Merry Christmas  

Posted by Big Gav

I've gone on Christmas break - "regular" service will resume in the New Year.

Merry Christmas (or whatever seasonal greeting you prefer) to those of you who take the time to check in here - and especially to those who make the effort to make comments or send in links.

Hopefully I'll have a little more original content next year...

Eden Project geothermal plant plans to go ahead  

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The BBS reports the Eden Project plans to build a geothermal power plant to run their operation - Eden Project geothermal plant plans to go ahead.

Plans for a major geothermal power plant have been given permission to be built at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Cornwall Council gave the go-ahead for the EGS Energy scheme which uses heat from rocks below the surface.

Water from the two boreholes, both about 2.5 miles deep, will be heated by the hot rocks and then used to drive electricity turbines.

Drilling is expected to start next year with electricity being produced from the second half of 2013.

The plant will be on the north side of the Eden Project, a showcase for environmental projects at Bodelva, near St Austell.

Heat produced by the plant will be used to provide warmth for the Eden Project biomes, giant greenhouses where exotic plans are grown.

It should produce up to 4 megawatts of electricity for use by Eden with a surplus, enough for about 5,000 houses, going in to the National Grid.

Carbonuncle  

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SP at TOD ANZ has a summary of articles about the failure of the Zerogen clean coal project in Queensland - Carbonuncle.

"A carbuncle is an abscess larger than a boil, usually with one or more openings draining pus onto the skin."

A carbonuncle might be the future term used if injecting large quantities of CO2 into the ground has an unfortunate end result.

The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project in Australia took a significant step backwards as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that Queensland would not be providing further funding for ZeroGen to build what was supposed to be a landmark demonstration power station and that the state owned ZeroGen is to be sold.
Bligh denies clean coal 'bungle'
Brisbane Time, Dec 19th.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has denied walking away from the development of clean coal technology, after abandoning plans to build a central Queensland plant by 2015. The Queensland government had ploughed $102 million into the ZeroGen research project, which also attracted $92 million from the federal government and the coal industry. It had aimed to have a $4.3 billion coal-fired power station utilising carbon capture and storage technology – which would prevent greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere – built by 2015.

But the state government today confirmed it would not pursue a proposal to fund the proposed power station “at this time” because of concerns about its viability. It also plans to offload the state government-owned ZeroGen company, turning it into an independent entity owned and run by the coal industry.

"Reports this morning that the Queensland Government has scrapped our clean coal project ZeroGen or that it has been a waste of money are utterly wrong in every respect,” Ms Bligh told reporters in Brisbane.

“What we know now from the early research is that a fully functional power station by 2015 using this technology is technically possible but it is not economically viable.”

Ms Bligh said the technology “would drive up the cost of electricity beyond the reach of normal people” if proceeded with now.

The proposed plant had been expected to cost $4.3 billion.

“The Queensland Government cannot have its cake and eat it to, profiting from exports while being unwilling to invest in the [research and development] necessary to reduce emissions”, [said Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson].

Mr Bligh said she had spoken to Mr Ferguson this morning to explain what was happening with the ZeroGen project. “I think he understands like I do that the great discoveries of the world have had disappointments along the way,” she said.

Funding for this project came out of the CCS Flagship Program which had $5.1 billion to distribute. The stated objectives were ambitious;
The program supports the construction of 2 to 4 commercial scale CCS projects with an electricity generating capacity of 1000 mega watts or equivalent size for other industrial processes. This objective supports the G8’s call for the launch of 20 demonstration CCS projects worldwide by 2010, to be operational from 2015 and for commercial deployment by 2020.

The Minister for Resources and Energy called on the state and territory governments and the Australian Coal Association to nominate projects for consideration under CCS Flagships program in May 2009. Nominations closed on 14 August 2009.

ZeroGen was shortlisted for this money on December 8th 2009. Interestingly,this the last time the media centre at ZeroGen appears to have been updated. Mr Ferguson might be understandably disappointed that his energy partners appear to have let him down after just one year. Unlike that other "great" CCS demonstration project in Victoria which at least allowed the Emperor Minister to appear clothed in transparent greenish attire on national TV.

The research for the Ottway Basin Demonstration Project is being conducted by the CRC for Greenhouse Gas Technologies. Personally I am a bit skeptical of a CRC where the preponderance of the publications consists of brochures, grey literature, industry sponsored workshops and posters. I count only two refereed journal articles at the websites database. The website is beautiful though.

A commenter at the end of the Brisbane Times article provides a good link to The Economist. ...

The internet v the world part 1: gatekeepers lose control as we connect  

Posted by Big Gav in

Crikey's Bernard Keane has some thoughts on the challenge to gatekeeping institutions posed by the internet - The internet v the world part 1: gatekeepers lose control as we connect .

Here are some scenes from the internet in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the 21st, in no particular order.

* The internet versus music and movies. The digitisation of audio-visual content and higher internet bandwidth enables mass downloading of music, movies and television programming entirely outside the legal copyright system. In Australia, much of it is driven by the FTA television networks’ refusal to screen foreign programs for many months after they’ve screened in the US. The response of copyright owners and media companies is to prosecute individuals, websites or companies that download illegally, or facilitate downloading, and convince governments to impose new, often draconian, copyright laws. Their efforts are futile. About 25% of global internet traffic is estimated to be file sharing, nearly all of it illegal.

* The internet versus lawyers. Lawyers in jurisdictions across the world become increasingly concerned about jurors using the internet to find out about cases. Judges take to threatening jurors with contempt of court if they breach agreements about using the internet. In 2008, a Victorian judge demands the suppression of an episode of Underbelly. As soon as the banned episode is broadcast elsewhere, it is available online and downloaded thousands of times. In 2009, a judge orders Australian websites to take over 1500 articles offline about an individual on the basis that they will prejudice a trial jury. The material remains easily accessible even after removal by the sites in question.

* The internet versus gambling opponents. Moral panic over gambling and pressure from casinos prompts the Australian Government to ban online gambling in 2001. According to the Productivity Commission, the ban fails to prevent continued growth in online gambling at rates similar to other countries. The ban ensures Australians’ money goes to poorly-regulated foreign sites and not safer local sites and Australian taxpayers.

* The internet versus government secrecy. The website Cryptome began publishing classified and confidential government information in 1996. Similar sites like Cartome, Eyeball Series and Cryptome CN also offer other types of information governments want suppressed. Cryptome’s founders claim FBI harassment, the site has its server capacity removed and companies like PayPal refuse to enable contributions to the site. But as WikiLeaks will demonstrate, the harassment appears to have no noticeable impact on the release of material.

* The internet versus transnationals. In October 2009, the transnational energy company Trafigura, which has successfully used the UK courts to suppress reporting of evidence it released toxic waste in Cote d'Ivoire, obtains a "superinjunction" against the Guardian on the same issue. But "Trafigura" becomes a trending topic on Twitter, and a number of websites and WikiLeaks publish material on the case. The company abandons its attempts to suppress efforts to expose it.

* The internet versus journalists. Some Australian p olitical journalists, angry at criticism of their coverage of the 2010 election, lash out at "parasites", "free riders" and "armchair critics" online. "Just let the professionals do their job" demands one on Twitter. But the editor of The Australian goes further. Angry that online critics are routinely deriding the paper’s partisanship and anti-science stance on climate change, he threatens to sue an academic over tweets made about a presentation at a journalism conference -- though not the presenter herself, a former journalist at his own paper -- and boasts about bringing his lawyers into the matter. His Media Editor then threatens to report another academic to police over a Twitter comment. The result is extensive coverage of the original presentation here and overseas.

* The internet versus the Australian Government. In response to WikiLeaks releasing US diplomatic cables, the Australian Prime Minister labels the act "illegal" and her Attorney-General talks about measures to prevent the release of national security material in the media. He writes to mainstream media editors with the goal of developing a protocol to do so. Later, Australian police advise that WikiLeaks has not broken any Australian laws, and the Prime Minister is forced to carefully parse her claim about illegality.

* The internet versus Big Retail. Australia’s major retailers, used to earning oligopoly profits, are unhappy Australians are using the internet to shop online at overseas sites. They demand the Government take "decisive action" in the form of higher taxes to deter consumers and protect their profits.

The common theme across these examples is that the gatekeepers and the privileged intermediaries of late twentieth century Western economies -- politicians, lawyers, the mainstream media, large corporations -- are threatened by the connectedness that the internet enables.

Humans are, to nick a phrase from David Attenborough, compulsive communicators. The urge to converse, debate, joke, fight, trade, play and form relationships with each other is hard-wired into us. And the internet dramatically expands the community within which we can do that, from one constrained by geography to one only constrained by technology.

And it directly undermines the power of those who want to regulate that interaction, or profit from it. Governments that want to police it. The media that profits by connecting us. The corporations that rely on consumers knowing less than they do. The courts that regard jurors as easily-swayed fools who need to be treated like mushrooms. All now confront interconnectedness on a scale far greater than ever seen before, with far fewer opportunities to regulate or exploit it.

But the gatekeepers and intermediaries are unwilling to let their power go easily, even as it slips away from them. And they reflexively resort to litigation, regulation and prohibition to maintain their power.

A New High of Liquid Fuel Production  

Posted by Big Gav in

Stuart Staniford at Early Warning has a post noting a new peak in liquid fuel production (with OPEC retaining spare capacity to boot) - New High of Liquid Fuel Production.

Both the IEA and OPEC are out with their new monthly reports today. And both report that oil production in November 2010 exceeded the previous high month of July 2008 (back when oil was $140). Probably the difference is within the margin of error, and in any case the third agency (the EIA) won't weigh in for a few months. At the moment, the average index looks like pretty much a statistical tie:



Still, a significant point: not peak monthly oil just yet. As long as there isn't a massive financial crisis in the next few months (which is what happened to the last global high in oil production) I imagine we'll clearly exceed the July 2008 peak production. In particular, the point I first made here still holds: the increases in the last eighteen months have largely come from non-OPEC production rather than OPEC, and the latter undoubtedly still have some spare capacity that can be released (at a price). Thus production can and will go somewhat higher as long as demand continues to increase, which will be true as long as the global economy doesn't hit another big pothole.

However, prices have been creeping up lately:



I wouldn't be surprised to see that trend continue, on and off, until it starts to cause real problems.

A leg-up for solar energy storage  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Energy storage technology company Graphite Energy (discussed at this TOD ANZ post back in 2008) featured in a recent dispatch from The Climate Spectator, noting they have received a research grant from the Australian Solar Institute - A leg-up for solar.

Graphite Energy and CSG Solar have been named among successful bidders for 14 solar research and development grants awarded by the Australian Solar Institute, worth a total $21.6 million, in a move it says will help Australia develop more efficient and cost-competitive solar technologies.

“Each of the selected projects offers the potential to advance solar technologies in a way which will increase their commercial competitiveness with other energy sources,” AIS chair Jenny Goddard said. The University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and CSIRO (Newcastle) also won tenders for the grants, with another 25 domestic and international organisations involved across range of consortia, the institute said.

Japan boosts recycling to ease Chinese rare earth squeeze  

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The SMH has an article on an increased interest in recycling (and eventually, in "design for disassembly") as a result of restricted availability of rare earths for manufacturing - Japan boosts recycling to ease China squeeze.

It takes two Hitachi workers eight minutes to slice open the metal casing of the used air conditioner compressor. The prize inside: four wafer-thin magnets containing about 30 grams of rare earth metals.

Hitachi, Japan's third-biggest company, uses as much as 600 tons of rare earth metals each year in products such as motors for Toyota's Prius hybrid. Hitachi is one of hundreds of manufacturers depending on rare earth shipments from China, which controls 97 per cent of world supply of the lightweight, malleable metals essential to hybrid cars, cell phones and hard disk drives.

China's decision this year to slash exports of the metals has driven up prices and spurred a drive among Japanese companies, the world's biggest users of rare earths, to find other supplies. While trading houses Sojitz and Sumitomo consider investing in mines outside China, Hitachi said it expects recycling to meet 10 per cent of its needs by 2013 from almost zero now.

“We need to make sure we have a stable supply of these materials and recycling is part of that,” Kenji Baba, general manager of Hitachi's resource recycling office, said this week at a test site north of Tokyo. “Now we have to work on bringing costs down.”

Inside the site in a warehouse in Matsudo City, Hitachi demonstrated the results of the one-year, $US1.5 million ($1.5 million) research project partly funded by Japan's government. Four refrigerator-sized devices use saws to open up compressors without damaging the rare earth magnets inside. A separate conveyor belt feeds disk drives into a machine about the size of a ship container. The drives come out the other end in pieces ready for rare earth harvesting. Hitachi says the machines are the first of their kind.

Rising prices

Last year, China's government clamped down on its rare earth industry, setting production quotas to bolster prices. China said in July this year it would reduce export quotas 72 per cent in the second half to supply its own electronics industry and overhaul a mining sector blamed for causing widespread environmental damage.

The drop in output and exports combined with rising demand caused the price of neodymium used in batteries for Toyota's Prius to surge fourfold to $US80 a kilogram from $US19.12 in 2009, according to Sydney-based rare-earth miner Lynas Corp. Lynas is building a $550 million rare earths mine at Mount Weld in Western Australia.

Sojitz, one of Japan's biggest importers of rare earths, last month agreed with Lynas to buy 8,000 tons to 9,000 tons annually from its Mount Weld mine over the next 10 years. ...

Copper processor Mitsubishi Materials Corp., which has recycling ventures with Panasonic and Sharp, last year started researching the cost of extracting neodymium and dysposium from washing machines and air conditioners.

“We're trying to reduce costs by automating the process,” said Isato Matsubara, a spokesman at the company. “How profitable the business can be depends on the prices of materials and getting our costs down.” ...

For recyclers, extracting components is the first step. Magnets from air conditioning compressors are 25 per cent rare earth metal and a chemical process is needed to refine out the rare earths, Hitachi's Baba said.

“We've succeeded in processing the metals in small quantities without using acids,” Baba said. “Now we're working on methods to increase the scale.”

Even China's supply is not unlimited, some of the heavy rare earths it has will only last about 15 years, Ali Izadi- Najafabadi, a Tokyo-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said.

“So if we're going to have a clean energy revolution and electric vehicles and other things, recycling would have to be part of the infrastructure,” he said.

Laos Inaugurates 1,070-MW Hydro Project  

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Renewable Energy World has an article on a new hydro power project in Laos - Laos Inaugurates 1,070-MW Nam Theun 2 Hydro Project .

Laos has officially inaugurated the 1,070-MW Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric power project, the largest hydro project in Laos.

The $1.45 billion project is co-owned by Electricite de France, the Lao government, the Electricity Generating Public Co. of Thailand and Italian-Thai Development.

After five years of construction and development costs of more than 1.4 billion dollars, the plant began supplying neighboring Thailand with power in March. Initially, the plant was expected to begin commercial operations by the end of 2009. Engineering problems delayed the project's opening.

The project on the Nam Theun River, a tributary of the Mekong, will contribute two billion dollars to the Lao treasury over its first 25 years of operation, reports indicate.

Coal seam gas a risk: JPMorgan  

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The SMH has an article on a recent JP Morgan report listing challenges ahead for the coal seam gas industry - Coal seam gas a risk: JPMorgan.

One of the world’s leading investment banks has poured cold water on Queensland’s emerging $50 billion coal seam gas industry.

A report by JPMorgan says the industry has significant water risks, an unknown impact from growth and is a potential risk to public safety.

The report, by analyst Garry Sherriff, says costs involved in developing the projects, which involve piping gas from the Surat Basin to export terminals at Gladstone, are likely to blow out because of environmental concerns.

It warns that towns and landowners risk reduced water supplies; there is a risk of reduced water quality; and of gas migrating to existing bores.

Once on the surface, the saline water extracted in the CSG mining process will have to be treated, stored and disposed of, the report says.

JPMorgan also expresses doubts about the cumulative impact from multiple CSG developments.

These water risks could translate into project cost increases, government intervention, changes to regulations and potential disruption to long-term gas supply contracts, the report says.

There is also a danger that a build-up of gas in water bores could result in large, uncontrolled gas releases which may pose a risk to public health and safety, the report says.

JPMorgan’s report backs up community concerns over the industry, says Friends of the Earth campaigner Drew Hutton.

‘‘It is time for the state government to start listening to community voices calling for a moratorium on the industry,’’ Mr Hutton said. ‘‘The report states there are so many environmental risks associated with the operation of coal seam gas that the government will need to change the rules along the way and this could create great uncertainty for the companies and their markets."

Media says government's reaction to WikiLeaks 'troubling'  

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The SMh reports the media has finally woken up and realised Wikileaks is just a media outlet, and that they need to protect it to protect themselves - Media says government's reaction to WikiLeaks 'troubling' .

Australia's main media players say the federal government's reaction to the release of diplomatic correspondence by the WikiLeaks website is "deeply troubling".

The country's newspaper editors, along with television and radio directors, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in support of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. The letter is supported by the editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald, Peter Fray, whose newspapers have reported on the secret US embassy cables provided exclusively to Fairfax newspapers.

"The volume of the leaks is unprecedented, yet the leaking and publication of diplomatic correspondence is not new," the letter, initiated by the Walkley Foundation, states. "We ... believe the reaction of the US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling. We will strongly resist any attempts to make the publication of these or similar documents illegal."

The editors and directors say any attempt to shut down WikiLeaks, prosecute those who publish official leaks, or pressure companies to cease working with the whistle-blower website "is a serious threat to democracy which relies on a free and fearless press".

Ms Gillard has declared the actions of WikiLeaks and Mr Assange "illegal".

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said the initial leaking of classified documents and their subsequent distribution by WikiLeaks are likely to be illegal.

But the media's open letter notes that so far the government "has been able to point to no Australian law that has been breached".

The editors and directors state that WikiLeaks is simply doing what the media has always done - expose official secrets that governments would prefer to keep in the dark. "WikiLeaks, just four years old, is part of the media and deserves our support."

Almost 600,000 people have signed a separate online petition in support of WikiLeaks ahead of a second appearance in court in London by Mr Assange.

The petition on campaigning website Avaaz calls on the US and other nations to "stop the crackdown on WikiLeaks and its partners immediately" and to respect "the laws of freedom of expression and freedom of the press".

Crikey's Guy Rundle has another meandering, but interesting, update on the Julian Assange case - Assange’s defence team losing the PR war by winning it. If you read between the lines this is the left wing intellectual version of right wing NWO conspiracy theory (and much easier to make sense of as a result - are beureacratic superstates with no democratic oversight a good idea ?).
With the appeal hearing against the bailing of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange scheduled for 11.30 tomorrow morning, his ever-expanding legal team are no doubt hard at it, trying to anticipate what the Swedes will come up with. Not much, appears the likely answer. The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office has declined the opportunity to present evidence supporting the case in court twice now, leaving the Crown Prosecution Service hung out to dry.

They are not required to produce any evidence in an extradition hearing, but as Assange’s lawyer Geoffrey Robertson pointed out, the question of bail depends in part on the seriousness of the evidence against you. If there is no case you may be far less likely to abscond.

The appeal case will turn on questions of law of course — in effect it will be a taster of what this extradition will become, less a trial of Assange than of the European Arrest warrant, and the weird mix of bureaucratic-Hegelian logic driving the European Union project, in which every innovation is judged not on its merits, but on whether it furthers the cause of a united post-democratic Europe.

The Swedes are either convinced Assange will abscond, or vindictive, depending on whom you believe, but it’s fair to say their relentlessness surprised everyone on this score — including the CPS, who sources close to Assange’s legal team say advised the Swedish prosecutors not to appeal.

There are some very strange things going on here. In the case yesterday, the prosecutor apologised for the Swedish prosecutor’s failure to make a response to certain written defence arguments, saying that the person handling them “doesn’t have very good English.” Really? In Sweden in 2010? Where English has been a compulsory school subject since the late 1950s? Half the subjects in a law course are taught in English. It’s odd and very unconvincing — a small detail that suggest a larger pattern.

So Assange’s team are winning the war for public sentiment, with a great degree of incredulity across the world as to what he’s been charged with, and a greater willingness to call the thing an outright stitch-up, designed to secure him for American extradition.

But that victory may well set them up for a later loss, if the Swedish prosecutors do eventually produce some evidence, for the actual official public campaign coming from the Assange camp is non-existent, and in the vacuum where it should be, a huge amount of counter-productive misinformation is breeding. For a cause that can command a great number of dedicated followers and supporters, the team has shown no interest in the sort of thing any such campaign would usually do — have a supporter website, pump out briefing documents and explainers, get their line straight, and get the line out to their high-profile supporters.

This particularly turns on the difficult question of how you talk about these domestic criminal charges as possibly forming part of a stitch-up — either as a honeytrap, with a little vinegar in the mix (a very unlikely scenario), or a series of events being used opportunistically. Had Assange been charged with financial fraud, everyone would be happily dissecting the evidence left right and centre. Now that he’s charged with r-pe, a portcullis falls in the gap, and there is a sudden great reluctance to discuss the strength of the case.

To some degree that comes from the good intention of not drawing in questions of character or behaviour. But some appear to have taken that further and suggested that any notion of examining the evidence, the handling of such and the overall process of the prosecution is out of bounds, which is ridiculous. Assange has been through months of accusation, suspicion and finally remand, far from a process without life cost. If there are serious holes in the process and evidence they deserve to be examined.

I don’t propose to go over the arguments again in detail; they’re elsewhere. The brief version is that potential evidence has unquestionably been tampered with, that there is evidence that undermines the motive of making the complaint, that the most serious charge of r-pe — the only one likely to warrant extradition of itself — has swapped from one complainant to the other, that this occurred after the Stockholm prosecutor declined to prosecute the initial charge as r-pe, that the complainant initially presented as the lead one is now alleging only one charge of a sexual assault (s-x while sleeping) that may well not attract a custodial sentence, and that a “pro-complainant” version of events that nevertheless contradicts the new array of charges was removed from a feminist collective blog run by one of the complainants around the time the charges shifted. Oh yes, nothing to see here.

The key outrage here is process and evidence, not some off-the-cuff assessment of what happened. It’s inevitable that there would be a lot of that stuff around the fringes. What’s troubling is that Assange’s defenders are repeating the same shopworn stories about the case, and getting it wrong. Thus Michael Moore, appearing on Newsnight last night, said that “the charge was only that some condom had broken or something”; various grandees giving vox-pops at Tuesday’s hearing asserted that what he was charged with “wasn’t even a crime”; Naomi Wolf wrote a satirical article asking Interpol to arrest every narcissistic jerk she’d been on a date with.

None of these interventions seemed to credit that there was no mention of withdrawn or cancelled consent, no broken condom and that one of the charges was one of rape with physical force. The problem is not that a charge of that nature is absent; it is that its process has been shoddy and contradictory, and it has the strong suggestion of being retroactively engineered from various parts, holus-bolus. Should that prove not to be the case, and the Swedish prosecutors have other evidence, the shoddiness and possible political complicity would stand, but there may well be some nasty evidence coming out of the woodshed, and those prejudging the prosecution case as being total stitch up will be left looking silly indeed.

Two weeks ago I noted that this case was proving to be the crucial point for the final dissolution and recomposition of second-wave feminism. So it has proved. People have judged Assange’s life and works so significant, so powerful that they have thrown over the usual niceties to simply denounce the trial as hysteria if not honeytrap. That this has been women as well as men — Pilger and Naomi Klein, Human Rights Watch and Women Against R-pe – shows that, for all its crudity, this is not a restaging of old ideas of nothing other than jealous females. Klein and others are talking about the way in which the social process has been plugged into the domestic state, which has then been plugged into the (inter)national security and military apparatus. Thus the EAW and the US-UK extradition fast-track combine to create the extension of rendition across the spectrum, from bag-over-the-head abduction to the intersection of domestic criminal charges, with far greater movements.

Significant in that respect are the cables revealed in recent WikiLeaks releases as coming out of Stockholm, and talking of the desire to continue informal arrangements of information sharing between SAPO (the Swedish domestic secret service) and US agencies, lest the actual scrutiny of a working parliament make further progress difficult.

In particular, the cable cites the huge social protest over the recent “surveillance” law, an unnecessary wiretapping act that generated a vast protest movement — and helped kick off the Swedish pirate party, the libertarian group that would eventually offer to host WikiLeaks in Sweden. There is a persistent rumour — from multiple directions but not yet sourced — that the US threatened to withdraw security co-operation from SAPO if Assange was granted residency and WikiLeaks based itself there. Assange’s residency was later rejected because of course he was accused of r-pe.

These matters have come to a head, just as another political storm has developed, about the US conducting extensive spying missions in Sweden – not on other spies, but on everyday Swedes. According to a former employee at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm: “there have been a so-called SDU-group, whose task was to monitor and record people on behalf of U.S. authorities.

“They were interested in all sorts of information. Everything that could be of value. There was everything from color, to clothing, to hair color, hair length, hair type and age. What language they spoke, everything…

Among other things, [Swedes] worked with the group to monitor demonstrations in Stockholm in order to report potential threats to the embassy, said the source.”

There would of course be nothing to the fact that Sweden got its first domestic terrorist act for quite a while three days ago when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the city streets. I can’t imagine that security services let a known crazy slip through the net to blow himself and no-one else up, to focus the mind a little.

Just as I can’t of course believe that a process of domestic private criminal law could become a part of surveillance and control, if it increasingly divides up every smaller level of fluid human behaviour, until it becomes in some way, very difficult for a living breathing human being not to break the law — at which point the very interface between the state, the law and the public is itself a trap. Not insignificant is the outfit you’re trying to nobble is trying to transform that relationship altogether.

Assange’s defenders will need to talk about that more and better — about a process of control, exception and rendition that is using not abnormal state processes, but normal ones to achieve their ends, turning the world into one huge airport security scanner.

And yes, we will need to talk about r-pe, and how we think about the accusations of it, and whether we can talk about character, deceit, jealousy and much more, in the open, rather than as we now all do, in a manner of sealed evidence.

The American Conservative has always had a soft spot in my heart since their indignant denunciation of George Bush and all he stood for before the 2004 presidential election in the US. They've now come up with an article outlining why right thinking people should be supporting Wikileaks as well (admittedly it contains some climate skeptic lunacy, but that's par for the course in the bizarre alternate universe of conservative ideology nowadays) - The Conservative Case for WikiLeaks.
Lovers necessarily keep or share secrets. Being in a healthy relationship means achieving a certain level of intimacy, where shared knowledge of each others’ weaknesses and insecurities is protected by a bond of mutual trust. Sometimes lovers might do devilish things that outsiders wouldn’t understand, or shouldn’t be privy to, and this is fine. But by and large, what they do is simply no one else’s business.

But imagine that the man in the relationship kept it a secret that he had other women on the side, kids, a criminal record, venereal disease, and basically betrayed his lover in every way imaginable, unbeknownst to her?

Now imagine a third party felt it was their moral duty to reveal it?

No one questions that governments must maintain a certain level of secrecy, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who told Time that “Secrecy is important for many things … [but it] shouldn’t be used to cover up abuses.” The entire premise of Assange’s whistleblower organization is this: To what degree is government secrecy justified? And when particular secrets could be damaging to the other partner in the United States government’s relationship — the American people — should these secrets be revealed in the name of protecting the public?

How often does our government use “national security” simply as an excuse to cover up questionable dealings? Reports Time: “in the past few years, governments have designated so much information secret that you wonder whether they intend the time of day to be classified. The number of new secrets designated as such by the U.S. government has risen 75% … . At the same time, the number of documents and other communications created using those secrets has skyrocketed nearly 10 times…” ...

Decentralizing government power, limiting it, and challenging it was the Founders’ intent and these have always been core conservative principles. Conservatives should prefer an explosion of whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks to a federal government powerful enough to take them down. Government officials who now attack WikLleaks don’t fear national endangerment, they fear personal embarrassment. And while scores of conservatives have long promised to undermine or challenge the current monstrosity in Washington, D.C., it is now an organization not recognizably conservative that best undermines the political establishment and challenges its very foundations.


Breaking oil's grip  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emissions (authors of the 'Zero Carbon Australia' Plan) has an article in The Climate Spectator talking about the importance of eliminating Australia's dependency on oil (especially in the context of Richard Branson's recent prediction of $200 per barrel oil) - Breaking oil's grip.

A $US200 per barrel oil price by mid-decade is consistent with Beyond Zero Emissions’ internal analysis and will have massive economic consequences for Australia. The issue presents us with an opportunity to achieve multiple outcomes: reduce our impact on the climate, while increasing our economic competitiveness and energy security. We can sandbag our economy from punishing oil prices, but only by equipping our automotive sector for the 21st century and utilising modern electric rail in upgraded national transport and freight networks.

The Australian economy will be importing 80 per cent of its oil by 2015, which means we will be forking out as much as $66 billion for imported oil per year from 2015 (based on Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association figures combined with BZE and Branson oil price predictions for 2015). Although this huge figure is equivalent to a quarter of the Australian federal budget, federal and state energy ministers refuse to acknowledge it, despite several years of trying to bring these facts to their attention. It is a significant economic vulnerability that will only grow in the decade ahead.

The increased cost of imported oil on the horizon is akin to a 'great big tax' on Australian families and already stressed industries. But unlike government taxes that pay for new schools, hospitals, train lines and other critical infrastructure and services, this multi-billion dollar price hike will solely benefit oil-rich nations. Instead of driving the Australian economy into a $66 billion brick wall, we need to get on the front foot and retool the economy for the safety and security of Australian families and industry.

Our government must push domestic car factories to retool for pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. This is the case for leading US car maker GM. The company has successfully retooled its Michigan factories to mass-produce the Chevy Volt at the affordable $41,000 per car (in line with what average cars cost in Australia). There is no reason why Australia can’t do what Michigan-based automakers have done.

Given the rapidly rising demand for electric vehicles, reorienting the automotive industry is a strategic economic move. GE just announced it will aim for 25,000 electronic vehicles (EVs) in its global fleet by 2015. Anticipating increased demand, the European car-giant Renault will aim to produce 500,000 pure EVs per year by 2013. Even with ramped-up production though, EVs are expected to be in short supply globally over the next three to five years.

So what can the Gillard government do to encourage the automotive sector restructuring? There are several options.

The government can leverage existing subsidies to manufacturers to build Australia’s capacity as a green car powerhouse. Fringe benefits tax arrangements combined with government procurement now drives around half of the one million car purchases in Australia each year. This tax could be amended easily to incentivise the purchase of EVs which, given short global supply, are best sources from retooled Australian plants.

The government sector can use its position as the country’s largest car purchaser to ensure demand and help the EV market mature. Investments in R&D can help Australia keep up with the quickening pace of EV innovation. And it can assist the roll-out of critically important recharge stations – the infrastructure that will allow Australian families to meet their travel needs with confidence. These measures will revitalise the domestic car-manufacturing sector and significantly lift sales.

Automobiles are only half of the story, though. Improved renewable electricity powered public transport and freight networks will also reduce the demand for oil-dependent vehicles.

Each Australian car driver travels around 15,000 kilometres per year. To seriously address the coming oil shock we must target 50-80 per cent of all passenger kilometres to be modally switched to electric rail within 10 years. We need to start mobilising the industry today to do this, ahead of the shock.

Australia needs to convert the bulk of these kilometres to public transport. Fast trains between Australia’s largest cities, new metropolitan train lines (like the French and Spanish metros) and adapted freeways and arterials for trains and trams would all see massive upswings in public transport patronage.

Moving increased quantities of freight by train is also part of the solution. Dedicated freight corridors would benefit regional Australia particularly. Moving freight vast distances on trucks will become increasingly costly, so people living in the bush will face increased costs of living if our government fails to plan and respond effectively to the threat of inflated oil prices.

Of course, as with any major infrastructure project, we must account for its climate impacts. A renewable energy electricity system, like the one outlined in the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy report, can power this transport system with no adverse impacts on the climate.

A dollar saved is a dollar earned. With automotive industry restructuring and smart transport policies, Australia can avoid sending up to $66 billion offshore each year. This saving can offset the cost of funding a transport revolution while strengthening our economy at the same time.

Australia’s transport system is currently oil dependent. But it doesn’t have to be. In 2011, Beyond Zero Emissions will release a fully costed plan for a zero carbon transport system. The report will spark debate and inform policymakers about the type of transport Australians need – one that is good for our climate and good for our economy.

The SMH also has an article by Paddy Manning on BZE backer Graeme Wood - Politicians blamed for climate 'gridlock'.
THE businessman Graeme Wood has condemned Australia's failure to act on climate change, criticising ''scared'' politicians for a lack of leadership.

Mr Wood, one of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs whose wealth the BRW Rich List estimates at more than $372 million, is a co-founder of Wotif.com.

He said the former prime minister Kevin Rudd was right when he called climate change ''the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation''.
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''I see climate change as exactly what Kevin Rudd said it was, and see nothing happening about it. The system is in gridlock.''

Privately, Mr Wood was the biggest donor to the advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions, which has published a costed plan to shift Australia to a 100 per cent renewable energy supply within a decade.

''It's the only clear plan that's been put out as an alternative to fossil fuels, which challenges all the accepted wisdom about the rate at which we could go to renewables,'' Mr Wood said.

A well-known philanthropist, Mr Wood has committed another $300,000 to follow up work by Beyond Zero, including plans on land-use change and transport, and hopes to obtain more donations.

Wikileaks Roundup  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Wikileaks has been dominating the media over the past week - Crikey and the Sydney Morning Herald have good roundups of coverage, and I'll do a little link dump in this post as well.

I'll note Australian PM Julia Gillard and Attorney General Robert McClelland have covered themselves in shame during the week, inaccurately accusing Assange of having committed a crime and then pathetically pandering to the Americans instead of standing up for an Australian citizen.

The Brisbane Times reports on one interesting leak about the influence of Shell on the Nigerian government (or maybe Shell simply is the Nigerian government) - Shell's grip on Nigeria revealed: WikiLeaks.

The oil giant Shell claimed it had inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government, giving it access to politicians' every move in the oil-rich Niger Delta, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.

The company's top executive in Nigeria told US diplomats that Shell had seconded employees to every relevant department and so knew "everything that was being done in those ministries". She boasted that the Nigerian government had "forgotten" about the extent of Shell's infiltration and was unaware of how much the company knew about its deliberations.

The cache of secret dispatches from Washington's embassies in Africa also revealed that the Anglo-Dutch oil firm swapped intelligence with the US, in one case providing US diplomats with the names of Nigerian politicians it suspected of supporting militant activity, and requesting information from the US on whether the militants had acquired anti-aircraft missiles.

Campaigners said the revelation about Shell in Nigeria demonstrated the tangled links between the oil firm and politicians in the country where, despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70 per cent of people live below the poverty line.

Cables from Nigeria show how Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa and now chairwoman of Shell in Australia, sought to share intelligence with the US government on militant activity and business competition in the contested Niger Delta – and how, with some prescience, she seemed reluctant to open up because of a suspicion the US government was "leaky".

Crikey's Guy Rundle has a report on Assange's court appearance in London (veering off into some leftist analysis of the global implications of it all - "imperial feminism" ???) - Ringside for Assange’s court appearance, in all its gory detail.
The European arrest warrant was served on the basis of a Swedish warrant, which is now for prosecution, rather than merely as part of an investigation. There are four charges, combining allegations of r-pe, s-xual assault and “ofredande”, the distinctive Swedish charge of misconduct/annoyance.

Three charges are based on the allegations of “complainant A”, in whose apartment Assange was staying in mid-August. The first is one of r-pe — that Assange used his body weight to lie on her, pushed her legs open and forced s-x.

The second charge is that Assange “assaulted her s-xual integrity” by “having s-x without a condom despite complainant’s earlier expressed unwillingness to do so”. Another s-xual integrity assault is that Assange “pushed his erect p-nis into her back without permission, while sharing a bed”. The fourth charge is by the second complainant, “complainant W” which alleges “having s-x with the complainant while she was asleep, without a condom”.

Outside court, Assange’s solicitor Mark Stephens sounded a feisty note, telling 150 or so of the world’s journalists that “this is going to go viral … Many people believe Mr Assange to be innocent, myself included. Many people believe that this prosecution is politically motivated”. Pilger gave a rolling presser lasting about half an hour as TV crews followed him around, assailing the Swedish charges as “absurd” and suggesting that r-pe charges had been reinstated for political reasons.

The decision to remand Assange was greeted with little surprise by many — the Serious Crime detectives lingering in the court foyer dismissed any suggestions of a line-ball call, saying that “there was never any doubt” that bail would be denied, due to the possibility of absconding. However, Jennifer Robinson, part of Assange’s legal team, told an author covering the event that she was “shocked” at the result.

Assange’s legal team immediately announced that it may appeal the bail decision, and will certainly fight the extradition charge, possibly all the way to the British High Court. The case will certainly prove a test of the discretion that national courts have over the serving of a European arrest warrant.

WikiLeaks has confirmed that it will keep running, and will return to the business of cable release almost immediately.

The reading of the Swedish charges against Assange has been the first full airing of accusations that have been surrounded by rumour since they were first made in mid-August. Crikey readers got the full story a lot earlier than most, but even your correspondent decided to minimise the more explicit details because of simply, well, yurrrgghhh.

For better or worse, better and worse, Swedish s-x crime law has taken on the values and attitudes of Macquarie University c.1989, in which myriad acts between bodies are constructed as a series of legal permissions. That separates Sweden from the mass of other countries as behaviour that other cultures would see as private exchange becomes public law.

Even taking that into account, the situation has entered bizarre territory. Can anyone really say that the resources of two states and an international police force should be directed to investigating the provenance of a wayward morning glory?

A case to answer?

This charge, number three, is obviously farcical to 90% of the planet, male and female. What about the other charges? Charge two, unsafe s-x, does not allege non-consent. It alleges earlier notice of an unwillingness to engage in unsafe s-x, quite a different thing — and presumably the reason why it is being charged as an offence against “s-xual integrity”.

S-x while sleeping? What? Through the whole thing? Either this bends the truth, or Assange went to a Steiner school. How on earth do Swedish prosecutors propose to establish this to a standard of proof? That question is further complicated by documents suggesting collusion and false reports, and a blog by one of the complainants including a how to guide to “revenge on lovers”, which includes a section on “lying to get the law involved”.

That leaves the first charge, a charge of explicit and deliberate r-pe. It would be wise here to remember what is being objected to by Assange’s supporters — not the charge itself but the chaotic process by which it has been brought. Not everyone is observing this line. Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, has been on the media arguing that his client “isn’t the sort of person who could do these things”. Well, that’s no real argument. John Pilger has charged in foursquare, rejecting the r-pe arguments as “crap” and politically motivated — and also mangling the whole sequence in the telling, telling the world’s media that the “chief prosecutor” threw out an earlier r-pe charge, and that this was then reinstated by political pressure.

That’s completely arse backwards and fails to understand what is going on here. The initial charge was made by a junior duty prosecutor on a summer Friday in Stockholm, based on the “inquiries” by the two complainants to the police. This was rescinded a day later by the regular prosecutor, Eva Finne, who was so concerned by the events (which had been placed in Expressen newspaper by the police) that she had the documents couriered to her summer cottage, and promptly rescinded the order.

The next week, the two complainants hired as their lawyer Claes Bergstrom — former minister in the Social Democratic Party, big wheel. Whether they sought him out, or he volunteered remains to be seen, but he managed to convince Marianne Ny to take the case.

Ny is not the chief prosecutor either — she runs (or ran, until recently) a “crime development unit” out of Gothenburg, two hundred clicks from Stockholm. The unit lives effectively, by finding new types of crime — and especially s-x crime, which is Ny’s field. Like much of the Swedish state it has to be entrepreneurial within the framework of public funding, to maintain its existence.

Crayfishgate, and the crisis of feminism

This is crucial to understand, because simple stories of political interference won’t cut it — though they play a part. The core process that has Assange in trouble is the autonomous process of a (once) socialist, feminist state. This has been difficult for many people to interpret, because it is so rare. Sweden (and maybe one or two other Nordic countries) is the only state where feminism has achieved state power, actually won the long march through the institutions. As such it is now exposed to the full contradictions of that role, including running wars, armies and police forces.

This effectively brings to the surface contradictions inherent right at the start of second-wave feminism in the early ’70s — between the idea that existing power structures could be taken over (which ultimately became liberal feminism) and arguments that the very character of power — and the state — had to be transformed.

Imperial feminism?

One of the truly bizarre things about this event is that Assange has made history even when he didn’t intend to — this moment is when the contradictions of second wave feminism are played out to endgame, because feminists will have to choose which side they cleave to — a state prosecuting possible s-x crimes (whose possibility I do not deny), laced into a global power structure, or a radical force holding states to account, and unleashing new forms of social energy and flow that challenge inherited patriarchal structures?

We’ve seen this before of course — in the period of imperial feminism of the mid 2000s, when numerous liberal feminist commentators took the next step, and committed themselves to imperial wars that they hoped would advance the cause of gender liberation in patriarchal societies.

In Sweden this is given institutional form, because a feminist state is laced into a military one — Sweden’s once-prized neutrality has long been forfeited to a de facto NATO alliance. Central to this is the Nordic battle group, the naval force run as a joint NATO/Swedish exercise, and a key part of the new more aggressive forward strategy of NATO in relation to Russia — as recently revealed by WikiLeaks. This is part and parcel of a gradual surrender of neutrality to US dominance — as recently revealed by WikiLeaks.

This circle closes with news tonight that Swedish and American authorities are already in discussion about co-operation to begin extradition proceedings against Assange once he is in Sweden. It comes as WikiLeaks releases a new series of cables that show that Scotland was effectively bribed by Libya to release Al-Megrahi, the man convicted (possibly wrongly) of the Lockerbie bombing.

In other words, the hits just keep on coming. And it is faintly possible that Assange decided, once s-x crime allegations were made against him, that his project would best be served by a series of trials that convulsed the world.

Rundle also reports on Assange's accuser seems to have bailed on the legal proceedings and headed off to Palestine - Assange accuser may have ceased co-operating.
nna Ardin, one of the two complainants in the rape and sexual assault case against WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, has left Sweden, and may have ceased actively co-operating with the Swedish prosecution service and her own lawyer, sources in Sweden told Crikey today.

The move comes amid a growing campaign by leading Western feminists to question the investigation, and renewed confusion as to whether Sweden has actually issued charges against Assange. Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf, and the European group Women Against Rape, have all made statements questioning the nature and purpose of the prosecution.

Ardin, who also goes by the name Bernardin, has moved to the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories, as part of a Christian outreach group, aimed at bringing reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. She has moved to the small town of Yanoun, which sits close to Israel’s security/sequestration wall. Yanoun is constantly besieged by fundamentalist Jewish settlers, and international groups have frequently stationed themselves there.

Attempts by Crikey to contact Ardin by phone, fax, email and twitter were unsuccessful today.

Ardin’s blog has restarted after a fortnight hiatus, and her twitter feed has restarted after a two-month break. The twitter feed appears to be commenting on her ongoing profile in the media with the latest entry reading: “CIA agent, rabid feminist / Muslim lover, a Christian fundamentalist, frigid & fatally in love with a man, can you be all that at the same time …”

The previous tweet appears to extend support to WikiLeaks, after financial agencies withdrew their services, reading “Mastercard, Visa and Paypal — hit it, now!”*

One source from Ardin’s old university of Uppsala reported rumours that she had stopped co-operating with the prosecution service several weeks ago, and that this was part of the reason for the long delay in proceeding with charges — and what still appears to be an absence of charges.

News of Ardin/Bernardin’s departure comes as reports circulate of Ardin’s connection to the right-wing Cuban exile community in Miami, something that Crikey readers learnt of months ago. The reports have helped fuel wilder conspiracy theories about the nature of Ardin’s involvement with WikiLeaks and Assange.

A former politics student who had done internships at Sweden’s DC embassy, Ardin completed her thesis on Cuban political opposition groups, many of whom have involvement — and funding — from the US interests section, the only US diplomatic representation in Cuba. Ardin initially began her research in Havana and left after being advised that her position was no longer safe. She completed the research in Miami.

However, it seems more likely that the Cuban episode is part of the same political nomadism that led her to WikiLeaks. An office holder with the Social Democratic party’s Christian “brotherhood” faction, Ardin is active in a range of causes from Latin America to animal liberation.

Ardin’s move and confusion over her involvement and the real status of the charges against Assange come as the campaign questioning the charges against him has come to include a number of leading feminist activists. Naomi Klein tweeted that:
“R-pe is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks”

While in The Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf posted a (quite funny) article asking Interpol to apprehend every date she’s had who turned out to be a narcissistic jerk.

In The Guardian Karin Axelsson of Women Against R-pe questioned why Assange’s case was being pursued more assiduously than cases of r-pe judged more serious (Sweden has three degrees of severity for r-pe charges).

These moves are evidence of the situation your correspondent suggested in Crikey yesterday — that the Assange case is proving to be the final process by which the second-wave feminist coalition formed in the late 1960s splits substantially, with feminists with differing attitude to Western state power finding themselves on different sides of the debate.

Indeed, it puts one in the unusual position of saying that commentators such as Wolf are being too anti-complainant in their construction of the charges as nothing other than a couple of bad dates. It’s a strange world, and getting stranger.

The lawyer for Ardin and Wilen, the two complainants, has hit back at attacks and criticism of his clients, saying that they had been put on trial and effectively assaulted twice. He claimed to be in daily contact with the women, which suggests that he has a better reception to Yanoun than many of its inhabitants have to the outside world.

Even if the case comes to trial, the prospects of conviction look slim. Crikey asked Flinders University s-x crime law expert Dr Mary Heath to go over the charges (which may still be accusations at this stage) as they were relayed in Assange’s extradition bail hearing, and she made the following comments:

“Practically speaking, I would not like the chances of the prosecutor on charge 3 — pressing his erect p-nis into the complainant’s back … legally speaking I would have to suggest the chances of conviction would be slim for any Australian offence where both accused were adults. Proving non consent might be difficult but proving awareness of non consent would be even harder.

“Charges 1 and 2 (holding partner down, and unsafe s-x despite earlier expressed opposition to such) involve contexts where there would be room for defence argument about consent. On charge 1, when is one person ‘holding down’ another person lying beneath them, and when are they simply having consensual s-x in a position involving one person being on top of the other person? Is this force or just rough but consensual (compared to cases I’ve read, the allegation would hardly count as rough).

“On charge 2, prior unwillingness is not enough, the complainant must not be consenting and the accused must be aware of this ‘at the time of int-rcourse’. Did complainant one change her mind? Did Assange believe she changed her mind, and perhaps on reasonable grounds the charge does not disclose?

“On charge 4 (s-x while complainant was sleeping), recent experience in South Australia suggests this also could be difficult to prove if there was any kind of s-xual interaction prior to the complainant falling asleep, which might give the defence a plausible argument that belief in consent was present. I was deeply unimpressed by the level of protection the courts (let alone public attitudes) offered to people who are asleep or unconscious due to drugs/alcohol.

“… The one thing that is clearer, perhaps, is that the charges may turn on withdrawal of consent once a s-xual act had commenced. The law of almost every jurisdiction in Australia would recognise withdrawal of consent after a s-xual act commenced as rendering that s-xual act non consensual (and therefore r-pe). As for proving it … I reiterate what I said about proof previously.”

The Guardian reports that former Crown Prosecution Service extradition expert Raj Joshi said that extradition was unlikely:
“On what we know so far, it is going to be very difficult to extradite. The judge has to be satisfied that the conduct equals an extraditable offence and that there are no legal bars to extradition.

“Assange’s team will argue, how can the conduct equal an extraditable offence if the [Swedish] prosecutor doesn’t think there is enough evidence to charge, and still has not charged.”

This has added to speculation that the Swedish moves, which have coincided with the release of the Cablegate stories, are politically motivated as stalling tactics, allowing Assange to be detained while the US “prepares an extradition/rendition request”, according to Assange’s UK lawyer Mark Stephens.

The SMH has a profile of Assange by a journalist who knew him in his hacker days - The geek who shook the world.
The world's most mysterious and famous publisher of verboten secrets is sitting in a jail cell in Britain awaiting extradition to a place with a very alien legal system, Sweden, to face questioning about criminal charges he does not understand. He has said publicly that he is at a loss to know how he could be accused of sexual offences against two women with whom he had sex when they have admitted it was consensual.

Assange has always been an avid reader of books. I know this because we worked together for almost three years to create Underground, a book published in Australia in 1997 and again in an electronic version in 2001. Underground is the true story of hackers in Australia and around the globe. Assange, the former hacker, contributed exceptional technical skills and analysis, and I brought years of experience as a journalist and writer. The book has become something of a classic among computer enthusiasts and has been translated into Czech, Chinese and Russian. Books were the basis of Assange's self-education. He attended school off and on during his childhood, but he was continually frustrated by teachers who were at a loss about what to do with him.

A geek friend of his once described Assange as having an IQ "in excess of 170". I suspect this could be true. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for a teacher in 1970s Australia to teach her class of normal children while also dealing with one small blond-haired boy who was off the charts.

So Assange largely gave up on school, finding it more efficient to educate himself by reading books. He learned to tune out if people didn't feed him information fast enough.

I've watched Assange do this many times. It's not meant to be rude, though it can make him seem aloof. It is, I suspect, a habit learned from these early years. It can give him the air of an absent-minded professor. He's not really absent; it's just that his brain is running several processors in parallel, like a high-powered desktop computer.

If some information is of more interest, more processing power will be diverted to that to optimise the running of the machine. Sometimes he thinks he has told you something when he hasn't. This is probably because his brain moves so much faster than his voice; by the time he opens his mouth to speak, his thoughts have zoomed a million light years down the next thought path.

The computer geek in him always gravitated towards optimisation of everything. Some people are born engineers and the desire to optimise is a good test of this.

Once, when Assange was packing boxes to move house, he complained at how long it took. Most people just throw things in boxes and tape them up. Not Assange. He approached putting his books in boxes as though he was solving a puzzle aimed at using all the space in the box most efficiently. If there was dead space in the box, the packing had not been optimal and was a failure. He would empty the box and restart the packing again.

This desire for optimisation might be dismissed as the quirky trait of a geek, but it is far more important. It is part of the larger puzzle of how WikiLeaks has come to exist today.

The need for optimisation and the deep desire for justice, reflected by his choice of books, came together with a few other convictions.

One of these can be found in another favourite piece of writing, this time by the World War II pilot and author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The quote, used by Assange to sign many of his emails, was this: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the seas."

The quote suggests that if you can show people why something is important, they will work to achieve that goal far more effectively than if you just tell them to tick off items on a banal to-do list. Large corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year trying to drum that message into their executives in high-end training courses. Assange knew it instinctively.

The final piece in the puzzle was curiosity. Like all good journalists, Assange has it in abundance. It is part of his clay. He understood that most people are curious and he spoke to me about the immense power of information to change the world for the better.

WikiLeaks is the picture that emerges when you lay the last puzzle piece in place.

If you want to improve the lot of the poorest, most oppressed people in the world, you can go to a destitute, corrupt African country and work in a community-aid program. It is a noble and self-sacrificing choice. But it only saves one village. Therefore, although it works towards greater justice (in this case economic justice) it is not optimal. A computer geek would consider it sub-optimal. To be optimal, it must be on a much larger scale. Larger than one village, larger than one country, even than one continent. The only way to do that is to use information which can be replicated endlessly – and cheaply – to promote change for the better. But it must be good information, not trashy information or PR spin. It must be the kind of information that plucks at those little threads of curiousity we all have in one measure or another.

It must be the kind of information news media organisations would publish for their readers.

Not everyone wants change, however. Tin-pot dictators like to steal money from their countries.

Average people may think they are happy in their ordinary lives: they don't want change. Yet imagine if there was a secret world these average people did not know about. What could be in that world? It could be a world of classified logs from the front line of a war. It could also be a world of secret diplomatic cables that tell the truth about what really happens behind the mahogany doors of power. The average people might actually want that information – if someone revealed it to them.

WikiLeaks has taught people to "long for the endless immensity of the seas". Who wants to go back to their cramped dog-box apartment now that they have tasted the salty air and seen the ocean's infinite horizon?

Yet Assange still sits in prison, waiting for answers and explanations, like Rubashov. It is more than likely the US will try to extradite him from Sweden if he is forced to leave Britain. Hints in the American media suggest that a secret grand jury investigation is under way or is even completed – without Assange even being in the country.

American politicians propose that Assange be assassinated. Forget a trial or jury. They are judge, jury and executioner, like the thuggish interrogator in Darkness at Noon.

The office of US senator Joseph Lieberman tried to gag WikiLeaks this week by making a phone call that forced Amazon to stop hosting the publisher. The New York Times has also released the diplomatic cables. Lieberman's office has called for an investigation but has not tried to order the paper to stop its presses. As if it could. There would be rioting in the streets of Manhattan.

In person, Assange is remarkably calm. He is sometimes dedicated to the cause of free speech in a pointed way that that affronts Americans, which is surprising, really, given their dedication to the right of free speech.

What matters is that WikiLeaks is changing the balance of power between average citizens and their governments like nothing else has this century. For the past decade the pendulum has swung towards government. WikiLeaks is pulling the pendulum back towards towards the citizens.



Crikey reports that one of the halfwit American politicians calling for Assange's assassination was a supporter of a terrorist organisation - Congressman who called for killing of Assange an IRA supporter. Maybe the British should be calling for his head if we are going to return to the law of the jungle, as per Republican party policy ?
Peter King, the Republican Congressman from New York, who recently called for the assassination of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange as a “terrorist”, is a long-time supporter of the Provisional IRA, and met members of the group in the 1980s.

An energetic fund-raiser with NORAID, the US group that channelled millions of dollars to the IRA* during the 30 years of conflict, paying for its supplies of guns and Semtex, King was defending the group British well after the Good Friday agreement, denying that there was any IRA involvement in the murder of Robert McCartney, and its cover-up in 2005.

King had broken with support for Sinn Fein and the IRA in 2004, not because of any events in Ireland, but because the party/group had come out against the Iraq War.

King will be the new chair of the Homeland Security Committee when the 112th Congress begins sitting in January. He has earlier remarked that Assange should be treated the way the US treats any enemy combatant with “drones and Gitmo” — i.e. piloted bombs and torture in Guantanamo prison camps.

He has modified his stance since, to using “legal” measures, suggesting that WikiLeaks be designated a terrorist outfit, saying that he wants to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them with any help or contributions or assistance whatsoever.

That, of course, includes newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian. It also now includes News Ltd, after The Australian published — and will presumably pay for — an op-ed by Julian Assange. ...

So with a US hysterical about terrorism, how is it that King is permitted to be the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, while labelling Assange as a terrorist? Simple. The supine, epic fail of the US media means that those who alight on the point never stay on it for more than three minutes and the Right don’t bring it up at all.

And further out, in the more distant satraps, there is no concern. A US congressman once sponsored political murder on British soil. Now he’s at it again, this time with an Australian citizen in the sights. And the government, in the form of shambling owlish doofus Bob McClelland, offers itself up in service, as Senator Mark Arbib trots through the embassy gates every fortnight. God bless whoever the hell we are.

AntiWar.com has a post by Daniel Ellsberg suggesting customers boycott Amazon in response for Amazon turning off hosting for Wikileaks - Daniel Ellsberg Says Boycott Amazon.
I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating today its hosting of the Wikileaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers. I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing.

For the last several years, I’ve been spending over $100 a month on new and used books from Amazon. That’s over. I ask Amazon to terminate immediately my membership in Amazon Prime and my Amazon credit card and account, to delete my contact and credit information from their files and to send me no more notices.

I understand that many other regular customers feel as I do and are responding the same way. Good: the broader and more immediate the boycott, the better. I hope that these others encourage their contact lists to do likewise and to let Amazon know exactly why they’re shifting their business. I’ve asked friends today to suggest alternatives, and I’ll be exploring service from Powell’s Books, Half-Price Books, Biblio and others.

So far Amazon has spared itself the further embarrassment of trying to explain its action openly. This would be a good time for Amazon insiders who know and perhaps can document the political pressures that were brought to bear–and the details of the hasty kowtowing by their bosses–to leak that information. They can send it to Wikileaks (now on servers outside the US), to mainstream journalists or bloggers, or perhaps to sites like antiwar.com that have now appropriately ended their book-purchasing association with Amazon.

The Age has an editorial mentioning Ellsberg and supporting Assange, saying "the federal government's response to WikiLeaks is deeply troubling" - Julian Assange and the public's right to know
DURING the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg released government documents now known as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. In response, the American government tried him for theft and conspiracy under the Espionage Act. The authorities also tried to steal Ellsberg's medical files in order to discredit him.

The Pentagon Papers exposed lies told by the US government to justify the war and their publication helped fuel opposition to the conflict. The charges against Ellsberg were eventually dismissed, the covert operations against him condemned. Ellsberg sees parallels between his case and the treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. ''People … don't want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy,'' Ellsberg said recently. ''The truth is that every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.''

Men such as Ellsberg and Assange, who are prepared to face the consequences of revealing information authorities would prefer to hide, help keep our system of government healthy and strong. Unfortunately, those in power tend to take a different view. The 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables are the latest documents published by WikiLeaks. Previous documents on WikiLeaks have exposed how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fought. These leaks have been embarrassing to the governments involved - particularly the US government.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has condemned the actions of WikiLeaks as illegal - a short-sighted response. The Australian government is investigating whether Mr Assange has committed an offence, but has so far got nowhere. ..

WikiLeaks, acting with newspapers around the world including The Age and The Sunday Age, is publishing information that makes governments uncomfortable. This action affirms the role of the media, which have a duty to expose the secret machinations of those who wield power. In the US, the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, has suggested that because it published some of the leaked information The New York Times might be subject to criminal investigation. This would breach the First Amendment protecting freedom of the press.

The Australian government's condemnation of WikiLeaks is also deeply troubling. Attempts to silence Mr Assange and those who work with him threaten the free flow of information that makes democracy possible. Such attempts are dangerous and must be resisted.

Crikey's Bernard Keane has a look at the controversy swirling around Visa, Mastercard and Paypal as they complied with requests to block contributions to Wikileaks - Welcome to the internet wars.
Whoever christened the WikiLeaks saga the first major war over the internet was right. Quite apart from what you’re seeing in the mainstream media, the internet equivalent of a shooting war has broken out and shows no signs of dying down.

The online group Anonymous – usually, but somewhat erroneously christened “hacker activists” by the mainstream media – have launched a series of attacks on the websites of those associated with the campaign against Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Targets under “Operation Payback”, coordinated via an IRC channel and Twitter, have included Joe Lieberman’s website, Sarah Palin’s website and the website of the Swedish prosecution service responsible for handling the s-xual assault case against Assange.

In the last 24 hours, however, it’s stopped being quite so symbolic. Yesterday Anonymous coordinated a distributed denial of service attack on Mastercard’s corporate website, www.mastercard.com, and took it offline for several hours. More to the point, the attacks took Mastercard’s Securecode service offline as well, preventing transactions from being processed. The website has since got back online.

This morning it was Visa’s turn. Anonymous gave a full hour’s notice via its Twitter account @Anon-Operation that it was going to target Visa. At 8am, the tweet went out:

“TARGET: WWW.VISA.COM: FIRE FIRE FIRE!!! WEAPONS.”

They didn’t miss. The Visa site went down almost instantly, and stayed down for nearly three hours.

Twitter had by this stage woken up to the fact that its service was being used to coordinate DDOS attacks and suspended @anon_operation (Facebook had removed another Anonymous-related page earlier in the day). Anonymous was already using multiple accounts and immediately created another one, @anonops. Twitter’s action prompted participants to turn their attention to the service itself, and Twitter itself came under fire.

At that point, Anonymous appeared to secure a significant victory. Twitter was said to have advised that the deletion was “accidental” and restored the suspended account (minus previous tweets), although another ANonymous-related account remained suspended. The new account, @anonops, continued to operate. The attack on Twitter was then called off, and www.visa.com briefly went down again as the attack as redirected back at Visa.

A short while later the group declared via @anonops “IRC is not secure do not use unauthorized channels for operation #payback. We will announce next target here!! http://bit.ly/1hSngD #anonops”. Presumably law enforcement agencies had by this stage accessed the channel (it’s accessible if you know whom to ask and are happy to have the Federal Police start paying attention to you).

Meantime, in an unrelated development, PayPal had succumbed to criticism and released donations to Wikileaks.

Throughout, the mainstream media desperately tried to keep up. “Do you know more? email us” implored Fairfax, whose journalists took to haunting the birthplace of Anonymous, the 4chan site (warning – DEFINITELY NSFW) to find out what was going on. The coverage looked all a bit redundant, though, given much of what was going on was being played out under the Twitter hashtag #anonops.

This may look like a bunch of kids fooling around on the internet (one tweeter compared it to a “geek action movie”) but it’s altogether more serious than that. In the space of 24 hours two of the world’s key transactional sites have been taken offline. In the case of Visa, the company was actually given warning that it would be attacked, and yet it was still taken down for several hours. If we’re talking “critical infrastructure”, as per the WikiLeaks cables of earlier this week, we’ve had a clear demonstration of where it is on the internet.

This is the flipside of war against WikiLeaks being waged by the US Government and its proxies. Taking away its access to servers and taking away its financial conduits has undoubtedly harmed the organization – probably more so than arresting Julian Assange. It shows that, for all the decentralization of the internet, you can exploit the corporate control of key elements of the internet, particularly of financial transactions, to inconvenience or disrupt the operations of even an online entity. The further the balance tips toward private, corporate control of key online systems, the easier it becomes for governments - and other forces of centralised control, like large companies - to strike back at online opponents.

But it cuts both ways. The fragility of those transactional systems is suddenly on display with the successful attacks on Visa and Mastercard. Private control of key systems can be a vulnerability as well as a strength. And what’s been happening to key transactional systems in Australia in recent days? No one targeted NAB’s website – it managed to take itself offline without any help from “hacktivists”, causing massive financial disruption to its customers.

We’ve become dependent on online systems that are assumed to be both secure and resilient. Suddenly they look fragile, capable of disruption not just at the hands of Anonymous, but because of under-investment, or incompetence, or a single corrupted file.

There’ll doubtless be a lot of rubbish written about the Anonymous attacks, from both sides, in coming hours and days. There’ll be a strong sense of “the internet has fought back” from supporters, and law enforcement-flavoured outrage from opponents, governments and the mainstream media.

But at least one lesson is already clear – on the internet, the “critical infrastructure” may not be as resilient and stable as we all assume it is.

GOOD has a post on the increase in traffic for Wikileaks' partners in releasing the cables - Cablegate Is Great for Web Traffic at The Guardian.
I'm sure the editorial powers that be at The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Monde, and El Pais have a very well developed, public-interest-based justification for publishing the WikiLeaks material, but the business people in those institutions have to be happy too. It looks like Cablegate is responsible for a doubling of traffic at The Guardian.

And, as Visual Journalism notes, because the documents are being released gradually, the media outlets that are getting prior access are going to be leading on this story for quite a long time.



Crikey's Bernard Keane has an interesting comparison of the impact of technology on the music industry to the impact of technology on government transparency - Missing the point on WikiLeaks.
This rolling series of releases — and WikiLeaks has barely begun to release the amount of material it has — is raising fundamental issues not merely about statecraft and diplomacy but information, power and the role of the media. Guy Rundle spotted this immediately, and while I would say that, wouldn’t I, his analysis has been the best you’ll see in an Australian publication. This is about far more than a simple matter of leaking sensitive cables, or newspaper coverage of those leaks.

Instead we’re given an uncomprehending coverage by the Australian media, as if it simply can’t process what’s happening, and needs to keep trying different narratives to see if they fit what’s being observed, sticking with whatever seems to temporarily do the trick. Given personalities are always easier to discuss than even the simplest policy issues, most of this has focussed on what ambassadors said about political leaders, and Assange himself — Assange as Bond-style supervillain; Assange as alleged rapist-wanted man; Assange as net libertarian (“information yearns to be free!”). None of that comes remotely near explaining what Assange is trying to do, which — regardless of how you feel about it — you have to go beyond the mainstream media to start to understand.

It’s not entirely fair to blame the media, though, because the Australian government is doing exactly the same thing. The response of the federal government has been… I was going to say “instructive”, but it’s more accurately, and sadly, affirmative of what you suspected, that politicians and bureaucrats can’t see this through any other than a rather 20th century, Cold War-style lens.

Accordingly, the whole business is being treated like an espionage case: Robert McClelland has made vague threats about arresting Assange and providing “every assistance” to the United States on “law enforcement action” and a “taskforce” has been assembled to consider the implications of the material being released. More seriously, McClelland has spoken of criminal offences in relation to publishing WikiLeaks-related material and said that the media may be asked to refrain from publishing certain material on national security grounds.

It barely needs to be said that McClelland’s suggestion that media outlets might either be asked to not publish material, or might find themselves charged if they do, appears to entirely miss that this is no longer 1985 and media executives are no longer the information gatekeepers they once were, even if they were inclined to cooperate.

The Cold War analog doesn’t work because, even if they weren’t moral equivalents, the two Cold War players were mirrors in their goals and apparati and had a dense, mutually-agreed set of rules to play by. WikiLeaks, however, is actively subverting any rules, far more asymmetric and nebulous even than the Islamofascist terrorism threat used so successfully to maintain the national security state in the absence of our Cold War enemies.

Dorothy, we’re not in West Berlin anymore.

The prime minister has gone further than McClelland, declaring the release of cables by WikiLeaks “illegal”, the sort of issue that, thankfully, courts still decide rather than politicians, and which in any event is hardly as clear as Julia Gillard seems to suggest, given she didn’t even say where exactly WikiLeaks’ publication would be considered illegal.

More to the point, she appears to have forgotten that Assange is an Australian citizen, and as such is entitled to a basic level of concern for his treatment from the government of his country — a level of concern that is entirely absent from the remarks of either the Attorney-General or the prime minister. We’ve been down this road before with David Hicks, and that didn’t end well for the government concerned. And Assange is no David Hicks (although, some evidently regard him as far more dangerous).

I’ll finish on a complete digression: when the music industry first switched from vinyl to CD, one particularly prescient musician — can’t recall the name, too vague to Google — suggested that once songs were reduced to a series of 0s and 1s, they were implicitly devalued, and that eventually the music industry would come to rue undermining its basic product in this way.

It took another decade and filesharing software to do it, but he or she was exactly right. The digitisation of information implicitly devalues it, makes it vastly, world-changingly easier to share. And that process doesn’t just change relationships within existing systems, it changes the systems themselves, fundamentally. Relatively trivial industries like entertainment have spent a decade discovering that horrible fact.

You can’t help but wonder how long it will take governments to work out that they are now in exactly the same situation as the music and movie execs who’ve spent so long trying to prop up by force the old system even as it collapses around them.

Keane links to this (long) post from ZunguZungu, which defies quoting - best to go and read the whole thing - Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”.
“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”

The piece of writing (via) which that quote introduces is intellectually substantial, but not all that difficult to read, so you might as well take a look at it yourself. Most of the news media seems to be losing their minds over Wikileaks without actually reading these essays, even though he describes the function and aims of an organization like Wikileaks in pretty straightforward terms. But, to summarize, he begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind. The metaphor of a computing network is mostly implicit, but utterly crucial: he seeks to oppose the power of the state by treating it like a computer and tossing sand in its diodes.

He begins by positing that conspiracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand, arguing that since authoritarianism produces resistance to itself — to the extent that its authoritarianism becomes generally known — it can only continue to exist and function by preventing its intentions (the authorship of its authority?) from being generally known. It inevitably becomes, he argues, a conspiracy:
Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

The problem this creates for the government conspiracy then becomes the organizational problem it must solve: if the conspiracy must operate in secrecy, how is it to communicate, plan, make decisions, discipline itself, and transform itself to meet new challenges? The answer is: by controlling information flows. After all, if the organization has goals that can be articulated, articulating them openly exposes them to resistance. But at the same time, failing to articulate those goals to itself deprives the organization of its ability to process and advance them. Somewhere in the middle, for the authoritarian conspiracy, is the right balance of authority and conspiracy.

His model for imagining the conspiracy, then, is not at all the cliché that people mean when they sneer at someone for being a “conspiracy theorist.” After all, most the “conspiracies” we’re familiar with are pure fantasies, and because the “Elders of Zion” or James Bond’s SPECTRE have never existed, their nonexistence becomes a cudgel for beating on people that would ever use the term or the concept. For Assange, by contrast, a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.

The SMH has an article on a demonstration in support of Assange in Melbourne - Legal fury at 'war on free speech' . Plus one in Australia as well - Hundreds rally in support of Assange.
A MELBOURNE lawyer and former boss of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised her government for its handling of WikiLeaks and its Australian founder, Julian Assange.

Peter Gordon, whose legal firm made Ms Gillard the first female partner of Slater and Gordon, said her comment that Mr Assange had broken the law was baseless.

He said the fact that people such as Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland - both of whom he knew to be good lawyers and decent people - could be driven to behave in this way was a sobering reminder of ''the seductive and compulsive draw of power''.

Mr Gordon was speaking on Thursday night at a WikiLeaks forum attended by 250 lawyers and civil libertarians at the Law Institute of Victoria.

In today's Age opinion page, he writes: ''If the Wikileaks disclosures tell us anything, it is that no government, whatever its political colours, is going to hesitate for a nanosecond to conflate the notion of 'national security' with 'my own career security'.''

He calls for a challenge to the ''war on information … call it what it is - a growing and insidious attack on free speech''.

Mr Gordon's stance was backed by several top barristers, who said neither official secrets nor terror laws provided any offences under which Mr Assange could be charged in Australia.

Mr Assange also received support from more than 500 people who attended a rally outside the State Library in Melbourne. The rally was one of several held around the country, with backers calling for a ban on WikiLeaks censorship and for Mr Assange to be freed.

Julian Burnside, QC, said of the government: ''I think they are trying to defend the indefensible.''

He said the state had an obligation to protect citizens who got into trouble in a foreign country. ''They ignored that obligation and instead sided with the Americans. They even went so far as to threaten to cancel his passport. That's exactly the opposite of what any self-respecting country ought to do.''

The SMH has an article on worldwide demonstrations in support of Assange - Worldwide demos called in support Assange.
Spanish online supporters of Assange called on Saturday for worldwide demonstrations to press for his release from a London jail, where he is awaiting possible extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations.

The Spanish website Free Wikileaks urged rallies at 6pm on Sunday (0400 AEDT Monday) in eight Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona. Similar demonstrations were planned in Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Bogota and Lima.

In a manifesto entitled "For freedom, Say No to State Terrorism," it demanded Assange's release and "restoration of the WikiLeaks domain."

"Given that no one has proved that Assange is guilty of the offences he is accused of and that Wikileaks is not implicated in any of those," the website also urged that credit card giants Visa and Mastercard rescind their decisions to cut off payments from the website's supporters.



The Business Spectator has an article on worries by the US banking sector about the next round of Wikileaks revelations - Why banks are worried about WikiLeaks
An Australian assisting Julian Assange’s legal team has raised the possibility that WikiLeaks’ next document dump relates to the politics of bank bailouts and ill-gotten bonuses.

Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Melbourne, is working alongside the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC and the journalist and author John Pilger on Assange’s legal defence.

As speculation intensifies that the next phase of the WikiLeaks saga will involve the release of documents of significance to the global banking market, it has been reported Bank of America has set up a ‘war room’ to defend its reputation.

In recent days, WikiLeaks has increasingly drawn attention to corporate behaviour, with oil and gas giant Shell accused of infiltrating the Nigerian government and the market expecting a massive document-dump on troubled UK energy giant BP.

But the prime suspect of the expected bank leak is Bank of America; its share price fell 3 per cent in a recent trading session when it was pinpointed as a target for the document-leaking site led by Assange, who is currently under arrest.

In the US, Fox Business Network’s Charlie Gasparino detailed Bank of America's ‘war room’ after outlining concerns the bank’s mortgage creation and purchases of investment bank Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial Corporation during the global financial crisis would come under the spotlight.

Dr Burchill, a former political officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs, defines his role as holding the Gillard government to account. As part of his duties to date he has hunted down Swedish translators for Assange’s UK lawyers.

He says the information – to be released this month or in early 2011, and described by Assange as giving “a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level” – could be highly revealing.

He says: “Maybe there are a few people who’ve diverted funds to pay themselves a bonus they’re not entitled to, or there’s a link between politicians on various Senate committees and the way these banks have got a handout."

ABC News is speculating the US may be about to take legal action against Assange (but not against any of the other media publishing the material from Wikileaks it would seem, yet) - Is the U.S. About to Indict Julian Assange?.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the man behind the publication of more than a 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables, could soon be facing spying charges in the U.S. related to the Espionage Act, Assange’s lawyer said today.

“Our position of course is that we don’t believe it applies to Mr. Assange and that in any event he’s entitled to First Amendment protection as publisher of Wikileaks and any prosecution under the Espionage Act would in my view be unconstitutional and puts at risk all media organizations in the U.S.,” Assange’s attorney Jennifer Robinson told ABC News.

Robinson said a U.S. indictment of Assange was expected soon. ...

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the possible coming charges, but earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the release of the documents had put the United States at risk and said he authorized a criminal investigation into Assange.

Salon has a column noting the chilling effect on press freedom in the US these moves could imply - Assange prosecution would be "extremely dangerous".
The Obama administration is exploring the possibility of prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the century-old Espionage Act, according to a front-page Washington Post story this morning. But legal experts tell Salon that such a prosecution would not only face myriad legal and practical hurdles, it would also set what one analyst calls "an extremely dangerous precedent."

"This is novel legal territory. Every step involves uncertainty and virgin territory, and ideally it will be left that way," says Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood, who has been a critic of WikiLeaks in the past, argues that "a prosecution of WikiLeaks would be a horrible precedent that in time would almost certainly be applied to other publishers of controversial information."

At issue here is the Espionage Act of 1917, which was passed by Congress during World War I and makes it a crime to, among other things, disclose national defense information to someone not authorized to receive it or retain national defense information after the government has demanded it back. While there have been many successful prosecutions of leakers under this law, there have been extremely few prosecutions of those on the receiving end of leaks.

Many have argued that the law is unconstitutional, and, if it was actually applied broadly, would lead to the prosecution of journalists and newspapers that routinely obtain and publish classified national defense information. ...

The Alexandria U.S. attorney's office a few years ago charged two civilian pro-Israel lobbyists under the Espionage Act for receiving and transmitting classified information, but the case was dropped after rulings that made it harder for prosecutors to obtain a conviction. The same U.S. attorney's office is looking at the WikiLeaks case, according to the Post.

Aftergood, the secrecy expert, tells Salon that another potential theory by the government would be that Assange and WikiLeaks conspired to violate the Espionage Act by actively soliciting the diplomatic cables from the leaker.

"If a case could be made that WikiLeaks did not simply publish the material as a passive recipient, but that they actually solicited the release of the information, then they would be vulnerable," he says. But it's not clear how solicitation would be defined, and it's also not at all clear if the facts of the case would bear this theory out. And, again, if this theory of the law were applied, it's hard to see how it wouldn't ensnare a journalist like Bob Woodward, who asks government officials about classified matters and then publishes the information.

Crikey's Bernard Keane also has some thoughts about the implications of recent events for the media - WikiLeaks and the price of partnership.
One of the more interesting battles opened up by the WikiLeaks cables has been over what WikiLeaks actually is. This is more than just a debate about what to call the site — witness the unsubtle campaign to remove its appellation “whistleblower site”. As Julian Assange notes in his rambling self-defence today, the famous mastheads running some of the cables have so far been relatively free from the kinds of attacks WikiLeaks has endured. No politician or columnist has called for the editor of the New York Times to be assassinated. Financial institutions or web hosts have not been pressured to block The Guardian. No one has demanded that Der Speigel journalists be prosecuted under the United States’s Espionage Act (which makes as much sense as prosecuting an Australian).

Nor is it likely that Julia Gillard would launched her clumsy, petulant charge of “illegality” if this material had emerged in an established publication.

Nonetheless, however little politicians, officials and some conservatives like it, WikiLeaks is a media organisation. It did not steal the cables. Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg. The leaker — allegedly — is in custody in the United States, unlikely to be taste freedom for decades. Regardless of his motivations, Assange merely does what journalists and editors have done for centuries, provide a public platform for material the powerful want to keep hidden, for reasons good or ill. Moreover, like traditional media, WikiLeaks releases material subject to assessment as to what impacts it will have on individuals and the public interest.

However, as Assange noted, it’s a new and small media outlet. It relies on the internet for its broadcast infrastructure, and social media for its self-promotion. It lacks the branding that traditional, high-profile mastheads still retain even in the face of precipitately declining revenues. It also lacks the analytical capacity to explain the material it provides. That’s why it has partnered up with traditional mastheads such as the Times or the Guardian. This partnership is an extremely close one, to the extent that the outlets themselves are essentially dictating what WikiLeaks releases.

That partnership — like most partnerships, really, has its problems. In order to obtain some commercially appealing exclusivity, the mastheads are drip-feeding new material before the relevant cables are available. This prevents us from doing exactly what Assange says is the benefit of WikiLeaks. “Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?” In most cases we can’t know, at least for a few hours or days.

That’s the main problem with Fairfax’s coverage of cables about Kevin Rudd, said to be among “hundreds of US State Department documents relevant to Australia released by the WikiLeaks website” to Fairfax. Not merely has Fairfax not linked to the cables, it hasn’t even linked to a working WikiLeaks site, instead offering the URL www.wikileaks.org, which was shut down under US government pressure days ago. We all know that Kevin Rudd was a control freak with a high opinion of himself. Did the cables say anything else? What was the context for the remarks? As of this point, we can make no judgement about that, we cannot, as Assange says, “judge for ourselves”, because Fairfax won’t let us. We’ll have to wait until this afternoon, or tomorrow, or next week, to verify the account and see the full context, by which time the media cycle will have long since moved on.

That’s another price to be paid by WikiLeaks for hooking up with mainstream media outlets — particularly ones such as Fairfax where heavy-duty analytical expertise has long since fallen victim to cost-cutting. Examining the cables containing comments about political leaders elsewhere, it quickly becomes clear that strident comments, or one-liners, taken out of context and put into headlines, form part of a more nuanced picture provided by State Department officials in the relevant documents.

Fairfax isn’t alone in skipping that nuance — an emphasis on the personal and the gossipy has been a prominent feature of the mainstream media coverage. Individuals are easier to focus on than issues, and none more so than Assange himself, whose skirmishing with the Swedish legal system have been elevated by one asinine NBC journalist into an “international manhunt” and garnered as much attention as the cables themselves. There’s a similar kind of partnership at work here, however, given Assange has assiduously and cleverly used the media and his own image to promote WikiLeaks (not to forget that Assange’s own ego benefits similarly).

This is all the price WikiLeaks is willingly paying to more effectively reach its audience, just like any media organisation.

As Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald has noted, the penny might now be starting to drop among journalists and editors that if WikiLeaks can be attacked, so too can the mainstream media. Self-appointed Witchfinder-General in the whole business, US Senator Joe Lieberman, has already gone in this direction by suggesting the New York Times may have committed a crime by publishing the material — comments that at least have the virtue of being targeted at an entity that is actually within the United States. Attorney-General Robert McClelland here has been talking about voluntary “arrangements” that might see mainstream media outlets — the only ones invited to participate in the development of the arrangements — self-censor national security-related material. Which gives rise to the obvious question — what happens if editors decline to participate, and ignore any such “arrangements”?

The mainstream media must eventually accept its interests are aligned with those of WikiLeaks. If WikiLeaks has to pay a price for its partnership with mainstream media, so does the media itself.

Cryptogon points out that if you have a US controlled domain name, you can be taken down at any time at the whims of people with no respect for free speech whatsoever, such as Senator Lieberman, so maybe it would be a good idea to either move elsewhere or have a backup - cryptogon.ch (noting file sharers are copping it too, not just Wikileaks).
I’ve registered cryptogon.ch with the Swiss registrar Switchplus.

I don’t know how well .ch will hold up going forward, but it seemed prudent to at least have an alternative if I should lose control of the cryptogon.com domain for any reason. At a minimum, .ch appears to be far, far more desirable than the U.S. controlled top level domains, where arbitrary takedowns and DNS hijackings are now occurring.

Cryptogon.ch currently points to a BlueHost box (inside the U.S.). If the shit hits the fan (the American fascist regime hijacks my domain name, for example, or the U.S. imposes some kind of Chinese-style firewall or something, who knows?), I can redirect cryptogon.ch to a host in a more free country.

I don’t anticipate any particular action against Cryptogon, but the fact is that it has already happened to some site operators. No due process. Arbitrary, fascist whims. That’s it. And if it can happen to _______ (fill in the blank) it can happen to me or you, or anyone who uses .com, .net or .org.

Anyway, this is just a quick announcement, cryptogon.ch, let’s hope we never have to use it.

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