Category Archives: Courts and Judges

Adding More Dust onto a Threadbare Empire

Barbara Lee: I’m very terrified with regard to what we see taking place. And the signs are there. When you talk about shutting down the media, putting out their alternative facts, banning dissent and opposition, criticizing people who are exercising their First Amendment rights; trying to get people to believe, really, the distortions that they’re putting out there. That, to me, is very scary. It’s very dangerous. And you see also the corporate and military consolidation of the public sector. You see efforts to privatize schools. When you just look at the nominees, you see very few people with experience in the public sector. And so when you have the corporate sector merging with the military sectors, and when you have cabinet officials who have historically said they want to dismantle the cabinets and the agencies that they’re running, that I’m very terrified that we are beginning to see an erosion of our democratic values and an erosion of the public sector.

Hellraiser' cartoonist wants to offend, help others criticize government | CBC News

The new normal is of course abnormal, antithetical to being a human being, or at least a being that is Homo Sapiens before say, errr, the industrial revolution, or in the new parlance, before the Fourth  Industrial Revolution, or before the internet of all things . . . .

Schooling was bad, for decades, for sure, but redeemable in some sense. Things like educational systems are fixable, or they were before the Zoom Doom decade has begun to unfold. Face to face discourse was always discordant, yet the only way for some sort of consensus or arbitrated whole, but now, with Zoom Doom, etc., and especially now that many western (whites) people want to isolate, stay at home glued to this evil screen, as if glued to some sordid 6-hour daily soap opera, really  want to do things on line, do things sheltered, well, the new species of Western (white) Adam and Eve is, well, not the people I want in my trench if the revolution ever happens . . . .

Which will not unfold, this “revolution,” if this generation and the next one is bred to take a $1000 a month UBI, takes the pink and blue pills/vaccines, and continues to listen to the putridity that is commercialism-retail-PR-spin mixed in with the noise of the day, the propaganda of them all – 2,700 billionaires pointing their antennae in all the right directions for more and more control, overlording and alas gouging the economic and socio-economic and political power from the super majority, us.

So many people I talk with, gentrified with a bit of a retirement, or at-home income, plus the house paid off, more or less, and fairly good health, they are blaming the victims, blaming the poor, blaming the kids who got the wrong degrees and who are now in debt.

The divide and conquer is subtle with democratic voters, and overt with MAGA mutts.

This is the scam of capitalism – the people who have “made it” have done so on the backs of people, and many in capitalism make money on people who are struggling, who are lower income, who are not part of the 20 percent. Divide and conquer. Classify us. Put us on a spectrum. On a scale. Rate us. Give us a score, some detailed credit report, educational report, health report, activity report. Google and the other gulag thinkers, they have the tools to put us all on dashboards, even as I type out this screed, the data and the nanoseconds of my moves will be recorded.

Making money on fines, penalties, arrests, convictions, probation, and then all those middle-middle-middlemen making money on turning this financial screw or flipping this toggle or that investing switch to exact more and more economic pain, more and more generalized anxiety disorder pain. You can’t just do things without added-on layer after layer of people and systems taking a penny here, a dime there, a dollar over there, and a 20 percent or more cut there and there.

The reality is this country is threadbare, and county governments do not have the resources for that D-minus nationwide infrastructure that needs tending to. Counties and states do not have the money for sustaining public health, safety and well-being. We are in a system of money that banks have “loaned” communities putting them into bankruptcy. The loan sharks are large and sophisticated, repo experts of the highest order, foreclosure kings on a grand scale.

Imagine the concept of no clinics in communities, no diabetes clinics, public school nurses and counselors doled out like rare truffles (like one nurse per five schools, one counselor per 400 kids!). Imagine now in Oregon, the current college enrollment is down 20 percent. Think. Where does that go, where do we make up the work people have at community colleges? How do those worthy students move forward? Fulfillment centers? Two college degrees and working in a warehouse at $15 an hour (if you are lucky to be in a few states with that minimum wage) and praying for a universal basic/bumbling income?

And that discourse of a UBI is insane, no? No talk about public ownership of utilities, pharmaceuticals, medicine, hospitals, clinics, state banks, guaranteed housing, food security, and public transportation that can only be imagined by Phillip K. Dick. And I am not talking flying taxis, but clean trollies and constant schedules. Imagine, the end of the car for many people – that internal combustion disease maker, the thing that sits 90 percent of the time in a driveway or parking space. Imagine.

Nope. It’s the transfer of $1,200 a month basic income to the rich and the richest. A basic income in super predatory capitalism. Imagine. That is the paradigm. Sort of the same insanity of a Bill McKibben or Liz Warren saying a cleaner military – one running on biodiesel and one that recycles missile parts, on that repurposes medical waste and builds global bases at a net zero waste LEED Platinum level. Solar panel-wind turbine air force drone bases. All ships and carriers running on forever fuel, nuclear energy. Imagine that insanity. From the greenies.

The democrats and republicans are vicious, are psychopaths, and Americans on both sides of that manure pile who believe this is an exceptionalist society will believe anything to hold up their version of reality. They will wrap themselves up in the red, white and blue in varying ways. Voting is their emancipation from actually doing and acting.

Listen to this freak of a man, Trump, and watch the media just flatten down. Think about how impotent ” rel=”noopener nofollow ” target=”_blank”>mainline media is:

AMY GOODMAN: So, by April 2017, just three months into his presidency, Trump launched a Tomahawk missile attack on Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians. Jeremy, you say in your series, “Like Pavlov’s dogs, the bipartisan war machine responded accordingly.” Let’s go to some of the media coverage of Trump’s attack on Syria. This is MSNBC anchor Brian Williams referring to a Pentagon video of U.S. missiles fired at Syria as “beautiful” three times in 30 seconds.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Go into greater detail. We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.” And they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this airfield. What did they hit?

AMY GOODMAN: That was MSNBC’s Brian Williams. And this is CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think Donald Trump became president of the United States. I think this was actually a big moment, because candidate Trump had said that he would never get involved in the Syrian civil war. He told President Obama, “You cannot do this without the authorization of Congress.” He seemed unconcerned with global norms. President Trump recognized that the president of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose.

And yet, this country is waxing poetic about the “clear skies over our cities,” and how the lockdown has “given me space to think, to reflect, to evolve,” and “we are really getting closer to our roots” THANKS to Covid-19.

Dangerous-dangerous thinking. This is it, though … as more and more people (sic) who can work from home (not real work) accept permanent correspondence school-work-medicine-business. No big questioning of the motivations of the tech world, the billionaires, the pigs of AI and Surveillance. No bigger demands for this shit-hole country. No demands for holding all corporations accountable. No pitchforks and tar and feathers for the politicians, the cops, the multimillionaires, the billionaires and their evil seeds.

It is a passive culture, a giant joystick, operation, a couch potato citizenry. The Covid-19 plan-demic fit the narrative so-so well.

It is now rubber-necking to the tenth power. Almost everyone in the United Snakes of BlackRock and then those fleas on the tail of that US dog, Canada, UK, and Australia, is generally looking like a giant cast in a Jerry Springer outtake. The celebrity culture, the thugs of politics, the billionaire lizard class, the entire mauling media, the incompetence of the general population who self-identify as MAGA deplorables and/or middling liberals who believe in Manifest Destiny and Exceptionalism with a little bit of LGBTQA spin, it is the seeding of more and more weeks, months and years of stupidity. To mask or not to mask, to listen to this group of scientists, or that swath of virologists, that is the question.

No deep discussion about how broken the system(s) was/were way back when, and then this rewritten history covering up the bulldozing through the Regan years and up to now. Gutting rights, gutting checks and balances for Wall Street, Banking, Real Estate, oligarchs, polluters, thieves in suits, and the thuggery of cops and troops. Shock and awe, with this crappy media and amusing ourselves not to death but to neutering and spaying glee.

Imagine over 200 rural hospitals shut down just since 2006. Imagine simple compound fracture medical bill of $80,000. Just imagine, brand new aircraft carriers and supersonic jets, football stadiums filled with shiny bullets, and entire shipping ports filled with drones and bombs. This country has no checks and balances to demand human and township/city/state assistance during fires, hurricanes, floods and flu pandemics. No safety nets, no massive shut downs of the perpetrators of fire, poison, imprisonment, shock and awe on the streets by the murdering cops.

Then, we argue how much the thieves are hiding, ripping us off for, and on and on, the broken system.

Some of the most despicable people now are on mainstream media and in the odd-ball media, and the academicians are scurrying like the careerists they are, and then the homegrown extremists, the pussy Trump (not a man’s man or a woman’s man), the murder incorporated men and women on the thin blue line, and on and on. We make those old “banana republic” epithets against our brethren south of the border seem tame. We are a thug nation, a new gilded age society of 18-carrat 5,000 square foot bathrooms for the Botox, and a 1988 Chevy van for the fulfillment worker families parked in an alley.

It all seems like a giant mental anguish experiment.

Mr. Fish Toon- Trump's Yoda - Democratic Underground

The news-news-news is a constant drone of national and international frayed stories, and in the eye of the storm, we have community after community in the USA broken, breaking apart, sliding and of course it never was meant to be a system that is for, by, with, because of the people.

This all brings me to the deplorables, the across-the-street neighbors, whose boys decided my 12 by 14 inch sign that states we believe in a woman’s right to choose and black lives matter, etc., should not only be stolen, but that my car’s window bashed in because of that sign.

Yeah, two deputy sheriff calls, two citations, and then two separate no trespassing citations, and then more and more of my time spent on tracking these cases. So many moments of my mental state thrown into the criminal injustice system. How many phone calls from county courts folk and victims rights folk telling me in their 20 or 30 or 40 years they have never seen such a backlog, a cluster fuck.

Oregon’s lockdown measures, and now property crimes – this putrid 39-year-old boy-man, all 6’5” of him, caught by a neighbor throwing a 10 pound paving stone in my car window and then prancing around the street with hands up and juking as if he just made a dunk.

Then my spouse and I start digging into this “family,” this upstanding MAGA family, and lo and behold, the mother has been evicted from two homes, and she and her current husband filed for bankruptcy in CA more than five times. The perpetrator of the criminal mischievous also has a fine white boy, blued eye semi-man rap sheet – DUIs in CA, and felony charges for, err, animal abuse, AKA cock fighting. This guy’s CA record shows he failed to appear, failed to do court-mandate classes in animal abuse. Charges dropped.

As you peel back layer after layer in America – the blond mother, prancing around the neighborhood telling anyone who will listen how upstanding she and her breed are – the dirty laundry comes flying in your face.

So these anti-Chinese, pro-MAGA mutts, they have some ridiculous business of beach footwear (whatever that is) and they stamp a sea turtle on them, and on their web site, they say “from every purchase we support the sea turtles.” Imagine that, no sea turtle environmental group listed, and alas, these anti-Chinese/China MAGA get those loafers and flipflops from, well, you guessed it – China.

The court systems are super blogged. The property crimes are going unpunished. Cases are being tossed out. Retraining orders are not being followed up on. And this is just one small slice of the angle in America where things are falling apart. Under lockdown. Before lockdown. Beyond lockdown.

Too much on the American mindset’s bandwidth. Again, the mess of crap that comes into Facebook, on Twitter, on those hate channels, on MSNBC, Fox, et al. The paraded queens of stupidity, and the kings of crime, every minute of the day, dragging any attention span left in the American collective intellect/consciousness, pulled out.

This is America. I have former colleagues who are retired, who have their little house on the gentrified hill in this or that town. They believe in this shit-hole country. They think Trump is aberration. They think that all he’s done will go on in perpetuity (lifetime appointments of judges). They believe in this shit-hole system, just putting a few new lipstick shades on the predatory-parasitic-disaster pig that is capitalism left of center, center or right.

POSTS — Lifesigns

You get a chunk of cement thrown into your car window, and you are thrown into the morass that is/was/will be the dead pool of America. All systems no-go. All entertainment zones displaying all those sacrifice zones. All those Netflix documentaries, all those mini-series, all those years and years of drama and soap operas. It’s here, the lobotomy, the collective lobotomy.

A nation of 160 million and counting developing one or more  chronic diseases. One out of five (easily) with recurring depression. A middle manager class and intellectual class stuck in the inertia of cynicism. The gilded age that pushes more and more people into poverty and learned helplessness. This is the country of proud to be stupid . . . proud to be overweight, diabetic, hypertensive and yet, “lock them up . . . give ‘em a good beating . . . shoot them on Pennsylvania Avenue . . . give them a good dump into the east bay with a sack of cement.”

This wimp of a human (bully of that species), Trump, and his suits and ties that are warped (every single GOP before, during and after his death) and who  hold up the violence and extrajudicial beatings and murders this un-man Trump and his un-man Stephen Miller and his Sessions and Barr, putrid puffer fish in Florsheims, demand, we are there, man.

Chris Hedges: We’ve personalized the problem in Trump without realizing that Trump is the product of a failed democracy. Trump is what rises up from the bowels of a decayed and degenerate system. And you can get rid of Trump, but you’re not going to get rid of what the sociologist Émile Durkheim called that “anomie” that propels societies to engage in deeply self-destructive behavior.

Trump 2020 - Mr. Fish

Thanks to Mr. Fish and his incredible mind and drawings/art! Watch his documentary — https://www.mrfishmovie.com/

The post Adding More Dust onto a Threadbare Empire first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Warrior” Steve Bannon arrested as Trump’s America is Crumbling

It often happens this way: extreme right-wingers, or call them ‘ultra-conservatives,’ either in the United States or Europe, suddenly fall from grace, after committing the most heinous crimes. Sometimes it is child abuse or sexual harassment, but most of the time, it is a corruption of tremendous proportions.

In theory, in their own theory, it is not supposed to be this way. Listen to the conservatives, and they will tell you that they are there in order to uphold law and order, as well as the traditional culture of their countries.

But the reality is often very far from the theory.

Steve Bannon has fallen. He has fallen hard, flat on his face. But definitely not as hard, as others would fall, would they commit crimes of similar magnitude.

Steve Bannon was actually not caught and charged with trying to ignite the WWIII or conspiring to overthrow the left-wing governments all over the world. He was not charged with an attempt to destroy China.

He was arrested ‘only’ on charges of ‘defrauding investors,’ together with his cohort Brian Kolfage.

On 28 August, CNN reported:

Kolfage was arrested last week, along with Bannon and two others, and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York with defrauding investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars a project pledging to construct a wall along the southern U.S. border. He is due to be arraigned on the charges on Monday in a video court appearance.

In February 2020, I wrote for this magazine [NEO}:

Steve Bannon, a former White House strategist and Breitbart editor, was finally kicked out of an Italian monastery, which even Newsweek wittily described as a “far-right boot camp.

Or, as even some of the Western mainstream media outlets defined it – a modern ‘gladiator’s school.’ The monastery was supposed to offer “classes,” which Bannon described as “the kind of underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West.”

That, for already quite some time, means ‘insulting and antagonizing China,’ as well as several other nations which the Western extremist and often openly racist ideologues have been depicting as hostile to the U.S. and European hegemonic interests.

Some of those who oppose Bannon’s radical political stands are now bringing vast charges against him, both legal and moral, and such charges are ranging from pushing the United States towards the war with the People’s Republic of China to interfering with internal affairs of other countries, including those in Europe. There are other, unsavory accusations against the former White House strategist and a close ally of President Donald Trump: child abuse and enormous corruption.

The question is: how could the individual against whom so many accusative fingers are pointed, survive at the top of the establishment for so many years, in so many different roles and positions?

Yes, he gets kicked out from places: first from the White House, then from the “gladiator boot camp,” and finally from the luxury yacht belonging to an anti-Beijing apostate. But somehow, he always manages to bounce back. Until now. Hopefully, for not much longer.

*****

Alarms should have been ringing for so many years. But were they? If yes, no one has been paying much attention. As early as in 2016, even an extreme right-wing FOX News picked up Associated Press report which was accusing Bannon of anti-Semitism:

In a sworn court declaration following their divorce, Piccard said her ex-husband had objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”

He said he doesn’t like Jews…

In August 2019, Mail Online raised an alarming issue, connecting Mr. Bannon with an accused child sex trafficker George Nader:

A convicted pedophile visited Donald Trump’s White House on at least 13 different occasions in 2017 to meet with then-chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to leaked visitor logs.

George Nader, who has been convicted of sexually abusing young boys and is now in federal prison awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges, first visited Bannon in the White House in February 2017, the month after Trump’s inauguration, the Washington Examiner reported.

After that, he kept visiting Bannon, who had a West Wing office yards from the Oval Office, the leaked visitor logs revealed, but it isn’t clear if he entertained Nader in his office or somewhere else in the White House.

The revelation raises serious questions about how a convicted pedophile could be allowed entry repeatedly to the White House. The Secret Service is responsible for carrying out background checks of all visitors.

The “revelation” also raises questions about whether there have been two tiers of justice: one for the common U.S. citizens, and another one for those who are levitating in the highest spheres of mainly right-wing power.

Steve Bannon was also apparently giving false testimonies under oath, related to the Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

And if one would think that Steve Bannon is ‘only’ anti-Semitic, then what about his deep allergy towards the Muslims; and the support for the Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” and keeping out from the United States all those “bad people” (meaning non-whites and non-Christians)? His obsession with the wall between the U.S. and Mexico is, of course, related to the “topic.”

*****

But who would be Steve Bannon without China? He is hatred impersonated against China.

As for his fellow right-wing crusaders, like Peter Navarro, Marco Rubio, and Mike Pompeo, China is always ‘there,’ in the middle of vile speeches, dragged through the dirt, belittled.

Steeper and faster is a decline of the American Eagle, more confident is an ascend of the Chinese Dragon, louder, more desperate, and bizarre is the anti-Chinese rhetoric of the pro-Western warriors, led by Steve Bannon and his mates.

On 08 June 2020, AntiWar.com described something that would be unimaginable just several years ago, but what is turning into a norm, under the present White House administration:

New Yorkers looked to the sky in puzzlement the night of 03 June as a fleet of airplanes circled New York Harbor with banners that read “Congratulations New Federal State of China.” Behind the bizarre stunt was exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The duo deemed the Chinese Communist Party illegitimate and declared a new state of China from a boat floating in front of the Statue of Liberty.

In a live stream, Guo and Bannon read the Chinese and English versions of “A Declaration of the New Federal State of China,” a document that lays out their fantastical plan to take out the CCP and form a Western-style democracy in China. The live stream aired in China on 04 June, which marked the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown in Beijing. “The Chinese Communist Party is a terrorist organization funded by the Communist International which has subverted the legitimate Chinese government in the past,” the document declares.

Would this be done the other way around, like if the People’s Republic of China declared the United States of America a terrorist genocidal and illegitimate state, because it exterminated most of its native population, forced slaves from Africa onto its territory, and then massacred tens of millions of people on all continents of the world, that would be surely considered a declaration of war. But obviously, the U.S. and its leadership are truly ‘spoiled’; they are used to getting away, literally, with a murder. Or with a war.

Steve Bannon has been twisting the narrative on basically everything that is related to China, from Xinjiang to the South China Sea, an extremist religious cult such as Falun Gong, recent historical events, Chinese Revolution, and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He and his cohorts are fanatically anti-Communist, as they are outrageously racist.

The danger of Bannon lies in the fact that he is an integral part of the extreme right-wing network, which is now spreading from Europe to India, from North and South America to Asia. He is its product, as well as its maker.

Whoever is confronting China is his ally: from India’s Modi to Donald Trump.

Or all those West-backed rioters and the anti-Beijing individuals like Elmer Yuen Gong Yi. In fact, the Hong Kong riots are direct results of the activities of Steve Bannon and his mates.

If they are not stopped, there really may be a war. But that does not frighten Steve Bannon. He has nothing against a war. He desired a war. He is igniting it. Like the crusaders of the middle ages, he thrives on expansions and the conflicts.

Forbes reported, somehow sarcastically, on 20 August 2020:

The yacht former white house senior advisor Steve Bannon was arrested on recently is the 152-foot-long Feadship Lady May that’s reportedly owned by Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who has business ties with Bannon. And it’s for sale.

It is all very symbolic. It is shocking.

But at least the man who did so much harm to the world, and who has been pushing his country towards direct confrontation with the most populous nation on earth, is under arrest, although presently released on $5 million bail.

Associated Press reported on 24 August 2020:

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres said President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist can appear in her court along with three co-defendants on a video screen because of the health threat posed by the coronavirus.

A lenient treatment. But logical; shockingly, Mr. Bannon is not seen as a delinquent by the U.S. establishment. To many, he is just a pro-Western, pro-Christian, pro-right-wing warrior. As he himself so proudly declares he is.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian academy of Sciences)

The post “Warrior” Steve Bannon arrested as Trump’s America is Crumbling first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC

Belief in Google’s promises is much like believing in virgin births.  For a company so proud of its pursuit of a transparent information environment, it has remained committedly opaque about informing customers on the way it gathers user data.  Statements from the company over the years have not been reassuring, and should foster prolonged scepticism and dread.  “Google policy,” former Google executive Eric Schmidt explained with flesh-crawling discomfort in 2010, “is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”  Don’t bother typing at all, he claimed. “We know where you are.  We know where you’ve been.  We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”  Always a charmer.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is yet another regulatory body that has thrown itself into the fray, taking its second case against Google in the Australian Federal Court.  Central to this action is the claim that will come as little surprise to watchers of the Silicon Valley scene: the instance of “deception by design”.

In the words of ACCC chairman Rod Sims, Google need merely have said “if you agree to this, we’re going to combine the personally identifiable information we have on your Google account with your browsing activity on non-Google sites, if you agree.  If you agree, here’s the benefits and here are the issues, but make it really clear.”

According to the ACCC media release, Google “misled consumers when it failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads.”

Prior to June 28, 2016, Google’s privacy policy noted that it would “not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent”.  On June 28, 2016, that statement was erased and confined to the digital dustbin, replaced with something far more equivocal: “[d]epending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”  The “I agree” notification the company posted that day was said to be misleading as consumers “could not have properly understood the changes Google was making nor how their data would be used”.  That discrepancy in impaired any prospect of giving informed consent.

Instead of clarifying matters, as Sims puts it, Google indulged in using adtech in a rather sneaky way, thereby connecting the activity of the user with third party sites.  “Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis.  This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third party websites.”  Once done, the information enabled the forensic targeting of advertisements without the expressed informed consent of consumers.  “The use of this new combined information allowed Google to increase significantly the value of its advertising products, from which it generated much higher profits.”

Google’s response has been tyrannically snooty.  The change in the company’s policies on June 28, 2016 was made clear to users by means of “prominent and easy-to-understand notifications”.  (Condescension is second nature in such pronouncements.)  Users who did not consent to the update were left with “their experience of our products and services”, according to a Google spokesman, “unchanged”.  Typically, Google generates the idea of the mythical, all-knowing user, aware of preferences, informed of choices, and fully appraised of the environment they inhabit.  It is a fiction that has lost much ballast over the years.  The consumer is as an oblivious as a date consuming a spiked drink.

The ACCC should be congratulated for its persistence, though it remains short on returns.  In October 2019, it commenced its first, and to date unresolved action, against the company, chastising it for misleading consumers in making on-screen representations about how they collected and used local data during 2017 and 2018.  The central problem in Google’s alleged conduct was how the site continued to collect and use personal data, irrespective of consumers’ wishes. As Sims explained at the time, “We are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.”  Cockily, he also called the venture “a world-first case”.

The concise statement filed last year alleges that Google “represented to users of the Android Operating System that it would not obtain data about their location, or that where such data was obtained it would only be used for the user’s own purposes.  However, Google did obtain and retain such data and used that data for Google’s purposes.”  Misleading or deceptive conduct and false or misleading representations were thereby made on the Location History function.

The confidence of the ACCC seems misplaced, bringing meek conventional weapons to a thermonuclear party. Google has the deepest pockets to draw upon, and is happy to duck and weave through the legal processes of most countries to adapt.  Even if fined, its transgressions will continue.

The first federal court case is still dawdling away.  Justice Thomas Thawley, wishing to speed things up, vacated two case management hearings scheduled later in the year.  By August 3, he has ordered the ACCC and Google to file a statement of agreed facts, and a final document on issues with which the parties are in dispute by August 7.  The proceeding will also be referred to mediation commencing on November 2, 2020.  The indiscriminate information gathering colossus that is Google will hardly be shaking.

Building On Victories For A Stronger Climate Justice Movement

While the climate justice movement has been winning important victories, stopping and slowing pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, and putting the future of fossil fuels in doubt, the political system, long connected to the fossil fuel industry, is still fighting the urgently needed transition to clean sustainable energy. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden put forward energy plans that do not challenge fossil fuels.  The only candidate with a serious climate plan is Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

The movement needs to build momentum from these successes for more actions to stop fossil fuel infrastructure. As the reality of the climate crisis hits more people, fossil fuels will become high-risk investments while the cost of solar, wind, thermal, and ocean energy is declining.

Propped Up by Massive Subsidies

The fossil fuel industry is being propped up by massive subsidies without which its extinction would be faster. A 2019 IMF report found that $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, the equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found “the $649 billion the US spent on these subsidies in 2015 is more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education.”

In the era of the climate crisis, COVID-19, and recession, these subsidies are not justifiable. Christine Lagarde of the IMF has called for removing fossil fuel subsidies, noting the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere. She notes: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people.”

The era of fossil fuel domination is coming to an end. It is up to people to organize to hasten the transition to a clean, sustainable energy economy. The deeply embedded fossil fuel industry can be defeated. The people have shown they can make it impossible to build fossil fuel infrastructure.

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Movements Can Stop Fossil Fuels

In early July, three pipeline projects suffered major blows. Their defeats were the result of more than a decade of activism by thousands of people. People risked arrest, went to jail, confronted police, petitioned, lobbied and litigated, slowing the projects down and making it impossible to profitably build pipelines and other infrastructure.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled on July 5. On July 6, a federal court ordered Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Unfortunately, a court of appeals ruling allows the pipeline to continue to operate while the litigation is resolved. That night, the Supreme Court let a Montana court ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline stand, meaning the project cannot be built until much of the litigation is settled.  Construction of the Keystone XL is blocked until 2021. Joe Biden has pledged to oppose the Keystone XL. If he is elected, activists will have to hold him to that promise.

The Keystone XL pipeline was designed to carry Alberta’s dirty tar sands oil across the US-Canada border into Nebraska and has been fought since 2011 by the Tar Sands Blockades, Bold Nebraska and others.  The Dakota Access pipeline was opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux uprising that brought Indigenous nations and climate activists together in a months-long struggle, often facing violent police repression. The DAPL is transporting fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin to Gulf Coast refineries. And, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have carried fracked gas through the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to North Carolina. All along the route, people aligned to oppose the project. Litigation and delays forced the large companies, Dominion and Duke Energy, to cancel the project even after investing $3.4 billion in it.

In another defeat that will empower climate activists, on June 30 in a 10 to 1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow people impacted by fossil fuel infrastructure to sue 31 days after filing an administrative appeal on a permitted project. FERC had been preventing litigation by delaying the 30-day administrative appeal an average of 7 months and up to 15 months during which pipelines were being built.

FERC has been critical for the fossil fuel boom of the Obama and Trump eras. FERC and the fossil fuel industry act as one as all FERC funding comes from industry fees, not taxpayers. According to Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy, which has been battling FERC for a decade, in an interview on WBAI, the vast majority of FERC commissioners since it was founded in 1978 have come out of the fossil fuel industry and many go back to the industry after leaving FERC. The same revolving door exists for many staff members too. FERC and the oil and gas industries have been working together to prevent court review, but with this new DC Circuit Court decision, that should stop.

All of these victories were the result of grassroots struggles by the climate justice movement. As one activist tweeted, “In case you thought that small actions don’t matter . . . this is a result of every tree-sitter, each person who chained herself to a piece of equipment, sat at an air board mtg, blocked a site.” Campaigns that challenge infrastructure at every turn make a difference. These victories are part of a nationwide uprising against fossil fuel infrastructure and the resultant thievery of private property by abusing eminent domain, the pollution of farms, rivers and forests and FERC’s steamrolling over communities.

The movement is making pipelines more expensive to build. Increased costs combined with low fossil fuel prices and low costs for solar and wind energy are making the industry a risky investment. There have been hundreds of bankruptcies. Symbolic of this is the recent bankruptcy of Chesapeake Energy, which was a leader in the fracking boom. It started to decline after one of the CEOs, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car crash in 2016 after being charged with corruption. Steve Horn reports on their ongoing corruption, writing, “Just a month ago, in fact, Chesapeake executives showered themselves with $25 million in bonuses, despite the company tumbling toward bankruptcy.”

USA Today reported that 24 oil and gas companies have already filed for bankruptcy since the COVID-19 pandemic and recession began. The Wall Street Journal reports that potentially 200 fracking corporations could declare bankruptcy in the next two years if the price of oil stays at current levels.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Fossil Fuel Industry is Not Defeated

Fossil fuel industry ties to presidents have run deep for decades. Both George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, were oil men. President Obama, who made the US a top producer of oil and gas, bragged, “We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” During his term, over a period of two years, the US built 29,604 miles of new pipeline. According to NASA, the equatorial circumference of the Earth is 24,873.6 miles.

President Trump, who denies climate change, is seeking to expedite the approval of oil and gas infrastructure. Former Vice President Biden said he will protect the fracking industry and opposes the Green New Deal. His recently announced climate plans do not confront the fossil fuel industry.

The Trump administration has issued a proposed rule to undermine the 50-year old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not requiring any consideration of climate impacts as part of the review of fossil fuel infrastructure. His proposal will play out over months or years during a public comment process. If it is approved, litigation can be used to stop it.

Trump is building on the work of the Obama-Biden administration that issued executive orders to speed up environmental reviews and did not include climate considerations in NEPA reviews until his final year in office. Their administration allowed large pipeline projects to be broken into small segments to skirt the NEPA review. Through the signing of the FAST Act in 2015, which led to the creation of a Federal Permit Improvement Steering Council, federal permits and the NEPA review process were streamlined.

Biden is doubling down on fossil fuels and trying to confuse people with the fraudulent phrase of “net-zero” emissions, which is a shell game that will not cut fossil fuel production. He is calling for investment in carbon capture utilization and sequestration to claim he will offset carbon emissions, but this is a political fraud as the technologies are unproven. Even inside the DNC, this strategy is questioned by their Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis, which opposes reliance of offsets and asks, “Why would we rely on it when we already have much less expensive, proven, clean green technologies?”

The movement must be clear in its demand to replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, and other clean sustainable energy sources. We must demand policies that are consistent with the reality of the climate crisis requiring urgent action.

Indigenous Environmental Network

Building On Our Victories

The recent victories indicate that the more we show our determination, risk arrest, challenge projects in the courts and build the case against fossil fuels in the era of climate crisis, the more infrastructure projects will be shelved. For those projects currently underway, the movement must continue to challenge them at every turn using the creativity and tactical variety that come from a movement composed of a broad base of people with different backgrounds, experiences and concerns.

The profitability of pipelines is already in doubt due to the strategic nonviolence of the movement and the changing energy market. Even with Trump and Biden mouthing support for the industry, they will not be able to overcome the realities of the market failure, the climate crisis and that people want funds spent on public health, remaking the economy and transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The nationwide uprising against racism and the movement against pipelines already have close connections due to environmental racism and alliances with Indigenous struggles. We need to make these cross-issue relationships stronger.

The economic collapse is an opportunity to remake the economy with the Green New Deal as the centerpiece of massive job creation, investment in education and the development of new industries. There is a growing labor uprising with PayDay Report tracking more than 900 wildcat strikes since March 1. Workers need to understand that confronting climate change will create 30 million good-paying union jobs and the Green New Deal is key to rebuilding the economy.

The climate movement against fossil fuels has already shown the ability to create this broad movement. Native Americans, climate scientists, farmers and ranchers, big environmental groups, veterans and activists all came together for the first time in some of these struggles. Future efforts can link climate justice, anti-racism, and workers’ rights work, as well as the anti-war movement because the US military is the biggest polluter and fossil fuel user on the planet, to create an unstoppable movement no matter who is the next president.

Wasteful, Secret and Vicious: The Absurd Prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery

This week has not been a good one for the Australian legal system.  For those who feel that an open justice process requires abuses of power to be exposed and held to account, it was particularly awful.  It began with the Q&A program on the national broadcaster, the ABC, which supposedly gives an airing to the vox populi. The dominant theme of the conversation between the panelists was that of secrecy and the prosecution (read persecution) of lawyer Bernard Collaery and his client, a former intelligence officer known as Witness K.

Witness K, using authorised channels, revealed his dissatisfaction of an illegal bugging operation of Timor-Leste diplomats in 2004 by Australian operatives during the course of oil and gas treaty negotiations.  The exposure enabled Timor-Leste, with the assistance of Collaery, who had agreed to act as Witness K’s representative, to overturn the legitimacy of those discussions and the treaty that followed.  The revelations of this sordid affair were not something Australia’s national security goons were ever going to forgive.

For years, both men have been subjected to a vicious process intent on securing a conviction.  It exudes a police state rationale: punishing a former intelligence officer and his legal representative by means of purported conspiracy and the unlawful disclosure of secret intelligence information.  On the Q&A program, Collaery was combative.  “I yearn for the day when I can defend Witness K and myself in open court.  This is the democracy that my father gave his life in the war for.”

That democracy is, evidently, in a parlous state.  According to the New York Times, it is certainly one of the most secretive, a point aided by two other guests on the panel: counter-terrorism wonk Jacinta Carroll and the former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Dennis Richardson.  Both cast long shadows of the opaque, impenetrable security establishment.  Neither had much time for the niceties and nobilities of the two cases or, for that matter, broader principles at play.  Democracy was for other people.

Stuck in their respective mental corridors, they had no opinion on whether the prosecutions should be taking place.  “The government has neither confirmed nor denied any operation in respect of East Timor,” Richardson deflected.  “Leaving that aside, if an operation was indeed carried out, it would not have been a crime.”  First, neither confirm nor deny the existence of something; second, claim that such a surveillance operation mounted against the cabinet ministers of a friendly state was perfectly legal.  Grotesquely, Collaery and Witness K are facing what can only be regarded as druidical powers, with any potential convictions drawn on exposing what Richardson and the Morrison government might regard as a fiction.

Having added that element of absurdity to his assessment, Richardson bolted for the exit of dim reasoning known as the cop-out: “in terms of current legal proceedings, it is ultimately the court that will determine that which is privileged and that which is made public.”  Transparency can go and hang.

Carroll was not much better, suggesting that all was in order regarding the court process.  The question – that this prosecution farce should even be taking place – was evaded.  On the court process itself, heavily loaded in favour of the views put forth by the Attorney General, Christian Porter, she was satisfied.  Porter’s views constituted “expert advice” and should be given their measure.  It was enough to bring Collaery back into the discussion.  “The fact is that it’s not a judge balancing exercise, the [National Security Information Act] mandates and gives the attorney’s certificate the greatest weight.”

On June 26, that non-balancing act was in evidence.  ACT Supreme Court justice David Mossop ruled in favour of the government submission that material deemed sensitive by the Attorney General would remain classified at trial.  The door would be effectively shut.  As Collaery had himself warned, the national security certificate would be given asphyxiating weight.  His legal representative Christopher Flynn spoke outside the court of the need for this case to be heard in public in its entirety. “The view that national security needs this trial to be heard in secret is highly contested, even here in Canberra.”  It would, he contended, be “a shame” if laws “meant to defend and protect us ended up eroding the very things that we mean to protect and defend.”

South Australian Senator Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance was in agreement.  “Justice should be done openly where anyone can come to hear the accuser, the defender and the witnesses.  Openness guards against improbity and keeps the judge, whilst trying, under trial.”

Both Flynn and Patrick should not be naïve in this. National security, as a concept, is often self-referenced, contained and resistant to the light of scrutiny or common sense.  The protective, paternal principle – that the people, broadly defined, must be protected – has little to do with them, and much to do with the State itself.  Citing the phantasmic quality of national security facilitates such prosecutions, which seem vindictive and more than a touch imbecilic.

That has led to one of the most wasteful prosecution efforts in recent memory.  As of June 3, some $2 million has been expended despite the case still being at a pre-trial stage.  As Patrick put it, this amount has been spent “persecuting two Australian heroes that called out the Australian government’s immortal and unlawful conduct”.  But as with other maniacal complexes that beset the tyrannical mind, such heroes must be punished rather than rewarded.

Bolton’s Memoir Bolts from the Stable

President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton would have been confident.  His indulgent The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir pitted him against the administration in a not infrequent battle over material that is published by former officials recounting their giddy days in high office.  On June 17, the US government filed a civil suit seeking a preliminary injunction ahead of the planned release of the memoir on June 23, and a “constructive trust” arising from all profits issuing from the publication of the work.

Bolton had, as Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman point out, signed two separate, fundamentally similar non-disclosure agreements, “corresponding to two different sets of Specialized Compartmented Information programs to which he was afforded access.”

Publishing sensitive national security information in the US context is governed by that driest of documents known as Standard Form 312.  Bolton undertook that he would “never divulge classified information to anyone unless: (a) [he has] officially verified  that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it; or (b) [he has] been given prior written notice of authorization from the United States Government … that such disclosure is permitted.”  The second feature of the agreement is that Bolton agreed that, should he be “uncertain about the classification status” of any information in question, he would “confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before [he] may disclose it.”

This was not all.  To further supress information that would otherwise make it into the public domain is Standard Form 4414, which covers “Special Access Programs”, referred to in the field as sensitive compartmented information (SCI).  The policing authority in this case is the National Security Council, which required Bolton to submit to review “any writing … that contains or purports to contain any SCI or descriptive of activities that produce or relate to SCI or that I have reason to believe derived from SCI, that I contemplate disclosing to any person not authorized to have access to SCI or that I have prepared for public disclosure.”

Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia was not convinced by arguments made by the administration for a preliminary injunction halting the memoir’s publication.  But this did not necessarily make Bolton an endearing defendant.  The judge admitted that “Bolton’s unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns” but found that “the horse is out of the barn”.

Ultimately, Bolton’s decision to go forth with the publication without final clearance from the intelligence censors was incautious but irreversible.  The judge even conceded that “Bolton may indeed have caused the country irreparable harm.”  The point was rapid, vast distribution and spread, assisted by the nature of technology.  In “the Internet age, even a handful of copies in circulation could irrevocably destroy confidentiality.” All was required was for a determined individual, armed with the contents of such a publication, to “publish [it] far and wide from his local coffee shop.” Resigned, the judge conceded that “the damage is done.  There is no restoring the status quo.”

To that end, any injunction “would be so toothless”.  The other obvious point – that over 200,000 copies of the book had already been shipped domestically, with thousands of copies being exported to booksellers in Europe, India and the Middle East – rendered the need for such a restraint moot.  “By the looks of it,” mused the judge, “the horse is not just out of the barn – it is out of the country.”

The Bolton episode underscores the very legitimacy of the prepublication review process.  Former CIA operative John Kiriakou makes the unimpeachable point that such documents, however sympathetic their authors, need to get into open circulation.  The republic needs the oxygen of revelation.  The process of review, he attests, is “deeply flawed and frequently political.”  As Kiriakou reminds us, such a system of suppression drew breath from the case of Victor Marchetti, who worked as an analyst at the CIA between 1955 and 1969.  Serialised versions of his book reflecting on the grand old days were slated to run in Esquire.  The CIA took issue, filed a temporary injunction against publication of the book citing the presence of classified information and the naming of undercover operatives.  The case made its way to the US Supreme Court, which held that the initial judgment in favour of an injunction was sound.  The non-disclosure regime was appropriate.  “We find the contract constitutional and otherwise reasonable and lawful.”  What followed was an arduous process of review, cutting and redaction, with Marchetti seeking clearance, and the CIA being miserly in concession.

Not all was lost for former members of the intelligence community and publishers.  Texts might still make it into circulation, provided they were cleared, and done so within 60 days by the relevant prepublication board.  Those not cleared might see profits confiscated.  But this did not address the issue of zealous overclassification, unnecessary redaction and violations of the 60 day rule.

The battle against the very constitutionality of the prepublication review system has begun in earnest.  On January 27, 2020, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request seeking records related to the review of the manuscripts of 25 former federal officials, among them Bolton’s memoir.  In April 2, 2019, the Knight First Amendment Institute filed a lawsuit challenging the very constitutionality of prepublication review.  Along with the ACLU, the action was undertaken on behalf of five former public servants arguing that the prepublication system spanning the CIA, the Defence Department, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, violated the First Amendment right “to convey and of the public to hear, in a timely manner, the opinions of former government employees on issues of public importance.”

The action further argued that the prepublication process violated the First Amendment in not providing former employees “with fair notice of they can and cannot publish without prior review”, one that also invited “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement by censors.”

On April 16, 2020, the District Court in Maryland found in favour of the government, holding the prepublication review system to be constitutional.  Judge George Hazel found that the ACLU and Knight First Amendment Institute had standing to challenge the review process, but felt governed by the forty-year old Supreme Court case of Snepp v. United States.  The defects of the prepublication system, be it in terms of vagueness on classification, the certainty of review standards, and the absence of procedural safeguards, had little bearing on the question of constitutionality.

The plaintiffs have duly appealed. Among their arguments is the fact that Snepp focused on remedies rather than First Amendment principles, sidestepping the very merits of the CIA review system.  The limits of government authority in imposing prepublication review obligations also remained untested.  The reasoning of Snepp has also aged, both in terms of the law of pre-restraint on employee obligations and the factual environment.  As the Knight First Amendment Institute urges, “We need to hear these voices [of former employees of the intelligence services], but if we want to hear them, we have to fix the obstacle course that prepublication review has become.”

Dishonour on the Bench: Dyson Heydon and the Australian High Court

It is one of the oldest professions, stacked with rules, conventions and protocols.  It is also tribal and hierarchical.  The law, presided over its executors, the judges, do not do transparency well.  It stands to reason: according to Charles Dickens, the business of the law is to make business for itself, creating its own impenetrable labyrinths and traps while insisting on its own policing.  Now, the high priests in Australia are asking searching questions about the case of former High Court justice Dyson Heydon.

On Monday, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed the existence, and the findings of an independent inquiry, into claims that Heydon had sexually harassed six associates during his time on the High Court bench.  To that number were also a former judge and former head of the ACT Law Society, who allege indecent assault.

The Chief Justice of the Australian High Court, Susan Kiefel, revealed in her statement that the investigation, conducted by Vivienne Thom, had produced findings of “extreme concern to me, my fellow Justices, our Chief Executive and the staff of the Court.  We’re ashamed that this could have happened in the High Court of Australia.”

The six recommendations seem odd, drafted, as it were, by someone who had just woken from an induced coma.  They include the development of “a supplementary HR policy relevant to the particular employment circumstances of the personal staff of Justices including associates”: more information in “induction” sessions; and an understanding that associates were under no obligation “to attend social functions”.  That this latter recommendation was even made suggests the ceremonial terror such powerful institutions wield: Whatever the judge says, goes.

Ceremonial terror is precisely the sort of thing that Heydon’s brother and sister justices could not have been ignorant of.  While parlour gossip can be just that, the tightness of the bench, and members of the legal profession, suggest a desire to look the other way even as an open secret screams before you.

Three of those who received Heydon’s unwanted attention are now seeking legal action for compensation against both the justice and the Commonwealth.  “They were the best and brightest out of law school,” claimed their legal representative Josh Bornstein.  “This was their first job in the legal profession, working for one of the most powerful men.  They were in the early 20s, he was in his late 60s. In all three cases, they’ve abandoned the law.”

Such behaviour is also said to have taken place in Britain, where the justice proceeded to teach after mandatory retirement at the age of 70 in 2013.  His appointment as Visiting Professor to the Law Faculty at the University of Oxford was greeted with some fanfare – at least initially.  Law Faculty Dean Timothy Endicott was ecstatic.  “We would wish to be very careful to keep an appropriately high standard of distinction for Visiting Professors; in our view, Justice Heydon is most clearly a lawyer of the highest academic distinction.”  Endicott swooned over Heydon’s command of the “law of trusts”, and the fact that he was “a leading figure in the law of evidence”.

In undertaking his tasks of delivering lectures between 2014 to 2016, word got around; the Australians were talking about the judge’s reputation, and it certainly was not about either the law of evidence or trusts.  According to a former student, “My first introduction to him was that the Australian law students at Oxford called him ‘Dirty Dyson’, that seemed to be a moniker he had widely.”  A postgraduate student also complained to the university after being supposedly harassed in the Bodleian Library. Dirty Dyson’s stint also extended to invitations to awkward lunches.

Heydon, for his part, rejects “any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law” and that any conduct that “caused offence” was “inadvertent and unintended”.  His statement conveyed through his lawyers sought to take any legal sting out of the findings of the investigation, “an internal administrative inquiry” that “was conducted by a public servant and not by a lawyer, judge or a tribunal member. It was conducted without having statutory powers of investigation and of administering affirmations or oaths.”

The Australian Labor Party smell blood, and few could blame them.  Former opposition leader Bill Shorten is demanding the return of the fee he received while chairing the royal commission into trade unions, and stripping his Order of Australia. “This is a time to strip him of all his recognition and get him sorted.”   Memories of being closely examined by Heydon in 2014, with the justice calling Shorten an evasive witness, remain vivid.

The fact that Heydon also accepted an invitation to deliver the annual Sir Garfield Barwick address at a Liberal Party event even as he performed his duties for the royal commission, did not help.  Exposing the invitation led to Heydon’s withdrawal of acceptance; subsequent calls that he step down from his role led to a less than searching investigation conducted by, of all people, Heydon himself.  In his words, he had “overlooked the connection between the person and persons organising the address and the Liberal party which had been set out in [an] April 2014 email.”

Those in the legal profession have been rushing to the platforms in the wake of the revelations. As a judge’s associate, Brooke Greenwood remembers “being warned of [Heydon’s] behaviour when retired justices returned for events – warnings passed on by successive cohorts of female associates trying to protect themselves and each other.”  She also “experienced sexual harassment” prior to starting at the court. “I complained.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I was terrified I would lose the job I loved and had always wanted to do.”

In 2018, the International Bar Association, in a joint-survey conducted with Acritas of 7,000 individuals in legal workplaces spanning 135 countries found endemic instances of bullying and sexual harassment. “One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in a workplace context, as had one in 14 male respondents.”

Tentative suggestions are now being made that an equivalent Me Too movement in the legal profession is in the offing.  The lechers of power will be outed; the molesters will be run out of the profession.  But that would require a massive, top-to-bottom, back and forth reappraisal of a guild much petrified by convention and obsessed with self-policing.  In the meantime, Heydon’s fall may also take others with him.  “By the time this thing has washed through the system,” concludes Phillip Coorey in the Australian Financial Review, “there is every potential for more scalps.  Big names too.”

Secret Trials Down Under: Witness J, Witness K and Bernard Collaery

There are few more spiteful things in political life than a security establishment attempting to punish a leaker or whistleblower for having exposed an impropriety.  Such a tendency has no ideological stripe or colouring: it is common to all political systems.  In Australia, it has become clear that secret trials are all the rage.  The disclosure of their existence tends to be accidental, and trials held partly in secret are also matters considered necessary by the current attorney general.

Last year, the case of Witness J made its way into the press like a threatening menace, a reminder that Australian authorities do not shy away from holding trials without scrutiny or public record.  A former military intelligence officer had been prosecuted in the courts of the Australian Capital Territory and jailed under a cloak of secrecy so heavy it even eluded the ACT’s justice minister.  Had it not been for separate proceedings arising from the penning of his draft memoir, no one would have known.

For all the generously scattered propaganda about Australia being a devotee of open justice, the converse is closer to the mark.  As the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, told the ABC last year regarding Witness J, “The court determined, consistent with the Government submission, that it was contrary to the public interest that the information be disclosed and the information was of a kind that could endanger the lives or safety of others.”

Such trials are invisible affairs.  They repel scrutiny.  They repudiate the very idea of legal accountability.  All the running is made by government prosecutors.  Law Council Arthur Moses describes it in rather mundane fashion.  “The details of the case will not be found on the court website, or on the noticeboard with the list of all the other cases.”

There are other troubling cases, two of which are taking place in the Australian capital: that of former Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery.  The largely secret prosecution of both men concerns a generally venal affair: the conduct of an ASIS operation in 2004 against diplomats of the impoverished state of Timor-Leste in their negotiations with Australia regarding the continental shelf rich in oil and gas.  Using the cover of an aid project, ASIS agents installed listening devices in the Timor-Leste cabinet office in Dili.

The hope was to furnish the Australian government, then led by John Howard, a robust advantage in negotiations.  It was predatory, commercially minded, and indifferent to the plight of a country still crippled by the effects of Indonesian occupation.  Witness K, with the assistance of Collaery, subsequently blew the lid on the operation, though they did so, ironically enough, through legal channels.  The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) was informed.  Permission to retain the services of Collaery was sought and granted.  Armed with such information, Collaery proceeded to assist Timor-Leste in mounting their 2013 case in The Hague against the validity of the treaty that had arisen out of the compromised negotiations.  During that time Collaery’s home was raided by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Witness K detained.  Charges were duly laid, but only after the final treaty’s conclusion in March 2018.

The whole affair left a stinging impression.  “It was outrageous,” fumed chief negotiator for the Timor-Leste government Peter Galbraith.  “I’d taken protective measures against Australian espionage, which I thought would be based on cell phones and internet, but I thought it was pretty crude to be bugging the prime minister’s offices.”

The Collaery case is now making its way through the channels of secrecy, and we are none the wiser for it.  It is troublingly odd, not merely for its clandestine nature, but also for the fact that he was ever charged.

Last week, reporters gathered in the public gallery in Canberra awaiting Collaery’s pre-trial hearing.  It was a speedy affair.  Those gathered were told to leave, doing so with a statement furnished by Collaery.  “I am unable to say much and you are unable to report much.  This is the state of our now fragile democracy.”

But prosecuting the wily lawyer is something that the Morrison government should be wary of. As the Australian Financial Review notes, Collaery “is expected to instruct his legal team to issue subpoenas to have former Australian prime minister John Howard and former foreign minister Alexander Downer summoned to give evidence.”  In open court, Collaery has already announced his wish to call former Timor-Leste presidents Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans and former chief of defence Chris Barrie.

The presiding judge, David Mossop, is also to be petitioned to make the proceedings public, though he is juggling with government arguments based on the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004.  The justice must now deliberate over what, exactly, is appropriate to warrant shielding from the public.  This is a rather delicate exercise, given that legal staff, not to mention the judge himself, might face the prospect of jail for any inadvertent breaches of secrecy arrangements.

Porter is attempting to normalise the entire matter, giving this disturbing case the gloss of tolerable banality. “There are court cases all the time where some matters are not made public,” he explained on the ABC’s Insiders program.  “This is an argument about what matters may be heard inside the court, and what matters may be heard publicly.”

For its part, the government is pursuing a strategy that neither confirms nor denies that the surveillance operation against Timor-Leste officials ever took place.  Farcically, it contends that Collaery unlawfully communicated information of such surveillance, irrespective of whether it took place or not.  Such witch-burning logic should be laughed out of court, but is being treated with utmost seriousness.

Collaery is certainly rolling out the ammunition with tenacity.  “This is Coalition dirty linen.  There’s a multibillion-dollar restitution issue to do with the helium [extracted] from Bayu-Undan Field in the Timor Sea being treated as waste gas and being given away for nothing to the contractors.”  But that is not all.  So much of the operation in 2004 reeks, be it from the perspective of undermining a supposedly friendly state in the name of commerce, or the prioritisation of intelligence resources.  As Clinton Fernandes of the Australian Defence Force Academy has pointed out, the bugging operation was executed even as an attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta was taking place. It is a scandal that remains impervious to parliamentary review, as that body is barred by the Intelligence Services Act 2001 from examining intelligence-gathering operations of the agencies.

All that is left are the courageous efforts of a few troubled by conscience in what the services of their country do.  Should patriotism ever have any meaning beyond its otherwise cowardly assertion, it will be found in such acts as those of Collaery and his client, Witness K.

Open Wounds: Sweden Drops the Olof Palme Case

It’s the sort of thing that ruffled the image of a composed and tranquil existence.  In some countries, doing away with political leaders is a periodic affair, deemed necessary to clean the stables.  But in Sweden, change is barely discernible, stability nigh guaranteed and institutions revered.  “It’s in the tradition of Sweden to put itself forth as a moral role model,” observes author Elisabeth Åsbrink.

Then came that thorny, troubling issue of Olof Palme. Palme minted a reputation berating the bullying actions of great powers and forging an internationalist platform for progressive politics.  He took issue with the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring by the Warsaw Pact forces, apartheid in South Africa and US involvement in the Vietnam War.  As education minister in the Tage Erlander government, he marched alongside Sweden’s North Vietnamese ambassador in protest.  As Prime Minister, he gave an excoriating speech in 1972 likening the Christmas bombings of Hanoi with the destruction of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi death camp at Treblinka.  In an address to parliament on November 7, 1973, he reflected on the overthrow of Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende.  “The overthrow of a government elected by the people in Chile has raised the question of whether, in general, it is possible to carry out profound changes in a poor and unfair society without having privileged groups resorting to violence.”

He mocked the nuclear deterrent and praised striving efforts of the Third World, the latter earning him praise from Cuba’s Fidel Castro.  On the domestic front, he remained a social democrat to an aggressive degree, bringing in universal day care, introducing legislation on workers’ rights, abortion and gender equality.

Such measures encouraged the haters, though many preferred operating in the shadows.  On February 28, 1986, Palme and his wife Lisbet left a movie theatre located in downtown Stockholm.  He had felt no need for a continued security presence.  He was subsequently gunned down in his wife’s company at 11.21 pm, shot in the back by a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum.  The scene of death saw witnesses aplenty – 23 in all – who could attest to seeing a man fire the shots and flee the scene via Tunnelgata alleyway.  What followed was the interviewing, by police, of 90,000 people.  Of that improbably large sample, 134 confessions for the murder were noted.

The list was subsequently trimmed to include, amongst others, Kurdish separatists.  At the time, the rattled Stockholm police chief Hans Holmér ordered the raid of Stampen, a jazz club that led to the arrest of several Kurds.  All were released for lack of evidence.  In the late 1990s, a captured former commander of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of Turkey, one Semdin Sakik, claimed ignorance about “the details of the assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme” but insisted with unconvincing confidence that “this murder was committed by the PKK.”  PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was supposedly peeved by the expulsion of eight members of the group from Sweden. “The operation to kill Palme was given the codename ‘wedding’ and the assassination command was given by Abdullah Öcalan [with the words] ‘Send him to his wedding’.” (The alleged assassins seemed to have had a sense of marital humour about them.)  In 1999, Turkish prosecutors took up this angle in the trial of Öcalan, who disabused notions that he was involved.  But instead of clearing matters up, another tentative hypothesis was offered: that Palme had been slain by a hastily assembled splinter group, PKK Rejin.  Back in Stockholm, sighs were registered.

The smorgasbord of suspects proved heavy and almost ludicrously well spread.  Allegations of South African involvement were also, at stages, proffered.  (To this can be added claimed Iraqi participation; the role of Chilean neo-fascist Roberto Thieme; the US Central Intelligence Agency and the German Red Army Faction.)  The Deep Search papers, prepared by General Tai Minnaar, designated Palme “enemy of the state”, and contained a list of individuals said to be involved in the decision making, planting and execution of the operation.  In January 2003, Agneta Blidberg, deputy director of the prosecuting service in Stockholm admitted to receiving the South Africn documents and instituting “certain steps and interrogations”.  She refused to put any “value” on them, though a general sense that they were forgeries remained.  In South Africa, weighty figures such as Chris Thirion, former head of South Africa’s Military Intelligence (MI), thought otherwise.  The Deep Search papers had a smell that refused to go away. Former General Tienie Groenewald, head of South Africa’s National Intelligence Interpretation Branch when Palme was killed, was also convinced, going so far as to supply the Swedish aid worker Göran Björkdahl with names in Johannesburg during an October 1, 2015 meeting.

The initial field of suspects, filtered of all exoticism and danger, left the police with the petty criminal and derelict Christer Pettersson, continuously referred to in press notes as “an alcoholic and drug addict”.  He was jailed for the killing and sentenced to life imprisonment on July 27, 1989.  Crucial to the case was testimony from Lisbet Palme, who claimed she saw Pettersson gazing with glacial interest at her dying husband after the shooting.  On appeal, he was acquitted.  In the 1990s, prosecutors revisited the case that refused to go cold, keen to get back at Pettersson.

Palme’s case has continuously radiated with wild discussion and expansive theories, often with bewildering stretch.  As Gunnar Pettersson wrote with continuing relevance in 1989, “Practically everything that is known is open to interpretation – particularly as regards the motive, since so many individuals and groups can be said to have had one.”

The more these ideas persisted, the greater the suspicion about the competence of Sweden’s investigative authorities, allied to the troubling idea that right-wing elements in the Norrmalm District of the Stockholm Metropolitan Police and the Swedish Security Police (Säpo) were at work.  (The fact that some thirty police were in the vicinity of the murder at the time is striking.)  Ministers of Justice, public prosecutors and police investigators duly resigned.

Over the years, one man seemed to linger closer to home, the depressive “Skandia Man”, graphic designer and eventual suicide Stig Engström.  He was at the scene at the time, even claiming to have made an effort to “resuscitate” Palme; he worked at Skandia Insurance, in proximity to the crime scene.  Interest was revived in 2018 with the investigative prodding of journalist Thomas Pettersson.  Engström’s ex-wife, was unswayed.  “He was too much of a coward.  He wouldn’t harm a fly.”

As seems to be a tendency in high profile cases, the Swedish prosecutors do take their time.  And time does get away.  Engström had moved up the list of favourite suspects but his death in 2000 made the continuation of proceedings more than just futile.  “Since he has died,” concluded chief prosecutor Krister Petersson, “I cannot indict him.”  But it was Engström who had “acted how we believe the murderer would have acted.”  He had weapons training, been in the army, was a member of a shooting club, hated Palme and his views.  Such evidence remained painfully circumstantial.  While the prosecutors claimed they could muster enough to move it to trial, it was not necessarily sufficient to obtain a conviction.  Obstacles remained: the inability to link, forensically, the murder with any weapon.

The conclusion to this investigation seemed egregiously dismissive, a slander on Palme’s life.  Even Palme’s son Marten, in concluding that the prosecutors had drawn the right conclusion in closing the case, could claim some disappointment “that they didn’t have more conclusive evidence, like DNA or a weapon that they could trace to the crime.”  If failure to identify Palme’s killer remained Swedish society’s great “open wound”, as current Prime Minister Stefan Löfven described it, it is one that has been left tantalisingly unclosed.

Beating Swords to Plowshares

Baghdad, March 20, 2003

Inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations in New York City are ancient words of incalculable yearning:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

— Isaiah 2:4

I’ve stood with activists in front of that same wall singing Down by the Riverside, a song promising we’ll lay down our swords and shields — “and study war no more, no more.”

In memorably eloquent words spoken after the onset of COVID-19, the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, had this message for the world:

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown….. Put aside mistrust and animosity. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.

Some of my closest friends now await sentencing  for having embraced the call, quite literally, to “beat swords into plowshares.” They entered a U.S. naval base which is the home port to “one of the largest known collections of nuclear weaponry in the world.” The Kings Bay Nuclear Naval Station in St. Mary’s, GA operates a fleet of Trident nuclear submarines. On April 4, 2018, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta and Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. prayed, poured blood, spray painted messages against nuclear weapons, hammered on a replica of a nuclear weapon, hung banners and waited to be arrested.

Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest, has been locked up in the Glynn County Detention Center ever since the night the seven entered Kings Bay Naval Station. Now beginning his third year in jail, he writes that his cramped, dingy quarters are “a 21st Century monastery.” He prays, reads, listens, learns and writes. The Glynn County jail will only allow correspondence that uses 3 x 6 pre-stamped post cards. Steve has mastered the art of condensing his thoughts into short messages.  “Nuclear weapons will not go away by themselves,” he says.

Steve’s co-defendants have served varying lengths of time in the Glynn County jail and several had to wear ankle monitors, something like wearing leg irons, during home confinement. The six now await sentencing. Liz McAllister’s telephonic hearing will be held on June 8th. The others expect to appear in the Glynn County Courthouse on June 29 and 30. They face years in prison.

In October of 2019, a jury found the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 guilty of destruction and depredation of government property, trespassing, and conspiracy. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ruled that the jury wouldn’t be allowed to hear expert witnesses or learn what motivated each of the seven to nonviolently resist nuclear weapons. She ruled out faith-based testimony.

In 2003, the Sisters of St. Brigid of Kildare, Ireland asked me to speak at a retreat for people whose faith-based convictions motivated them to nonviolently resist the impending U.S. war against Iraq. During the retreat I listened to concerns of five people who felt they were ready to risk their lives and futures, and might want to join our Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad. But when I returned to Baghdad, I learned they had instead committed a Plowshares action at Shannon airport.

Parked on the tarmac there was a U.S. Navy warplane. Ireland is a neutral country, and the activists believed they were justified in trying to prevent Ireland’s airport from being used to stage a belligerent war  in Iraq against civilians already beleaguered by earlier U.S. attacks and 13 years of economic sanctions. Entering the Shannon airport, they easily reached a U.S. Navy warplane, and they hammered on it. Harry Browne writes about the action in a book called Hammered by the Irish.

Fortunately, they were represented by extremely talented lawyers. One of them, Mr. Nix, (since deceased) has been referred to as the last of the great Irish orators. The judge wouldn’t allow expert witnesses, and, in fact, the only defense witness she would allow to speak was me since the five said they resolved to take action after hearing me speak at their retreat. She also declared there would be no faith-based testimony in her courtroom. Although she insisted war was not going to be put on trial, she had to comply with Irish law which allows lawyers to say anything they want in the final summation. Near the end of the trial, Mr. Nix rose to speak. He assured the judge and jury that the greatest pacifist of all time was Jesus of Nazareth and the greatest pacifist document ever written was the Sermon on the Mount, “and,” he said, “I’m about to read it to you right now!”

Finishing the beatitudes, he pointed to the defendants and described them as people who didn’t practice their faith as though they were at the delicatessen, choosing a bit of this or rejecting that. “They believe in their faith!” he said.

Then his tone changed as he reminisced about how happy he’d felt, recently, listening to children at play in a park near his home. The children chased the geese up a hill and then the geese chased the children downhill. What could be more beautiful than the sound of children at play? Then he began telling about children in Lebanon whose parents had taken them for a dip in the park the previous day. His face suddenly seemed to glower as he roared out that children were dying in a pool of their own blood. He described an Israeli missile blasting into the swimming hole, killing the children. And then it was as though he was putting all of us on trial. “Would you not try, if you could, to stop a Hezbollah missile from slamming into southern Israel? Would you not try, if you could, to stop an Israeli missile from slamming into a swimming hole in Lebanon? The question isn’t: did these five have a lawful excuse to do what they did! The question is: what’s our excuse not to do more?!  What will rise ye?!

The jury acquitted the five on all five counts. The lawyers had been able to skillfully introduce a necessity defense. In U.S. courts, during many dozens of Plowshares trials, the defendants are next to never allowed to invoke the necessity defense, to argue that they needed to act in order to prevent a greater harm. The laws protect those who develop, store, sell and use weapons. Those who call for disarmament and try to sound an alarm regarding the omnicidal consequences of nuclear weapons are tried narrowly on issues of property damage and trespass.

Riots have broken out in cities across the United States as protesters have vented frustrated rage following the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes. Some observers have rushed to judge the protesters, highlighting the irrationality of looting and burning buildings in their own neighborhoods, ruining places that might even provide services or jobs. Yet what could be more self-defeating and irrational, during the midst of a pandemic while climate catastrophes threaten planetary survival, than the action of spending more money on nuclear weapons and possibly conducting nuclear bomb tests. Why squander resources on military capacity to burn other people’s homes and cities through use of nuclear and conventional weapons?

The prophet Isaiah’s vision arouses action on the part of people longing to build a better world. Mr. Nix’s questions should be ours today, earnestly asking:

Who are the criminals?

The question isn’t: did the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 have a lawful excuse to do what they did. The question is, what’s our excuse not to do more? What will rise us?