as such serves as a diversion from the real challenges facing Australia.

    This trivialisation is no doubt a reflection of the long term growing lack of seriousness in Australia as we become progressively dumbed down by assaults on public education and as we luxuriate in front of our Foxtel Flatscreens watching the fiftieth re-run of some soap or the latest meaningless big-bash cricket match, or attached to our Apple device downloading mountains of trivia. And all in an economy where increasingly we make nothing but holes in the ground. But Crikey needs to be a force for correcting this lack of seriousness. We used to be a tough people now we are flabby in body and mind. I am probably reading too much into this article but I detect an understanding within it of the urgent need for Australia to get real.

    In just the last few months, through research I have done via independent online news sources I have come to the conclusion that at the age of 55 nearly all of what I have taken to be true about the world has been a complete fiction. I had always thought the Matrix was a movie which extemporised on a philosophical conundrum about being human but I now see that it is one which was trying to tell me (and everyone else in the West) about the dire political challenge we face when political fanaticism gains control of power and the media in the world’s most powerful country.

    I can now see that just about everything we take to be political facts about the world and history since at least World War 2, in the mainstream media is untrue - particularly if it is sourced from the US. If the US media reports that the US is threatening the Syrian government that it must not use chemical weapons on its own citizens, that can mean one thing and one thing only - namely that Israel and its US puppet is preparing a scenario under which it will deploy chemical weapons against Syrian civilians and then using its compliant media claim that it was perpetrated by the Syrian government, as the pretext for full scale shock and awe type attacks.

    In these circumstances, the default position of any true journalist must be to doubt, and doubt with every fibre of their being, anything and everything that governments - particularly the US and Israeli governents - say about anything. Sadly the default position of journalists even in Australia, is to first question the motives, rationality and sanity of whistleblowers. They are derided as either criminals terrorists or nut-job consipracy theorists.

    Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald is an exception that Crikey needs to emulate. In an article in the Guardian on 30 November last year he wrote not only on the inhumane treatment being meted out to Bradley Manning, but also on the scarifying contempt for Manning’s fate shown by US media.

    Greenwald writes: “Despite holding themselves out as adversarial watchdogs, nothing provokes the animosity of establishment journalists more than someone who challenges government actions…to the mavens of the US press, Assange and Manning are enemies to be scorned because they did the job that the press refuses to do: namely, bringing transparency to the bad acts of the US government and its allies.”

    Enough from me. Great work Bernard. Keep it up!

  • 7
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Scott #3
    “You don’t think that Governments are prosecuting these cases on behalf of their citizens?”

    Of course they’re not. If ASIC et al (I presume that’s what you mean by “governments”) were really interested in what the citizenry thought, they’d have scalps from Big Business plastering the walls of every room in the office and halfway across the lobby.

    The household is the basic economic unit of a developed country (as everything flows down to them, including company profits) and they are the ones demanding protection from a minority that believe the internet is their personal play thing, where the normal rule of law/property do not apply”“

    Utter cock. How about demands the rest of us be protected from the rorting and book-cooking Big Business gets up to all day every day? Or are you OK with Big Business an the banks and speculators ripping us off for trillions and then grabbing money off the rest of us to stay afloat, while awarding themselves multi-million dollar bonuses?

  • 8
    michael crook
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    good article, I think that the hegemony of the corporations and their government puppets well and truly puts us in the East German category, but only for those of course who actually speak out.

  • 9
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Bernard is back: Crikey has managed to claw back some gravitas.

    US politicians constantly wax on about their freedoms because the more they repeat it the more inclined they are to believe it - despite the evidence.

  • 10
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Well done Crikey. But be carefull comrades, Steven Conroy has already opened a box of red underpants and your firewall has ears.

  • 11
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    BERNARD. A fine article, thank you. And, a happy New Year.

    Perhaps the big players had put stop losses on their holdings? This would mean they were automatically sold out of their shares once the market went below a certain price; a practice which I thought was no longer legal; perhaps someone could enlighten me please.

    The Age’s editorial on the subject was so over the top it was straight out of Colonel Blimp and ‘The Man who came to Dinner’. One could almost hear the gruff, wuff barks coming out of it.

  • 12
    Nicholas Melas
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    This is a side point, but I very much doubt ASIC is in the same box as the law enforcement agencies which you claim are around to visit exemplary punishment on whistleblowers.

    For one, Ian Verrender’s article is loosely structured, poorly informed, and badly argued. ASIC’s 2011-2012 operating expenses were actually $384 million, as page 16 of its annual report shows (http://bit.ly/13US4Ca). A far cry from his claim of $74 million. His point about having the police enforce the law shows that he’s ignorant about how civil penalties work, and the fact that criminal law enforcement related to the Corporations Act (such as insider trading) *are* prosecuted by the police. He even cites John M Greene, who in this article (http://bit.ly/SoIFiL) shows his colours (sorry!) as simply hating on ASIC because it makes life for directors just a little harder than he feels it should be. The policy is sketchy, and the law is even sketchier.

    Furthermore, enforceable undertakings are the opposite of “pre-emptive surrender”, if you mean that ASIC would be surrendering. They are the equivalent of a plea bargain, but also much like a contract. As this enforceable undertaking with AMP demonstrates (http://bit.ly/10L6K86), you can do more with an EU than you can with a court judgment. It would be difficult for ASIC make a court force an AFSL holder to change their clients’ superannuation accounts back to what they were before the misconduct, but an EU can manage it easily. This saves everyone the time and effort of a class action. The ACCC uses these as well, how are they controversial in any way?

    ASIC has, and continues to, litigate against large corporations. Even when a case costs lots of money, such as Fortescue, James Hardie, or One.Tel. Some cases are not successful, and that’s a rough deal for everyone. What you call “failing to punish large corporations”, is simply choosing the right tool for the job.

    Your article talks about how Moylan’s “prank” exposed the failure of business journalists and investors to be sceptical. That’s not why he published that false press release - at least, that’s not the message we’ve received about it. Even if you’re whistleblowing about information insecurity in financial markets, there are better ways to go about it than zero day.

  • 13
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree with pretty much all of what you say however societies aren’t that simple to analyse. “One mans’ meat is another man’s poison”.

    Look at the trivial issues that get prominence , surely they are only a reflection of the populus. I’m well past screaming at the TV and am still trying to understand why a society allows so easily the withdrawl of their rights.

    My unfortunate conclusion so far is that we all are cowards until threatened and also “why piss in the wind” when historically they only want to hang the dissenters until the dissenters are the main stream then they want to idolise you.

  • 14
    Posted Monday, 21 January 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Crikey, I forgot to mention that the regime has managed to ‘shut down’ Larry Pickering’s website for hours at a time, almost daily. So do be carefull.

  • 15
    Person Ordinary
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    Impressive, Bernard. It will be interesting to see if you can hold your nerve against the weight of the War on Cyber-truth. Maybe, here in Aus, just out of reach of the US secret services and prosecutors, one journalist can champion the next wave of human progress, the one that could keep us ahead of self-destruction.

    Maybe you can even put it all together for the masses, to show how the world they know will collapse if the propaganda industry prevails, but how a bright new future is available if online objective media is allowed to emerge.

  • 16
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    CORRUPTION! Our Government is corrupt and the discretion allowed to the Crown is one very potent way it demonstrates this corruption. I am still waiting for perpetrators of the Iraqi wheat scandal to be prosecuted, and my favourite is the Gordon Gretch affair. If I as a low level public servant had done what Gordon had done I would be writing this from gaol. More significantly, who in the Coalition committed crimes in relation to the Gretch affair? Who knows, it was never prosecuted.

    This corruption is systematic to the modern state. Let’s not call it anything else.

  • 17
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Lack of accountability of the Executive and of Corporations highlighted well in this article. Clearly Common law applies only to commoners. The over-reaction to information activisim is almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

  • 18
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink


    I agree with everything you say and I sincerely hope Crikey takes your advice and deals with the real issues facing us all. In my view the US government is an out of control monster and Australia is a compliant vassal. And the citizens? Ignorant, apathetic, apologetic or just plain stupid for not rising up against these steadily increasing intrusions into our freedoms.

    The governments treatment of Julian Assange and its acceptance of another US base in the NT should act as a wake up call to everyone.

    There has to be another way. We can’t just keep voting for the status quo. Our foreign policy needs to be pushed way up the agenda by the Greens and other progressives so as to get the people at least thinking about it all.

  • 19
    Chris Williams
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Harry (13). I think comedy and satire are essential. I would hate anyone to interpret my criticism of Crikey as a desire to see the end of First Dog (which I love)! But can we contnue to take the blase ‘hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil’ attitude we have in the past?

    I think it is clear now - as it has been for some time - that journalism in the mainstream is mostly dead. Crikey does a good job but it can not only do better - we desperately need it to!

    Some will interpret my musings as the ravings of a paranoid alarmist but I think we need to see ourselves in a pre-war world. I have this horror that we are going to wake up some day soon to the news that a tactical nuclear weapon has been detonated in downtown Philadeplphia and that hey presto NBC, CNN and Fox just happen to have proof of the identifies of the Iranian terrorists. President Obama orders an all out attack on Iran. Israel then nukes Gaza to get rid of that pesky problem and either blames it on Iran or says they had proof that Hamas was involved in the terrorist bombing of the US. This is why I say Australia needs to get serious.

    Ian (17).
    Thanks. Your reference to the NT base is important. It makes you wonder if there is anyone in Defence, Foreign Affairs and our intelligence agencies that takes an independent line of our alliance - or is the basing of US military units on our soil something that’s stitched up by a couple of senior pollies from each side during a meeting in the Fox board room over drinks and canapes?

    Similarly, with the Palestinian vote. I used to be a big supporter of Gillard but when I learnt she was willing to have Australia join the international pariah states of Israel and the US on the Palestinian UN vote I realised how unsuited she is as Prime Minister. Essentially, she was doing this because she had recently been getting good press from her blossoming personal relationship with Obama - lots of smiling shots of the two great pals together. Thank goodness Bob Carr and the Labor Caucus had at least some level of compassion for the Palestinian people.

    Talking about the Greens being best choice on foreign policy, I found it hilarious a few months back when James Packer made a statement about the need for Australia to get closer to China. It was hilarious because it was so true and so at odds with the stupid slavishness of most of our government and bureacracy and the Opposition to the US alliance. Cheers.

  • 20
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    The citizen’s last defence against excessive punishment

    The propensity of governments to punish activists and whistleblowers out of all proportion to the harm that they do, or indeed in spite of the good that they do, in a blatant attempt to deter dissidents from embarrassing the government and the rent-seekers who control it, is one reason why we need a constitutional right to be tried by a jury of fellow citizens who are not obliged to give reasons for their decision.

    If the jury concludes that the prosecution is politically motivated, or that the punishment is likely to be manifestly excessive, or that the “law” is, in the immortal words of Thomas Aquinas, “no law at all, but rather a species of violence”, then the jury can simply acquit the defendant in the teeth of the “law” and the facts, in which case the acquittal is binding.

    Jury nullification”, as this practice is called, is impeccably democratic. It’s direct democracy by sortition — the jurors being a random sample of the electorate. It also conforms to the principle that a more extreme decision requires a stronger democratic mandate. It asserts, in effect, that if a law creating a crime is to apply in a particular case, it must not only be passed by the legislative branch and approved by the executive branch, but also cleared by whichever 12 electors make up the jury.

    Moreover, jury nullification is essential to the equality of the three branches of government, and to the efficacy of the separation of powers as a safeguard of freedom. The legislative branch, by itself, can free the accused by changing the law. The executive branch, by itself, can free the accused by exercising discretion or clemency. But only through jury nullification can the judicial branch, by itself, free the accused. Thus, only with jury nullification can it be said that it takes all three branches of government to take away your freedom, but only one to give it back.

  • 21
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    The despicable “use” of the politically naive Nova Peris by Julia Gillard brings shame on the whole country.
    It brings to mind some of the first Europeans who came to this country, and how they gave the naive Aboriginal people irresistible trinkets for huge swathes of their land.
    This isn’t the first time the Gillard government have “used” the Aboriginal people for their own political purpose…Remember the Canberra riot.

  • 22
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Gavin, its a step in the right direction but but in a society such as ours consisting of a high proportion of right wing ideologues, and unconcerned, mindless masses I am a bit distrustful of juries too.

  • 23
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Ian. I suggest you find out the difference between right wing and left wing, and as far as ideologues go, our society ‘obviously’ has an abundance of left wing ideologues otherwise we wouldn’t have an extremely left wing, ideological socialist government in power.

  • 24
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink


    I think the problem lies much deeper than you suspect. I’m not particularly concerned about a nuclear war. Its pretty much a fruitless exercise because once it starts well…that’s it.

    I think the US citizen is apathetic to politics and has survived by being insular to the outside world. The US is a large target and whilst I understand they make many mistakes I dont look forward to the rise of China having done business there many times let alone the old communist messiah masquerading as Putin these days.

    Our main problem is ourselves and our dependence on the UK previously and now the US . As much as people want to shout abuse somebody has to take responsibility and make decisions. I ‘m not sure we’ve seen that leadership in Australia since federation but time will muster an alternative at some point.

  • 25
    Chris Williams
    Posted Tuesday, 22 January 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    zac48 (23)
    We might indeed have a (mainly) mindless dumb-f#@&k government in power - only matched by an even more profoundly stupid cadre of selfish spoilt brat idiots in the Opposition - but the idea that the Government is either ideologically socialist or even particularly left wing has me wondering what you are smoking.

  • 26
    Andrea Perrin
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    There are reports that Aaron Swartz was an alleged Wikileaks source and Kim Dotcom is alleged to have donated $50,000.00 to Wikileaks. Hence the US heavy-handedness in both cases.

    The bi-partisan condemnation of Moylan has to be seen for what it is - the world’s economy is fragile and it wont take much to have another GFC or worse. Our left and right political leaders are panicking over the economy, even though Wayne Swan insists our economy is in great shape.

    Chris Williams you are right about Julia Gillard, she is a pawn of the US.

  • 27
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Chris Williams24…If you want to know what I’m smoking ask Steven Conroy. He knows pretty much everything about everyone, as he boasted to the Columbia Institute in New York last month, that the Attorney General Nicola Roxon has given him (quote)”complete and unfettered power”(unquote) over all Australian media and communications. So much so, he was so powerfull that he could make any of the media wear red underpants on their heads if he wants them to….It doesn’t sound like your old enough to know what fascist ideologues really are. I suggest you read Nicola Roxons new censorship policies including the premise that you are guilty of an offence until you prove yourself innocent.

  • 28
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 2:18 am | Permalink


    Who are these left political leaders you talk about? Surely you don’t mean the Labor hierarchy because they are only a little less far right than the opposition. Of course it depends on how you define left and right but that is a long story.

    Care should be taken not to define everything political within a framework constructed by our media and the ruling elite. I once was content to do so but now treat with great suspicion all the commentary of our mainstream media and politicians as they systematically eat away at our civil rights, privatize strategic assets and engage in wars that should never be fought. To me these are the actions of the right.

    Both so-called sides of politics are on the same side.

  • 29
    michael crook
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Well, it looks as If Crikey readers at least, have a very real grasp of our current realities. Can we work together politically please and get things working properly.

  • 30
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    We stand at a crossroads here, where the on-line activist, the hacker, the whistleblower, the purist journalist, are all on the one hand venerated and cheered, and on the other hand are targeted for removal.
    Nice piece BK. Just please be careful about who you offend, and how much truth you shine a light upon… tolerance levels are low in some quarters, and the wagons are circling.

  • 31
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink


    I don’t think that the US are guilty of just making a few mistakes as you suppose. I think theirs is a deliberate policy of world dominance and that this policy has been in place at least since WWII. Sure neither China nor Russia if they ever got into a position of world dominance would necessarily be any better but I’d rather take a chance on that than continue the present course.

    But in fact I’d like to see a world where no single power is dominant, where Europe becomes an independent power and South America is able to assert itself in world affairs.

    I think the US’s star is waning and it will sooner or latter bankrupt itself. I hope it does the world a favour at this point and bows out gracefully rather than desperately cling to it hegemonic goals.

  • 32
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Ian 31,

    Yes you are right the US politicians probably do have a hegemonic goal. Can you let me know in history which country that became a world power acted differently. Countries are made up of human beings who make the same decisions all the time about looking after number one.Look at our history with East Timor and New Guineau.

    I think the worst thing to come out of the US is the absolute power of global corporations and i think is teh long run this will cause their demise through various outcomes . I dont think any political decision in the uS are made without consultation with the huge corporations.

    South America has had many opportunities to introduce a semblance of democracy. Which one has half succeed ? Maybe Chavez has got half way there before corruption raised it’s head.

  • 33
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink


    Can you let me know in history which country that became a world power acted differently.” I can’t but really what I’d like to see happen is the sharing of power - maybe possible, maybe not.

    Most of the countries in South America are now democratic in a fashion much like the US is democratic in a fashion. Sure corruption is rife in S. America but so is it in the US and for that matter Australia, at the government level at least - but we don’t call it that.

    As to Venezuela tell me how corruption has succeeded in destroying its democracy? And on South America as a whole don’t forget that the good old US of A has ensured until recently that no democratically elected government that has been unwilling to comply with its demands has survived. Like in Honduras a year or so ago the democratic government was ousted in a coup that the US supported. What chance did the South Americans ever have?

  • 34
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink


    I think its best if I end it here as I dont want to “hog ” the conversation and pllease by all means have the last word.

    I have never been to Venezuela so I can only rely on news reports. I have been to Argentina,Brazil,Chile,Peru etc and have friends there (its the nature of my work). Yes the US has a strong interest in it’s neighbours to the south and the likes of Pinochet etc probably could not have survived without the US non-intervention. However it was Chileans killing Chileans and the same happened in Argentina where only now some light is shining on the horrendous crimes of the past and some residents would argue its only now under a different name.

    My point is we are all spectators crying foul from the sidelines. Diplomacy and finding ones place in the world takes leadership and courage and I dont think either exists in the world politics today.

  • 35
    michael crook
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi Harry, dont rely on “news” reports about Venezuela. The revolution is alive and well, and when I was there in 2008, and my contacts tell me since then, the revolution has the empowerment of the poor (and Women) as its most notable goal. There is not much space for corruption when the people are politically aware and active, only wish it was the case here.
    They had a turnout of over 80% for the presidential election, that is what i call participation in their own democracy.

  • 36
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink


    Someone must have the last word I suppose so it will be me if you choose not to respond.

    I don’t think it’s American non-intervention that allowed all those violent coups in South and Central America. In many cases, including Chile the CIA etc were actively involved in or encouraged the coups.

    As to political leadership nowadays I agree with you, it’s absent.

    Read John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man or listen to him on You Tube.

  • 37
    Chris Williams
    Posted Friday, 25 January 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Zac48 (27)
    Yeah Zac - very funny and very peurile. If you’d bother to read my earlier posts (6) you’d notice that I’m 55 years old - old enough not to be conned by stupid stereotyping of government contol as either left or right. When you accused me of not knowing what “fascist ideologues really are” and in the same paragraph wanted to characterise Conroy as a socialist, did ou even pick up on the inconsistency?

    I think they are all f***ing crooks and totalitarian scum and don’t try to tell me that I’m whet behind the ears when you trot out such trite undergraduate drivel. Are you a member of the Liberal party spouting propaganda or maybe that other juvenile orchestra the Centre for Independent Studies?

    So why do I challenge your attack on characterising the Labor government as socialist? Precisley because this trite response leave people powerless. How on earth will ordinary people ever defeat the Conroys, Roxons or the Abbotts - who want EXACTLY the same kind of control? They will do it with collective action. Some people describe that as people power some describe it as real socialism. If you aren’t from some ideological front like CIS or the Liberals and so are able to provide an answer to how people should respond to Conroy without saying well they should vote for the other side (God help us) - tell me how they defeat government tyranny without collective action?

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