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Category Archives: AIM Extra

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.


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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.


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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.


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Anxiety as Socialism: AI Moratorium Fantasies

Rumours and streaks of hysteria are running rife about what such artificial intelligence (AI) systems as ChatGPT are meant to do. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy recently showed himself to be ignorant with terror about the search bot created by OpenAI. “ChatGPT taught itself to do advanced chemistry. It wasn’t built into the model. Nobody programmed it to learn complicated chemistry. It decided to teach itself, then made its knowledge available to anyone who asked. Something is coming. We aren’t ready.”

Melanie Mitchell, an academic who knows a thing or two about the field, was bemused and tweeted as much. “Senator, I’m an AI researcher. Your description of ChatGPT is dangerously misinformed. Every sentence is incorrect. I hope you will learn more about how this system actually works, how it was trained, and what its limitations are.”

Murphy retorted indignantly that he had not meant what he said. Of course I know that AI doesn’t ‘learn’ or ‘teach itself’ like a human. I’m using shorthand.” Those criticisms, he argued, had the intention of bullying “policymakers away from regulating new technology by ridiculing us when we don’t use the terms the industry uses.”

Like birds of a feather, Murphy’s intervention came along with the Future of Life Institute’s own contribution in the form of an open letter (the Letter). The document makes a number of assertions expected from an institute that has warned about the risks of supremely intelligent AI systems. Literally thousands digitally flocked to lend their names to it, including tech luminaries such as Elon Musk (a warning there), and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. (Currently, the number of signatures lies at 27,567.)

The letter makes the plea that a six-month moratorium is necessary for humanity to take stock about the implications of AI. “Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization. Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders.” Emphatically, it continues: “Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.”

The Letter is unimpressive, clumsy, and clear in its effort to manufacture anxiety. While there is much to be said about having considered debates on the way AI is developing, one must ask where this plea is coming from. When billionaires demand a halt in technological practice, scepticism should start tickling the conscience. Suddenly, such voices demand transparency, accountability and openness, the very things they have shunned through their money-making endeavours. And who are the unelected tech leaders in any case?

As for the level of anxiety, the powerful and wealthy will always have bundles of it. If there is one commodity they truly want to share with the rest of us – call it anxiety as socialism – it’s their own fears writ large and disseminated as our fears. AI is that perfect conduit, a case of both promise and terror, therefore needing strict control. “The only things that can oppress US billionaires,” muses the Indian journalist and writer Manu Joseph, “are disease, insurrection, aliens and paranormal machines, the reason they tend to develop exaggeration [sic] notions of their dangers.”

For Mitchell, the authors and backers had embraced an all too gloomy predicament of humanity in the face of AI. “Humans,” she wrote earlier this month, “are continually at risk of over-anthropomorphizing over-trusting these systems, attributing agency to them when none is there.”

The useful premise for the unnerved fearmongers yields two corollaries: the attempt to try to halt the changing nature of such systems in the face of innovation; and the selling factor. “Public fear of AI is actually useful for the tech companies selling it, since the flip-side of the fear is the belief that these systems are truly powerful and big companies would be foolish not to adopt them.”

Moratoria in the field of technology tend to be doomed ventures. The human desire to invent even the most cataclysmically foolish of devices, is the stuff of Promethean legend. Consider, for instance, the debate on whether the US should develop a weapon even more destructive than the atomic bomb. The fear, then, was that the godless Soviets might acquire a superbomb, a muscular monster based on fusion, rather than fission.

In the seminal document received by US President Harry Truman on April 14, 1950, fears of such a discovery are rife. Written by Paul Nitze of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Office, it warned “that the probable fission bomb capability and the possible thermonuclear bomb capability of the Soviet Union have greatly intensified the Soviet threat to the security of the United States.” The result of such a fear became the hydrogen bomb.

The more level-headed pragmatists in the field acknowledge, as do the listed authors of Stochastic Parrots (they include Mitchell) published on the website of the DAIR Institute, that there are “real and present dangers” associated with harms arising from AI, but this is qualified by the “acts of people and corporations deploying automated systems. Regulatory efforts should focus on transparency, accountability and preventing exploitative labor practices.”

Perhaps, suggests Mitchell, we should aim for something akin to a “Manhattan Project of intense research” that would cover “AI’s abilities, limitations, trustworthiness, and interpretability, where the investigation and results are open to anyone.” A far from insensible suggestion, bar the fact that the original Manhattan Project, dedicated to creating the first atomic bomb during the Second World War, was itself a competition to ensure that Nazi Germany did not get there first.


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Politicians, advocates and prominent Australians call for JobSeeker increase in Federal Budget

ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) Media Release

Politicians from across the aisle, academics, business leaders, community advocates and other prominent Australians have joined in a rare display of unity to urge the Prime Minister to implement the first priority recommendation of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee and deliver a substantial increase to JobSeeker and related payments in the May Budget.

Labor MPs Alicia Payne, Louise Miller-Frost, Michelle Ananda-Raja and Kate Thwaites, Liberal MP Bridget Archer, the Greens, and a wide range of independents and cross-bench politicians including Kate Chaney, Zoe Daniel, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Jacqui Lambie, David Pocock, Monique Ryan, Kylea Tink, Sophie Scamps, Lidia Thorpe and Andrew Wilkie, have all signed an Open Letter urging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to lift Jobseeker and related payments to help address “structural injustice” and “increased deprivation”.

Sitting members of the Federal Parliament are joined by former senior politicians and bureaucrats, First Nations leaders, leading economists, community sector leaders and prominent Australians detailed below.

The Open Letter to the Prime Minister comes after the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which was established as part of an historic agreement between the Government and Senator Pocock, recommended the government deliver a substantial increase to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments as a “first priority”. The Committee found that the payments are inadequate against all existing benchmarks and that increasing their rate to 90% of the Age Pension would improve adequacy and return them to payment relativities of 1999.

The Open Letter, coordinated by the Australian Council of Social Service, says: “We all want the security of knowing that we’ll be supported during tough times.

“But right now, the rate of JobSeeker is so low that people are being forced to choose between paying their rent or buying enough food and medicine.”

Currently, for a single person, JobSeeker is $49.50 per day and Youth Allowance is $40.20 per day.

ACOSS research last year found that six in ten people on income support were eating less or reporting difficulty getting medicine or care because their incomes are totally inadequate. This figure increased to seven in ten in March 2023.

Former politicians and bureaucrats to have signed include Brian Howe AO, Kathryn Greiner AO, Cathy McGowan AO, Robert Tickner AO, Doug Cameron, Jenny Macklin, John Hewson AM, Fred Chaney AO, Verity Firth AM, Renée Leon PSM, Andrew Podger AO and Marie Coleman AO.

Economists, philanthropists and business and union leaders include Ken Henry AC, Jeff Borland, Danielle Wood, Chris Richardson, David Thodey AO, Emma Dawson, Nicki Hutley, Angela Jackson, Sally McManus, Michele O’Neil, Simon Holmes à Court, Richard Denniss, Melinda Cilento, Paul Zahra, Jill Reichstein AM and Diane Smith-Gander AO.

First Nations leaders including Professor Megan Davis, Pat Turner, Antoinette Braybrook, Dr Hannah McGlade, Mick Gooda, June Oscar AO and Thomas Mayor have signed, along with prominent Australians including Patrick McGorry AO, Fiona Stanley AO, Tim Costello AO, Tony Nicholson, Dr Nicole Higgins, Craig Foster, Jane Caro AM and Julie McCrossin AM.

Academics including Professor Kay Cook, Professor Nareen Young, Professor Miranda Stewart, Professor Peter Whiteford, Professor Eileen Baldry AO, Assoc Professor Ben Phillips, Eva Cox AO, and Professor Julian Disney AO have also signed.

Community sector leaders across the country have signed, including:

  • Hang Vo, ACOSS President
  • CEOs of State and Territory Councils of Social Services
  • Mohammad Al-Kafaji, FECCA CEO
  • Sandra Elhelw-Wright, Settlement Council of Australia CEO
  • Ram Neupane, Settlement Services International, Acting CEO
  • Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO
  • Brad Chilcott, Welcoming Australia Founder
  • Rebecca Glenn, Centre for Womens Economic Safety CEO
  • Tanya Corrie, Juno CEO
  • Yumi Lee, Older Women’s Network NSW CEO
  • Hayley Foster, Full Stop Australia CEO
  • Terese Edwards, Single Mother Families Australia CEO
  • Bishop Philip Huggins, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture Director of Centre for Ecumenical Studies and President of the National Council of Churches in Australia
  • Mohamed Mohideen, OAM JP MASM, Islamic Council of Victoria Vice-President and Victorian Multicultural Commissioner
  • Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta and Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service Chair
  • Alan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
  • Nicole Higgins, Royal Australian College of General Practice President
  • Nicole Bartholomeusz, cohealth Chief Executive
  • Elizabeth Deveny, Consumers Health Forum of Australia CEO
  • Kylie Ward, Australian College of Nursing CEO
  • Dr Zena Burgess, Australian Psychological Society CEO
  • Tish Sivagnanan, Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) National President
  • Terry Slevin, Public Health Association of Australia CEO
  • Robert Hunt, Dietitians Australia CEO
  • Michelle Greenwood, Invisible Illnessses Inc Founder
  • Liz Jacka, Dying With Dignity NSW Director
  • Gill Callister, Mind Australia CEO
  • Luke Rycken, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition CEO
  • Jason Trethowan, headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation CEO
  • Jackie Brady, Family & Relationship Services Australia Executive Director
  • Nick Tebbey, Relationships Australia National Executive Officer
  • Georgie Dent, The Parenthood Executive Director
  • Skye Kakoschke-Moore, Children and Young People with Disability Australia CEO
  • Sebastian Zagarella, People with Disability Australia CEO
  • Carolyn Frohmader, Women With Disabilities Australia CEO
  • Leanne Ho, Economic Justice Australia CEO
  • Tim Leach, Community Legal Centres Australia CEO
  • Anna Brown, Equality Australia CEO
  • Fiona Guthrie, Financial Counselling Australia CEO
  • Karen Cox, Financial Rights Legal Centre CEO
  • Chris Povey, Justice Connect CEO
  • Jonathon Hunyor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre CEO
  • Stella Avramopoulos, Good Shepherd CEO
  • Kasy Chambers, Anglicare Australia CEO
  • Claerwen Little, UnitingCare Australia National Director
  • Travers McLeod, Brotherhood of St Laurence Executive Director
  • Lin Hatfield Dodds, The Benevolent Society CEO
  • Toby O’Connor, St Vincent de Paul National Council of Australia CEO
  • Nicole Hornsby, Baptist Care Australia Executive Director
  • Lucy Manne, CEO
  • Glen Klatovsky, Climate Action Network Australia CEO
  • Kelly O’Shanassy Australian Conservation Foundation CEO
  • Lyn Morgain, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive
  • Matt Gardiner, 54 Reasons CEO
  • Toni Wren, Anti-Poverty Week Executive Director
  • Bill Mithen, Give Where You Live Foundation CEO
  • Julie Edwards, Jesuit Social Services CEO
  • Claire Robbs, Life Without Barriers CEO
  • Justine Colyer, Rise Network CEO
  • Mark Pearce, Volunteering Australia CEO
  • Kate Colvin, Homelessness Australia CEO
  • Emma Greenhalgh, National Shelter CEO
  • Joel Dignam, Better Renting Executive Director
  • Lorraine Dupree, Queensland Youth Housing Coalition Executive Director
  • Fiona York, Housing for the Aged Action Group Executive Officer

The full list of community sector leaders is in the Open Letter to the Prime Minister.

The letter concludes by saying: “We call on the Federal Government to substantially increase JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related income support payments in the 2023 budget so as to not leave people in need behind.”

So far, more than 380 people have signed the letter.


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Labor Insiders Call to Raise the Rate

Media Release

The powerful NSW Labor Administrative Committee will this week consider a motion to request the Federal Labor Government to raise the rate of Jobseeker.

Chris Haviland, former Federal Labor MP and Administrative Committee member will move the motion, which asks the Government to increase Jobseeker in line with the recommendation of the Government’s Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.

Mr Haviland is one of over 300 current and former MPs, community leaders and advocates who have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, from the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) calling for the increase.

“The current rate of Jobseeker is woefully inadequate. It is less than $50 a day,” Mr Haviland said.

“The Howard Government broke the nexus between the rates of unemployment benefits and the Age Pension, It is way past time this was restored.”

Mr Haviland rejected arguments that there was no room in the Budget for any increase in Jobseeker.

“Budgets are about choices, about priorities. If a Labor Government can’t prioritise a raise in Jobseeker ahead of yet another (Stage 3) tax cut for the wealthy, then there is something wrong. Not to mention the obscene expenditure on nuclear submarines!”

“No-one held back, no-one left behind. That was the Prime Minister’s promise. Does that not include those on Jobseeker, the most vulnerable in our community?”

The motion to be presented to the Administrative Committee this Friday reads as follows:

“The NSW Administrative Committee welcomes the recommendations of the report of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, in particular the recommendation that the rate of Jobseeker be increased to at least 90% of the Age Pension.

“The rate of the Jobseeker allowance has been woefully inadequate for many years, dating back to when the mean-spirited Howard Government broke the historical nexus between unemployment benefits and the Age Pension. It is below the poverty line and impossible to live on.

“According, NSW Labor requests that the Federal Labor Government increase the rate of Jobseeker by the amount recommended by the aforementioned Committee, and that this be announced in the forthcoming Federal Budget.

“That this resolution be conveyed to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer as a matter of urgency.”


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Blood, Golf and Saudi Arabia: The LIV Tournament in Adelaide

The recently concluded LIV Tournament in Adelaide was a matter of bread, circuses and golf. It was something of a triumph for the chief sponsor: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and, more notably, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Critics, and criticism about the regime and the blood-spattered House of Saud, were generally forgotten.

This vulgar display of denial and indulgence was typified by the face of Australian golf, Greg Norman. After three days of competition at The Grange, The Advertiser (paywalled) ran with the painful headline: “LIV-ing the dream: Golf’s boom weekend for SA.” The South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas, who scandalously threw his state’s money into a mix also funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (his government refuses to say how much), was also glowing. “To everyone who turned up and showed what Australia is about – thank you.”

When questioned about the Riyadh connection and its blotchy human rights record, the insufferable South Australian Tourism Minister, Zoe Bettison, proved to be a well of useless information. “I’m aware of the issues that people have raised,” she stated. “But each and every one of us here uses equipment [and] different businesses every day that the Saudis are invested in.” Presumably she does not mean hacksaws, which, in Saudi hands, have a habit of finding their way onto the necks of critical journalists.

Golfing professionals such as the unprincipled Mammon follower Dustin Johnson also expressed delight at the way the tournament had gone. “The support we’ve had from the fans and the city … awesome. Obviously, the crowds were unbelievable this week, so it was a lot of fun.”

Peter Uihlein dreamily speculated about future numbers, burgeoning in their promise: 90,000 attendees over three days in the 12th event would surely mean even greater numbers by the 40th or 50th? “People lose sight of that a little bit. This is literally the 12th event. The sky is the limit.”

There were efforts made by the organisers to mimic their PGA Tour rivals, who, to be fair, are also corrupt, but not in the capital punishment-killing journalists sense of the term. A ticket to the “Cellar Door” Marquee back of the 12th green, Guardian Australia reports, was called the “Watering Hole”; the PGA equivalent would have been the “Party Hole” in Arizona. The price of admission: $1200. For that price, those attending the sports wash session could also be bored by Norman, Premier Malinauskas, and former Australian Treasurer and US ambassador Joe Hockey, talk about golf as “a force for good.”

The Kingdom has made no secret of its use of sport in softening a cruel, barbaric image, rinsing it in the progressive tones of sporting improvement. Obscene amounts of cash have and are being put into sporting tournaments by Riyadh’s Public Investment Fund. And they have such charming ignoramuses as Norman to play the role of useful, distracting dolt, able to bring on board other dolts bedazzled by the dosh.

In the first season of LIV Golf events, each regular-season event’s total value was counted at $25 million, split between $20 million for the individual event, and $5 million for the team competition. The winner’s earnings came in at $4 million, with the last-placed participant getting $120,000.

There have also been the individual mercenaries, the condottieri of the golf circuit. They have taken the manna from Norman, and encouraged to forget the bloodthirsty, vicious tendencies of the medieval House of Saud; focus, instead, on a more tangible hatred golfers can understand: the PGA tour organisers. It is those stuffed shirts Norman has never forgiven in undermining his previous efforts to run a tournament, and it is an animosity that he has bred from.

In Adelaide, when asked about what the PGA boss Jay Monaghan might feel about the tournament, Johnson was instant in his reaction. “We don’t give a damn how he feels. We know how he feels about us, so it’s mutual.”

Others, like Bruce Koepka, focused on the golf-as-golf theme: players on the LIV circuit and the PGA tour were playing the same game. At the recent Masters, he could “run into 15 (PGA) Tour guys if [he] wanted to in a day and nobody really had any negative feedback, any negative thing to say – and that would be the time to say it.”

One can never accuse professional golfers of shaking the tree of knowledge, and 2020 US Open Winner and LIV participant Bryson DeChambeau proved that point. “We talked about that [Saudi sportswashing] last year, and we already kind of kicked that to the kerb. It’s something that I truthfully believe is inaccurate.”

When asked last week if he had ever had a conversation with bin Salman, the man US intelligence agencies are certain ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, nothing was forthcoming. “No, I have not,” he replied.

As to why such a meeting had never happened, the answer was childish, though far from endearingly so. “Because I’m the chairman and CEO of LIV Golf Investments, and that’s where I focus. I focus on golf. I’ve been involved with golf … as a player, as well as golf course design. I’ve built golf courses in third-world countries. I’ve built golf courses in Communist countries.” Here we have the Albert Speer of golf, dedicated to the building enterprises, riding high, and without fear. Speer, at the very least, faced a tribunal and received due punishment.

There have been a few indignant spoilsports. Human Rights Watch researcher Joey Shea made a few ripples in the ABC for noting that, “Saudi Arabia has experienced some of its worst periods for human rights in its modern history.” In March 2022, she reminds us, 81 people were executed in one day.

Strangely enough for a state Liberal opposition leader, David Speirs had also detected some principle in the tangle of sporting sponsorship. Why take “dirty money” from a “despotic”, fundamentalist government while condemning Russia?

Malinauskas had a reply for his sparring opponent: Speirs had supported the Harvest Rock Festival, run by Live Nation, yet another Public Investment Fund recipient. No matter, retorted Speirs. “We’re paying for print advertising, social media advertising … we’re normalising the Saudi regime.” That normalisation, at least at the State level in Australia, is nigh complete.


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Wurundjeri Woi-wurring Elders ready to take a formal position on Voice to Parliament vote

Elders at the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation will next week take a formal position on the Voice to Parliament ahead of Australia’s first referendum since 1999.

Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation CEO Donald Betts said calls from the public to the Wurundjeri office had increased in recent weeks, as the people of Melbourne look to the Traditional Owners on how to vote in the first referendum.

“Wurundjeri Elders hold a strong hand in the Voice to Parliament, particularly after Melbourne was named as Australia’s most populous city, but our Elders want to be involved,” Mr Betts said.

“The primary concern of Wurundjeri is that those leading this push for recognition listen to the voice of Elders now. We want a commitment that Wurundjeri have a seat at the table.

“If people don’t listen to our voice now, how can Wurundjeri Elders expect a Voice to Parliament to support them? They will consider this as they finalise their position.

“Wurundjeri Elders have done their due-diligence on the Voice to Parliament and consulted all the way up to the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

“Elders are being asked now on how to vote in the referendum because the result will have a direct impact on the Wurundjeri community and the public want to know what the Traditional Owners have to say.

“As Traditional Owners, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people are the first and only Aboriginal people with the cultural, legislated, and moral authority to speak for Country.

”Wurundjeri Elders will make a formal statement to the media regarding the Voice to Parliament next Monday 1 May.”

The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation was established in 1985 by Wurundjeri Elders. As a representative body for Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people, the Traditional Owners of Melbourne, and the Greater Melbourne region, it is the oldest and longest running Traditional Owner organisation in Victoria.


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A Digger’s Words

I was a few years old when my family moved to Kangaroo Island as soldiers settlers, first to the Parndana “Camp” for two years before moving to our farm. By memory up to 50 families lived in the camp at any one time, and by the mid 1960s most of the farmers on the island were returned WW2 servicemen.

We buried one of the old diggers last Saturday. Only two remain alive.

None of the diggers would talk much about the war, but I am sure there were thousands of unwritten stories, now forever lost. So when a digger talks, I am the first to listen. Their words aren’t lost on me.

And so it is with Brigadier George Mansford (retired), who gave the ANZAC address in Cairns this year. I have kindly been given permission to republish his talk, as well as present two poems by Mr Mansfield.

They are indeed, a digger’s words.

ANZAC address 2023: Saint Mary’s College, Cairns

Australia, in the 50s was alarmed at the spread of communism in our region.

North Korea had invaded South Korea. Malaya, as it was in 1948, a British Colony, was under threat by increasing insurgent attacks from established bases in its vast jungles. Alarms bells were still ringing when Communist Forces defeated the French Army in Indo China and as a result, Vietnam was split into North and South with an already growing infrastructure of communist insurgency in an infant democratic South Vietnam.

In Australia, its small military contingency to Korea had no sooner commenced its return to Australia when we were committed to assist in troubled Malaya and soon after, South Vietnam as well. Then arrived a further commitment to counter Indonesian confrontation in Borneo. Thus with such threats in our region, and an over committed small Armed Forces, conscription by ballot for two years’ service including overseas service was introduced in 1965.

I was there in Enoggera Barracks, Brisbane, when the first Conscripts became the nucleus of a new infantry battalion, It was certainly not an easy Unit task to be ready to fight in such a short time frame, however our young soldiers, both regular and conscripts were magnificent and clearly a clear reflection of those ANZACs’ who had trained in the same barracks before joining the entire force sailing for Gallipoli.

History also records that our young soldiers were at war before the battalion’s first birthday and fought many a bloody battle which included battles such as Long Tan and Bribie Island.

They were not alone, many thousands of young and not so young men and women served in Vietnam and there were so many unwanted knocks on the door by sad faced messengers with terrible news that a loved one was badly wounded or worse still, had been killed in action.

A classic example of sacrifice was demonstrated by a young married couple, two battlers with an infant son recently born, had a sad record of family sacrifice. The soldier’s father serving in England during WW2 was posted missing while on air operations over Germany. His wife’s father, a soldier, was reported missing in action in the Pacific 1942. Then another war (Vietnam) and the wife with the arrival of an unwanted knock on the door became a widow with the news her husband, a Regular Army Warrant Officer soldier, had been killed in action in Vietnam.

The characteristics of our soldiers in the Vietnam era were no different to wars before them and those that followed Always pride in who they were, what they were, and where they came from. Always was their humour, no matter how grim or demanding the circumstances. They were always as one, defiant, determined and resolute. Forever yearning to be home, in their beloved land down under.

Much of their time was spent in the seemingly endless green dense jungles, swamps, rubber plantations and rice fields.

No matter where, danger was so often just around the corner, be it fleeting clashes with small groups of enemy or outnumbered and under heavy fire at close range from a well camouflaged bunker system, not forgetting the heavy use of mines and booby traps where the weight or tug of a foot would trigger terrible injuries and so often death.

Not too far away, after evacuation by helicopters, were the dedicated and devoted beloved young Florence Nightingales, ready to receive and treat such terrible bloody wounds and comfort very troubled minds.

Not surprising, our troops quickly became much disciplined and battle-hardened veterans. They demonstrated personal and collective courage and, in my view, unquestionably their most powerful armour was their trust, caring, sharing and strong faith in each other, and immense regimental and national pride. There is much our politicians could readily learn from such soldiers’ selfless deeds and constant demonstration of unity from all walks of life, regardless of race, colour, or religion and always the belief; we are as one.

You, our students of today are our leaders of tomorrow in all levels of society. You can best honour all of our fallen by your conduct and example to those generations who will follow and mark it well, it will be an obligation of trust and honour, no matter your disappointments, trials and ordeals yet to be confronted.

Like my two young comrades in uniform with me today, hopefully your time will be forever in peace. And yet, no matter the challenges of life confronted, always you will be standing tall, forever your love of nation, sharing, caring, and always the battle cry as it was with the ANZACS, and forever more here in the land Down Under in all walks of life; “We are as one.”

George Mansford April 2023


* * * * *


We’re Going Home

A terrible feeling it was with no mail for many a day

Combat rations and a bent spoon became the dining way

Itchy burning rashes, tinea, blisters and ill-fitting boots

Hungry, weary and wearing muddy military suits

Yet I am so happy as this new day has begun

Silent and sulking are the once barking guns


I won’t have to climb another bloody hill

Nor stop at a creek and like a camel drink my fill

Forget about weapon pits, patrols or sentry duty for me

A soft mattress and crisp clean sheets shortly to be

Such bliss to soon ignore a sergeant‘s bellow to stand fast

Oh gawd, to think I will soon be free at long, long last


It is true I have actually survived?

Can it be that I am going home alive?

Pinch me to make sure it is not a dream

Now at last the signal to embark being given to our team

No more doubts of tomorrow or the terror of the unknown

Our time is surely up and at last we’re going home

George Mansford © December 2013


* * * * *


For the young leaders of tomorrow…

The ANZACS are Watching

Amid constant gloom and distant frowns

Increasing debt, and heads drooping down

Comes a time when a youngster will ask

“Am I ready for life’s tasks?”

The answer of course is so very clear

Think of the ANZACS who showed no fear

Cos they were Aussies, no different to you

Young, eager, larrikins and ever true blue

You too will have doubts but hardly a frown

Despite dangers, heads high and never looked down

Always a school’s battle cry, “do the best we can”

If all goes wrong in studies, stay cool; revise the plan

No matter the task, doubts, risks or cruel weather

You still go forward; all young Australians together

Even if cursed evil darkens the day

With love of country as your torch, you’ll find the way

Look out for each other; you are all part of the team

Your sword is faith and unity, forever sharp and keen

Seek tomorrow’s laughter and comforting sunlight

Go forward with love, not hate and for what is right

Take your kit bag of knowledge and reasoning with you

Both given free over years by parents and teachers too

Tell all of your respect for our precious way of life

Created with sweat, blood and pain in times of strife.

George Mansford © April 2022

George Mansford enlisted in the Australian Army in 1951 as a private and was discharged as a brigadier in 1990. He served as an infantryman; most of that time in the Royal Australian Regiment. His service included Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Thai Border, Vietnam, New Guinea and Singapore.

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STA welcomes ARC Review recommendations

Science & Technology Australia Media Release

The Australian Research Council Review released today is a “comprehensive, thoughtful blueprint for modernisation” of the key grants funding agency, the peak body for science and technology has said.

Its recommendations include putting in place tighter guardrails to prevent future political interference in awarding grants, safeguarding discovery research funding, a transformative shift to a two-stage application process, and deeper engagement with Indigenous researchers and communities.

Science & Technology Australia – which represents more than 115,000 scientists and technologists nationwide – commended the review panel on legislative and regulatory recommendations to strengthen ARC operations and independence.

“The ARC plays a crucial role in supporting Australia’s economy-boosting research sector. We’re delighted to see the expert panel have listened to the challenges faced by the sector and responded thoughtfully and cleverly,” said Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert.

“The proposed changes would create stronger guardrails to prevent future political interference in the awarding of grants, safeguard the crucial investment in discovery breakthroughs, and profoundly relieve one of the major stresses on Australia’s research workforce.”

“Shifting to a two-stage application would be a gamechanger for productivity, wellbeing and morale in Australia’s brilliant research workforce, which is why STA has championed this shift for several years.”

“It can free up researchers who currently spend hundreds of hours writing full funding applications – when around only one in five of those applications gets funded.”

“We also welcome the recommendations to create stronger guardrails against political interference in awarding research grants, and to safeguard Australia’s investments in discovery breakthroughs.”

Science & Technology Australia is the nation’s peak body representing more than 115,000 scientists and technologists. We’re the leading policy voice on science and technology. Our flagship programs include Science Meets Parliament, Superstars of STEM, and STA STEM Ambassadors.


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Libelled by the Bot: Reputation, Defamation and AI

Cometh the new platform, cometh new actions in law, the fragile litigant ever ready to dash off a writ to those with (preferably) deep pockets. And so, it transpires that artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, for all the genius behind their creation, are up for legal scrutiny and judicial redress. Certainly, some private citizens are getting rather ticked off about what such bots as ChatGPT are generating about them.

Some of this is indulgent, narcissistic craving – you deserve what you get if you plug your name into an AI generator, hoping for sweet things to be said about you. Things get even comical when the search platform is itself riddled with inaccuracies.

One recent example stirring interest in the Digital Kingdom is a threatened legal suit against the OpenAI chatbot. Brian Hood, Mayor of Hepburn Shire Council in the Australian state of Victoria, was alerted to inaccurate accusations about bribery regarding a case that took place between 1999 and 2004. It involved Note Printing Australia, an entity of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Hood had worked at Note Printing Australia and blew the whistle on bribes being made to foreign authorities. He was never charged with the crime itself. However, answers generated by ChatGPT suggested otherwise, including the claim that Hood was found guilty of the said bribery allegations.

In a statement provided to Ars Technica by Gordon Legal, the firm representing Hood, more details are given. Among “several false statements” returned by the AI bot are claims that Hood “was accused of bribing officials in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam between 1999 and 2005, that he was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of false accounting under the Corporations Act in 2012, and that he authorised payments to a Malaysian arms dealer acting as a middleman to secure a contract with the Malaysian Government.”

James Naughton, a partner at Gordon Legal, is representing Hood. “He’s an elected official, his reputation is central to his role,” stated the lawyer. “It would potentially be a landmark moment in the sense that it’s applying this defamation law to a new area of artificial intelligence and publication in the IT space.”

In March, Hood’s legal representatives wrote a letter of concern to OpenAI, demanding that they amend the outlined errors within 28 days, threatening a defamation action against the company in the event they refused to do so.

The question here is whether ChatGPT’s supposedly defamatory imputations might fall within the realm of liability. The bot’s functionality on generating facts is currently sketchy, and any user should be familiar with that fact. That said, opinions on the subject of reputational liability remain mixed.

Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School does not regard the notion as outlandish. “It matters not, for purposes of legal liability, whether the alleged lies about you or someone else were generated by a human being or by a chatbot, by a genuine intelligence or by a machine algorithm.”

Robert Post of the Yale Law School looks at the matter from the perspective of the communication itself. Defamation would not take place at the point the information is generated by the bot. It would only happen if that (mis)information was communicated or disseminated by the user. “A ‘publication’ happens only when a defendant communicates the defamatory statement to a third party.”

Not so, claims RonNell Andersen Jones of the University of Utah. “If defamatory falsehood is generated by an AI chatbot itself, it is harder to conceptualise this within our defamation law framework, which presupposes an entity with a state of mind on the other end of the communication.”

In terms of defaming a public figure, “actual malice” would have to be shown – something distinctly at odds in the ChatGPT context. Jones points us in a possibly different direction: that the function, or otherwise, of such a system could be seen through the prism of product liability.

Those based in the US might resort to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that most remarkable of provisions that provides internet service providers immunity from legal suits regarding content published by third parties on the site. The appeal of the section is evident by how many attacks have been made against it, be it from campaigning liberal celebrities with bruised reputations or Donald Trump himself.

But the original drafters of the law, Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, and former Rep. Chris Cox, a California Republican, are of the view that chatbot creators would not be able to avail themselves of the protection. “To be entitled to immunity,” Cox suggested to The Washington Post, “a provider of an interactive computer service must not have contributed to the creation or development of the content at issue.”

When Ars Technica attempted to replicate the various mistakes supposedly generated by ChatGPT, they came up short. Ditto the BBC. This might suggest that the generated errors have been corrected. But over the next few weeks, if not months, expect a number of thick, all-covering disclaimers to ensure that AI bots such as ChatGPT are not subject to liability.

As a matter of fact, ChatGPT already has one: “Given the probabilistic nature of machine learning, use of our Services may in some situations result in incorrect Output that does not accurately reflect real people, places, or facts. You should evaluate the accuracy of any Output as appropriate for your use case, including by using human review of the Output.” Whether this satisfies technologically illiterate courts remains to be seen.


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Deport Murdoch

By James Moore

FOX Wins Again, America Loses.

I realise that’s a hell of a claim to make in the sub-heading, but just how much is FOX harmed? And does anyone think they won’t go right back to old practices?

Nothing will change. FOX will resume lying and misleading its audience on the air. Of course, the viewers might want to be misled. Even as intellectually depraved as much of the FOX audience appears to be, the majority has to know it is not being told the truth. The rigged election nonsense they were sold was so patently absurd and indefensible that even if a FOX viewer focused on avoiding the facts, they still had to be confronted. Joe Biden won in the Electoral College and the popular vote and Trump was not even close. These are the facts FOX could not accept.

The FOX settlement with Dominion Voting Systems is good for FOX and Dominion. But America got kind of screwed. We were served up parsed political statements that are about as funny as Trump without spray tan. The $787 million dollar settlement is a verification that the network lied on the air about our most sacred process in this old democracy, and only has to write a check to walk away and repeat the process. FOX can also pretend, which it is doing, that it really just doesn’t want to drag poor Americans, (see also, advertisers), through the muck of a long, drawn out trial.

Because they are all about good journalism.

“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” the network’s statement said. “We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

“Highest journalistic standards” is a laugh line for the ages.

And who the hell is moving forward? FOX will continue to distort and manufacture and outright lie if it serves their political purposes and those of the fiduciaries of companies that are their advertisers. There is no penance involved in this agreement, only absolution. Not even an apology was required and the originators of fake news had to do little more than admit there were falsehoods broadcast on their air.

“We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” was another one of their absurdist statements.

The number and total volume of lies and disinformation FOX spewed about Dominion and the election that made Mr. Biden president were enough to fill up all the data space offered by Amazon Web Services. It never stopped, and it may yet resume. The company has hardly been chastened. When you have billions to pay your bills, you have a kind of invulnerability. Sure, this will make a bit of dent in the network’s bottom line, but Hannity and Carlson and the morning flakes and every other cipher on their air is not likely to get a sudden case of the Truths.

America deserved a chance to hear Tucker Carlson and tiny Sean Hannity lie under oath. I have had dreams of those tubes of human sputum on the stand trying to avoid simple questions.

“Mr. Tucker, do you ever, or have you ever, lied on the air and reported something that you knew to be false or unproven?”

“Not to my knowledge, counselor.”

That’s evasive phrase to avoid admitting you knew you were dealing in fabrication. If you knew, the implication is you’d not have done it. But that’s horseshit. Carlson and Hannity in particular have done more harm to America than even Rupert Murdoch, who ought to be deported for being a grave threat to the republic. Everyone knows how this works at FOX, too. The network will hardly mention the settlement on air and in spite of the subject’s widespread news coverage, much, maybe most, of the people who watch FOX will never know they lost the case. In fact, FOX is likely to give the story only a few lines of copy a couple times in the broadcast day.

I don’t see how anyone views this as justice. Murdoch wrote a check to get out of jail. I am happy for Dominion because what they did was courageous and it saved their company, if not our democracy. But if there were true justice, the entirety of the network’s crimes against America would have been on display in the courtroom, and every taxpayer in the land would get a sense of lies and dirty dealing conducted by the network as it daily slings all across the country its total disregard for the truth and facts. That’s the profitable formula that makes it possible to write a check for $787 million dollars and then get back to the hard work of setting to rot the very foundations of our democracy.

Dominion is still going after Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, but their incompetence, as manifest as it is, appears more comical than dangerous. We may get to see them twist and sweat dark bullets down their foreheads, but they’ll both claim bankruptcy and neither of them has a reputation left to be destroyed. My hope now is that Smartmatic, which has the next defamation suit up, gets the empty suits of FOX News on the stand and we can get a better grasp of the horror show that is that network. If they take a big enough chunk of cash in a settlement from FOX, instead of pushing onto the courtroom at all costs, perhaps the double hits will do fatal harm to the network, or, even better, corporate advertisers will be embarrassed to be associated with determined liars.

Doesn’t seem like much to ask.

This article was originally published in Texas to the World.

James C. Moore is the New York Times bestselling author of “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,” three other books on Bush and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as two novels, and a biography entitled, “Give Back the Light,” on a famed eye surgeon and inventor. His newest book will be released mid-2023. Mr. Moore has been honored with an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his documentary work and is a former TV news correspondent who has traveled extensively on every presidential campaign since 1976.

He has been a retained on-air political analyst for MSNBC and has appeared on Morning Edition on National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News, Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, CBS Evening News, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Hardball with Chris Matthews, among numerous other programs. Mr. Moore’s written political and media analyses have been published at CNN, Boston Globe, L.A. Times, Guardian of London, Sunday Independent of London, Salon, Financial Times of London, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. He also appeared as an expert on presidential politics in the highest-grossing documentary film of all time, Fahrenheit 911, (not related to the film’s producer Michael Moore).

His other honors include the Dartmouth College National Media Award for Economic Understanding, the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors’ Association, the Individual Broadcast Achievement Award from the Texas Headliners Foundation, and a Gold Medal for Script Writing from the Houston International Film Festival. He was frequently named best reporter in Texas by the AP, UPI, and the Houston Press Club. The film produced from his book “Bush’s Brain” premiered at The Cannes Film Festival prior to a successful 30-city theater run in the U.S.

Mr. Moore has reported on the major stories and historical events of our time, which have ranged from Iran-Contra to the Waco standoff, the Oklahoma City bombing, the border immigration crisis, and other headlining events. His journalism has put him in Cuba, Central America, Mexico, Australia, Canada, the UK, and most of Europe, interviewing figures as diverse as Fidel Castro and Willie Nelson. He has been writing about Texas politics, culture, and history since 1975, and continues with political opinion pieces for CNN and regularly at his Substack newsletter: “Texas to the World.”


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A Road Paved with Irritations: Macron’s Strategic Third Way

Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to China did not quite go according to plan, though much depends on what was planned to begin with. In one sense, the French President was consistent, riding the hobbyhorse of Europe’s strategic autonomy, one hived off from the US imperium and free of Chinese influence.

Europe’s third-way autonomy would be a mighty thing for the Elysée Palace, especially given French pretensions in steering it. After all, Frau “Mutti” Merkel is no longer de facto European chief, presiding over the bloc with matronly care. Her successor, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is finding himself caught in undergrowth, a difficult thing at times for the continent’s largest economy, and the globe’s fourth.

What, then, of the fuss? In the first place, Macron had company on his Beijing visit: on his first day of the trip, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had decided to come along. This was never going to go well, given their respective views over the Middle Kingdom. Von der Leyen, for one, uses a larded management approach to Beijing, ringing the relationship with restrictions and signals of constipation. On Taiwan’s status, she sticks to the warring line embraced by policy makers stretching from Canberra to Washington. Macron, at least in one sense, understands the power of China to be not only inextinguishable but a logical weight against the US.

The fuss then began in earnest with Macron’s remarks, made on his plane, the Cotam Unité, after the three-day visit. To reporters from Politico and Les Echos, he began conventionally, reiterating the view that Europe should be a third power, a counterweight to Washington and Beijing. But it was his remarks on Taiwan that caused some bristling across a number of quarters. “Do we [Europeans],” he posed to Les Echos, “have an interest in speeding up on the subject of Taiwan? No. The worst of things would be to think that we Europeans must be followers on this subject and adapt ourselves to an American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction.”

The mania over Taiwan’s fate constituted a potential “trap for Europe”, landing it in crises “that are not ours”. The heating up of the US-Sino conflict would frustrate European ambitions, be it in terms of time or finance, to develop “our own strategic autonomy and we will become vassals, whereas we could become the third pole [in the world order] if we have a few years to develop this.”

Those familiar with the Macron recipe have seen it before. An interview of frankness acts as kindling. The fire rages. Then come the explainers, clarifications, points of qualification. The fire abates. In 2019, he warned of NATO’s “brain death”. (Since then, that brain-dead patient has become ever more emboldened and enlarged, engaged in a proxy war with Russia.) He has also been unabashed about offering a fig leaf or two to Moscow, despite its Ukrainian adventurism.

Representatives of the US empire-set, nervously clinging to orb, sceptre, and some misguided sense of civilisation, sneered and scoffed. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.), rolling around in the rhetoric of anti-Sino thrill, called the Chinese Communist Party “the most significant challenge to Western society, our economic security, and our way of life.” The remarks from Macron had been “embarrassing”, “disgraceful”, and “very geopolitically naïve.”

Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered his few cents worth. “If Macron is speaking for all of Europe, and their position now is they’re not going to pick sides between the US and China over Taiwan, maybe then we should not be taking sides either.” His point: the US was essentially funding a European war, and to what end?

The Washington Post viewed the visit as one that “angered politicians and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic, highlighting gaps between the US and French approaches to China, showcasing division within the European Union – and probably delighting Beijing.”

The Wall Street Journal was even more bullish in its criticism, suggesting that Macron had refused to get with the anti-China deterrence program. (Good of the paper to openly admit that such a policy is actively being pursued in Washington.) “If President Biden is awake, he ought to call Mr Macron and ask if he’s trying to re-elect Donald Trump.” At the WSJ, warmongering is ascendant.

For some commentators, notably in Macron’s camp, the anti-China pugilists had misunderstood the whole message. This was the reading from French lawmaker Benjamin Haddad: “Macron is much closer to the European centre of gravity on China than the numerous scandalized comments on his comments would suggest.”

Chances are that Macron knew exactly what he was saying, cognisant of the preening egos he would affront. The same cannot be said about the number of US lawmakers who, ignorant of their own republic and its warring ambitions, are keen to interpret the views and ambitions of another as disturbingly independent of their own.

Were these figures to go back to school, directed by the spirit of Lafayette, and the French purse that was broken in supporting the American War of Independence, such lawmakers might show a greater appreciation about the view from Paris. But those days are long gone, and Washington, in its increasingly trembling way, is keen to stay the pretensions of any power that will challenge it, and make others toe the line.


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The Leaking Republic: The Pentagon’s Take on Information Security

For years, US intelligence officials could hold their allies, notably the British, in contempt for leaking like sinking vessels and harbouring such espionage luminaries as the Cambridge Five. The whirligig of time has returned the favour with the latest leak from the US Department of Defense. They pose a question pregnant with relevance: Do Washington’s allies have any reason to trust their own secure channels of sharing defence information? The answer: probably not.

The spray of Pentagon documents began appearing on such platforms as Twitter, 4chan, Telegram and a Discord server that hosts video games. (How odd, go the folks at Bellingcat.) The very nature of this distribution has tickled pundits into assuming a sense of play at work here. A few have even asserted that the alleged perpetrator, Jack Texeira of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was making a playful effort to make friends.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was informed of the leak during his April 6 morning briefing after five images surfaced on the platforms. The following day, Austin commenced daily crisis meetings to discuss the matter.

These briefings seem to have come some weeks late. Certain documents began circulating on the Discord messaging platform in March, featuring photographs of folded up printouts, only to then be smoothed out again.

The lion’s share of the documents came in the form of slides developed by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, largely acting as briefing notes for senior leaders regarding Ukraine. A pessimistic picture emerges about the prospects of success for any Ukrainian spring counteroffensive. Shortages in ammunition were also becoming critical, and the capacity of Western states to replenish them had yet to be developed. The delivery of existing equipment to the frontline had also been slow, as was training Ukrainian forces. Soviet-era munitions and artillery continued to be the mainstay of Kyiv’s military effort.

But then the picture became more cluttered – and clotted. Messily, there were suggestions that the United States had observed that old adage that friends need to be spied upon to be good. South Korea proved a case in point.

One leaked document revealed the state of mind of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s senior advisors on whether to yield to US pressure to send ammunition to Ukraine, or resist arming the state altogether. In 2022, Seoul had agreed to replenish US artillery stocks on the proviso that they keep the shells for themselves. But Foreign Affairs Secretary Yi Mun-hui, on March 1, told then National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han that the government was “mired in concerns that the US would not be the end user” of the ammunition. A mooted option was sending shells to Poland instead.

The revelation immediately drew a stout defence, notably in the Financial Times. “Washington needs to know if Seoul is considering a move that could spark a nuclear arms race in north-east Asia, or fatally undermine international pressure on Pyongyang, or – in the most extreme circumstances – drag the US into a nuclear conflict.”

There was also disgruntlement in Washington regarding the UN Secretary General’s supposedly favourable stance towards Russia. This was revealed in several documents describing private conversations between António Guterres and a number of African figures.

The Black Sea grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, which the Secretary aided, along with Turkey, to broker last July, received a special, scathing mention. “Guterres emphasised his efforts to improve Russia’s ability to export even if that involves sanctioned Russian entities or individuals,” states one document. His conduct in February, according to the assessment, had undermined “broader efforts to hold Moscow accountable for its actions in Ukraine.”

These documents have raised a few questions. Was such leaked information inaccurate, thereby revealing the state of confusion within the Pentagon itself? We already know how an entire swathe of US agencies and departments recently cocked-up their assessments of Afghanistan and the capabilities of the Taliban. Or had the information itself been tampered with on its release, thereby skewing the material favouring, to use the defence vernacular, the interests of a hostile adversary? Ultimately, all intelligence assessments must be subject to the withering eyes of History’s muse, Clio, who may well, in time, reveal something quite different.

The overarching issue remains: Is it possible that a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard could have access to such information? Again, in this information saturated age, where reports on security and defence stack shelves and surf as attachments on emails, smooth and ready access is easy to envisage.

Inevitable comparisons with Edward Snowden’s disclosures from 2013 have been made. His disclosures threw the lid off the vast surveillance imperium created in freedom’s name in the wake of the September 10, 2001 attacks, and executed in the service of paranoia and callousness. But in the land of intel-chat, these latest leaks are deemed more serious given their immediate relevance. The US-Ukraine show must be seen to be going according to plan, the aid from Washington noble, the fighting from Kyiv even nobler.

The old problems Snowden exposed, however, have not gone away. In redux format, officials are now demanding a review of systems of access within the Pentagon. “We need to rethink how we store and hold classified information and who has access to that information,” insists Mick Mulroy, retired CIA officer and former Pentagon official. A tad late for that, isn’t it?

The picture emerging from this, edited or otherwise, is ugly for the bureaucrats. For one, it shows that the conflict in Ukraine is very much a NATO affair, a brutal stoush with the Russian bear packed with old grievances and concerns. A bloody, lengthy conflict is on the cards.

As the DoD attempts to root out the sources and patch up the leaky vessel, Washington’s allies will be pensive. The Empire, as was demonstrated in the Snowden spill, is prone to misbehaviour.


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EO: Three Hooves up in High Heaven

Films featuring animals as screen filled protagonists, often in an imperfect, callous human world, have been made before. There was Robert Bresson’s 1966 Au Hasard Balthazar, which introduced audiences to a saintly donkey subject to the terrible things human beings are so often prone to inflict.

In recent times, the documentary black-and-white film Gunda, directed by Viktor Kossakovsky (executive producer Joaquin Phoenix), stripped of human dialogue, featured the farm life of an impressively large sow and her piglets. To their lives were added cows and a chicken with one leg. In such a film, livestock are seen as breathing, living creatures; they are not mere units of stock, destined for the packet and table. It is a film stunningly free of didactic hectoring or moral scolding.

EO, a film by Jerzy Skolimowski, that seasoned though less known member of the Polish New Wave, which included such busting, big hitters as Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski, pays tribute to Bresson’s work. At the very least, the same animal of biblical lore features. It certainly has gone down well with some of the critics, winning a nomination for Best International Feature Film and netting the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022.

Interestingly enough, this particular animal is very much in cinematic vogue: Jenny, the miniature donkey in The Banshees of Inisherin, has made something of a splash. Jenny was even featured alongside the Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel at this year’s events. “Not only is she an actor,” the humourless Kimmel strained, “she’s a certified emotional support donkey – or at least that’s what we told the airline to get her on the plane from Ireland.”

Skolimowski’s inspiration for selecting the donkey arose from an encounter in Sicily, where he and his wife and collaborator Ewa Piaskowska, spend their winters. At a village Nativity, he noted “an incredible cacophony – chickens, geese, pigs, goats … In the very far corner, I saw those famous ears.”

The donkey, despite moving its startlingly parallel ears, remained silent. It was, according to the director, “like a witness on the side. I came very close and I looked at his eyes – next time you see a donkey, please notice the enormous eyes. They had this very specific melancholic look – not being involved, but looking with a distance and maybe some philosophical reflection.”

In The Economist, Skolimowski is reported regarding donkeys as “extremely intelligent animals and very sensitive.” He condemns industrial farming as “torture”, rightly deserving a ban. Perhaps inevitably, vegetarianism gains appeal through EO, capturing hearts and moving conscience. Half of the crew involved in the filming swore off meat by its end. Both Skolimowski and Piaskowska reduced their own meat consumption.

Where Bresson’s ass is village-bound and passed around its various residents, Skolimowski’s donkey is involuntarily restless, beginning his adventures from a doomed circus in Poland which must let its animals go for reasons of legislation and protest. There, he is much loved by Magda (Sandra Drzymalska), who performs under the circus name Kasandra, his shield against savagery.

EO becomes a witness, something like a fauna-directed camera, finding himself in the company of animals awaiting industrial slaughter, but also journeying through forests and environs populated by free creatures. There are even Jewish graves in a reminder of the Holocaust, that most conspicuous example of centralised and orchestrated killing.

The film is stark, pared back, though enriched by splashes of colour sequences that suggest imminent danger. The mesmerising, head throbbing soundtrack enhances the sense that harm lurks. EO, like Bresson’s Balthazar, finds himself in manifold situations of neglect, betrayal and brutality. He is beaten up by football hooligans who believe their team lost a match because of his braying. A black-market flesh trader attempts to sell him for salami. A dissolute aristocrat prone to gambling befriends him while speaking of his love of meat, including that of donkey.

While eschewing sentimentality, Skolimowski does not shy away from moments of tenderness. After leaving the circus, EO finds himself in an animal sanctuary, where he delights children. At one point, at a mayoral opening, he is garlanded with carrots.

At the hands of humans, animals suffer cruelty; but EO also shows us that humans, in tried-and-true sadistic fashion, are masters of inflicting harm upon themselves. The flesh-trader offers food to a migrant refugee in clumsy fashion, only to have his life savagely concluded. All the time this sequence unfolds, the protagonist waits with his equine companions fated for the knackery.

Skolimowski leaves us tantalised about the perspective of EO. This brings to mind the dilemma put forth by the philosopher, Thomas Nagel, who wondered, famously, what it was like to be a bat. The film, at points, suggests that EO is not immune to reminiscing, notably about the touch of Magda who loved him so, her voice echoing as emotive balm, encouragement and assurance. But we are not necessarily any the wiser for it. One thing we do know: the director misses him.


Image from


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