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Dr. Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed at @bkampmark.

Imperial Footprints in Africa: The Dismal Role of AFRICOM

No power in history has exercised such global reach. With brutal immediacy, forces from the United States may be dispatched and deployed within hours to combat any designated adversary. From its webbed network of bases official, semi-official and undeclared, Washington’s imperium can exert heft in a number of military domains with a ruthlessness the envy of any of its rivals.

In the aftermath of NATO’s attack and destabilisation of Libya in 2011, France and the United States entrenched their military involvement across the Sahel. The French focused on creating G-5 Sahel spanning Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, including expanding or opening new bases in Gao, Mali; N’Djamena, Chad; Niamey, Niger; and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The United States, for its part, negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger in 2015 to permit the construction of a drone base in Agadez, eventually valued at $100 million but slated to have an annual price tag of almost $30 million. While initially valued at $50 million with the sole purpose of operating surveillance drones, the greedy proved to be in the ascendancy, not only increasing the cost of building the base, but adding a lethal facility to it in the form of MQ-9 Reaper drones. According to US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa spokesperson Richard Komurek, the building effort behind the base was one of the largest undertaken by US Air Force personnel.

Such a mighty effort took place under the aegis of Africa Command (AFRICOM). When it came into existence in 2007, it was described much as you would a toy miniature. The body’s spokesman, Pat Barnes, explained it as follows: “When AFRICOM was stood up, one of the key components of it standing up was we would have something called a very small footprint.” Why not a bigger one? “Given the history and colonialism and things, you maybe wouldn’t want to have a large standing presence on the continent.” Sharp as a tack, was old Barnes.

AFRICOM’s website provides its own rambling explanation for the US presence. “The creation of US African Command has advanced [a vision of working with African partners for a secure, stable and prosperous Africa] through a whole-of-government, partner-centric lens building partner capacity, disrupting violent extremists, and responding to crises.” Raking through the clutter, and one finds the hegemon’s agenda laid bare: Africa, through clients and proxies (partner-centric, no less), needs policing and a roving eye.

Such a milky credulous tone has not convinced various regional organisations on the continent. In 2016, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) could only note its concern about “the existence of foreign military bases and establishment of new ones in some African countries, coupled with the inability of the Member States concerned to effectively monitor the movement of weapons to and from these foreign military bases.”

To date, little has been done to address such concerns. Washington continues to insist that its presence is not only justified but comparatively small relative to other global engagements. Imperial – but on the petite side. The US military presence is casually described by officials in the Pentagon as minor but relevant. It is only remarked upon in passing at various press conferences and the odd publication. An example of the latter was a piece covering the exploits of the National Guard in its flagship publication in September 2022. There, we were told of members of the Kentucky Army National Guard and its presence in the Republic of Djibouti. There are also Guard soldiers from Virginia and Tennessee.

The bulk of the thousand-member task force, however, was from Virginia, constituted by the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat team. Virginia Army Guard Lt. Col. Jim Tierney described the scope of the US deployment: “We provide to and are prepared to support pretty much most of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Tierney’s language is instructive, an amalgam of paternalism, messianic charity and haughty self-confidence. The US imperium is not oppressive and governed by dictates but instructive and popular through example; not a traditional occupier of native savages but a large gift store with a seemingly endless supply. “Our experiences here are that the host countries that we work with really look to the United States for opportunities to partner and train.” They want us here – or so that false logic goes.

Behind such training, and opportunities, the violence, the bodies, the reminders of undeclared conflicts to which the US adds its daily complement, are plentiful. Across the African Sahel, US commandos have been paying with their lives even as they have taken those of others. Aerial attacks are regularly staged. Such strivings, even by the Pentagon’s own assessment, have been to little avail.

In language typical of a military accountant keen on balancing ungainly books, AFRICOM even euphemises civilian killings through its “Civilian Casualty Report” scheme. Triumphantly, it recently announced that, “In the latest quarterly civilian casualty assessment report ending Jun. 30, 2023, US Africa Command received no new reports of civilian casualties and there were no open reports carried over from previous partners.” What a relief it must be for the armchair analysts to itemise, catalogue, and examine the consequences of such a small strategic footprint.


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Mission to Free Assange: Australian Parliamentarians in Washington

It was a short stint, involving a six-member delegation of Australian parliamentarians lobbying members of the US Congress and various relevant officials on one issue: the release of Julian Assange. If extradited to the US from the United Kingdom to face 18 charges, 17 framed with reference to the oppressive, extinguishing Espionage Act of 1917, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks risks a 175-year prison term.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, Labor MP Tony Zappia, Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson, Liberal Senator Alex Antic and the independent member for Kooyong, Dr. Monique Ryan, are to be viewed with respect, their pluckiness admired. They came cresting on the wave of a letter published on page 9 of the Washington Post, expressing the views of over 60 Australian parliamentarians. “As Australian Parliamentarians, we are resolutely of the view that the prosecution and incarceration of the Australian citizen Julian Assange must end.”

This is a good if presumptuous start. Australia remains the prized forward base of US ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, the spear pointed against China and any other rival who dares challenge its stubborn hegemony. The AUKUS pact, featuring the futile, decorative nuclear submarines that will be rich scrapping for the Royal Australian Navy whenever they arrive, also makes that point all too clear. For the US strategist, Australia is fiefdom, property, real estate, terrain, its citizenry best treated as docile subjects represented by even more docile governments. Assange, and his publishing agenda, act as savage critiques of such assumptions.

The following views in Washington DC have been expressed by the delegates in what might be described as a mission to educate. From Senator Shoebridge, the continued detention of Assange proved to be “an ongoing irritant in the bilateral relationship” between Canberra and Washington. “If this matter is not resolved and Julian is not brought home, it will be damaging to the bilateral relationship.”

Senator Whish-Wilson focused on the activities of Assange himself. “The extradition of Julian Assange as a foreign journalist conducting activities on foreign soil is unprecedented.” To create such a “dangerous precedent” laid “a very slippery slope for any democracy to go down.”

Liberal Senator Alex Antic emphasised the spike in concern in the Australian population about wishing for Assange’s return to Australia (some nine out of 10 wishing for such an outcome). “We’ve seen 67 members of the Australian parliament share that message in a joint letter, which we’ve delivered across the spectrum.” An impressed Antic remarked that this had “never happened before. I think we’re seeing an incredible groundswell, and we want to see Julian at home as soon as possible.”

On September 20, in front of the Department of Justice, Zappia told reporters that, “we’ve had several meetings and we’re not going to go into details of those meetings. But I can say that they’ve all been useful meetings.” Not much to go on, though the Labor MP went on to state that the delegation, as representatives of the Australian people had “put our case very clearly about the fact that Julian Assange pursuit and detention and charges should be dropped and should come to an end.”

A point where the delegates feel that a rich quarry can be mined and trundled away for political consumption is the value of the US-Australian alliance. As Ryan reasoned, “This side of the AUKUS partnership feels really strongly about this and so what we expect the prime minister [Anthony Albanese] to do is that he will carry the same message to President Biden when he comes to Washington.”

The publisher’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, also suggests that the indictment is “a wedge in the Australia-US relationship, which is a very important relationship at the moment, particularly with everything that’s going on with the US and China and the sort of strategic pivot that is happening.” Assange, for his part, is bound to find this excruciatingly ironic, given his lengthy battles against the US imperium and the numbing servility of its client states.

Various members of Congress have granted an audience to the six parliamentarians. Enthusiasm was in abundance from two Kentucky Congressmen: Republican Senator Rand Paul and Republican House Representative Thomas Massie. After meeting the Australian delegation, Massie declared that it was his “strong belief [Assange] should be free to return home.”

Georgian Republican House member Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed her sense of honour at having met the delegates “to discuss the inhumane detention” of Assange “for the crime of committing journalism,” insisting that the charges be dropped and a pardon granted. “America should be a beacon of free speech and shouldn’t be following in an authoritarian regime’s footsteps.” Greene has shown herself to be a conspiracy devotee of the most pungent type, but there was little to fault her regarding these sentiments.

Minnesota Democrat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also met the parliamentarians, discussing, according to a press release from her office, “the Assange prosecution and its significance as an issue in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Australia, as well as the implications for freedom of the press both at home and abroad.” She also reiterated her view, one expressed in an April 2023 letter to the Department of Justice co-signed with six other members of Congress, that the charges against Assange be dropped.

These opinions, consistent and venerably solid, have rarely swayed the mad hatters at the Justice Department who continue to operate within the same church consensus regarding Assange as an aberration and threat to US security. And they can rely, ultimately, on the calculus of attrition that assumes allies of Washington will eventually belt up, even if they grumble. There will always be those who pretend to question, such as the passive, meek Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. “We have raised this many times,” Wong responded to a query while in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. “Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and I both spoke about the fact that we had a discussion about the views that the United States has and the views that Australia has.”

Not that this mattered a jot. In July, Blinken stomped on Wong’s views in a disingenuous, libellous assessment about Assange, reminding his counterpart that the publisher had been “charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.” The libel duly followed, with the claim that Assange “risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named sources at grave risk – grave risk – of physical harm, and grave risk of detention.” That gross falsification of history went unaddressed by Wong.

Thus far, Blinken has waived away the concerns of the Albanese government on Assange’s fate as passing irritants at a spring garden party. However small their purchase, six Australian parliamentarians have chosen to press the issue further. At the very least, they have gone to the centre of the imperium to add a bit of ballast to the effort.


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The Angertainer Steps Down: Rupert Murdoch’s Non-Retirement

One particularly bad habit the news is afflicted by is a tendency to fall into discussions about itself. Its members, some of them at least, used to call it the “Fourth Estate,” an unelected chamber of scribblers supposedly meant to keep an eye on the other three, yet finding itself at times distracted, gossip-driven, and rumour filled by its own exploits.

The greatest distraction that weathered province falls is coverage of its own moguls and pop-representatives. When it came to covering, for instance, the wiles and frauds of Robert Maxwell, little could be trusted about the brow-beating bruiser’s exploits. You certainly could not trust what the likes of his own Mirror Group Newspapers or the New York Daily News, printed about his affairs. Editors and journalists were terrified; his inner circle, subservient. When a colossal £460 million gap was unearthed in the pension funds of his empire, feigned surprise was registered.

On September 21, a press release from News Corp announced that Rupert Murdoch was “stepping down as chairman of each board effective as of the upcoming Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of each company [Fox Corporation and News Corporation] in mid-November.” But stepping down in the post-modernist slushy argot of Fox Corp and News Corp never means retirement in any conventional sense. One continues to read, for instance, that Murdoch “will be appointed Chairman Emeritus of each company.”

This announcement should have simply caused a wave of sniggering and guffawing. The most savage and imperialist press mogul of them all had always insisted that he would not release the reins of power, stating in 1998, at the age of 67, that he was “enjoying” being in charge, admitting it was “a selfish choice. To walk away and retire, it’s a pretty dismal prospect – I don’t want to do that.” Were he to do so, he would “die pretty quickly.” One of his sons, Lachlan, seemingly the perennial successor in waiting, had to concede in 2015 that his father was “never retiring”.

One of the reasons Murdoch has cited for refusing to step down has been those heel nipping, unprepared progeny of his. “I don’t think my children are ready yet. They may not agree with that, but I’m certainly planning [to] wait several more years.” That was 1998. But in 2023, now aged 92 years, he has reached a point where he would not so much step down as shuffle slightly to the side. This left Lachlan holding the chairmanship of both Fox Corp and News Corp.

Media outlets dutifully covered the announcement. Politicians were careful, respectful, even servile. Australia’s Labor government seemed terrified to say anything contrarian about the man’s horrific, degrading legacy. “Whether he’s chairman or not, it appears he will play a very big role at Fox and at News,” education minister Jason Clare observed on Channel Seven’s Sunrise. Treasurer Jim Chalmers told ABC’s News Breakfast that Murdoch had “been an incredibly influential figure on the global media landscape.”

Murdoch’s open letter to employees was defiant and characteristically arrogant. “Our companies are in robust health, as am I,” went the sinister note. “Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them.” Threateningly, he promised that an entire professional life dedicated to an engagement with “daily news and ideas” would “not change.” Editors and hacks, remain on your guard.

The letter does not deviate from a formula Murdoch embraced from the moment he became a newspaper proprietor in 1952. This did not involve news as accuracy so much as news for purpose, one armed for the fight. “My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause.” As he so often does, Murdoch tries the populist tone for size, attacking the grey suits, the “[s]elf-serving bureaucracies” that seek “to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose.” He persists in having a fanciful idea of elites who continue showing “open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class.” He follows with the predictable observation that, “Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”

Murdoch is right about the establishment collusion but ignores his own role in the venture. He was the man who, after all, entered the sacred temple and acquired such establishment relics as the The Times of London and the Wall Street Journal, showing that establishments are not always monoliths. At times, they can even be protean, shifting and vulnerable.

The era of Donald Trump and his presidency signalled the arrival of Fox as its own establishment and king maker, the hailer and railing force against the pointy heads, the experts, the technocrats. Foetid swamps were drained of establishment types, only to be replaced by Trumpist types.

In doing so, Murdoch’s corporate attack dogs engendered what former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disparaged as an “anger-tainment ecosystem”. Turnbull has every reason to be bitter; his political career was scalped largely because of the urgings of the News Corp hounds. (His own Liberal Party cheerfully took heed and did the deed.) Looking to the United States, Turnbull also saw the Fox ecosystem and its devastating effects: the enragement and division of the citizenry, while “knowingly” sowing lies “most consequentially the one … where Donald Trump claimed to have won the 2020 election.” This, as Turnbull should know, is only part of the story.

There will, or at least should be, a good number wishing for the implosion of this insidious empire. Under Lachlan and Rupert’s oppressively cast shadow, everything will be done to prevent that from happening. But the imperium’s burgeoning legal liabilities may tickle interest in a sale, though this remains a hypothetical musing by Fox watchers. The $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, reached after Fox’s false claims of fraud perpetrated during the 2020 presidential election, has emboldened a number of lawsuits, including another worth $2.7 billion by Smartmatic Corp.

Whatever the changes, A.J. Bauer is surely right in quashing any assumptions that Fox News “would suddenly become a bastion of journalistic integrity.” The rot, its dank and enervating properties, has well and truly set in, blighting journalism in toto and subordinating political classes too afraid to admit otherwise.


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Fighting the Diaspora: India’s Campaign Against Khalistan

Diaspora politics can often be testy. While the mother country maintains its own fashioned narrative, governed by domestic considerations, the diaspora may, or may not be in accord with the agreed upon story. While countries such as China and Iran are seen as the conventional bullies in this regard, spying and monitoring the activities of their citizens in various countries, India has remained more closeted and inconspicuous.

Of late, that lack of conspicuousness has been challenged. On September 18, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that there were “credible allegations” that agents in the pay of the Indian government had murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a vocal supporter for an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan and deemed by Indian authorities since 2020 to be a terrorist. He was alone in his truck when he was shot to death on June 18 outside the Surrey temple, Guru Nanak Gurdwara.

While the death remains under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Trudeau was convinced enough time had lapsed to warrant open mention. After all, Pavan Kumar Rai, the Canadian head of New Delhi’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had been expelled by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly as a direct consequence of the acts.

In his statement to the House, Trudeau revealed that Canadian security agencies had been pursuing such links between New Delhi and the Nijjar’s death. “Our top priorities have therefore been 1) that our law enforcement and security agencies ensure the continued safety of all Canadians, and 2) that all steps be taken to hold the perpetrators of this murder to account.” The matter had also been raised with Indian President Narendra Modi at the G20 summit.



Trudeau went on to reiterate the standard protocols that had been outraged in such matters. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.” Canada’s “position on extra-judicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally in line with international law.”

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc also added further detail on the contact between Ottawa and New Delhi. “The national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister and the director of CSIS have travelled on a number of occasions in recent weeks also to India to meet their counterparts in India to confront the intelligence agencies with these allegations.”

The Indian response was predictably sharp, with New Delhi also expelling a “senior Canadian diplomat,” asking the individual to leave within five days. Prior to that, the Canadian high commissioner to India, Cameron MacKay, was summoned for a bit of an ear-bashing, while the Indian Ministry of External Affairs expressed the “Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”

For its part the MEA rebuked Canada for its sympathies for what it called Khalistani terrorists. “Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” It was also a “matter of deep concern” that “Canadian political figures [had] openly expressed sympathy for such elements.”

The interest by New Delhi in the tetchier elements of the Khalistan movement would have been sparked by a smattering of reports that seem to add weight that a resurgence was in the offing. The Conversation, for instance, thought it significant enough to note acts of vandalism against the Indian consulate in San Francisco in March, and discuss the activities of a “group of separatists” who had “blocked the entrance to the Indian consulate in Brisbane, forcing it to close temporarily.” And just to note the gravity of these acts, the publication went on to document attacks on three Hindu temples in Australia, a point that gave Prime Minister Modi the chance to moralise and vent to his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, in a visit in May this year.

That same month, Sydney’s Blacktown City Council cancelled a June 4 booking that would have featured a purely ceremonial, symbolic “Khalistan Referendum”. A similar event had taken place in Melbourne’s Federation Square earlier in the year, an initiative of the US-based Sikhs for Justice. A Blacktown City Council spokesperson called the booking “in conflict with adopted Council policy,” posing “risks to Council staff, Council assets and members of the public”.

A frontline against the Khalistan movement has become violently visible. While Indian authorities maintain a watch on Sikh activists at home and initiate arrests (this, along with keeping a tight rein on other dissident movements in line with Modi’s all suffocating notion of Hindutva), killings have taken place in other countries.

Paramjit Singh Panjwar, designated the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) chief, was gunned down in Lahore in May. Indian reports on the killing took a certain glee in the brutal demise of Panjwar, who had “fled to Pakistan in 1990 with the help of its spy agency ISIS, which allegedly provided him a safe house in Lahore and a new identity: Malik Sardar Singh.”

Another, Harmeet Singh, leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), suffered the same fate in January 2020, also on Pakistani soil. His death was put down to either the tawdry business of a love affair with a married Muslim woman from Pakistan, or a dispute over drug money.

Not to be outdone, certain members of the Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom have also expressed concern that the death of Birmingham-based Avtar Sigh Khanda remains suspicious. Khanda is said by Indian security sources to be responsible for grooming the prominent Khalistani separatist Amritpal Singh, who was arrested in April. West Midlands police, however, found nothing to warrant opening an investigation into Khanda’s death. The same, it would seem, cannot be said about Nijjar, whose assassination has taken some of the shine off Modi’s garish publicity machine.


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Brief for Murder: Pinochet’s Apologists Five Decades On

During the Cold War, assassinations most foul were entertained as necessary measures to advance the set cause. In Latin America, military regimes were keenly sponsored as reliably brutal antidotes to the Marxist tic, or at the very least the tic in waiting. Any government deemed by Washington to be remotely progressive would become ripe targets for violent overthrow.

To this day, the murderers of Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende, (wait, we hear the first apologist mock, he was not murdered but suicided out of choice) along with thousands of innocents continues to receive briefs in their defence.

On September 15, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a Wall Street Journal scratcher turned police-state boot polisher bombarded her Australian Radio National host, Tom Switzer, with the stock libels about Allende’s legacy and the military coup of September 11, 1973. The interview will go down as one of Switzer’s poorer efforts, despite meek attempts to bring his frothing interviewee back to the bloody account opened by the military regime.

Perhaps we could have expected little else. As Jeffrey Goldberg so fittingly remarked in The Atlantic in September 2010, O’Grady “never met a fascist Central American oligarch she didn’t like.” Her penchant for falsifying history in the name of pathological polemics is the stuff of legend.

With Switzer suitably boxed, O’Grady gives Allende the traditional Cold War brushing: he was not really democratic; he had issues with the press (the same press backed by Washington to disrupt the reform agenda). He did not countenance varied opinions. He appropriated property for the peasantry.

The O’Grady interview with Switzer is remarkable for not making a single mention of the role played by the crippling US economic blockade, the spoiling efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency and its covert funding of opposition groups, or the delighted, proud encouragement from President Richard Nixon’s National Security advisor Henry Kissinger egging on the destruction of Allende’s “insidious” model of a government. Switzer also fails to mention the meddling efforts made by other powers such as Australia, a country whose own intelligence service admitted to having no national or economic interest in Chile’s affairs yet committed intelligence officers to the task of overthrowing Allende.

In a CIA Intelligence Memorandum, issued shortly after Allende’s election victory, the views of the Group of Inter-American Affairs, made up of representatives from the agency, State and Defense departments, and the White House, concluded that the US had no vital interests in Chile. Allende’s victory would not alter the military balance in any significant way, or pose threat to peace in the region. But a victory would “threaten hemispheric cohesion and would represent a psychological setback to the US as well as a definite advance for the Marxist idea.” With such sentiments in place, the hand of intervention was soon forthcoming.

The 1975 staff report by the Senate Select Committee to study governmental operations with respect to intelligence activities is frank and unequivocal about that fact. “Broadly speaking, US policy sought to maximize pressures on the Allende government to prevent its consolidation and limit its ability to implement policies contrary to US and hemispheric interests.”

Rather than being treated exactly as he should be, a sadistic psychopath deserving a cell with a bar soap, potty and a lengthy prison sentence, the man who came to power, General Augusto Pinochet, is seen as the necessary school bully who bruised one nose too many (“human rights abuses”, as these are sniffily called), the thousands of corpses arising under his watch barely warranting a footnote of recognition. The relativists immediately resort to the canard about Allende’s Marxist credentials and his closeness to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, as if that justified everything.

Remaining in power till 1990, Pinochet oversaw the killing or disappearance of 3,200 individuals, and the torture of 38,000 victims. After leaving the presidency, he remained chief of the armed forces and a senator until 2002 managing, despite protracted legal proceedings against him, to remain out of prison. (He did, however, spend 16 months under house arrest in the UK.)

In May this year, the polling company Cerc-Mori found that 36% of people believed that the general “liberated Chile from Marxism,” tying it with a similar figure reached in 2000. Sociologist Marta Lagos, speaking to the AFP news service, mused darkly that Pinochet “is the only dictator in Western contemporary history who, 50 years after a coup d’état, is viewed favourably by more than a third of the population.”

Conservative lawyer José Antonio Kast is very much of that view, perpetuating that tiresome fantasy that the Pinochet regime could hardly be considered a dictatorship, certainly not when compared to Venezuela and Nicaragua. The political right, in such a hair-splitting mood, is never seen as capable of police-state authoritarianism. Besides, the General did the good thing in overseeing a peaceful transition of power, leaving the opposition intact. Splendid of him to do so.

Despite losing to his left-leaning opponent Gabriel Boric in the 2021 presidential elections, Kast’s Republican Party netted 23 of 51 seats on the council that is tasked with rewriting a constitution that operated during the military regime. Marcelo Mella of the University of Santiago sees such signs as ominous: “It is a far-right party with a cultural restoration project.”

For Kast, the link between progressive agendas, the broader left, and communism, is seamless, the red bogey that needs social extirpation. As he stated in 2021 during the presidential campaign, “This December we won’t just elect a president, we will choose between liberty and communism.” Boric’s alliance with Chile’s Communist Party has also made such links easy, if faulty.

In August, Boric announced the National Search Plan, an initiative to search for the remains of those who were forcibly disappeared during the Pinochet era. “This is not a favour to the families,” the president declared. “It is a duty to society as a whole to deliver the answers the country deserves and needs.” But his own popularity is flagging in the polls.

The pendulum, it would seem, is again swinging away from the left. The shadow cast by the legacy of the military junta has grown thicker. As it does so, the Pinochet defenders, beneficiaries of economic policies that were prosecuted alongside murderous ones against critics, remain noisy and grotesquely at large.


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A Daft Policy: The US Economic Strangulation of China

The broad lament from commentators about global economic growth is that China is not pulling its weight. Not enough is being done to stir the sinews and warm the blood, at least when it comes to the GDP counters. And many such pundits hail from countries, most prominently the United States, which have done everything they can to clip the wings of the Middle Kingdom even as they demand greater strides in its growth. “China’s 40-year boom is over,” declared the Wall Street Journal last month in a tone of some satisfaction. “The economic model that took the country from poverty to great-power status seems broken, and everywhere are signs of distress.”

Under the Trump administration, the war against the Chinese economy began in earnest. Somewhere in the order of $360 billion in tariffs were slapped on Chinese products, a central pillar in the Make America Great Again platform. This was despite a 2019 study by economists Xavier Jaravel and Erick Sager claiming that increased trade with China raised the purchasing power of the average US household by an impressive $1,500 between 2000 and 2007. “These gains from lower prices were broadly shared across all income groups in the economy, although they were proportionally larger for low-income groups (with gains about 15 percent larger than average.”

The downside to such throbbing growth in purchasing power has been the “China Shock” phenomenon: the loss of jobs occasioned by increased trade with a country able to command an enormous low-wage workforce. This was grist to Trump’s populist mill, a spur to protectionism that has gone gonzo under the Biden administration.

Going even further than Trump, Biden has threatened Chinese companies with delisting from the US stock exchange in 2024 in accordance with the Holding Foreign Companies Act of 2020. The value at stake there: $2.4 trillion.

On August 9, President Joe Biden signed an executive order restricting outbound investment to China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Broadly speaking, China is a country “of concern” either exploiting or having the ability to exploit “certain United States outbound investments, including certain intangible benefits that often accompany United States investments and that help companies succeed, such as enhanced standing and prominence, managerial assistance, investment and talent networks, market access, and enhanced access to additional financing.”

The order proceeds to make nonsense of a core premise of US investing, forever cradled by the artificial assumption that open markets are an unhindered reality. Openness only ever makes sense if it favours the trader and investor. As the order continues to state, “certain United States investments may accelerate and increase the success of the development of sensitive technologies and products in countries that develop them to counter United States and allied capabilities.”

To that end, the advancement of such countries “in sensitive technologies and products critical for the military, intelligence, surveillance, or cyber-enabled capabilities” to their betterment with the aid of US investments constituted “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States,” a state of affairs that deserved the hyperbolic tag of “a national emergency”.

A discomforting feature of such executive actions is that they constitute provocations that feed the incentive for further conflict. On the one hand, it encourages China to pursue a more autarkic form of development, focusing on self-reliance as it weans itself off the nutriment from US investments. But such policies can also encourage a state of desperation with few options.

On the latter point, history offers a bleak example. In the lead-up to the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the Roosevelt administration added a generous dose of acid to the diplomatic mix to encourage conflict. To stifle Japan’s military efforts in Asia, individuals such as Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes resoundingly endorsed a policy of economic strangulation. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, however, felt that such matters as oil sales to Japan could still continue on a case-by-case basis, a policy that came to be stomped upon by zealots in the State and Treasury departments.

A colourful streak of US historiography on this point, one dismissed by high priest orthodoxy as ambitiously deluded, even clownish, suggests that the opportunistic President Roosevelt wished to provoke Japan into an attack on the US that would also commit Washington to war with Germany. One need not endorse that view to see the dangers of the economic strangulation policy, one marked by such standouts as Washington’s termination of the 1911 commercial treaty; the signing of the Export Control Act of July, 1940 which authorised the president to license or prohibit the export of essential defence materials; and the July 26, 1941 order freezing Japanese assets in the United States. On August 1, 1941, a ban on oil exports to “aggressor countries” including Japan led to a resource crisis that eventually emboldened the militarists to strike.

The State Department entry on the subject by the Office of the Historian, hardly a den of radical rabble-rousers, had to concede that, facing “serious shortages as a result of the embargo, unable to retreat, and convinced that US officials opposed further negotiations, Japan’s leaders came to the conclusion they had to act swiftly.”

Next time China’s current economic lethargy is discussed like that of a nutrition deficient patient, the relentless assault and cornering, notably in the sectors of investment now regarded as crucial for continuing US hegemony, should be considered. It also augurs poorly for global security: economic strangulation can sweeten the instinct for war. In the case of Xi’s China, it will most likely result in a greater, if haughtier resilience.


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Destroying Chilean Democracy: Australia’s Covert Role Five Decades On

The tears remembering those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington has become an annual event. In the words of US President George W. Bush, it was an attack on “our very freedom”. The US had been targeted because it was “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.”

Five decades ago, that brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity proved instrumental in destroying a democracy in Latin America. (Others before and since followed.) The 1973 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in favour of General Augusto Pinochet, an anti-communist, pro-Washington butcher, received abundant logistical, disruptive support from the Central Intelligence Agency.

The election of the socialist Allende had caused rippling apoplexy in the White House, with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger warning US President Richard Nixon that something needed to be done about the Allende government, given its “insidious model effect”. In ultimately destroying this model of left-democratic insidiousness, they had help from a strange quarter.

In 1983, Australia’s Attorney-General Senator Gareth Evans told the Senate that no Australian security agency had gotten its hands dirty in activities that eventually led to the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende. In what can only count as a stunning whopper of a statement, Evans stated the following: “To the extent that some intelligence co-operation activity may have occurred at an earlier time, there is no foundation for any suggestion that Australia in any way assisted any other country in any alleged operations or activity directed against the Allende regime.”

This pricked the ears of Clyde Cameron, a former Minister for Labor and Immigration in the Whitlam government. Cameron had previously told the ABC Four Corners program that Australian agents had been involved. His views, also conveyed in a letter, did nothing to “change the substance of the answer” Evans had given.

The letter from Cameron revealed his astonishment on becoming Minister for Immigration in 1974 that the department had been providing generous overseas cover for 19 full-time Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation agents. “I was further advised,” wrote Cameron, “that one of these so-called migration officers had been operating in and out of Santiago around the time of the military coup which murdered the democratically elected President of Chile.” Two points of interest are then disclosed: that Prime Minister Gough Whitlam informed Cameron that he was aware of ASIS involvement; and that Cameron, off his own bat, found that his “ASIO ‘migration’ officer, together with ASIS, had acted as liaison officers with the CIA which masterminded that coup.”

The denial by Evans is also stranger given the 1977 admission by then opposition leader Whitlam to the federal parliament “that when my government took office Australian intelligence personnel were still working as proxies and nominees of the CIA in destabilising the government of Chile.” His comments came in the context of leaks from the first 8-volume secret report, authored by Justice Robert Hope as part of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security surveying the conduct of Australian intelligence activities. To this day, the detail on Australia’s Chilean operations in the report remains classified.

In February 1984, a Conference on Commissions, Contempt and Civil Liberties held at the Australian National University was told that Canberra had sent three intelligence officers to assist the US Central Intelligence Agency in the aftermath of Allende’s coming to power. It was also an occasion for journalist Marian Wilkinson to discuss the leaks from the second Hope report. What it revealed was Canberra’s appetite for continuing a covert operations program encouraging international subversion without any coherent definition of that vague coupling of words “the national interest”.

As Wilkinson discussed, six Canberra mandarins had met in 1977 to endorse a program of covert action involving “‘dirty tricks’ in foreign countries, disruption, deception, destabilisation and the supply of arms.” (Rules based orders are fine till they are inconvenient.)

Those in attendance at the meeting were the head of the Prime Minister’s Department, Sir Alan Carmody, Sir Arthur Tange of Defence, Sir Nicholas Parkinson of Foreign Affairs, Sir Clarrie Harders of the Attorney-General’s department, John Taylor of the Public Service Board and Ian Kennison, director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. The latter was keen to impress upon his colleagues that, were the covert program to be uncovered, it would be justifiably covered up and denied.

The subtext of the meeting was that Australia would happily continue the practice of supplying its own agents to the cause of its allies, notably the United States. Australia’s national interest only mattered in the service of another power.

In 2017, Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales, along with barrister Ian Latham and solicitor Hugh Macken, girded their loins in an effort to access ASIS records on the Santiago station from the early 1970s. In their storming of the citadel of stubborn secrecy, documents began surfacing, released with teeth-gnashing reluctance.

In September 2021, the National Security Archive, that estimable source hosted by George Washington University, published a selection of Fernandes’s findings. They chart the evolution of the Santiago “station” that was requested by the CIA in the fall of 1970. Then Liberal Party external affairs minister William McMahon granted approval to ASIS in December 1970 to open the station at the heart of Chilean power.

In June 1971, a highly placed Australian official, whose name is redacted, began having second thoughts about, “The need to go ahead with the Santiago project at all, at this stage.” The “situation in Chile has not deteriorated to the extent that was feared, when we made our submission.” ASIS officials, despite begrudgingly admitting that “Allende had so far been more moderate than expected,” still wished the opening of the station to “go forward now, and not be deferred.” The pull of the CIA was proving all too mesmeric.

Once it got off the ground, the station endured various difficulties. A report from its staff in December 1972 notes concerns about the timeliness of reporting, the problems of using telegraphed reports, and how best to get communications to the “main office” securely. There is even a reference, with no elaboration, to “two most recent incidents” regarding “biographic details concerning” individuals (redacted from the document), something that did “little for our Service reputation.”

With the coming to power of Labor’s Gough Whitlam, a change of heart was felt in Canberra. In April 1973, the new prime minister rejected a proposal by ASIS to continue its clandestine outfit, feeling, as he told ASIS chief William T. Robertson, “uneasy about the M09 operation in Chile”. But in closing down the Santiago station, he did not, according to a telegram from Robertson to station officers sent that month, wish to give the CIA the impression that this was “an unfriendly gesture towards the US in general or towards the CIA in particular.”

Five decades on, some Australian politicians, having woken up from their slumber of ignorance, are calling for acknowledgement of Canberra’s role in the destruction of a democracy that led to the death and torture of tens of thousands by the Pinochet regime. The Greens spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Peace, Senator Jordon Steele-John, stated his party’s position: “50 years on we know Australia was involved, as it worked to support the US national interest. To this day, Australia’s secretive and unaccountable national security apparatus has blocked the release of information and has denied closure for thousands of Chilean-Australians.”

In calling for an apology to the Chilean people, the Greens are also demanding the declassification of any relevant ASIS and ASIO documents that would show support for Pinochet, including implementing “oversight and reform to our intelligence agencies to ensure that this can never happen again.” With the monster of AUKUS enveloping Australia’s national security, the good Senator should not hold his breath.


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Ukraine’s Bandera Itch

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 has been justified by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “special military operation” with a few barbed purposes, among them cleaning the country’s stables of Nazis. As with so many instances of history, it was not entirely untrue, though particularly convenient for Moscow. At the core of many a nationalist movement beats a reactionary heart, and the trauma-strewn stretch that is Ukrainian history is no exception.

A central figure in this drama remains Stepan Bandera, whose influence during the Second World War have etched him into the annals of Ukrainian history. His appearance in the Russian rationale for invading Ukraine has given his spirit a historical exit clause, something akin to rehabilitation. This has been helped by the scant coverage, and knowledge of the man outside the feverish nationalist imaginings that continue to sustain him.

Since his 1959 assassination, the subject of Bandera as one of the foremost Ukrainian nationalists has lacked any lengthy treatment. Then came Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s door stop of a work in 2014, which charted the links between Bandera’s nationalist thought, various racially-minded sources such as Mykola Mikhnovs’kyi, who dreamed of a Ukraine cleansed of Russians, Poles, Magyars, Romanians and Jews, and the role of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which was founded in Vienna in 1929 by Yevhen Konovalets and Andriy Melnyk.

Notwithstanding the cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic composition of the territories that would become modern Ukraine, the OUN specialised in the babble of homogenous identity and purity. A hatred of Jews was more than casual: it was integral. They were, to quote the waspish words of Yuri Lylianych in Rozbudova Natsii (Rebuilding the Nation), the official OUN journal, “an alien and many of them even a hostile element of the Ukrainian national organism.”

For his part, Bandera, son of a nationalist Greek Catholic priest, was a zealot, self-tormentor and flagellator. As head of the Ukrainian Nationalists, Bandera got busy, blooding himself with such terrorist attacks as the 1934 assassination of the Polish Minister of the Interior Bronisław Pieracki. He was fortunate that his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, not that it stopped him from bellowing “Slava Ukrayiny!”

Followers of Bandera came to be known as the Banderowzi. During the second week after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Benderowzi, flushed with confidence, declared a Ukrainian state in Lemberg. The occasion was celebrated a few days with a pogrom against Jews in the city. It remains unclear, however, where the orders came from. With the Germans finding Bandera’s followers a nuisance and ill-fitting to their program, they were reduced in importance to the level of police units and sent to Belarus. On being transferred to Volhynia in Ukraine, many melted into the forests to form the future UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army).

For its part, the OUN, aided by the good services of the Ukrainian citizenry, assisted the Third Reich slaughter 800,000 Jews in western Ukraine. The UPA, as historian Jaroslav Hryzak writes, proceeded to fight all and sundry, be they units of the German Army, red partisans, the Polish underground army, and other Ukrainian nationalists. Volhynia and Galicia were sites of frightful slaughter by the UPA, with the number of murdered Poles running upwards of 100,000. One target remained enduring – at least for five years. From 1944 to 1949, remnants of the UPA and OUN were fixated with the Soviets while continuing a campaign of terror against eastern Ukrainians transferred to Volhynia and Galicia as administrators or teachers, along with alleged informers and collaborators.

Oddly enough, Bandera as a historically active figure played less of a direct role in the war as is sometimes thought, leaving the Banderowzi to work their violence in the shadow of his myth and influence. From the Polish prison he was kept in, he escaped after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. In the summer of 1941, he anticipated a more direct role in the conflict as future Prowidnyk (leader) but was arrested by the Germans following the Lviv proclamation of a Ukrainian state On June 30, 1941.

Prior to his arrest, however, he had drafted, with the aid of such deputies as Stepan Shukhevych, Stepan Lenkavs’kyi and Iaroslva Stes’ko, an internal party document ominously entitled, “The Struggle and Activities of the OUN in Wartime.” In it, purification is cherished, one that will scrub Ukrainian territory of “Muscovites, Poles, and Jews” with a special focus on those protecting the Soviet regime.

Following his arrest, Bandera spent time in Berlin. From there, he had a stint as a political prisoner of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His time in detention did little to quell the zeal of his followers, who went along their merry way butchering in the name of their cult leader. After the war, he settled in Munich with his family, but was eventually identified by a KGB agent and murdered in 1959.

Bandera offers a slice of historical loathing and reverence for a good number of parties: as a figure of the Holocaust, an opportunistic collaborator, a freedom fighter. Even within Ukraine, the split between the reverential West and the loathing East remained. In January 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko declared Bandera a Hero of Ukraine.

In 2020, Poland and Israel jointly rebuked the city government of Kyiv via its ambassadors for sporting banners connected with the nationalist figure. Bandera’s portrait made an appearance on a municipal building at the conclusion of a January 1 march honouring the man’s 111th birthday, with hundreds of individuals in attendance.

In their letter to the city state administration, ambassadors Bartosz Cichocki and Joel Lion of Poland and Israel respectively expressed their “great concern and sorrow… that Ukraine’s authorities of different levels: Lviv Oblast Council and the Kyiv City State Administration continue to cherish people and historical events, which has to be once and forever condemned.”

The ambassadors also expressed concern to the Lviv Oblast for tolerating its celebration of a number of other figures: Andriy Melnyk, another Third Reich collaborator whose blood lust was less keen than that of Bandera’s followers; Ivan Lypa, “the Anti-Semite, Antipole and xenophobe writer,” along with his son, Yurii Lypa, “who wrote the racist theory of the Ukrainian Race.”

The stubborn Bandera itch can manifest at any given moment. In July 2022, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, as it so happens another Andriy Melnyk, misjudged the mood by airing his views about Bandera. He insisted that the nationalist figure had been needlessly libelled; he “was not a mass murderer of Jews and Poles” and nor was there evidence to suggest otherwise. The same Melnyk had also accused the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of being a “beleidigte Leberwurst” (offended liver sausage), a delightful term reserved for the thin-skinned.

As ambassadors are usually expected to be vessels of government opinion, such conduct should have been revealing enough, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision to remove Melnyk from his Berlin post was put down to “a normal part of diplomatic practice.” A likelier explanation lies in the furore the pro-Bandera remarks caused in the Israeli Embassy (“a distortion of the historical facts,” raged the official channel, not to mention belittling “the Holocaust and is an insult to those who were murdered by Bandera and his people) and Poland (“such an opinion and such words are absolutely unacceptable,” snapped the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz).

Despite his removal from the post, messages of regret and condolences flowed from a number of his German hosts, suggesting that the butcher-adoration-complex should be no barrier to respect in times of conflict. “The fact that he did not always strike the diplomatic tone here is more than understandable in view of the incomprehensible war crimes and the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” reasoned the foreign policy spokesman of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) parliamentary group, Roderich Kiesewetter. Bandera would surely have approved the sentiment.


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G20 Aesthetics: Modi’s Brutal Delhi Facelift

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi really wanted to make an impression for his guests and dignitaries, and coarse realities would simply not do. The occasion of the G20 summit presented him with a chance to give the city an aggressive touch-up, touching up a good number of its residents along the way, not to mention the city’s animal life as well. As for those remaining nasties, these could be dressed up, covered, and ignored. Elements of the Potemkin Village formulae – give the impression the peasants are well-fed, for instance – could be used when needed.

One Delhi resident, Saroaj Devi, informed The Guardian about the sharp treatment meted out to him and those living in poverty blighted areas. “They have covered our area so that poor people like us, and poverty in the country, is not witnessed by the people arriving from abroad.”

These coverings, which could really be said to be barriers, are intended as temporary structures, shielding the G20 delegates from the unsightly as they head to their various abodes, a supreme example of detachment from social realities.

This attempt at rendering Delhi’s savoury reality anodyne and safe has also extended to policies of animal removal. Delhi police have been reported as seeking out the aid of civic agencies to deal with the presence of monkeys and stray dogs in the vicinity of Rajghat.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has not expressly linked the removal of the canines to summitry aesthetics, stating that this is being done “only on an urgent need basis.” The premise is fanciful, given the MCD’s express order made last month to remove stray dogs “from the vicinity of prominent locations in view of the G-20 summit.” It was only withdrawn after provoking much opposition.

This unpleasant picture was not something the opposition was going to let pass. The Indian government, concluded Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, “is hiding our poor people and animals. There is no need to hide India’s reality from our guests.”

Whatever Gandhi’s stance, the slum dwelling Devi is wise enough to realise that poverty is a damn nuisance to all, except when it comes to electioneering opportunities. In such instances, the invisible are brought to life as votes, tangible opportunities. “When it is election time, every politician comes to see us. They eat with us and make promises. But today, they are ashamed of our presence.”

There should certainly be some degree of shame, but hardly for the toiling slum dwellers who shoulder the world’s most populous country. Judging from the figures, the authorities, including the ruling regime, should turn crimson and scurry for cover in burning shame. In Delhi itself, there are 675 clusters populated by 1.55 million people. But do not fear, suggests the confident Union Minister for State Housing and Urban Affairs, Kaushal Kishore. Progress is being made. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), he recently revealed, had “rehabilitated” 8,379 people in 2022-23. Not to be outdone, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) had also its own set of figures: 1,297 people, according to their books, had been rehabilitated in five years.

The meaning of rehabilitation in this context is much like pacification. It is a benign expression enclosed in a fist or, in the Indian context, hidden in a bulldozer. It entails control, management, and dispossession. Slum clearance and forced evictions are favourites. The excitement of G20 summitry has clearly led Prime Minister Modi to speed matters up.

On July 13, 2023, the Concerned Citizens’ collective, with an eclectic membership, released a report documenting testimonies from those affected by the displacement policy ahead of the G20. The findings were based on a public hearing held on May 22, 2023, a horror story in the name of India’s beautification drive. Victims of these projects came forth from Delhi itself, along with Mumbai, Kolkata, Nagpur, Indore, and Udaipur.

The report reveals that 2.5 to 3 million individuals have been displaced, with Delhi alone bearing witness to the razing of 25 slums to the ground. The displacement has not merely taken the form of bulldozed slums; shelters that would have offered temporary relief have also been destroyed. Options for resettlement for the evictees have not been made available.

Residents, according to the report, received the shortest of notices to evacuate; in the case of Delhi’s Bela Estate near Yamuna Floodplains, a mere three hours was offered. Spitefully, the authorities could not leave it at that. Handpumps, for instance, were sabotaged as an incentive to abandon the settlement.

Barriers around the site, according to Akbar, an activist living in East Delhi’s Seemapuri, have also been erected in the immediate aftermath of the evictions to seal off any points or entry or exit. The account he gives is particularly harrowing: a police arrival time of 4-5 am; the barking of orders to vacate within a few hours; the lack of opportunity to seek court intervention. The demolition, once commenced, is done under the cover of police protection, a sinister practice designed to prevent documentary evidence from leaking out.

The police have been particularly mealy mouthed about describing the harsh conditions inflicted on residents. “Global event, Global responsibility – Not a lockdown,” read a full-page advertisement issued by Delhi police welcoming G20 guests. But the requirement for businesses, schools, offices, workplaces, markets, restaurants and non-food shops to effectively cease operations for three days, aided by onerous traffic restrictions, has crippled daily wage earners of the hand-to-mouth variety.

As it happens, the G20 Delhi summit was, as so many of these occasions are, much ado about nothing. The absence of China and Russia turned the occasion into a G18 gathering, removing a good deal of flavour that would otherwise have been present. At the very least it provided Modi an excellent excuse to rough up the slum dwellers, using beautification as a strategy to criminalise the poor.


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“A Good Investment”: The Ukraine War and the US Arms Racket

It all tallies. War, investments and returns. The dividends, solid, though the effort expended – at least by others – awful and bloody. While a certain narrative in US politics continues in the vein of traditional cant and hustling ceremony regarding the Ukraine War – “noble freedom fighters, we salute you!” twinned with “Russian aggressors will be defeated” – there are the inadvertently honest ones let things slip. A subsidised war pays, especially when it is fought by others.

The latter narrative has been something of a retort, an attempt to deter a growing wobbling sentiment in the US about continuing support for Ukraine. In a Brookings study published in April, evidence of wearying was detected. “A plurality of Americans, 46%, said the United States should stay the course in supporting Ukraine for only one to two years, compared with 38% who said the United States should stay the course for as long as it takes.”

In early August, a CNN survey found that 51% of respondents believed that Washington had done enough to halt Russian military aggression in Ukraine, with 45% approving of additional funding to the war effort. A breakdown of the figures on ideological grounds revealed that additional funding is supported by 69% of liberals, 44% of moderates and 31% of conservatives. In Congress, opposition to greater, ongoing spending is growing among the Republicans, reflecting increasing concern among GOP voters that too much is being done to prop up Kyiv.

Such a mood has been anticipated by number crunching types keen to reduce human life to an adjustable unit on a spreadsheet. The Centre for European Policy Analysis, for example, suggested that a “cost-benefit analysis” would be useful regarding US support for Ukraine. “Its producing wins at almost every level,” came the confident assessment. In spectacularly vulgar language, the centre notes that, “from numerous perspectives, when viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective, US and Western support for Ukraine is an incredibly cost-effective investment.”

War-intoxicated Democrats would do well to remind their Republican colleagues about such wins, notably to those great patriots known as the US Arms Industry. Aid packages to Ukraine, while dressed up as noble, democratic efforts to ameliorate a suffering country’s position vis-à-vis Russia, are much more than that.

In May 2022, for instance, President Joe Biden signed a bill providing Kyiv $40.1 billion in emergency funding, split between $24.6 for military programs, and $15.5 billion for non-military objects. Even then, it was clear that one group would prove the greatest beneficiary. Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute was unequivocal: US military contractors.

Of the package, rich rewards amounting to $17.3 billion would flow to such contractors, comprising goods, be they in terms of weapons and equipment, or services in the form of training, logistics and intelligence. “It allows the Biden administration,” writes Semler, “to continue escalating the United States’ military involvement in the war as the administration appears increasingly disinterested in bringing it to an end through diplomacy.”

Broadly speaking, the US military-industrial complex continues to gorge and merely getting larger. Whatever the outcome of this war – talk of absolute victory or defeat being the stuff of dangerous fantasy – it remains the true beneficiary, the sole victor fed by new markets and opportunities. Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, now vice president of the Toledo Center for Peace, had to concede that the US arms industry was the “one clear winner” in this bloody tangle.

The addition of new member states to NATO, in this case Finland and Sweden, will, Ben Ami suggests, “open up a big new market for US defence contractors, because the alliance’s interoperability rule would bind them to American-made defence systems.” The evidence is already there, with Finland’s order of 64 new F-35 strike fighters developed by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The Ukraine War has been nothing short of lucrative in that regard.

Such expansion also comes with another benefit. The interoperability requirement in the NATO scheme acts as a bar to any alternatives. “The market for their goods is expanding,” writes Jon Markman for Forbes, “and they will face no competition for the foreseeable future.”

It should come as little surprise that the US defence contractors have been banging the drum for NATO enlargement from the late 1990s on. While a good number of those in the US diplomatic stable feared the consequences of an aggressive membership drive, those in the business of making and selling arms would have none of it. The end of the Cold War necessitated a search for new horizons in selling instruments of death. And with each new NATO member – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic – the contracts came. Washington and the defence contractors, twinned with purpose, pursued the agenda with gusto.

In 1997, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin was awake to that fact in hearings of the Senate Appropriations Committee on the cost of NATO enlargement. He was particularly concerned by a fatuous remark by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright comparing NATO’s expansion with the economic Marshall plan implemented in the aftermath of the Second World War. “My fear is that NATO expansion will not be a Marshall plan to bring stability and democracy to the newly freed European nations but, rather, a Marshall plan for defense contractors who are chomping [sic] at the bit to sell weapons and make profits.”

The moral here from the US military-industrial complex is: stay the course. The returns are worth it. And in such a calculus, concepts such as freedom and democracy can be commodified and budgeted. As for Ukrainian suffering? Well, let it continue.


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Children in Police Watch Houses: A Nasty Queensland Experiment

They really are a brutal lot. While the Queensland Labor Government croons on matters regarding rights, liberties and, it should be said, the plight of the First Nations Peoples, its policy, notably on youth detention, is a contradictory abomination. This situation finds itself repeated across the country, though the Sunshine State, as it is sometimes called, does it better than most.

In Australia, jurisdictions have persistently refused to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Down under, troubled children are treated as threatening ogres, monsters to cage rather than educate. Legislatures and lawmakers have taken fiendish pleasure in using more stick than carrot in the penal process, the result being that errant ten-year-olds find themselves in facilities of supervised squalor. These are fecund grounds for future, full-fledged criminals, and they rarely fail to disappoint as teachers in that regard.

For the pure sake of electoral benefit, political parties continue to demonise and denigrate wayward, lawbreaking delinquents. Governments continue to detain children with varying degrees of severity, with officials scratching their heads on novel ways of keeping them off the streets and in the cells. Queensland has had a particularly insatiable appetite for the practice, having used it for decades. Between 2021 and 2022, thousands of children were detained for durations exceeding six hours; hundreds for 48 hours or more. The rough cost for this exercise over two years: A$35 million.

In early August, Queensland’s Department of Youth Justice had to come clean to the state Supreme Court that it had been running a gruesome, unlawful experiment in penology. Remanded children were being held in police watch houses otherwise designed for adults instead of youth detention centres. This also entailed placing children alongside adult offenders. The practice was brought to light in a challenge by the Caxton Legal Centre acting for the non-government support agency Youth Empowered Towards Independence Incorporated (YETI Cairns).

The applicant sought a writ of habeas corpus requiring the removal of eight children being held in various watch houses across the State controlled by the Commissioner of the Queensland Police Service. During proceedings, it became increasingly clear after initial investigations on the part of the government that something was brewing. Five of the original eight children had been transferred to youth detention centres, leaving the focus on the remaining three in police-controlled watch towers. It was duly found, as noted in the judgment, that the Queensland government “could not discharge the onus on them to establish the lawfulness of the detention of these children,” requiring, therefore, their delivery to the youth detention centres.

Chastened but not deterred, the Palaszczuk government, as a matter of haste, introduced legislation permitting such imprisonment in watch houses. The legislation also contained a reproachful sneer to the Queensland Supreme Court: the practice of detaining children in watch houses was rendered retrospectively legal. Inquisitors and Medieval Church prosecutors would have been proud. Donald Trump, were he to know of that fact, would have sighed with envy.

Then came further changes introduced by the police minister, Mark Ryan, part of a package to an otherwise unrelated bill. To ensure the effectiveness of the measure, the State was effectively suspending its Human Rights Act. The minister put this callous move down to a matter of “immediate capacity issues” in the state’s prison system, which is rather revealing in of itself. In the mangled language of administration, Ryan suggested that the measure was only temporary. “It is not intended to make acceptable the long-term use of watchhouse or corrective services facilities for young people.”

A terse, accurate description of the proceedings was offered by the Queensland Greens MP, Michael Berkman. “At 3:30pm, they moved 57 pages of amendments to an unrelated bill w [sic] 30 mins for debate. They suspend the Human Rights Act to allow children to be kept in watch houses & adult prisons.”

The suspension of the Human Rights Act was done with the calm, dismissive air of a desk clerk untroubled by the rule book. In a country where parliaments are regarded as awesomely, even tyrannically supreme, there are virtually no impediments on such monstrous conduct.

“This is now the second time Queensland has suspended its Human Rights Act to criminalise and punish children in this state,” Gunggari campaigner Maggie Munn told the National Indigenous Times. “Incarcerating children whether in prisons or watch houses is harmful, the government knows this and yet continues to enforce these conditions.”

Child advocacy and support organisation SHINE for Kids was fittingly aghast. “Locking up children might make people feel safer, but it doesn’t reduce crime or make them safer,” stated the organisation’s CEO, Julie Hourigan. “The government needs to address community safety with interventions that work, not just get headlines.”

This attempt at retrospective self-exemption from liability will not go unchallenged. Peter O’Brien, a lawyer representing former youth detainee Dylan Voller in a class action against the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre, suggests the opportunity for litigation is ripe. “If the circumstances of the detention were particularly decrepit, or unpleasant, or cruel, or inhumane, then that would go to aggravated damages,” he argues. “And then in addition to that, there would be damages of a punitive nature, exemplary damages.” In that case, the Queensland government could owe children unlawfully held in such watch houses up to A$5,000 for each day spent behind bars.

O’Brien’s bristling confidence in the matter may be misplaced. The principle does not lie in the horrific treatment and conditions facing the children, but the scope of parliamentary power. Australian courts have held that State and Federal Parliaments may validly pass retrospective legislation, thereby soiling that purportedly sacred principle known as the Rule of Law. Parliamentary power here verges on true despotism. The only argument that could be made is that the case law blessing such a deplorable state of affairs tends to apply to ex post facto criminalisation rather than a government’s efforts to exonerate its own unlawfulness or criminality. The wriggle room here, however, is barely worth mentioning.

With a hoary repetitiveness, the case for a commonwealth wide Bill of Human Rights is demonstrated by the appalling conduct of supposedly wise politicians who reject its value in the name of populist howls and administrative ineptitude. The conduct of the Queensland government is simply another one on the slagheap.


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Educating the US Imperium: Australia’s Mission for Assange

An odder political bunch you could not find, at least when it comes to pursuing a single goal. Given that the goal is the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange makes it all the more striking. Six Australian parliamentarians of various stripes will be heading to Washington ahead of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s October visit to test the ground of empire, maybe even plant a few seeds of doubt, about why the indictment against their countryman should be dropped.

That indictment, an outrageous, piffling shambles of a document comprising 18 charges, 17 based on that nasty, brutish statute, the Espionage Act of 1917, risks earning Assange a prison sentence in the order of 175 years. But in any instrumental sense, his incarceration remains ongoing, with the United Kingdom currently acting as prison warden and custodian.

In the politics of his homeland, the icy polarisation that came with Assange’s initial publishing exploits (former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was convinced Cablegate was a crime) has shifted to something almost amounting to a consensus. The cynic will say that votes are in the offing, if not at risk if nothing is done; the principled will argue that enlightenment has finally dawned.

The Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, agree on almost nothing else but the fact that Assange has suffered enough. In Parliament, the tireless work of the independent MP from Tasmania, Andrew Wilkie, has bloomed into the garrulous Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group.

The Washington mission, which will arrive in the US on September 20, comprises former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, the scattergun former Nationals leader, Labor MP Tony Zappia, Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson, Liberal Senator Alex Antic and the competent independent member for Kooyong, Dr. Monique Ryan.

What will be said will hardly be pleasing to the ears of the Washington establishment. Senator Shoebridge, for instance, promises to make the case that Assange was merely telling the truth about US war crimes, hardly music for guardians from Freedom’s Land. Sounding like an impassioned pastor, he will tell his unsuspecting flock “the truth about this prosecution.”

Joyce, however, tried to pour some oil over troubled waters by insisting on ABC News that the delegates were not there “to pick a fight”. He did not necessarily want to give the impression that his views aligned with WikiLeaks. The principles, soundly, were that Assange had not committed any of the alleged offences as a US national, let alone in the United States itself. The material Assange had published had not been appropriated by himself. He had received it from Chelsea Manning, a US military source, “who is now walking the streets as a free person.”

To pursue the indictment to its logical conclusion would mean that Assange, or any journalist for that matter, could be extradited to the US from, say, Australia, for the activities in question. This extraterritorial eccentricity set a “very, very bad precedent”, and it was a “duty” to defend his status as an Australian citizen.

The Nationals MP also noted, rather saliently, that Beijing was currently interested in pursuing four Chinese nationals on Australian soil for a number of alleged offences that did not, necessarily, have a nexus to Chinese territory. Should Australia now extradite them as a matter of course? (The same observation has been made by an adviser to the Assange campaign, Greg Barns SC: “You’ve got China using the Assange case as a sort of moral equivalence argument.”)

Broadly speaking, the delegation is hoping to draw attention to the nature of publishing itself and the risks posed to free speech and the journalistic craft by the indictment. But there is another catch. In Shoebridge’s words, the delegates will also remind US lawmakers “that one of their closest allies sees the treatment of Julian Assange as a key indicator on the health of the bilateral relationship.”



Ryan expressed much the same view. “Australia is an excellent friend of the US and it’s not unreasonable to request to ask the US to cease this extradition attempt on Mr Assange.” The WikiLeaks founder was “a “journalist; he should not be prosecuted for crimes against journalism.”

While these efforts are laudable, they are also revealing. The first is that the clout of the Albanese government in Washington, on this point, has been minimal. Meekly, the government awaits the legal process in the UK to exhaust itself, possibly leading to a plea deal with all its attendant dangers to Assange. (The recent floating of that idea, based on remarks made by US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, was scotched by former British diplomat and Assange confidante Craig Murray in an interview with WBAI radio last week.) Best, then, to leave it to a diverse set of politicians representative of the “Australian voice” to convey the message across the pond.

Then there is the issue of whether the delegation’s urgings will have any purchase beyond being a performing flea act. US State Department officials remain glacial in their dismissal of Canberra’s “enough is enough” concerns and defer matters to the US Department of Justice. The unimpressive ambassador Kennedy has been the perfect barometer of this sentiment: host Australian MPs for lunch, keep up appearances, listen politely and ignore their views. Such is the relationship between lord and vassal.

In Washington, the perspective remains ossified, retributive and wrongheaded. Assange is myth and monster, the hacker who pilfered state secrets and compromised US national security; the man who revealed confidential sources and endangered informants; a propagandist who harmed the sweet sombre warriors of freedom by encouraging a new army of whistleblowers and transparency advocates.

Whatever the outcome from this trip, some stirring of hope is at least possible. The recent political movement down under shows that Assange is increasingly being seen less in the narrow context of personality than high principle. Forget whether you know the man, his habits, his inclinations. Remember him as the principle, or even a set of principles: the publisher who, with audacity, exposed the crimes and misdeeds of power; that, in doing so, he is now being hounded and persecuted in a way that will chill global efforts to do something similar.


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Criminalising Activism: Woodside, Protest and Climate Change

On August 1, protesters against the Burrup Hub expansion in Western Australia, a project of one of Australia’s most ruthless fossil fuel companies, took to the Perth home of its CEO, Meg O’Neill. The CEO of Woodside was not impressed. In fact, she seemed rather distressed. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of the business community, in professional athletics, or just a school kid… everybody has the right to feel safe in their own home,” she subsequently told a breakfast event. “What happened Tuesday has left me shaken, fearful, and distressed.” In distress, opportunities for revenge grow.

Members of the Disrupt Burrup Hub have had Woodside in their sights for some time. Their primary object of concern: the Burrup Hub project, consisting of the Scarborough and Browse Basin gas fields, the Pluto Project processing plant, and various linked liquified gas and fertiliser plans found on the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara region.

On this occasion, the group’s practical efforts proved stillborn. One of the protestors, Matilda Lane-Rose, found herself facing over a dozen counter-terrorist police lying in wait on O’Neill’s property. Lane-Rose, along with three other members of Disrupt Burrup Hub, were charged with conspiracy to commit and indictable offence.

The howl of indignation has been eardrum splitting. Mark Abbotsford, Woodside’s executive vice president, stated that there was a line, and it had been crossed. Former Greens MP, Alison Xamon, questioned the wisdom of the protest, suggesting that there “is a sense that people’s homes should almost be off limits.” The media imperium owned by the mogul Kerry Stokes expressed fury at the antics of “eco fanatics”.

Seven West Media also took the national broadcaster to task for having covered the actual protest as part of an intended program for Four Corners. Their journalists, for one, suggested that the ABC had overstepped, despite those from their own stable having done precisely the same thing on two previous occasions. In 2021, for instance, Channel Seven found itself covering a protest that blockaded Woodside’s facilities on Burrup. They even got live crosses into the market ready for breakfast television.

The Western Australian Premier, whose electability in that state is determined by fossil-fuellers, was also critical of the ABC. In a letter to its chair, Ita Buttrose, Roger Cook wished to “express [his] serious concerns about the ABC crew’s actions and urge you organisation to reflect on the role it played in this matter.”

The prosecuting police, holding their side of the bargain protecting a citizen of such sweet purity as O’Neill, painted a picture of sinister domestic insurgency at her doorstep. In the Perth Magistrates Court, WA Police prosecutor Kim Briggs had stern words for two of the protestors seeking bail, Jesse Noakes and Gerard Mazza. “They prepared their actions in detail including surveillance and reconnaissance.” They also “parked near the residence and Ms O’Neill’s departure time was worked out to maximise disruption.”

The intention of such conduct, Briggs alleged, “was to damage the property using spray paint and lock themselves [to a gate] with a D-lock to hinder the ability of Ms O’Neill to leave the property.”

Whatever the immediate merits of the publicity seeking exercise by the Disrupt Burrup Hubbers, Woodside had a devilish card to play. After all, anything that might divert, or at least stifle interest in an expansionist agenda that promises to produce billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2070, would prove inevitable.

Despite already having protective bail conditions in place that would prevent the protesters from approaching O’Neill in any capacity, let alone any Woodside property, the company wanted more. A legal remedy to effectively extinguish speech and coverage on the executive, the company and the protest, would be sought. The target, in other words, was publicity itself. In a novel, even shocking way, Woodside sought Violence Restraining Orders against the protestors. A VRO is intended to restrain a person from any one of the following: committing an act of abuse, breaching the peace, causing fear, damaging property or intimidating another person.

Through August, VROs were served on Lane-Rose, Emil Davey and Gerard Mazza. The relevant clauses note that the campaigners are not to “make any reference to [the Woodside CEO] by any electronic means, including by using the internet and any social media application” or “cause or allow any other person to engage in conduct of the type referred to in any of the preceding paragraphs of this order on your behalf.”

This could only be taken for what it was: a violent effort to stomp on speech, especially of the critical sort. Barrister Zarah Burgess, representing Disrupt Burrup Hub, described it as “a transparent and extraordinary attempt to gag climate campaigners from speaking about Woodside’s fossil fuel expansion.” Never before had she seen the VRO system used in such a manner. “The intended purpose for granting VROs is to protect people, predominantly women and children, usually in the context of family violence.”

A dismayed Alice Drury of the Human Rights Law Centre was blunt: “Woodside and the multibillion dollar fossil fuel industry are trying to send a chilling message to anyone who dares to speak out: you will be intimidated and silenced.”

This brutal reaction from O’Neill and company says everything about Woodside and its place in Australian society. It advertises itself as “a global energy company, founded in Australia with a spirit of innovation and determination.” And, just in case you forget, the company provides “energy the world needs to heat and cool homes, keep lights on and enable industry.” To that, can be added another jotting: it will seek to prevent, and even criminalise free speech and protest on the environment if permitted. The legal authorities in Western Australia, at least pending appeal, agree.


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Weasel Words in Aviation: Protecting the Flying Kangaroo

Ambrose Bierce, whose cynicism supplies a hygienic cold wash, suggested that politics was always a matter of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. It involved conducting public affairs for private advantage. How right he was. One way of justifying such an effort is through using such words as the “national interest” or “public interest” in justifying government policies, from the erroneous to the criminal. They become weasel-like terms, soiling and spoiling language.

In various large-scale industries, companies can find themselves in the pink with governments keen to underwrite their losses during times of crisis while taking a soft approach to their profiteering predations in time of prosperity. The former is a policy that socialises losses, thereby throwing public money after deals gone bad; the latter is simply called, absurdly, the free market (another weasel term), where corporate gains are put down to entrepreneurial genius.

There is no evident sign of that genius in the global aviation market. In Australia, with a market typically in the stranglehold of a handful of firms, its absence is conspicuous. In one of the world’s most concentrated markets in the field, two operators reign: Qantas and Virgin. This classic duopoly has made the idea of reduced airfares a dreamy nonsense, an aspiration of the deluded.

The picture from an international perspective is also dire. Despite its appalling conduct over the last two years, be it towards ground staff, the gruff cancellation of flights, the stubbornness in refunding them, and the squeezing of extortionate fares, Qantas was privileged by a government decision to block an offer by another carrier to operate more flights into Australia. The move also had the faint odour of protectionism, made somewhat stronger by the A$2.47 billion in profits registered by the only aviation outfit that was generously cushioned by Commonwealth government funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, Canberra rejected a bid by Qatar Airways to add 21 extra flights per week into Australia’s three largest cities: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These would have supplemented the 28 weekly flights currently on offer. But it took till August for the government to cook up a feeble justification for having made a decision that will annually cost the Australian economy, according to one estimate, between A$540 million and $788 million.

According to federal Transport Minister, Catherine King, speaking to Parliament, “We only sign up to agreements that benefit our national interest, in all of its broad complexity, and that includes ensuring that we have an aviation sector, through the recovery, that employs Australian workers.”

Given that Qantas has relished sacking workers – in certain cases illegally – the comment was not only patently wrong but distasteful. But King seemed happy enough to continue distastefully, claiming that an agreement to furnish “additional services is not in our national interest, and we will always consider the need to ensure that there are long-term, well-paid, secure jobs by Australians in the aviation sector when we are making these decisions.”

The decision was at least perplexing enough to excite the interest of such Labor Party stalwarts as former Australian treasurer Wayne Swan. In his view, expressed as the party’s current national president, an “appropriate review” of the whole matter was necessary. (Reviews, in such cases, is code for identifying the damnably obvious.)

The rejection certainly drew baffled consternation from the inaugural chair of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Alan Fels. “It’s really a bad decision by any standards, especially if the government is talking about doing a competition review.” Prices, he noted, were already 50% higher than they had been before the pandemic. “They would come down a lot if Qatar entered.”

Much the same view was expressed by another former ACCC chair, Rod Sims. “What we see now particularly in Australia is very high airfares internationally and not enough capacity. If there was a time to allow new entrants in, this is it.”

The federal government’s decision is also a curious one in light of policies pursued by the State governments. Queensland, for instance, made a decision to attract airlines to the state drawing from a fund worth $A200 million. The scheme yielded agreements with some 25 international airlines.

While this was happening, the ACCC was marshalling its resources to launch an action in the Federal Court of Australia alleging that Qantas, has “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct, by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights it had already cancelled but not removed from sale [between May and July 2022].” The ACCC is also alleging that, for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, the company continued selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks. In certain cases, this persisted for up to 47 days after flights were cancelled. Not content with robbing actual ticket holders, the carrier is happy to advertise tickets for spectral journeys.

There is nothing to suggest that more flights will automatically reduce prices per se. As Karl Marx documents with expansive brilliance, markets tend towards concentration. In time, companies, much in the manner of hoodlums carving up neighbourhoods for their drugs trade, will divvy up their share and keep prices lucratively high. Miserable customers make for happy shareholders.

In the Qantas-Qatar Airways affair, the basic motivation to at least moderate the pricing regime in the short term is simply not there. Threatened, Qantas would have to respond. To date, given its traditional, enduring dominance, the approach of the Flying Kangaroo has been to stomp and box competitors into the ground, always aware that it has the backing of the Commonwealth government. That’s the sort of private enterprise its outgoing CEO, Alan Joyce, is most pleased with.


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Defriending Canada: Natural Disasters and Facebook’s Information Scrub

Australia experienced this in February 2021. Facebook had gotten nastily stroppy, wishing to dictate public policy to the Commonwealth government. To teach Canberra mandarins a lesson, it literally unfriended the entire country, scrubbing all news platforms of content and making any posted links through the platform inaccessible. It mattered not that the content involved the tawdry details of celebrity love affairs gone wrong or advice on how to respond to a cyclone. The users of an entire country had been cancelled. For a time, a blissful blackhole had appeared at the centre of Australia’s information scape.

Facebook’s parent company Meta had one fundamental problem. The Australian government had proposed a bargaining code that would distribute income from news shared on digital platforms with its providers. The measure was designed to rescue an ailing sector from demise, and ironically served to aid the likes of Rupert Murdoch and such media moguls struggling to keep dying empires afloat. Digital giants such as Facebook and Google were told to swallow a regulatory regime that would force them into income sharing agreements that they deemed illogical and much against the spirit of the internet.

Meta eventually came over to the view that “refriending” Australia was in its best interests. The then treasurer Josh Frydenberg had convinced them that the much-detested code could work. In truth, Frydenberg had merely caved in, more or less easing off on most of the demands, such as a full disclosure of algorithms on sharing material. Independent agreements with news outlets were rapidly reached. Everyone came out of it a villain, except small, independent news outlets deemed irrelevant in the negotiations. They were the true victims.

Canada’s Online News Act proposed something similar in regulating “digital news intermediaries to enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and contribute to sustainability.” Mimicking the Australian model, digital platforms and news businesses could “enter into agreements respecting news content that is made available by digital news intermediaries.”

In reaching such agreements, factors such as the “significant bargaining power imbalance between [the digital news intermediary] operator and news businesses” would be taken into account. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was also vested with powers to “impose, for contraventions of the enactment, administrative monetary penalties on certain individuals and entities and conditions on the participation of news businesses in the bargaining process.”

The digital platforms, in turn, took issue: why should they have to pay media outlets for doing their job, having offered them a gratis platform in the first place? Arguments from the Australian example were re-run. Meta, as it outlined in a statement, had “made it clear to the Canadian government that the legislation misrepresents the value news outlets receive when choosing to use our platforms. The legislation is based on the incorrect premise that Meta benefits unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, when the reverse is true.”

In June, Meta announced that it had “begun the process of ending news availability in Canada” as part of its moves to comply with the Act. It was a statement of general smug finality, indicative of the company’s own self-belief as an exclusive platform for news. For media outlets, this meant that links and content posted by news publishers and broadcasters in the country would no longer be available for those in Canada. Content posted by international news publishers and broadcasters outside Canada would also not be viewable by those within the country.

It did not take long for the consequences of such a policy to bear bitter fruit. As summer fires raged in Canada, forcing tens of thousands from their homes and threatening cities such as Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, information was meagre on measures and responses from the authorities. “Right now, in an emergency situation where up to date local information is more important than ever, Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of peoples safety,” the indignant Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau huffed at a news conference in Cornwall, Prince Edward Island.

Trudeau thought it “inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits of insuring that local news organizations can get up to date information to Canadians.” British Columbia Premier David Eby also found it “astonishing that we are at this stage of the crisis and the owners of Facebook and Instagram have not come forward and said, ‘We’re trying to make a point with the federal government, but it’s more important that people are safe’.” These men obviously know little about the workings of this dark entity.

Meta, in response, claimed that those in Canada could still use Instagram and Facebook “to connect with their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.”

The obvious question here was why Trudeau was placing such astonishing reliance on a private corporation’s information sharing services, one with no allegiance to the Canadian government, let alone the citizenry, to do so. The onus should have been on national and local broadcasting outlets to inform the population of the disasters. As always, governments gravitate in low fashion for the cheapest alternative. The payment of peanuts results in a monkey return.

In Australia, for instance, the initial ban imposed by Facebook led to an upsurge of interest in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which has its own set of digital sharing tools. It became clear that an information environment without Facebook offered healthier alternatives – without the creepy world of surveillance capitalism.

The Australian and Canadian examples serve as salient lessons to those in government who forget their duties to the public. If you get into the bed of a sociopathic, petulant founder who could only conceive of dating girls through digital networks, using such skin-crawling argot as “the poke”, you are asking for trouble. Even more to the point, you are asking for some share of the blame in forfeiting your duties. Surely it would be more prudent for governments to establish their own information channels in times of crisis, invest in public broadcasters and improve their services to areas of a country, however remote?


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