AUKUS, Congress and Cold Feet

The undertakings made by Australia regarding the AUKUS security pact promise to…

"If The Voice Loses It Will Be Albanese's…

"If The Voice Loses It Will Be Albanese's Fault!" Yep, I saw that…

Research shows young people want to contribute to…

Victoria University Media Release Victoria University research in partnership with the Youth Affairs…

Meta and Privacy: The Economy of Data Transgressions

Meta, to put it rather inelegantly, has a data non-compliance problem. That…

We need to change how we think and…

By Callen Sorensen Karklis Neoliberalism is an illness: unregulated capitalism, it is not…

HAK Birthdays: Henry Kissinger Turns 100

“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry…

Yes is inclusive, No is divisive

The words speak for themselves, but I shall return to them briefly…

Modi in Australia: Down Under Bliss for Hindutva

There is an interesting thread that links the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra…


Category Archives: AIM Extra

Meta and Privacy: The Economy of Data Transgressions

Meta, to put it rather inelegantly, has a data non-compliance problem. That problem began in the original conception of Facebook, a social network conceived by that most anti-social of types, Mark Zuckerberg. (Who claims that these troubled sorts lack irony?)

On May 22, the European Union deemed it appropriate to slap a $1.3 billion fine on the company for transferring the data of EU users to the United States. In so doing, the company had breached the General Data Protection Regulation, which has become something of a habit for information predators from Silicon Valley.

The data in question is the bread-and-butter of such companies, packed with the names of users, email and IP addresses, message content, viewing history, geolocation and the whole gamut of information used for targeted advertising. As the European Data Protection Board’s Chair, Andrea Jelenik, stated, “the EDPB found that Meta’s IE’s [Meta Platforms Ireland Limited’s] infringement is very serious since it concerns transfers that are systematic, repetitive and continuous. Facebook has millions of users in Europe, so the volume of personal data transferred is massive.”

The outcome resulted from a binding decision by the EDPB of April 13, 2023, which instructed the Irish Data Protection Authority (IE DPA) to revise its draft decision and impose a fine upon the company, despite initial reluctance to do so. The board also instructed IE DPA to order Meta to bring its “processing operations into compliance with Chapter V [of the] GDPR, by ceasing the unlawful processing, including storage, in the US of personal data of European users transferred in violation of the GDPR, within 6 months after notification of the IE SA’s final decision.”

The implications for Meta, beyond the inconvenience of a fine, is the operational difficulty of removing the transferred data. “This order to delete data is really a headache for Meta,” reasons Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. To remove the digital material gathered from millions of EU users stretching back a decade posed seemingly insuperable problems regarding compliance.

The response from Nick Clegg, President of the company’s global affairs arm, and Chief Legal Officer, Jennifer Newstead, is coldly practical on the issue. (Clegg, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, has long been on the dark side.) Data is key; data is everything. Privacy, goes the insinuation, is an impediment, a needless intrusion by sentimental bleeding hearts. “The ability for data to be transferred is fundamental to how the global open internet works. From finance and telecommunications to critical public services like healthcare or education, the free flow of data supports many of the services that we have come to rely on.”

A favourite argument is mustered by the knight-in-digital-armour: the idea of an internet balkanised and fractured in the face of meddlesome regulations and bureaucrats. “Without the ability to transfer data across borders, the internet risks being carved up into national and regional silos.” This would leave the “citizens in different countries unable to access many of the shared services we have come to rely on.”

Clegg and Newstead also lament those privacy business bodies in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), who dared invalidate the Privacy Shield mechanism agreed upon between the US and EU on the transfer of personal data to the US. “This [2020] decision created considerable regulatory and legal uncertainty for thousands of organisations, including Meta.”

What the court left intact was the Standard Contractual Clauses mechanism, which could function on the proviso that various safeguards were put in place regarding data processing. (An agreement reached on EU-US data transfers between Brussels and Washington on a revised Privacy Shield has yet to be signed off by European officials.) Meta proceeded to use these “believing them to be compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).” While the Irish Data Protection Commission initially found that Meta had acted in good faith and that no fine would be necessary, moans the company, the Data Protection Board thought otherwise.

Clegg and Newstead also expressed aggrievement at Meta being “singled out when using the same legal mechanism that thousands of other companies looking to provide services in Europe.” Brazenly, they praise the US for doing much “to align with European rules via their latest reforms, while transfers continue largely unchallenged to countries such as China.” The company intends filing appeals on both the substance of the decision and its orders, seeking a stay in the courts.

Other US tech behemoths have also drawn the ire of the EU, demonstrating the divergence of views between the money hungry dictates of the information market and the importance of a user’s privacy. Between 2017 and 2019, Google caught their attention in the only way it could. That attention, based on the sheer scale of the company’s market dominance, brought the ledger of fines to 8 billion euros. In 2021, Amazon received a 746 million euro fine for violating data protections.

Despite the coos of satisfaction coming from EU officials, such companies have integrated the occasional spanking fine into their operating models, the laceration nullified by a thumpingly large financial base to work from. An economy of data transgressions has emerged, one permitted to thrive, despite the punishments and orders. That penalties run into the billions of euros or dollars hardly affects the overall business rationale. As a consequence, the respective world views of US corporatism and EU data protection find some peculiar, if uncomfortable accord, an economy that tolerates surveillance capitalism while occasionally punishing its excesses.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


HAK Birthdays: Henry Kissinger Turns 100

“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.” Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour (2002)

If a heavy resume of crimes is a guarantee of longevity, then surely Henry A. Kissinger (HAK, for short), must count as a good specimen. The list of butcheries attributed to his centurion, direct or otherwise, is extensive, his hand in them, finger fat and busy. There were the murderous meddles in Latin America, the conflicts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. (The interventions in Laos and Cambodia are said to have left 350,000 Laotians and 600,000 Cambodians dead.) Then came the selective turning of blind eyes in Indonesia and Pakistan, and the ruthless sponsorship of coups in Africa.

Regarding the Vietnam War, this pornographer of power’s deviousness, and attempt to inveigle himself into the favours of Richard Nixon, running as presidential candidate in 1968, knew no bounds. With privileged access as an advisor to the US State Department, he became the conduit for information to Nixon’s campaign to sabotage the Johnson Administration’s efforts to broker an earlier peace with North Vietnam. This involved convincing South Vietnam that the peace terms they could negotiate would be far more favourable under a Nixon administration. Peace prospects were scuppered; the war continued, eventually yielding a wretched Nobel Peace Prize for the Doctor in 1973. The US forces soon withdrew, leaving the impotent South Vietnamese to be overrun by their stronger Northern opponents.

Nixon’s electoral victory in 1968 ushered in an era of ruthless subversion of the international order, and one that bears repeating in these testy times of China ascending and US imperial anxiety. Kissinger, working with Nixon, thought that convincing North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh to return to talks would be helped by targeting North Vietnamese supply routes in Laos and Cambodia. With stomach-churching cynicism, these bombing operations were given various gastronomic names: Operation Menu; Breakfast Plan. When the covert bombing program was exposed by the New York Times on May 9, 1969, Kissinger put the wind up FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to not only place a number of journalists under surveillance, but a select number of government officials, including his aides in the National Security Council. One of the latter, Morton Halperin, would subsequently sue his former boss, Nixon and the Department of Justice for illegal wiretapping of his home and office phones.

In Chile, Nixon and Kissinger poisoned the waters of that country’s politics, destabilising the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende and paving the way for a bloody coup that installed General Augusto Pinochet. A mere eight days after Allende’s election in September 1970, Kissinger, in conversation with CIA director Richard Helms emphatically stated that, “We will not let Chile go down the drain.” Three days later, Nixon, in a meeting including Kissinger, infamously told the CIA to “make the [Chilean] economy scream.”

In November 1970, Kissinger demonstrated an almost callow level of expertise in claiming in a memorandum that Allende’s election “would have an effect on what happens in the rest of Latin America and the developing world; on what our future position will be in the hemisphere; and on the larger world picture.” To permit democratically elected socialist governments in the Americas along the “Titoist” lines of Allende’s government “would be far more dangerous to us than in Europe”, creating a model whose “effect can be insidious.”

Kissinger’s venality, and complicity as a deskbound suited thug, supply us a bottomless reservoir. To commemorate the occasion of his hundredth natal day, Nick Turse of The Intercept revealed a number of unreported attacks on Cambodian civilians during the secret war, suggesting that the program has been more expansive, and vicious, than had been previously assumed. “These attacks were far more intimate and perhaps even more horrific than the violence already attributed to Kissinger’s policies, because the villages were not just bombed, but also strafed by helicopters gunships and burned and looted by US and allied troops.”

The incidents are too numerous to list, leaving us a catalogue of cruelties ghoulish and despairing. Yet his own accounts do little to shed light on such exploits. The White House Years are barren on his blood-soaked achievements, the doorstop memoirs being a selective account drawing from memos, memcons and telcons that this faux Metternich had generated while in office. In 1977, in typical fashion, Kissinger made off with over 30,000 pages of daily transcripts of phone conversations he was involved in, documents he deviously called “personal papers”. In self-reflective glory, he could pilfer, cut and adjust.

Efforts to seek his richly deserved arrest have been made, though all have ended in a legal and practical cul-de-sac. In January 2015, CODEPINK protesters ventured to make a citizen’s arrest during a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. In the UK, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also had a stab in April 2002, seeking a warrant from the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957. The charges asserted that “while he was national security adviser to the US president 1969-1975 and US Secretary of State 1973-1977, [Kissinger] commissioned, aided and abetted and procured war crimes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”

The presiding District Judge Nicholas Evans was not willing to play along, hampered by higher powers. To proceed, the Attorney-General’s consent was needed. Lacking that, “there is nothing I can do.” That’s HAK’s way of operation, an oleaginous Brahmin above others. Let the likes of Pinochet be nabbed; the backer always makes his getaway.

Best, then, to conclude this natal day salutation to the man by reflecting on the remarks of that most raw yet delicate of culinary (and social) commentators, Anthony Bourdain. In visiting Cambodia for his Cook’s Tour series, he could only reflect about why such a man was not sharing dock space at The Hague with other war criminals. “You will never be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking.” Sadly, for many in the Kissinger cosmos, they continue to do so without so much as flinching.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Global Citizen Announces ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’

  • A free, ticketed event featuring performances from Lenny Kravitz, Billie Eilish, H.E.R., Jon Batiste, with special guests Ben Harper, FINNEAS, and Mosimann on June 22, 2023
  • Event to take place under the High Patronage of Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic
  • Campaign calls for strong presence and commitments from incoming World Bank President Ajay Banga, the US’ Janet Yellen, and G20 Nations at the Summit for a New Financial Pact, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on June 22 and 23
  • ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ is hosted in partnership with the City of Paris, and produced by Live Nation

Today Global Citizen, the world’s leading international advocacy organization on a mission to end extreme poverty NOW, announced its return to the iconic Champ de Mars in Paris on Thursday, June 22 with ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’. A free, ticketed event, ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ will feature performances from Lenny Kravitz, Billie Eilish, H.E.R., Jon Batiste and special guests Ben Harper, FINNEAS, and Mosimann to drive commitments from world leaders and the private sector to confront the climate crisis head on.

Under the high patronage of Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ will rally global leaders attending the New Financial Pact Summit, chaired by President Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. The Power Our Planet campaign, which is co-chaired by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, is calling for a seismic shift in the way the world’s financial systems work to give the world’s poor and developing nations access to the financing they urgently need to quicken their transition to clean energy, strengthen their resilience against natural disasters, and address their most urgent needs.

Global Citizen’s Power Our Planet campaign is galvanizing millions of people around the world to take action, raise their voices and demand urgent changes from governments, Multilateral Development Banks, and major corporations, including:

  • Keep Promises Already Made: Deliver the outstanding $16.7 billion of the committed $100 billion in climate financing for lower-income countries; transfer $100 billion in World Bank Special Drawing Rights from wealthy countries to poor countries; increase foreign aid budgets; and enact global carbon emissions taxes.
  • Free Up Funding: Make up to $1 trillion in financing available to countries in need through policy reforms at the World Bank and other multilateral development banks; and include natural disaster and pandemic clauses in loans to poorer nations.
  • Transition to Clean Energy: Corporations should commit to join the United Nations’ Race-to-Zero by setting science-based targets; publish time-bound action plans for climate transitions; and make transformative investments for a lower-carbon transition in emerging economies.

Increased access to financing would help bolster governments’ ability to resist climate change by, for example: helping 1.5 million farmers in Zambia withstand climate disasters like droughts and floods; protecting 1.8 million hectares of land in Ghana by 2030; ending deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030; and strengthening the resilience of national electric grids in island nations like Antigua and Barbuda to withstand Category 5 hurricanes.

‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ will pave the way for this urgent funding to be delivered throughout the year, including at the G20 summit in New Delhi, India in September; the Global Citizen Festival held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, USA in September; the IMF and World Bank meetings in October; and culminating at COP28 in Dubai, UAE in November.

“Our world needs urgent change. Outdated global financial systems are perpetuating the conditions that keep vulnerable countries and their citizens trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty,” said Hugh Evans, Co-founder and CEO, Global Citizen. “We congratulate Ajay Banga on his appointment as President of the World Bank, and there is an urgent and immediate opportunity for him to show leadership the world truly needs.”

“We need a world with more solidarity. Crises are multiplying and the number of those who place their hope in peace and multilateralism will only grow if we, as a global community, demonstrate that we are there to help the most vulnerable,” said Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic. “Because inequality and poverty are the grounds of today’s and tomorrow’s wars. Because there will be no climate transition worldwide if we don’t fight for more justice and equity. Halfway to the sustainable development objectives, we need a new financial pact between all countries, so that the world of tomorrow is more united.”

“This year – and this summit – are critical for the restoration of justice and equity within the global financial systems that continue to abandon and overlook poor and climate-vulnerable countries,” said Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. “We need the presence and commitments of world leaders at the New Financial Pact Summit in Paris. I call on leaders of the G7, G20 and wealthy nations across the globe to step up, and let us act together in the interest of our planet and humanity. Join us in Paris.”

“The next generation are inheriting a planet that’s being devastated by climate change,” said Lenny Kravitz. “We have the power to change things with our voices and our actions. Join me on June 22, from wherever you are, and act today to save tomorrow.”

An alliance of world leaders representing both Global North and Global South countries has joined the Power Our Planet campaign alongside Global Citizen and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, including supporters Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone; Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain; José Ramos-Horta, President of Timor Leste; Biman Prasad, Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji, the Government of Ghana, the Government of Namibia, the Government of Zambia, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Power Our Planet’s coalition of supporters also includes leading activists, philanthropic foundations, nonprofit organizations, and private sector leaders, including Dr. Rajiv Shah, President, Rockefeller Foundation; Mark Malloch Brown, President, Open Society Foundations; Benedict Oramah, President of AfreximBank; Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization; Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi; Kate Higgins, CEO, Cooperation Canada; Jennifer Jones, President of Rotary International; Ban Ki-Moon, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations; Eloise Todd, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Pandemic Action Network; and Ineza Umuhoza Grace, Co-Founder of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition and 2023 Global Citizen Prize winner.

The Power Our Planet campaign is supported by: Aspire Artemis Foundation Inc.; Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens; BASICS International; Beyond Bretton Woods; the Center for Environmental Peacebuilding; Climate Finance Group for Latin America and the Caribbean; Common Good Marketplace; Connected Development; Don’t Gas Africa; E3G; Education Cannot Wait: Focus 2030; Germanwatch; Glasgow Actions Team; Global Alliance for a Green New Deal; The Global Fund; The UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies; Green Republic Farms; Hungry for Action; International Climate Change Development Initiative; International Climate Financing WG; International Fund for Agricultural Development; Jane Goodall Institute France; Malala Fund; The ONE Campaign; OWIT Brussels – Organization of Women in Trade;Oxfam; Plastic Punch; Power to Girls Foundation; Primavera Zur; Project Everyone; Re:Wild, SDG2 Advocacy Hub; Sustainable Development Solutions Network; Shamba Centre for Food and Climate; She Leads Climate Action; Stage For Change; Strategic Youth Network for Development; Sungulo Comm NPC; Support Humanity Cameroon (SUHUCAM); United Nations Foundation.

The Power Our Planet campaign and the ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ event is hosted in partnership with the City of Paris, is produced by Live Nation, and supported by Cisco and Citi as well as Afrexim Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, European Climate Fund, Open Society Foundations, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Seadream Family Foundation. ​​A series of thought leadership events focused on driving action from the private sector is being supported by Cisco and Citi. The ‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ broadcast will be produced by Done and Dusted.

‘Power Our Planet: Live in Paris’ will be livestreamed globally across Global Citizen’s platforms on Thursday, June 22. Amazon will carry the livestream on “Amazon Music on Twitch”. Global Citizen is grateful for the support of leading media companies across the world including: AIM Group, Arena Holdings, Bella Naija, Brut. Media, EIB Network, Vanguard Media and Zikoko.

For more information visit, download the Global Citizen app.

About Global Citizen

Global Citizen is the world’s leading international advocacy organization on a mission to end extreme poverty NOW. Powered by a worldwide community of everyday activists raising their voices and taking action, the movement is amplified by campaigns and events that convene leaders in music, entertainment, public policy, media, philanthropy and the corporate sector. Over the past 10 years, $43.6 billion in commitments announced on Global Citizen platforms has been deployed, impacting nearly 1.3 billion lives. Established in Australia in 2008, Global Citizen’s team operates from New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, Toronto, Johannesburg, Lagos and beyond. Join the movement at, download the Global Citizen app, and follow Global Citizen on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Whither Constitutional Change?

Within a very short space of time, we are going to be embroiled in a national discussion on constitutional change: namely, we are going to be asked if we favour First Nations people having a voice to our national parliament enshrined in our Constitution. The purpose of this article is not to take sides or to push one argument over another. Rather, it is to explore the options and the processes that contribute to a national constitutional referendum and to generate discussion.

Constitutional change in this country is fraught as the Constitution can only be amended by referendum, through the procedure set out in section 128. A successful referendum requires a ‘double majority’: a national majority of voters plus a federal majority of states (i.e. four of the six states).

The votes of those living in the ACT, the NT and any of Australia’s external territories count towards the national majority only.

Since 1901 there have been 19 referendums but of the forty-four referendum questions posed only eight have passed: The last constitutional referendum was for an Australian Republic held on 6 November 1999 – it failed. Usually, there are multiple questions to be resolved at each referendum – this time it appears there will only be one although it could be argued that there is some serious housekeeping necessary to tidy up our Constitution – perhaps that’s a question for another day.

Timing for a referendum is critical as is political consensus. Labor have already said that they favour a referendum in their first term and Pat Dodson, the special envoy for reconciliation and implementation of the Uluru Statement from the heart, favours a referendum on 27 May, 2023 – that is the 56th anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum allowing the commonwealth to make laws for Indigenous people and count them in the census, and the sixth anniversary of the Uluru statement.

So far the coalition has only said that it is open to supporting a referendum but wants to see more detail and the model to be put to the Australian people. This is a change in the position of the Morrison government. Indeed, Morrison ruled out a referendum quite specifically in the lead-up to the 2022 election; “It’s not our policy to have a referendum on the Voice” he told us. His minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, had favoured legislation for a voice and intimated that this would go before the parliament prior to the 2022 election but clearly, this didn’t occur as there was limited interest from coalition members and the then leadership.

The suggestion by Wyatt that a legislated voice, even as an interim measure, was shouted down by Aboriginal groups who generally considered that legislation was unsatisfactory and could be changed at a political whim and only an entrenchment in our Constitution would give any long-term certainty and continuity.

The road to constitutional change is not an easy one and the enabling legislation for a referendum has first to be passed by both houses of our parliament to set the process in motion. Already there are fears that not all parties are on the same page. Newly elected Country Liberal Party senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price a self-described Warlpiri-Celtic woman is suggesting caution on what she considers to be Labor’s policy on the Voice. She said recently that she was taking a cautious approach :

“We’ve got to understand what Labor proposes through this Voice process, and we’ve got to take a look at that before we take a clearer position on it, but I would certainly urge my colleagues to prioritise [more critical] issues,” she said.

“[The Voice] she said doesn’t clearly outline how in fact we’re going to solve some of our really critical issues, issues that I’ve been very much campaigning on for many years around family and domestic violence, around child sexual abuse, around education.”

The Greens are also taking a wait-and-see attitude and are suggesting that they would prefer to see “a truth-telling and treaty process begin before action on an Indigenous Voice”.

There has been considerable consultation over the past five years since the Uluru statement and this has produced the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process report.

This report recommends that the Voice should comprise 24 elected members, with two drawn from each of the states and territories, two from the Torres Strait Islands, five additional remote representatives drawn from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales, and one member representing Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland.

How much power, influence or authority this group would have on our government and parliament is not yet established but it is an advisory body and would not have a veto on our legislative process and would not be an additional chamber to our parliament as suggested by Malcolm Turnbull initially.

The Turnbull and Morrison governments demonstrated their then objection to a constitutional voice in saying :

“Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights … a constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.”

If the Dutton opposition were to maintain this fundamental argument then, the referendum would have little chance of passing.

The form of question to be put to the Australian people will obviously be critical to the success of the referendum but it seems probable that the question will be posed in general terms with the detail and structure to follow in the form of legislation enacted through the parliament: ideally, this draft legislation would be available prior to the referendum so, there is a lot of work to be done if the May 2023 date it to be met.

The legislation governing the process for referendums in Australia is laid down in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1994. Among other provisions, this legislation, by section 8, sets out the procedure for presenting the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments which need to be communicated to each elector prior to the referendum.

There are, of course, political risks for the Albanese government in the whole process and already some in the opposition are labelling the process as ‘Labor’s referendum’ which, of course, it isn’t. However, if the referendum were to fail or not receive bipartisan support the political fallout for the Albanese government could be damaging in its first term.

We shall see !


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Ritorno sulla scena del crimine – an anniversary retrospective

By frances goold

In light of recent conversations about ‘art monsters, ‘fallen idols’, and nasty geniuses, and the recent release of Brooke Shields’ two-part memoir of her sexually objectified life, it seems germane to mark the fifteenth anniversary of our own town’s moment of spurious glory, when the art trade in soft child porn was officially pronounced de rigeur. And perhaps timely because, despite the plethora of criminal offenders and rockstar libertines retrofitted into in this new pop chic category, our own art monster (AM) never made the cut and remains magisterially and nostalgically at large.

Perhaps the kangaroo court-style exoneration back in the day explains the omission; certainly recent writerly self-flagellation for the complicity of fandom suggests that much remains to be understood (by women too) about the ravages of sexual offending against children – certainly the angst of an intellectual pales in comparison to the agonies of a sexual abuse survivor. So this small post-#MeToo buzz is an opportunity to contribute to the conversation, if only to shed light on why our own art monster overwhelmed intellects, caused liberals to abandon ethics, and stymied the department of justice.


1 The genius artist

Despite the historical record, Western visual art has never claimed to be a special source of truth about the world; the individual artist has eternally mediated between subject and object – ritualising, creating idealised versions, grovelling to patronage, interpreting, obeying, or avoiding the rules of the Academy. The greatest of the Renaissance artists achieved fame long before the modern idea of genius emerged in the eighteenth century, when it was reduced to psychometry (albeit scoring high) before finding refuge in eugenics.

Certainly, matters regarding his or her genius would not have occurred to struggling artists focussed on acquiring tools and materials, supporting a family, and surviving from one day to the next – the concept more likely gained traction during early twentieth century European conversations between cashed-up collectors competing to acquire the best of the new Moderns, and popping up among auction house provenances during the early art booms.

After the turmoil of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ‘art for art’s sake’ became emblematic, challenging the viewer to refrain from looking at a work of art as if it were a faithful mirror of the world, emphasising the significance of an artwork’s intrinsic qualities and expressive dimensions. Cubism, Dada’s “anything goes”, the concept of aesthetic ‘transgression’, the philosophical elevation of the ‘found object’, Surrealism, abstract and conceptual art, and Modernism generally, assisted in the liberalising of traditional forms of representation towards the autonomy of the artwork and new ways of seeing.

Postmodernism (springing from mid-twentieth century French philosophy via ‘appropriation’ and the relativist rejection of absolute truths) restored representation to contemporary art. The movement has embraced a vast array of industrial materials, techniques and media in the creation of novel forms of visual expression, and has sought to blur distinctions between what is perceived as fine, or high art and what is generally seen as low, or kitsch art. Photography in turn, has not merely capitalised on the digital revolution and its final liberation from veridicality, but has gained inspiration from the relativism of post-modernism and its philosophical rejection of empirical truth and objective reality. Transgression has become the new catch cry, whilst at the same time, postmodernism’s epistemological relativism has undermined the philosophical foundations of an art aesthetics once capable of discerning the aesthetically ‘good’ from the ‘bad’.

Primitive notions of genius permeate our museum culture and our ways of looking but are also a function of our primitive tendency to idealise, resulting partly from an aspect of our psyches that leave us perpetually awed and moved by the sight of a new or dazzling bit of nature or the beauty of another, or a unique artistic vision that can depict the world and ourselves in novel and marvellous ways. Yet as human beings living in the world we depend for our very survival on the truth of what we see – its veridicality: we instinctively trust what we see.

For some visual artists and photographers, a knowledge of our human dependence on the perceptual apparatus inspires visual trickery of a positive, sometimes playful character. For others, image creation and manipulation may be given over to non-aesthetic purposes. In this way, the shibboleths of postmodernism and the tricks of contemporary photography may be yoked to work in various artful combinations in order to deceive.


2 The artful dodger

AM began his career in Melbourne in the mid-‘seventies when the Australian art photography market, along with the cult of celebrity, was taking off internationally. His student-year art bookshop job and small literary magazine publishing connections introduced him to Melbourne/Sydney literary networks. Hailed as something of a prodigy (or even genius), he was quickly taken up by the state gallery’s inaugural curator of photography, and shortly afterwards his Hamiltonian, furtively voyeuristic, exquisitely rendered images of ballet students and schoolgirls became sought after by investor/collectors and others with more prurient tastes in soft-focus child erotica and – progressively – more patently violent child themes.

AM’s child-oriented oeuvre continued unhampered during the decades prior to the internet and digital photography. His regular shows at his dealer galleries and acquisitions by state museums not only ensured a steady market and increased bankability over the decades but sequestered his oeuvre from the sensibilities of the broader community until eventually trundled out of the closet for a museum retrospective to broaden and consolidate his market. Few blinked at his increasingly borderline tableaux depicting clandestine teen sex of various degrees of explicitness, scenes of child abduction, rape, abuse and orgiastic degradation, framed within a farrago of postmodernist high (Baroque) and low (pornography) references, with their aesthetic qualities inoculating content from deeper scrutiny.


3 RISK and panic

In mid-May, 2008 AM and his gallerists sent an email invitation to a vernissage (‘Private View’) to a mailing list that featured a full-frontal child nude. The private/public reaction was instant and politically unified (there is surely nothing like a child abuse image of a child to bring left and right together, if only for a moment), but the irony of subsequent artworld claims for the integrity of the artist and his oeuvre had an ultimately divisive impact on public opinion and debate.

While not a new direction for AM – being merely a more blatant, less knocked-up series from his signature profferings over the decadesand despite the furtive creep of the work towards greater (non-aesthetic) ‘transgression’ – its risqué confidence was new this time, as if a kaleidoscope of preternatural conditions had been shifting into place for decades merely to grant him such a deliciously perilous occasion. Alas for all concerned, AM miscalculated his destiny and overestimated his industry-guaranteed immunities; he had crossed one last taboo where community tolerance was at its limits. And ultimately, his meticulously planned arrogant misfire not only shed unflattering light on the elite networks and market-oriented sleaze of the artworld, but also on the overreach of libertarians who sought to justify setting aside just about every legal and ethical constraint to save him from prosecution.

At the crisis meeting at AM’s dealer’s harbourside mansion, the legal team hammered out damage control strategies, influential friends networked, and AM was advised to flee the jurisdiction to the safety of his Melbourne studio. Here was secure and ample space for his extensive archives (now needing attention), the scene of his legendary ‘movie sets’, his mythical isolation, of his autocratic control over the selection and hanging of his shows, his ‘private collector viewings’, and his child photography. Back in his grand crypt, he could lie low and get his zombies in a row. Meanwhile in Sydney, the arts and letters establishment would spearhead their own brand of ‘moral panic’ over the imminent return of the bad old censorship days when great books were banned as obscene in Australia. Libertarians and ethicists weighed in on the side of free speech and the agency of the child, and psychologists, psychiatrists, and child advocates weighed in on the side of child protection. The arts sector railed against censorship, child protectionists, and a ‘reactionary’ conservative media, deriding all and sundry as narrow-minded philistines ignorant of the high art status of the artist’s child photography and the international esteem in which he was held. AM was now hyped in absentia as contemporary art’s freedom poster-boy by fellow-travellers eager to sacrifice their ethics – or just tweak them a little – for the greater good. Considerable effort was expended by well-connected libertarians to secure control of the narrative, with one assurance in the form of a semi-biographical vindication of the artist commissioned by a publisher friend of the artist.

In the meantime, the community was excoriated for its wowserism, a strategy that extended to the then PM’s response to a ‘gotcha’ moment when suddenly shown some exhibition photos by a journalist. His shocked response was interpreted as prudery and more importantly – scorned as a demonstration of his political conservativism. The disingenuousness of the attempt to invalidate a PM’s authentic response to the sexualised photograph of a naked child – however unstatesmanlike the PM’s response may have been – closed off a real and fair question as to the actual nature of the photograph and how it got to be made. Its blatant politicisation was also a casus bello, if indeed there was a single cause for the raft of influence-peddling that saw off the prosecution.

Similarly, artist/survivors, child protection activists, and allied health professionals were derided – some publicly (such as at an Open forum on censorship at the, MCA on June 12) – for questioning the legitimacy of the enterprise and raising issues of sexual abuse, exploitation, and the issue of parental consent. Meanwhile various highly conflicted behaviours engaged in by libertarians, exemplified by the dubious, conspiratorial ethics of the 2020 Summit’s Creative Stream’s ‘Open Letter’ to the PM drafted under the direct supervision of the artist (who approved the final draft submitted under 2020 Summit letterhead while his own investigation was pending), were never questioned or publicly challenged.

Ultimately, the urgency of restoring the artist’s reputation and market value meant consolidating his status as an icon of free speech, an exigency which found common purpose in the collaboration between various art world stakeholders and organised libertarian elements. The campaign took on proving aesthetic merit, the international stature of the artist and his status as Australia’s greatest photographer, the transcendent values of artistic freedom, the philistinism of the community, the genius of the photographer. In the meantime the AM camp took care of the legalities, political networks, captive journalists, and literary scribes; repackaging the child porn vs art issue into a libertarian issue of free speech vs art censorship was a strategic masterstroke, to which a libertarian groundswell of support would provide imprimatur. Eventually various legal sleights of hand ensured that the prosecution was dropped within a matter of weeks.*

(* Crown prosecutors did not believe a case could be made out under Section 91G of the NSW Crimes Act (which prohibits the use of children for pornographic purposes), and further, that charges against the artist and/or the gallery for the “production, dissemination or possession of child pornography” under Section 91H would be too difficult to prove.)

Still, no one was exonerated and nothing was resolved. Community debate raged throughout the last half of 2008 and into 2009. The published ‘vindication,’ qua whitewash, scored a few klutzy own goals, throwing up some clearly unintended profile-confirming facts and incriminating details of the artist’s modus operandi (such as the artist’s long-term relationship with the family of the child subject, his school playground trawls, his studio methods, the direct collaboration between the artist and the 2020 Summit ‘creatives’ to influence the outcome of the investigation, and so on). Despite rekindling brushfires requiring considerable art world efforts to douse, institutional support for AM continued as if he were a cause celebre.


4 Blindsided

In hindsight it seems perversely naïve for the literati to fail to consider an alternative hypothesis around the making of the photographs, that is, that somehow ‘freedom from’ exploitation and abuse did not apply in the creative ‘freedom to’ context of a twelve-year-old being photographed nude, and that this artistic instance somehow constituted a moral and ideological exception.

How was it possible to miss the obvious fact that the exhibition subseries under investigation were truthful documents per se? Surely it could be inferred from the photograph itself that it was a veridical record? A middle-aged man is photographing a twelve-year-old girl he has posed naked under industrial-strength studio lights. Any amateur photographer would have twigged that to calibrate the particular photograph destined for the show many photographs may have been needed, probably requiring the child to be subjected to dazzling rapid-fire photography over many photoshoots – a fact later confirmed by the Text Publishing “vindication” published in October.

Whether money changed hands on that occasion remains an open question; the commercial realities of the show were unambiguous with a single photograph from an edition of five going for $25K. Its stretched credulity that so many observers seemed untroubled by the likelihood of commercial arrangements between AM’s dealer galleries, museum networks, models’ families, and the publisher of the ‘vindication’. Nor was the possibility raised that the exhibited photographs might be a small selection from a much larger batch – a drop in the ocean at it were – or even that the commercial/industrial nature of the various processes surrounding the production of the child nudes might be morally questionable or even constitute a crime.

These oversights were likely not solely a function of blind ideology, but would have been assisted by the ambiguity of the ’transgressive’ status of the photograph, its alluring aesthetic qualities, the distracting beauty of the child model, the brash, intimidating scale of the photograph, and the moral certainties surrounding a photograph which had received the imprimatur of an entire artworld – a photo that was designed to discombobulate the adult viewer, just as the years of grooming and the photography process itself were designed to discombobulate a child.

Because that is how it works.

AM had groomed a community.


5 Appropriations and transgressions

And so, fifteen years ago almost to the day, a celebrity art photographer with decades of form in flying under the radar received plaudits for grooming a pretty artworld kid from seven years of age until she was twelve; for scheduling several unchaperoned photoshoots to capture the precise moment of pubescence for the child collectors’ market; for affixing the pick of the crop onto a wall (as butterfly specimens might be arranged in a trophy cabinet), and for shooting the pleasing results into cyberspace.

This was a truly Nabokovian triumph for AM after a warm-up of four decades of photographing pre-teens and adolescents, and several years of grooming a little Brooke Shields look-alike especially for the occasion: now up there with the legendary US transgressors, AM is having his very own trophy moment, his expropriation of the Richard Prince expropriation of the Gary Gross ‘nymphet’.

As a young aspiring photographer already warming to paedophilic themes in the ‘seventies, the artist would have been familiar with the work of photographer Gary Gross from time working in an art bookshop. He may have even experienced a sense of identification with his older American counterpart, whose father was also a furrier (this being one of the few available biographical details of AM’s early life). A more sinister commonality between the two photographers, however, is AM’s penchant for (caution image) sexually sadistic and degrading representations of child/teen subjects, occasionally extemporising on virgin rape as instantiated in the Gary Gross images of Brooke Shields and appropriated by him in 2008, and who extended and concealed the theme of violation by splitting the narrative sequences across time and space (discussed below).


6 The child as seducer

A superordinate dimension of violation infrequently alluded to – and yet articulated movingly by Brook Shields in her Pretty Baby documentary – is the sexually exploitative, deceptive artistic process that visually infuses sexual themes into a portrait of an unwitting child, then attributes these characteristics as intrinsic to the child and sexually emergent rather than a simple function of the photographer’s choreographed and manipulative projections. The groupthink that follows reveals its degree of enculturation:



Image from High Times


An admirer of Nabokov, AM characterises his mutely violent child pornography as a sensitive insider-artist’s ‘ethnographic’ observations of the secret lives of children and teens. This is, of course, the purest drivel along with the various critical literatures and popular culture views that depict ‘Lolita’ as seductress. Sex between equals it is not. The inversion of adult and child, of projecting predator into prey and perpetrator into victim, is precisely the signification inherent in many of AM’s narrative themes (Bernard Levin suggests that in Lolita, “the narrator, by the most brilliant stroke in the book, is made the innocent, his nymphet the seducer”). AM’s generic studio portraits of girls depicted in sultry, seductive poses belie his depictions of himself as a ‘disinterested’ observer, and have as much credibility as Nabokov’s self-quarantining ‘autonomous aesthetics’ has had for the philosophy of art.


7 Ritorno sulla scena del crimine

In 2010, after a respectable hiatus, AM returned unscathed to what he does best. His ‘nympet’ also reappeared, evidently still underage, in a contemptuous, staged continuation of a subseries embedded in two successive shows in 2010 (Sydney) and 2011 (Melbourne), across which her demure, bare-shouldered depictions will – like the Gary Gross paedophile project – morph into images suggestive of less innocent, more violent themes.

By my reckoning (i.e. a difference of approximatey three years between 2007/2008 and 2010/2010), his 2008 model would not have been much older than fifteen (and not yet sixteen) at her last photoshoot, which yielded the photographs exhibited in Melbourne in 2011 – a flagrant display of sexualised children and teens in which AM’s goddaughter also duets in her new role as nude model for calisthenic departures on symbolic violation themes achieved through image distortion post-production (see also below).

Perhaps in homage to Gary Gross’s bathtub sequence for Playboy AM completes and ‘bookends’ the 2008 subseries by transmogrifying his demure virginal ‘nympet’ into a ‘sluttish’, degraded version of her young self:



To ensure there is no misapprehension of AM’s symbolic intentions (by the child fandom with eyes to see), the artist has – per a ‘Richard Prince expropriation’ – incorporated into the show a photograph of Rembrandt’s ‘Danae’:



Photograph of Rembrand’s (rape of) ‘danae’ – 2011


This photographic appropriation of a Rembrandt painting of Danae (referring to the mythological Rape of Danae by Zeus, a popular subject for High Renaissance painters), serves a non-aesthetic purpose for the 2011 show; its inclusion by the artist among his child ‘erotica’ exhibited alongside images of a virginal and violated 2008 ‘nymphet’ is as a rape signifier, and as such blatantly reveals the paedophilic character of this project, with implications for his entire art photographic enterprise. It may therefore be validly argued that the 2008-2012 virgin/violation subseries as extended across those exhibitions is apprehensible only by the connoisseur/collector in pursuit of a specific interest; so shrouded are these images in aesthetic subterfuge that they are indiscernible to most anyone else.

This violation ‘narrative’ (instantiated above and elsewhere in his oeuvre) is a grossly objectifying trope pertaining to the ‘defilement’ or ‘ruination’ of children, having many literary precursors such as Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Lolita, which tell of a virgin groomed and ultimately ‘possessed’ by a sociopathic libertine assured of the entitlements and impunity afforded by his power over a helpless and dependent child. It probably unsurprising that Richard Prince’s collegial appropriation of commercial photographer, Gary Gross’s temporary appropriation of a real child drew comment from one of AM’s biggest US fans, critic Richard Schjeldahl, that Prince’s show “made him wish he were dead. It is a shame that the eminent critic failed to identify similar morbid qualities in AM’s oeuvre before he too passed on.


8 Power

As reiterated by Brooke Shields in her recent documentary, the abuse of power is not just enacted in the real world, but is narrativized in her photographs. Pornographic themes of ripe pubescence and virgin rape abound in AM’s oeuvre, and irrespective of so-called ‘limited editions’, his child/adolescent images from previous exhibitions are endlessly recycled for the child market. To reach this stage, however, the subjects of those images must be first appropriated/possessed by AM – in reality and symbolically – in the studio, or en plein air, where he selects from his noir repertoire various violation narratives for star-struck models to play at, bedazzled by his power and fame. These choreographed tableaux are scattered throughout a photographic oeuvre characterized by depictions of teen sex in mute, occasionally orgiastic couplings replete with despoliation symbols of ravishment, mutilation and defilement. Even Man/Boy Love gets a guernsey.

AM’s final photographs of his 2008 ‘nymphet’ exhibited in Melbourne in 2011 were a thumbs-up for ‘business as usual’ after successfully dodging prosecution. Although the 2010 and 2011 photographs do not reveal the child’s genitalia (as in the 2008 series), there is a compensatory sufficiency of legal-age genitalia elsewhere on display. AM’s MO was clearly demonstrated by these new shows, which included ‘nymphet’ images from 2008 not previously exhibited, in accordance with his modus operandi of extending his child narratives across exhibitions. In light of this praxis, one might reasonably conclude that other photographs exist yet to see the light of day, and that the connoisseurship could gain comfort in the thought that somewhere there exists a veritable treasure trove of child art awaiting slow release.


9 Archives de cyberspace

And so it transpired. Recent online evidence indicates that the artist retained more explicit images from his 2008 ‘nymphet’ series, which are now being recycled in various formats online. Had these photos been exhibited in 2008, they’d have crossed the Hamilton line (Clive, that is), oddly arbitrary though it may be. In these online merchandise the image of the then twelve year-old is subjected to traditional violation themes in the kind of post-production brutal tortures as might be inflicted on the rack or under the knife. One can only guess at the prices being asked for these editions, but the world being what it is, one can only surmise that the success de scandale has significantly enhanced AM’s market cachet.

Again, a recent online auction turned up a photograph from an exhibition mounted over a decade ago. The nude female model was of legal age at the time she posed nude for the artist; she is also the daughter of the publisher who commissioned his ‘vindication’ while the investigation into his (and his gallerists) activities was pending. Aside from the abundance of ghoulishly distorted flesh, its provenance reveals some scarily cosy and conflicted relationships. Extreme child themes are an intermittent, usually embedded exhibition element, and when scheduled at AM’s dealer galleries, are alternated between various regional outings of anodyne landscapes and recycled early works as a balancing corrective.

Despite changes to the laws regarding child abuse material, the removal of the defence of artistic merit, and the provision of new working protocols for artists in Australia – positive outcomes of the scandal – the artist presses on with exhibiting, publishing and distributing his boundary-riding child oeuvre online and offshore in expensive limited editions – some with signed inserts that appropriate salacious Victorian postcards of yore.


10 Beyond censorship

Secular temples of art can be as cult-like and conspiratorial as the churches. In assuming the role of freedom watchdog back in the day, arts and letters libertarians campaigned on a single issue in collective denial of its responsibilities to the community and of its own moral susceptibilities and weaknesses. Righteous intentions and ideological polemic without pause for reflection usually leads to hypocrisy, manifesting the same arrogant politics and double standards for which conservatives and the right are lampooned. This was a display of group think and deference to bullies in the playground. Anyone who assumes special knowledge, pleads ethical exemptions, and assumes the right to play judge and jury over complex, shifting issues of relative liberties leaves him- or herself open to manipulation by powerful stakeholders with a great deal to lose.

Plus ça change.

The 2008 art debacle occurred because nobody held themselves back – not AM or the family, not the gallerists or the publisher, and certainly not the libertarians who thought little of setting aside their ethics to engage in a righteous anti-censorship campaign to save a fellow-traveller from the due processes of the law.

Not much to celebrate, really.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Imperial Protectionism: US Foreign Policy for the Middle Class

What does a “foreign policy for the middle class” of the United States entail? President Joe Biden’s national security adviser is rather vague about this. But in a speech in April at the Brookings Institution, Jake Sullivan enunciated a few points that do much to pull the carpet from under the “rules-based international order”, unmasking the face of the empire’s muscular self-interest. Adversaries, and allies, best watch out.

Sullivan, for one, wistfully laments the passing of the order forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, one that “lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty” and “sustained thrilling technological revolutions.” Then came “cracks in those foundations”, with globalisation leaving “many working Americans and their communities behind.” Overdependence on the global market, he suggests, became the enemy, a point accentuated by the global pandemic, the disruptions in supply chains, the Ukraine War, and a changing climate.

It does not take long to realise the nativist tilt, at least in the economic sense, is in the offing. It is one crowned by “a modern industrial and innovation strategy” that will foster “economic and technological strength”, diversity and resilience in supply chains, high standards in terms of labour and the environment, good governance, and “deploys capital to deliver on goods like climate and health.”

Sullivan goes on to talk about the need for “an international economic system that works for our wage-earners, works for our industries, works for our climate, works for our national security, and works for the world’s poorest and vulnerable countries.” This will envisage a greater role for the US government: “targeted and necessary investments in places that private markets are ill-suited to address on their own – even as we continue to harness the power of markets and integration.”

Anticipating the critics of this “new Washington consensus” who see it as a case of “America alone” or “American and the West to the exclusion of others”, Sullivan insists they are “just flat wrong.”

As Sullivan’s address gathers momentum, there is much to suggest that the sceptics rightly sense something afoot. The market, for one, comes in for some withering treatment, along with privatisation, trade liberalisation and deregulation. “There was one assumption at the heart of this policy: that markets always allocate capital productively and efficiently – no matter what our competitors did, no matter how big our shared challenges grew, and no matter how many guardrails we took down.” In Sullivan beats a protectionist heart.

Foreign policy for the American middle class does not envisage an open market where decisions to sell and purchase products and services are accordingly made without distortions. Echoing yet another aspect of Trump’s America First (not so, Sullivan would cry!) is the pursuit of an agenda favouring generous subsidies and, by virtue of that, imposing impediments on trade with partners.

It is also a policy that will focus on “de-risking and diversifying, not decoupling” from China. Investing “in our own capacities” will continue. Export controls would be “narrowly focused on technology that could tilt the military balance. We are simply ensuring that US and allied technology is not used against us. We are not cutting trade.”

The Brookings Institution address by Sullivan, with its rhapsodic, protectionist tones, should also be read along with that of the US Treasury Secretary’s remarks made at Johns Hopkins University a few days prior. In many ways, Secretary Janet Yellen’s address betrays the dizzy muddle that afflicts much of President Joe Biden’s policy making. On the one hand, she openly admits that a US decoupling from China’s economy should not be sought. “A full separation of our economies would be disastrous for both countries. It would be destabilizing for the rest of the world.”

All very good, but for one problem: Washington wanted a “China that plays by the rules.” Yellen frankly admits that by Beijing doing so, the US would benefit, suggesting exactly who made them up to begin with. “For instance, it can mean demand for US products and services and more dynamic US industries.”

Despite both Sullivan and Yellen taking time to point out, at points, that China is not the absolute, irredeemable bogeyman, the realities are different. Yellen also talks of the parochialism of US economic interest, or what she prefers to call “modern supply-side economics” that focuses on expanding the productive capacity of the US economy. This has been marked by the passage of three bills: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, intended to modernise everything from roads to high-speed Internet access; the CHIPS and Science Act, which seeks to expand semiconductor manufacturing capacity; and the Inflation Reduction Act, with a focus on investments in clean energy.

In all these measures, Yellen insists that they are not nativist so much as self-interested without impairing economic relations with other states: “Our economic strategy is centred around investing in ourselves – not suppressing or containing any other economy.”

Eyeballs must have rolled at that very observation, given the aggressive role industrial policy now plays in the US. The “Buy American” requirements now see subsidies being thrown at US manufacturing, a policy that by any estimation would be heretical to the free-market anti-protectionists. As Biden stated in his State of the Union address in February, there would be a requirement that “all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects be made in America” using “American-made lumber, glass, drywall, fiber optic cables.” Ditto “American roads, American bridges, and American highways”.

In the spirit of America First protectionism, the trade war with China, now in its fifth year, continues, whatever Yellen might claim, with a strong focus on stifling technological innovation in Beijing.

Biden has also shown no willingness to re-join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump exited with much demagogic fanfare. A few ideas have been floated, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP), neither of which offer the signatories much by way of incentives. For one, they insulate the US market, barring preferential access.

However successful such policies might be in protecting the beleaguered, ravaged middle class of the US, the group of states most concerned will be Washington’s allies. With all the babble about rules and the international order, it is clear that the US imperium hopes to continue dictating the economic pattern to both friend and foe.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Fighting White Elephants: The Tasmanian AFL Stadium Protest

Every now and then, the sharpened, dedicated means of halting a monstrous white elephant before its birth can work. The wise suddenly seem in charge, conscious and aware that folly can be averted. This, however, is a rare feat indeed. In Tasmania protests of some magnitude against a proposed stadium for Australian Rules Football are starting to have some effect. These have taken place against a dark backdrop: a persistent, critical housing crisis; the presence of homelessness; concerns about food and energy security, and healthcare.

On May 13, thousands gathered on Hobart’s parliamentary lawns protesting the $715 million proposal that envisages a redevelopment of the Macquarie Point precinct, a rather disingenuous justification to build a needless 23,000-seat structure on prime real estate using public funds. The package – totalling $745 million, also envisages upgrades for York Park (UTAS Stadium) in Launceston.

A conspicuous figure present at the protests was one of Australia’s more prominent authors, Richard Flanagan. As he wrote in The Age last month, “Tasmania, and its population of 550,000 people, has two stadiums where AFL games are routinely played. Tasmania doesn’t have a stadium problem. It has a housing and homelessness problem.” Rents in Australia’s poorest state have almost doubled over the last five years; affordable properties were elusive to those on Youth Allowance and JobSeeker.

In its myopic vision and scope, the stadium could be said, argues Flanagan, to be “a symbol of government inaction on these issues that blight Australia’s smallest state. In addition to housing, it has Australia’s worst public health system, and, with 50 per cent illiteracy, a public education problem.”

Also present at the protest was federal Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, who proved to be both colourful and agitated. “Tasmanians,” she declared in her address to the crowd, “have had a bloody gutful over the stadium and you can stick it up your bum.”

In what must surely be considered an act of self-harm, the Tasmanian Liberals also find themselves in a governing minority largely because of Premier Jeremy Rockliff’s edifice fetish. A day before the large protests, Liberal backbenchers John Tucker and Lara Alexander quit the party. As Alexander reasoned, “The proposed shady deal to build a stadium in Hobart has sharply divided the community.” While she did not often agree with her opposite numbers in state parliament – both Labor and the Greens – any amount “upwards of one billion of taxpayers’ money […] should be allocated to essential services such as health and priorities like housing.”

Alexander also took issue with the Premier’s stinginess in not disclosing the full nature of the contracts. If a raid on the public purse on such a scale was going to be done so brazenly, surely a degree of transparency was in order. “He has refused to share details of the contracts he signed with the AFL with his parliamentary colleagues, the parliament, and the community. There is zero transparency or accountability in this decision-making process.”

The two politicians also cited the government’s allergic tendency to ignore transparency and Parliamentary oversight regarding other projects, including the Marinus link and the Battery of Nation project. Be environmental, goes that theme, but go alone, without federal assistance. (By way of contrast, the as-yet-to-be-built stadium is promised $240 million by the federal government.)

Something of a vision problem has captured governments in Australia, one that has seemingly paralysed the cortex of policy making. This is evident in the opinions of the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Michael Ferguson. While claiming to “respect that not everybody has the same opinion on these projects,” Ferguson was also clear that the government was “determined to get on with it, on the basis that we have significant federal funding which really respected, and I think demonstrated, that the business case was persuasive for Anthony Albanese, our Prime Minister.”

Miraculously, money has been found for such vanity projects as a sporting stadium being used to blackmailing effect by the AFL, for funding a yet unrealised nuclear-powered submarine fleet that will be essentially useless against any adversary. While the stadium is slated to cost under $800 million – and bound to go over – the federal government is topping that amount with $368 billion for sea vessels, all the time arguing that such profligacy will have no impact on the budget. One of the protesters’ themes summed up the indignation against these two projects superbly: “We can’t eat stadiums or submarines.”

To this can be added the disease of sporting privilege and aristocratic snobbery. The Australian Football League has become something of a spoilt, bullying brat, dictating terms to governments and smiting those disloyal to the creed. Forget the working stadia already in place; the fact that Tasmania was receiving the 19th license to play in the AFL and AFL Women’s League necessitated the extravagance of a spanking new facility. No stadium; no team. In doing so, the sporting body has not only brought Premier Rockliff to his knees, but that of Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.

To that end, we can only hope that the likes of Flanagan, the other state politicians in Labor and the Greens, and those tireless representatives at the federal level, MP Andrew Wilkie and Senator Lambie, can finally make those in power see sense. But stupidity, and its occasional sidekick, blindness, remain powerful forces behind the birth of white elephants.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


The US Supreme Court Corruption Bonanza

When ProPublica’s investigation into links between Republican donor Harlan Crow and the US Supreme Court surfaced, there was a sense that dark waters lurked beneath the revelations. While Justice Clarence Thomas featured prominently as the recipient of largesse and pomp from Crow – island hopping in Indonesia, private jet travel, among other treats – things were bound to get worse.

At the time of the unveiling of such ignominious conduct, Thomas did not heed the wise injunction of Lord Acton to avoid too much explaining lest the excuses become too many. His hand caught in the till, Thomas dismissed such generosity as mere hospitality, a point reiterated in a statement from Crow. Besides, he had been advised by his fellow brethren – troublingly so – that he could accept such gifts of hospitality without fear of conflict and compromise. The clincher here: that Crow did not have any business before the court.

The Thomas-Crow relationship has had a decent pickling, stretching back a good number of years. In 2011, Crow lavished $500,000 upon Thomas’ wife to form a Tea Party Group. Thomas also received a $19,000 Bible said to belong to Frederick Douglass. In rather smelly fashion – odorous, that is, in the links between think-tank land, wealth and policy – Thomas received a $15,000 gift from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with Crow serving on the board at the time. More recently, it has also been revealed that Crow’s generosity extended to funding the private school education of Thomas’s grandnephew to the sum of $6,000 a month.

The pong becomes a full raging stench with the realisation that the AEI filed three briefs with the Supreme Court soon after giving Thomas the gift, with all rulings being decided in their favour. While influence should not be confused with association, the appearance of conflict would be fatal to even the most disciplined of judicial minds.

The link with Crow becomes even more taut with revelations from ThinkProgress in 2011 about the legal successes of the Crow-affiliated group, Center for the Community Interest, at least when facing the less than critical eye of Justice Thomas. Not once did Thomas waiver in his judgments favouring the CCI.

Not to be outdone, Neil Gorsuch, along with two individuals, sold land to the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, a firm often engaged in business before the Supreme Court. The timing of the purchase is also of interest, given that the property in question had been on the market for almost two years till Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

In a less tawdry way, Justice Samuel Alito has also been found wanting for shooting off his mouth before dinner guests regarding the outcome of the 2014 case Burwell v Hobby Lobby months before its official publication. Good judgment can be rare – even on Olympus.

Efforts to impose an ethical code upon the justices akin to the lower courts have floundered over the years, much of this due to the saboteurs of the Supreme Court. At best, reliance has been placed upon the less than satisfactory statute requirement that justices, including those on the Supreme Court bench, recuse themselves in any case “in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Chief Justice John Roberts was even threatening in his 2011 report, implying that any Congressional effort to constrain the bench by the imposition of such a code would violate the Constitution. In a rather novel interpretation, the fact that the lower courts were bound by the Code of Conduct “reflects a fundamental difference between the Supreme Court and the other federal courts.”

Lower court judges, were they to refuse recusing themselves from individual cases, could have their decisions reviewed, all the way to the Supreme Court. But on the high summit of Olympus, the country’s top judicial officers were intended to be wise and immune, “a consequence of the Constitution’s command that there be only ‘one supreme Court’.” To also leave the assessment of recusal to fellow judges might “affect the outcome of a case by selecting who among its Members may participate.” Such reasoning is so idiosyncratic as to be suspicious.

A gaggle of Democrats are wondering how to bring the Supreme Court to heel on the issue, being particularly agitated at the Chief Justice’s refusal to take up an invitation to testify about ethics reform for the court. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States,” he snootily declared in a letter to the chairman, “is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

The idea of funding is being mooted as a potential point of pressure. According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Congress can draw upon court decisions making the point “that, in interbranch disputes, it is completely appropriate and proper for the legislative branch to use the power of the purse to influence the other branches in doing what they ought to be doing.”

Such suggestions risk having an opposite effect, stirring the justices into a sense of martyrdom while sailing close to the winds of violating the separation of powers. But those occupying the bench, in their breathtakingly irresponsible links with private interest groups, have done their fair share in soiling the stables of US justice. For that, the withering gaze of fairness should be directed not merely upon the likes of Crow, but such bodies as the Federalist Society, the sort that ensures that the Supreme Court, once bought, stays bought.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


YouGov Survey Shows Strong Support for Australian Republic to be Entirely Secular

The Secular Association of NSW Media Release

In a survey commissioned by the Secular Association of NSW and carried out on 26 April 2023, YouGov respondents were asked whether:

“An Australian republic should recognise religious sensitivities by providing taxpayer-funded grants, tax exemptions, as well as exceptions to discrimination law for religious groups.”

They were then asked whether:

“An Australian republic should be entirely secular and not provide taxpayer-funded grants, tax exemptions, as well as exceptions to discrimination law for religious groups.”

The results were:

  • 24 per cent supported existing religious privileges
  • 53 per cent opposed existing religious privileges
  • 23 per cent ticked ‘don’t know’.

There were similar majorities in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia. The NSW statistics were 25 per cent support for religious privileges, 48 per cent opposed, 27 per cent ‘don’t know’. Tasmania was not part of the survey.

Every generation – Gen Z (1997-2009), Millennials (1981-1996), Gen X (1965-1980), Baby Boomer (1946-1964), and Silent (1918-1945) – showed majority support for an entirely secular republic without privileges for religious groups.

35 per cent of Christians supported existing privileges for religion, 41 per cent opposed, and 24 per cent did not know.

The Secretary of the Secular Association of NSW, Max Wallace, also pointed to their YouGov survey of 7 February 2023, which asked:

“Australia has no formal recognition of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?”

The results of that survey were:

  • 53 per cent approved
  • 12 per cent disapproved
  • 35 per cent ticked ‘don’t know’.

Max Wallace said:

“It looks as if the earth has moved beneath the feet of the Australian Republican Movement, who are committed to the received wisdom that you cannot achieve a referendum result in Australia unless the question is timidly minimal.

“These surveys add to the thought that Australian public opinion has shifted to a more progressive place after the 2022 federal election.”


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Geoffrey Hinton, AI, and Google’s Ethics Problem

Talk about the dangers of artificial intelligence, actual or imagined, has become feverish, much of it induced by the growing world of generative chat bots. When scrutinising the critics, attention should be paid to their motivations. What do they stand to gain from adopting a particular stance? In the case of Geoffrey Hinton, immodestly seen as the “Godfather of AI”, the scrutiny levelled should be sharper than most.

Hinton hails from the “connectionist” school of thinking in AI, the once discredited field that envisages neural networks which mimic the human brain and, more broadly, human behaviour. Such a view is at odds with the “symbolists”, who focus on AI as machine-governed, the preserve of specific symbols and rules.

John Thornhill, writing for the Financial Times, notes Hinton’s rise, along with other members of the connectionist tribe: “As computers became more powerful, data sets exploded in size, and algorithms became more sophisticated, deep learning researchers, such as Hinton, were able to produce ever more impressive results that could no longer be ignored by the mainstream AI community.”

In time, deep learning systems became all the rage, and the world of big tech sought out such names as Hinton’s. He, along with his colleagues, came to command absurd salaries at the summits of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. At Google, Hinton served as vice president and engineering fellow.

Hinton’s departure from Google, and more specifically his role as head of the Google Brain team, got the wheel of speculation whirring. One line of thinking was that it took place so that he could criticise the very company whose very achievements he has aided over the years. It was certainly a bit rich, given Hinton’s own role in pushing the cart of generative AI. In 2012, he pioneered a self-training neural network capable of identifying common objects in pictures with considerable accuracy.

The timing is also of interest. Just over a month prior, an open letter was published by the Future of Life Institute warning of the terrible effects of AI beyond the wickedness of OpenAI’s GPT-4 and other cognate systems. A number of questions were posed: “Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?

In calling for a six-month pause on developing such large-scale AI projects, the letter attracted a number of names that somewhat diminished the value of the warnings; many signatories had, after all, played a far from negligible role in creating automation, obsolescence and the encouraging the “loss of control of our civilization”. To that end, when the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak append their signatures to a project calling for a pause in technological developments, bullshit detectors the world over should stir.

The same principles should apply to Hinton. He is obviously seeking other pastures, and in so doing, preening himself with some heavy self-promotion. This takes the form of mild condemnation of the very thing he was responsible for creating. “The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people – a few people believed that. But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. […] Obviously, I no longer think that.” He, you would think, should know better than most.

On Twitter, Hinton put to bed any suggestions that he was leaving Google on a sour note, or that he had any intention of dumping on its operations. “In the NYT today, Cade Metz implies that I left Google so that I could criticize Google. Actually, I left so that I could talk about the dangers of AI without considering how this impacts Google. Google has acted very responsibly.”

This somewhat bizarre form of reasoning suggests that any criticism of AI will exist independently of the very companies that develop and profit from such projects, all the while leaving the developers – like Hinton – immune from any accusations of complicity. The fact that he seemed incapable of developing critiques of AI or suggest regulatory frameworks within Google itself, undercuts the sincerity of the move.

In reacting to his long-time colleague’s departure, Jeff Dean, chief scientist and head of Google DeepMind, also revealed that the waters remained calm, much to everyone’s satisfaction. “Geoff has made foundational breakthroughs in AI, and we appreciate his decade of contributions to Google […] As one of the first companies to publish AI Principles, we remain committed to a responsible approach to AI. We’re continually learning to understand emerging risks while also innovating boldly.”

A number in the AI community did sense that something else was afoot. Computer scientist Roman Yampolskiy, in responding to Hinton’s remarks, pertinently observed that concerns for AI Safety were not mutually exclusive to research within the organisation – nor should they be. “We should normalize being concerned with AI Safety without having to quit your [sic] job as an AI researcher.”

Google certainly has what might be called an ethics problem when it comes to AI development. The organisation has been rather keen to muzzle internal discussions on the subject. Margaret Mitchell, formerly of Google’s Ethical AI team, which she co-founded in 2017, was given the heave-ho after conducting an internal inquiry into the dismissal of Timnit Gebru, who had been a member of the same team.

Gebru was scalped in December 2020 after co-authoring work that took issue with the dangers arising from using AI trained and gorged on huge amounts of data. Both Gebru and Mitchell have also been critical about the conspicuous lack of diversity in the field, described by the latter as a “sea of dudes.”

As for Hinton’s own philosophical dilemmas, they are far from sophisticated and unlikely to trouble his sleep. Whatever Frankenstein role he played in the creation of the very monster he now warns of, his sleep is unlikely to be troubled. “I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have,” Hinton explained to the New York Times. “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things.”


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


A Certain Form of Thieving: The US Banksters Strike Again

It looks like 2008 all over again. Economic and financial mismanagement feature in scorching, consuming brilliance. The culpable, bungling banksters, have returned with their customary, venal incompetence. In the customary script, they habitually seek the role of the public purse to socialise their losses. Along the way, they will avoid richly deserved prison sentences, lie low, and return to repeat their sins.

A number of big ships in the banking industry have already sunk into oblivion, sold off and made footnotes in financial folklore. Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and most recently, First Republic Bank, have begotten their own tombstones. These big three held, in total, $532 billion. When adjusted for inflation, it edges out the total of $526 billion held by the 25 banks that collapsed in 2008.

First Republic Bank was particularly execrable in its practices, offering non-guaranteed mortgages at fixed rates for vast sums of money. When chills started running down the spines of depositors in the first quarter of this year, bleeding withdrawals totalling $102 billion made.

The US Federal Reserve’s review of SVB’s collapse picked up on a number of issues specific to the bank’s actions, while also offering a mea culpa for not only its own failings, but for those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporate and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Afterall, what were these supposedly eagle-eyed supervisors, the stewards tasked with overseeing the system, doing during all this time?

As the Reserve found, there had been a conspicuous failure on the part of the board of directors and management to manage the risks at SVB. There is also an admission by the Federal Reserve that they “did not fully appreciate the extent of the vulnerabilities as Silicon Valley Bank grew in size and complexity.” Even when these were identified, insufficient steps were taken to ensure that the defects were corrected “quickly enough.”

SVB, it turns out, was something of a poster boy of bad behaviour. It was cited for not complying with a number of requirements: the Bank Secrecy Act, Current Expected Credit Losses measurements, stringent data protection, having a sufficient internal auditing framework, and the Volcker Rule. The latter’s aim is to prevent banks from dabbling in that most risky of ventures: securities and derivatives. For the bankster, lessons are there to be unlearned.

Most telling of all was that great gremlin of the banking sector: deregulation. During the Trump administration, a number of checks and controls were wound back, notably regarding the middle ranking, smaller banks. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which set $50 billion and above as the line which would demand greater regulation on capital and mergers, came in for particular punishment. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act of 2018 raised the asset threshold to $250 billion. Those below could engage in conduct becoming the most profligate wastrels.

As the Board found, the “tailoring approach in response to the Economic, Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act and a shift in the stance of supervisory policy impeded effective supervision by reducing standards, increasing complexity, and promoting a less assertive supervisory approach.”

The Federal Reserve’s Vice Chair for Supervision, Michael Barr, drew a number of conclusions that looked awfully like those reached in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. “[W]e must strengthen the Federal Reserve’s supervision and regulation based on what we have learned.” The SVB review represented “the first step in that process – a self-assessment that takes an unflinching look at the conditions that led to the bank’s failure, including the role of Federal Reserve supervision and regulation.”

These are fine admissions, but they all seem to have come a bit late. The US banking system is teetering, notably those in the middle rung. And they tend to have banksters of such cheek as former Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Becker, who will be testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on May 16.

Becker, it should not be forgotten, was thrilled by the Trump administration’s policy adjustments, realising his own efforts in 2015 to convince the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee to reduce safety standards. In his statement to the committee, Becker claimed that SVB did “not present systemic risks” and was adequately policed by an adequate number of “highly skilled risk professionals” and “a stand-alone, independent Risk Committee of our Board of Directors.” There were also a “range of different stress tests designed to measure and predict the risks associated” with the “business in different economic scenarios.” The proverbial pigs sought, at this point, to fly.

The sparring members of Congress are also not at one as to what brought on the rot. The Republicans, in characteristic fashion, refuse to accept deregulation as the culprit, preferring to focus on egregious human error and mismanagement. Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky offers another thesis: that a flush of funds and government overspending, fuelling inflation, coupled with low interest rates, were the causal factors. Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and US Rep. Katie Porter of California underlined the winding back of regulations as the problem, requiring muscular legislative correction.

The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, suggests that US banking directors should put their heads on the metaphorical chopping block. At the very least, they “should suffer” some form of retribution, though what form this takes is not entirely clear. Not making them do so “teaches the lesson that if you run a bank and screw it up, you’re still a rich guy, the world goes on … That is not a good lesson to teach the people who are holding the behaviour of the economy in their hands.”

Charlie Munger, who also serves as vice-chairman of Buffet’s investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, does not disagree. “I don’t think having a bunch of bankers, all of whom are trying to get rich, leads to good things. I think bankers should be more like an engineer, avoiding trouble rather than trying to get rich … It’s a contradiction in values.”

Such a contradiction continues to exist with vengeance, fed by an unspoken conspiracy between the banking sector and government officials who regard regulation as unbecoming to the buccaneering spirit. A certain form of thieving is always to be encouraged, and it might even be subsidised too.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


King Charles III: Policing the Republican Protests

In Britain, pageantry has always been a palliative and plaster for the dark and dismal. Be it in times of crisis, the chance to put on an extravagant show, usually at vast expense, is not something to forego. Central to this entertainment complex is the Royal family, that archaic vestige of an era that refuses to pass into history.

The Coronation of King Charles III was yet another instance of that complex in action. It was a spectacle, redolent of ancient ceremony, aged ritual, punctuated by the monarch’s statements of “I do”.

While this delighted a goodly number of punters, the whole affair also presented Republic and others of like mind to avail themselves of the chance to protest. Republic is one of the key groups attempting to stir the waters of change, running petitions, arranging protests and selling merchandise for the cause. On this occasion, the group was promising some of the biggest protests against the monarchy, with demonstrators sporting “Not my King” placards.

Unfortunately for the protesters, and for the right to assemble in general, the UK Parliament made sure to pass laws for that precise eventuality. Nothing would be left to chance. Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, explained away the coincidental nature of the Public Order Act 2023 and it coming into effect just days before the Coronation. “We’re not just thinking of our own security but the security of heads of states, and we’re dealing with protest groups who have nothing to do with the UK but to do with foreign leaders visiting the UK.”

The 2023 statute builds on measures that were already used against anti-monarchy protests following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. As human rights legal academic David Mead noted at the time, the right to protest peacefully is protected in domestic law, while free expression is also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights via the Human Rights Act. But this did not prevent the police from making adventurous use of various countering provisions, though it was not clear what they were. Attention was paid to the possible use of section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, public nuisance, or arrest to prevent a breach of the peace.

Evidently, the Tory government did not feel these measures adequate in their severity. The 2023 Act specifically outlines such offences as “locking on” and “being equipped for locking on,” in addition to expanding stop and search powers. Police making use of such powers may, provided they are of or above the rank of inspector, authorise stop and search without the need for suspicion.

The locking on offence covers instances where a people “attach themselves to another person, to an object or to land,” do the same with other people, and “attach an object to another object or to land.” Such acts must also cause, or be capable of causing, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation in a place other than a dwelling, and be accompanied with the requisite intent.

As for the offence of being equipped for locking on, a person is in breach “if they have an object with them in a place other than a dwelling with an intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with the commission by any person of an offence under section 1(1) (offence of locking on).”

The government would have also delighted in the High Court’s decision to reverse a District Judge’s ruling to acquit a protester for allegedly breaching a police direction made under the Public Order Act 1986. In 2020, the protester in question sat down in Parliament Street, adjacent to Parliament Square. According to the police, the protest had stay within the confines of Parliament Square

The decision, handed down the same week the new Public Order Act received Royal assent, held that the judge applied the wrong test in assuming that a defendant’s conviction had to be proportionate relative with their rights to free expression and assembly. It was a remarkable decision, and abysmal in the context of assembly and free expression.

In a statement from Commander Karen Findlay of the London Metropolitan Police, a fat finger of accusation was pointed at the Coronation protestors. There had “been a significant police operation after we received information protestors were determined to disrupt the Coronation procession.” It was “targeted at those we believed were intent on taking this action. It was not our intention to prevent protest.”

All in all, 64 arrests were made on May 6. Of these, 52 “related to concerns people were going to disrupt the event, and arrests included to prevent a breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.” Eight arrests were also “made for other offences, including possession of an offensive weapon, drugs offences, and breaching a sexual harm prevention order.”

In the arrest count were six demonstrators from the Republic campaign group, suspected of having items among their placards that “could be used as lock on devices.” The Met investigation that followed proved otherwise. “Those arrested stated the items would be used to secure their placards, and the investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock on and disrupt the event.” There was “regret that those six people arrested were unable to join the wider group of protesters in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere on the procession route.”

One of the arrestees, Republic head Graham Smith, subsequently revealed that three embarrassed officers, one with the rank of chief inspector, personally apologised to him and handed “the straps [for the placards] back to me.”

Such actions did little to douse the fire. “This,” fumed Smith, “has been a disgraceful episode and we will be speaking to lawyers about taking legal action. I also expect a full inquiry into why they repeatedly lied to us and who authorised the arrests.” The newly crowned King will be hoping that interest in the matter will be quick to die down. But even the attractive glossiness of pageantry won’t last.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Hypocritical Commemorations: World Press Freedom Day

Selected days for commemoration serve one fundamental purpose. Centrally, they acknowledge the forgotten or neglected, while proposing to do nothing about it. It’s the priest’s confession, the chance for absolution before the next round of soiling.

These occasions are often money-making exercises for canny businesses: the days put aside to remember mothers and fathers, for instance. But there is no money to be made in saving writers, publishers, whistleblowers, and journalists from the avenging police state.

World Press Freedom Day, having limped on for three decades, is particularly fraught in this regard. It remains particularly loathsome, not least for giving politicians an opportunity to leave flimsy offerings at its shrine. These often come from the powerful, the very same figures responsible for demeaning and attacking those brave scribblers who do, every so often, show how the game is played.

Every year, we see reactions often uneven, and almost always hypocritical. The treatment of US journalist Evan Gershkovich is the stellar example for 2023. Here was the caged victim-hero scribbler, held in the remorseless clutches of the Russian Bear.

It gave US Secretary of State Antony Blinken an opportunity to do the usual cartwheel. “Far too many governments use repression to silence free expression, including through reprisals against journalists for simply doing their jobs,” goes his May 3 press statement. “We again call on Russian authorities to immediately release Wall Street reporter Gershkovich and all other journalists held for exercising freedom of expression.” What, then, of the Australian publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange?

With unintended, bleak irony, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also thought it fitting to rope in the Secretary at a World Press Freedom Day event organised in conjunction with the Washington Post. Talking to his interlocutor, the Post’s David Ignatius, Blinken spoke of efforts to “fight back and push back around the world to help journalists, who – in one way or another, are facing intimidation, coercion, persecution, prosecution, surveillance.” This seemed grimly comical, given that the United States, through its agencies, has engaged in intimidation, coercion, persecution, prosecution and surveillance against Assange, whose scalp they continue to seek with salivating expectation.

In the course of the event, Ignatius and Blinken encountered Code Pink activists Medea Benjamin and Tinghe Barry. Both were keen to test the Secretary’s lofty assessments about Washington’s stance on free expression and journalistic practice. “Excuse me, we can’t use this day without calling for the freedom of Julian Assange,” exclaimed Benjamin, storming the stage where the two men were engaged in bland conversation. A bemused Ignatius duly approved of Benjamin’s eviction by three burly minders, seeing it all as part of “free expression”.



Barry’s own assessment of the whole show summed matters up. “Two hours and not one word about journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, who was murdered by Israeli occupation forces in Palestine, not one word about Julian Assange.”

Others from the US State Department were also found wanting. A department press briefing from Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson, opened with comments about World Press Freedom Day. He echoed the belief in “the importance of a free press. It’s a – we believe a bedrock of democracy.”

Then came a question from Matt Lee of Associated Press: Did the State Department regard Assange “as a journalist who is – who should be covered by the ideas embodied in World Press Freedom Day?”

Patel’s response did not deviate from the views of his superiors. “The State Department thinks that Mr Assange has been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States, in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in our nation’s history.”

With dutiful adherence to a narrative worn and extensively disproved in Assange’s extradition trial proceedings, Patel spoke of actions that “risked serious harm to US national security to the benefit of our adversaries” (there was none) and subjected “human sources to grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and arbitrary detention” (no evidence has ever been adduced by the Department of Justice on this point).

When confronted with Gershkovich’s detention as a precedent the US was potentially emulating regarding the publisher, Patel insisted the cases were “very, very different.” The US did not “go around arbitrarily detaining people, and the judicial oversight and checks and balances that we have in our system versus the Russian system are a little bit different.”

Patel has obviously not familiarised himself with those totemic, lugubrious reminders of the US justice system: Alexandra Detention Center (ADC) and the ADX Florence Supermax prison. Or, for that matter, discussions within the US intelligence services on how to abduct or assassinate Assange, where checks and levers are conspicuously absent.

Then came a White House briefing that same day, where the issue of Assange’s treatment, inconveniently for the Biden administration, reared its head. But not before the utterance of slushy remarks from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the free press is essential to our democracy and democracies everywhere.” With the opening platitude came concern for Gershkovich and Austin Tice, whose “wrongful detentions we see around the world that we must stand up and call out.”

Enter Steven Portnoy of CBS News, who addressed Jean-Pierre on precisely that point. “Advocates on Twitter today have been talking a great deal about how the United States has engaged in hypocrisy by talking about how Evan Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges but the United States has Espionage Act charges pending against Julian Assange.”

In being asked to respond to the criticism, Jean-Pierre, without batting an eyelid, asked what that criticism was. “Well, the criticism is that – the argument is that Julian Assange is a journalist who engaged in the publication of government documents,” came Portnoy’s response. By accusing Assange of crimes under the Espionage Act of 1917, the US was “losing the moral high ground when it comes to the question of whether a reporter engages in espionage as a function of his work.”

Jean-Pierre, evidently not well-briefed on the pitfalls and vicissitudes of World Press Freedom Day, merely stated that she would not “speak to Julian Assange and that case from here.”

After three decades, it may be time to forget the importance of this curious bauble of communications, not because of the sincerity of some of its advocates who genuinely seek to protect the lot of journalists, but because of the propagandists who willingly prosecute a case against Fourth Estate when it comes to national security and crude self-interest.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Scrapping Charles Darwin: Hindutva’s Anti-Scientific Maladies

Welcome the canons of pseudoscience. Open your arms to the dribbling, sponsored charlatans. According to a growing number of India’s top officialdom, teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to children in their ninth and 10th grades is simply not on.

Last month, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), a purportedly autonomous government organisation responsible for curricula content and textbook publishing for India’s 256 million primary and secondary students, continued its hostility against Darwin as part of its “content rationalisation” process. NCERT had taken the scrub to evolution during the COVID-19 pandemic, implausibly arguing that it was necessary to drop its teaching in moving classes online. (Darwin would have been most bemused.)

A closer look at the list of dropped and excluded subjects in the NCERT publication of “rationalised content in textbooks” from May last year is impressive in its philistinism. In addition to dropping teaching on Darwin, the origin of life on earth, evolution, fossils and molecular phylogeny, we also see the scrapping of such subjects as electricity, the magnetic effects of electric current and the “sustainable management of natural resources”.

Evolutionary biologist Amitabh Joshi of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research was less than impressed, calling the measure “a travesty of the notion of a well-rounded secondary education.”

On April 20, the non-profit Breakthrough Science Society launched an open letter demanding a reversal of the decision. “Knowledge and understanding of evolutionary biology is important not just to any subfield of biology, but is also key to understanding the world around us.” Though not evident at first glance, “the principles of natural selection help us understand how any pandemic progresses or why certain species go extinct, among many other critical issues.”

A sense of despondency reigns on whether NCERT will change course, even in the face of protest. In the view of biologist Satyajit Rath, “Given the recent trajectories of such decisions of the government of India, probably not, at least over the short term. Sustained progressive efforts will be required to influence the long-term outcomes.”

The anti-evolutionary streak in Indian politics, spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been present for some time, always threatening to spill over with acid implications into the education syllabus. In 2018, India’s then Minister for Higher Education, Satyapal Singh, urged the removal of evolution from school curricula, remarking that no one had ever seen “an ape turning into a human being.” Before a university gathering at a university in Assam, he claimed to “have a list of around 10 to 15 great scientists of the world who have said there is no evidence to prove that the theory of evolution is correct.” He even threw poor Albert Einstein into the mix to justify the stance, claiming that the physicist had thought the theory “unscientific”.

As ever with such characters, ignorance is garlanded with claims of expertise. Singh was speaking as a “man of science”. As a man of science, “Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong”. Man, he claimed, “has always been a man.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure has been characterised by a coupling of mythologisation and anti-scientific inquiry, grouped under the notion of Hindutva – that India was, and is, the sacred homeland of Hindus, with all other religious groups foreign aberrations. By blending the two, outrageous claims purportedly scientific can be drawn from ancient folklore and texts. Myth is rendered victorious.

In 2014, Modi gave a most extravagant example of this exercise by claiming that “plastic surgery” and “genetic science” explained the creation of Lord Ganesh’s elephantine head and Karna’s birth respectively. Given that the latter, an epic figure of the Mahabharata, “was not born from his mother’s womb”, Modi could confidently state that “genetic science was present at that time.”

Such astonishing, crude literalism is tantamount to stubborn claims that Indians were the first to discover the means of flying, given Arjuna’s ride in a chariot piloted by Lord Krishna at the Battle of Kurukshetra. And sure enough, the 102nd session of the India Science Congress, hosted in January 2015, featured a panel led by a number of BJP government members claiming that Indians had pioneered aviation that could fly not only across planet Earth but between planets.

Other instances of this abound, some blatantly, and dangerously irresponsible. In April 2019, BJP parliamentary member Pragya Singh Thakur told the television network India Today that a heady “mixture of gau mutra” (cow urine), along with “other cow products”, including dung and milk, cured her breast cancer. Oncologists mocked the conclusions, but the damaging claim caught on.

With such instances far from infrequent, academics and researchers feel beleaguered in a landscape saturated by the credo of Hindutva. In 2016, number theorist Rajat Tandon observed that the Modi approach to knowledge was “really dangerous”. Along with more than 100 scientists, including many heads of institutions, he signed a statement protesting “the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country.”

A number trying to buck the trend, notably those numbered among rationalists and the anti-superstition activists, have been threatened and, in some cases, murdered. The scholar and writer M. M. Kalburgi paid with his life in North Karnataka in August 2015 for a remark made quoting Jnanpith awardee U. R. Ananthamurthy that urinating on idols was not a transgression that would necessarily attract divine retribution.

In September 2017, the progressive journalist and publisher Gauri Lankesh was gunned down returning to her home from work. She had become yet another victim of what the police in India euphemistically call “encounters”, drawing attention to herself for her stand against the Hindutva stampede and her sympathetic stance towards the Maoist Naxalites.

The recent bureaucratic assault on Darwin and the continued elevation of mythology above sceptical scientific inquiry, bode ill for India’s rationalists. But despite being browbeaten and threatened, many continue to do battle, defiantly and proudly.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button


Foiled Escape: UC Global, the CIA and Julian Assange

However described, the shabby treatment of Julian Assange never ceases to startle. While he continues to suffer in Belmarsh prison awaiting the torments of an interminable legal process, more material is coming out showing the way he was spied upon while staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Of late, the Spanish daily El País has been keeping up its exemplary coverage on the subject, notably on the conduct of the Spanish-based security firm, UC Global SL.

There is a twist in the latest smidgens of information on the alleged bad conduct by that particular company. As luck would have it, UC Global was commissioned by Rommy Vallejo, the chief of Ecuador’s now defunct national intelligence secretariat, SENAIN, to give the London embassy premises a security and technological touch-up.

Vallejo may have sought their services, but seemed blissfully ignorant that he had granted the fox access to the chicken coop. This access involved the installation of hidden microphones throughout the embassy by UC Global at the direction of its owner, David Morales. Morales, it seems, was updating the US Central Intelligence Agency with information about Assange’s meetings with his legal team throughout.

Much of this was revealed in the trial against Assange conducted at the Central Criminal Court in 2020, though the presiding Judge Vanessa Baraitser seemed oddly unmoved by the revelations, as she was by chatter among US intelligence operatives to engineer an abduction or assassination of the WikiLeaks founder.

The link between UC Global and the CIA was the fruit of work between Morales and one of his most notable clients, the casino company, Las Vegas Sands. Morales was responsible for supplying the owner of the company, the late billionaire magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, with personal security. In the merry-go-round of this field, one of those on Adelson’s personal security detail was a former CIA officer.

On December 20, 2017, Michelle Wallemacq, the head of operations at UC Global, penned a note to two technicians responsible for monitoring security at the embassy. “Be on the lookout tomorrow to see what you can get… and make it work.” The request was related to a scheduled meeting between Assange and Vallejo. The theme of the discussion: to get the Australian publisher out of the embassy, grant him Ecuadorian citizenship and furnish him with a diplomatic passport. This had a heroic, even quixotic quality to it: the grant of a diplomatic passport would not have necessarily passed muster; and the chances of Assange being arrested could hardly be discounted.

Eleven months prior to Morales passing on the tip that scuttled Assange’s escape plans, Morales was already chasing up his staff from one of Adelson’s properties, The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. One technician received the following: “Do you have status reports on the embassy’s computer systems, and networks? I need an inventory of systems and equipment, the guest’s [Assange] phones, and the number of networks.” He also warned his technicians to be wary “that we may be monitored, so everything confidential should be encrypted… Everything is related to the UK subject… The people in control are our friends in the USA.”

On June 12, 2017, Morales, enroute to Washington, DC, requested his contact to activate a File Transfer Protocol server and web portal from their Spanish headquarters. The portal in question: the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Material began being collected on Assange’s guests, eclectic and of all stripes: journalists, doctors, lawyers, diplomats. Mobile phone data was also hoovered up. After his Washington stop, Morales popped into Las Vegas Sands, where he met his eager “American friends” to reveal the information so far gathered about Assange.

Over this time, it becomes clear, in Morales’s own words, that “he had gone over to the dark side” and that “they were working in the Champions League”. Emails sent on September 8 speak of offering “our information collection and analysis capability to the American client.” Discussions with a UC Global technician focus on gathering information from the microphones in the embassy. “The guest [Assange] has three rooms and uses two quite frequently… We would have all the audio from there except in one room.”

On September 21, it was clear to Morales that they had gotten sufficiently mired in the business of spying on Assange to be wary of any potential surveillance from SENAIN. “I would like my whereabouts to be kept confidential, especially my trips to the USA.” Instructions are distributed to gather data on the embassy’s Wi-Fi network, photos of the interior and furnishings of the embassy, and any data on Assange’s primary visitors, notably any members of his legal team.

The recording of one meeting would prove critical to upending plans to get Assange out of the embassy. Present Assange, his lawyer, now wife Stella Morris, Ecuadorian consul Fidel Narváez and Vallejo. The date for the getaway was slated for December 25, with the plan that Assange leave via one of the ambassador’s cars which would make its way through the Eurotunnel to Switzerland or some designated destination on the continent. “It’s very late,” wrote one of the technicians a few hours after the meeting’s conclusion to Morales. “Because it’s so big, I put the file in a shared Dropbox folder. Someone with experience in audio can make it more intelligible.” While Vallejo could be heard fairly clearly, the voices of Assange and Morris were “very muffled”.

Within a matter of hours, Morales had relayed the material to those “American friends” of his, greasing the wheels for proceedings that would culminate in Assange’s expulsion in 2019 and the indictment listing 18 charges, 17 of which are drawn from the Espionage Act of 1917. The plan to leave the embassy was never executed.

There are two significant events that also transpired before Vallejo’s visit to Assange. The first involved an advisor to the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister who is said to have had information about the plan regarding Assange’s escape. He was assaulted by a number of hooded men at Quito Airport on his return from the United States.

On December 17, 2017, it was time for hooded assailants to turn their attention to the Madrid law offices of Baltasar Garzón and Aitor Martínez. Their target: a computer server. The timing was ominous; both lawyers had just returned from meeting Assange in the London embassy. The intruders proved untraceable by the Spanish police, despite leaving prints.

In hindsight, it does seem remarkable that Vallejo and SENAIN remained ignorant of the rotten apples in UC Global. As things stand, Morales is facing a formal complaint filed by Assange in the Spanish National Court. He is also facing an investigation for alleged breaches of privacy, the violation of attorney-client confidentiality, misappropriation, bribery and money laundering. The presiding magistrate on the case, Santiago Pedraz, has requested the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to press the CIA in supplying information about the embassy spying.

Even better will be the abandoning of the entire proceeding, the reversal of the extradition order made in June 2022 by then Home Secretary Priti Patel, and a finding by the UK authorities that the case against Assange is monstrously political, compromised from the start and emptied of legal principle.


Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button