Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Who (or what) the hell is that?

OK, so I'm happy that Obama is going to get his treaty with Russia ratified and everything, but you'll forgive me if I'm distracted by this prominently placed photo of someone—or something—that is just begging to be put out of its misery.

Turns out it's Senator Jon Kyl, among the GOP Senators who were plotting to prevent the ratification of any treaty that might decrease the world's stockpile of nukes. Way to go, you Leering, Creepy Ogre-Faced Old Coot. You bang that table with your fist. "I DON'T WANNA LEAVE A SAFER, LESS INSANE/DANGEROUS WORLD FOR MY CHILDREN/CHILDREN'S CHILDREN." Does he even have opposable thumbs? (Maybe he's just waiting for someone to shove a big fat banana in that gruesomely shriveled ogre-mouth of his.)

According to the Times article:
Eleven Republicans joined every Democrat present to support the treaty, known as New Start, which now heads to a seemingly certain final vote of approval on Wednesday, as the Senate wraps up business before heading out of town. Voting against the treaty were 28 Republicans who argued that it could hurt national security. [...]

Republican opponents continued to hammer away at the treaty, arguing that its verification procedures were inadequate and that nonbinding language in its preamble could give Russia leverage to try to keep the United States from deploying missile defense installations in Eastern Europe. They said Russia got more out of the treaty than the United States.

“The administration did not negotiate a good treaty,” Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, told reporters. “They went into negotiations, it seems to me, with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy that goes into the car dealership and says, ‘I’m not leaving here until I buy a car.’” [emphasis added....—cft]

Seriously, get a closer look at this sideshow spectacle!

Kafka couldn't have made this guy up! (OK, maybe Kafka could have, but few others.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Journalist Dan Kennedy on Obama's "shameful" war on Wikileaks.

Boston-based journalist and blogger Dan Kennedy contributed a characteristically lucid and well-reasoned commentary to his occasional column in the UK's The Guardian last Thursday. Kennedy is a left-leaning veteran of the all-but-extinct profession of journalism.

One of the hallmarks of Kennedy's work is that his analysis of facts is always dispassionate and informed by historical context. Of particular relevance here is his knowledge of the history of journalism and the first amendment, and their relation 'state secrets'. He does a great job of articulating what is at stake in the White House's participation in, or rather, coordination of, the hysterical effort to vilify and prosecute Assange:
President Obama has decided to pursue a dangerous strategy that could cause irreparable harm to freedom of the press as we know it. According to Charlie Savage of the New York Times, Attorney General Eric Holder is investigating the possibility of prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in connection with the 250,000 diplomatic cables stolen – according to the government – by army private Bradley Manning.

By longstanding first amendment tradition, third parties such as news organisations — even an unconventional one like WikiLeaks — are not prosecuted for publishing leaked material, even if the person who gave it to them broke the law. So, Holder is working on the theory that WikiLeaks "colluded" with Manning, acting not as a passive recipient, but as an active participant in persuading Manning to give up the goods.

The problem is that there is no meaningful distinction to be made. How did the Guardian, equally, not "collude" with WikiLeaks in obtaining the cables? How did the New York Times not "collude" with the Guardian when the Guardian gave the Times a copy following Assange's decision to cut the Times out of the latest document dump?

For that matter, I don't see how any news organisation can be said not to have colluded with a source when it receives leaked documents. Didn't the Times collude with Daniel Ellsberg when it received the Pentagon Papers from him?


Almost since his inauguration nearly two years ago, Barack Obama has been disappointing liberals, whether it's through his half-measures on the economy and healthcare, his continued pursuit of unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or his failure to close Guantánamo, the very symbol of Bush-era overreach. Some of those complaints are overwrought. Politics is the art of the possible, and Obama can justifiably claim to have done what's possible in the face of Republican intransigence and the sheer difficulties of what he has faced.

By contrast, the White House's legal war against WikiLeaks is a shameful assault on our guarantee of free speech and a free press. It's ironic that after two years of bogus claims from the right that Obama is dismantling the constitution, now that he really is, the only people who seem to care are on the left.

This is a rare sounding-of-the-alarm from an experienced and sober-minded journalist who really knows what he's talking about.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange arrested and denied bail in UK, pens an editorial in Australian newspaper.

Well, there it is. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested by English authorities and is being held without bail. From the UK's The Guardian:
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was remanded in custody today after appearing in court on an extradition warrant.

The 39-year-old Australian, who is wanted in Sweden over allegations he sexually assaulted two women, was refused bail on the grounds there was a risk he would fail to surrender.

Before a packed court No 1 at Westminster magistrates court, District Judge Howard Riddle said Assange was to be remanded in custody until a further hearing on December 14.

The ruling came despite Jemima Khan, film director Ken Loach and veteran journalist John Pilger standing up in court to offer to act at surety for Assange.

But the judge concluded that because of the "serious" nature of the allegations against Assange, his "comparatively weak community ties" in the UK, and that it was believed he had the financial means and the ability to abscond, there was a substantial risk he would fail to surrender.

Assange, in an editorial piece published today in the newspaper The Australian, argues: "Don't shoot the messenger! for revealing uncomfortable truths":

WIKILEAKS deserves protection, not threats and attacks.

IN 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide's The News, wrote: "In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win."

His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch's expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public.

I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully. The dark days of corruption in the Queensland government before the Fitzgerald inquiry are testimony to what happens when the politicians gag the media from reporting the truth.

These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth.

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

If you have read any of the Afghan or Iraq war logs, any of the US embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.

WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain's The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.

Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be "taken out" by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden", a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a "transnational threat" and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister's office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

And Australians should observe with no pride the disgraceful pandering to these sentiments by Julia Gillard and her government. The powers of the Australian government appear to be fully at the disposal of the US as to whether to cancel my Australian passport, or to spy on or harass WikiLeaks supporters. The Australian Attorney-General is doing everything he can to help a US investigation clearly directed at framing Australian citizens and shipping them to the US.

Prime Minister Gillard and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not had a word of criticism for the other media organisations. That is because The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel are old and large, while WikiLeaks is as yet young and small.

We are the underdogs. [...]

Has there been any response from the Australian government to the numerous public threats of violence against me and other WikiLeaks personnel? One might have thought an Australian prime minister would be defending her citizens against such things, but there have only been wholly unsubstantiated claims of illegality. The Prime Minister and especially the Attorney-General are meant to carry out their duties with dignity and above the fray. Rest assured, these two mean to save their own skins. They will not.

Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by US agencies, Australian politicians chant a provably false chorus with the State Department: "You'll risk lives! National security! You'll endanger troops!" Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can't be both. Which is it?

It is neither. WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. [...]US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn't find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published.

But our publications have been far from unimportant. The US diplomatic cables reveal some startling facts:

► The US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too.

► King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US to attack Iran.

► Officials in Jordan and Bahrain want Iran's nuclear program stopped by any means available.

► Britain's Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect "US interests".

► Sweden is a covert member of NATO and US intelligence sharing is kept from parliament.

► The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian President only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees.

In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government". The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.
For ongoing updates on the Wikileaks/Assange situation, consult this page on The Guardian's Web site. Another frequently updated page following the Wikileaks phenomenon is the blog of a certain Greg Mitchell on The Nation's Web site. Further ongoing coverage and detailed analysis regarding Wikileaks and related phenomena provided by Glenn Greenwald, of Salon.com.

Lastly, if governments can shut down Wikileaks with a few phone calls to credit card companies and Web hosting services (CS Monitor), here's an article in which a certain Paul Wallis asks: what's to stop them from doing the same to any and all other media?