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Published: Australian Financial Review

The federal government is floating the idea of a community levy to raise funds to cover costs that will arise as a result of recent flooding in the eastern states. Bill Shorten has drawn the short straw to argue the case, as the nearest equivalent to a used car salesman in the cabinet.

Julia Gillard, displaying none of the characteristics she says she admires in the Australian people, is casting about to avoid criticism from the Opposition for breaking an election promise to return the budget to surplus in 2013.

Somehow this craven government has allowed a budget surplus in 2013 to become a holy grail. Puerile and pointless, given the need for reconstruction, the mindless mantra looks more like an albatross around Julia’s neck.

A levy imposed on the Australian people for flood reconstruction, amounts to a fee to try and ensure Labor Party re-election.

It is a fee imposed because of the failure of government to implement a national disaster insurance scheme, the first part of which should now be a coherent climate change policy.

Published: Online Opinion

Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute gave, the worst interview in defence of a position held, that I have heard for some time.

The ABC 7.30 Report of the 7 January 2011, hosted by Tracy Bowden, saw guest Michael Fullilove put a case to shut Wickileaks down and Assange up.

Responding to the last question of the interview from Bowden, “Finally, 59 per cent of Australians support the release of the cables. I guess you’re at odds with them?

Fullilove responded, “Well, I think Australians like an underdog and Mr Assange is taking it up to the most powerful country in the world but Australians also don’t like people who dodge their responsibility and they don’t like people who dodge extradition as Christopher Skase found out, so we’ll see how public opinion goes on that in the future.”
What a strange analogy. Australians well understood Skase was an avaricious escapee from the law, in company with Allan Bond and Brian Burke.

Fullilove claims Australians like the underdog; they do, but not blindly. Australians like the truth and that is what WikiLeaks is offering them.

For the whole of the interview Fullilove was at pains to defend the interests of the American government. He was introduced as a foreign policy analyst of the Lowy Institute and as such we can presume he spoke on behalf of the Institute and with their backing.

As such the Institute needs to have a bit of light shed on it. As far as I am aware it has never undertaken a critical review of US foreign policy, particularly with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel. And with respect to the latter it has been a positive booster.

The chief financer of the Institute, Frank Lowy, of the successful Westfield Group, with major property investments in Australia and the US, has commitments to Israel based on the horrors of his experiences as a Jewish child and youth under the Nazis. That commitment has also been financial. The Australian government and Lowy himself were surprised and disappointed when the Lowy backed bid for Australia to host the Soccer World Cup was recently knocked back. With a majority of members of the International Soccer Federation from Africa and the Middle East, what did they expect?

One cannot be seen to back Israel and win the right to host a World Cup event or a seat on the Security Council. Who advises Lowy, presumably people like Mr Fullilove. The Lowy Institute is close to government in Australia and the flow of individuals between the Institute and Canberra has even extended to supplying the most recent head of the Office of National Assessments, the former employer of whistle blower and independent Tasmanian MP, Andrew Wilkie.

Fullilove needs to be challenged to debate his half baked defence of the US over its quest to hang, draw and quarter Julian Assange for his temerity to publicly expose US double dealing and block headedness.

Fullilove spoke of evil consequences, yet to-date nothing has been released that would indicate that evil consequences are likely to result from those releases. He spoke of the need for confidentiality when that seemed to be an end in itself. Deployment of military resources in a time of war requires the greatest secrecy; seeking best possible outcomes from trade negotiations requires confidentiality unless it is a multinational seeking to dump, circumvent or distort.

People in Australia want to know about the activities of Monsanto and the AWB, although with respect to the latter, they never heard of government involvement because of the need for confidentiality, in this case to protect Howards back side; just as it was with weapons of mass destruction, children overboard, Hicks, Habib and Haneef.

Fullilove refers to Wikileaks operating on the basis of a personality cult, its method of operation as incoherent and,” just sort of calling open slather on information in the way that WikiLeaks does I think is dangerous.” What open slather would that be, exposing the extent of corrupt and dirty deals with respect to defence procurement, the corrupted market in water, insider trading on the stock market, oil and banking cartels?

The extent of Fulliloves evil consequences turned out to be, “Careers have been damaged; people have been humiliated and embarrassed for doing their jobs.” And for that Fullilove wants Assange to face the full wrath of US justice.

How does that stack up against the consequential hate campaign of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin?

Extending notions of balance and understanding Fullilove told Tracy Bowden that, “but you would have to say that security services who are not as fussy about human rights as, say, the FBI or the Justice Department will be able to look at that information and work out who some of those sources were.”Really!

Just this week the Justice Department sought to subpoena client records from Twitter of persons they deem of interest to their hitherto secret WikiLeaks investigation.

Fullilove demonstrated a willingness to use WikiLeaks when it suited the purpose of his strangled and tortuous defence of US interests, but Bowden rightly picked him up when he claimed that “China, Russia and Iran are saying they are finding it harder to encourage people to talk to them honestly and openly…”

As a Lowey Institute foreign policy analyst can Fullilove believe that the aforementioned countries trust that the US speaks to them openly and honestly and they do the same in return? Spare me.

Finally, “And yet whereas American diplomats are out there every day trying to resolve these problems (the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs), other governments might egg them on privately but publicly won’t do so.” Any foreign policy analyst worth his or her salt would see that as nothing more than US self interest.

Is Fullilove the Australian face of the US desire to crush Assange and WikiLeaks because of public humiliation over their ineptitude? From his interview with Tracy Bowden it would seem so.

Secrecy, intrigue, dishonesty and double dealing are the natural bedfellows of diplomacy, they will, as always, survive.

Fullilove argues not a case for the conduct of diplomacy but a case for saving US face and avoiding further embarrassment; shame on him and the Lowy Institute.

Private First Class, Bradley Manning, the person being held in detention at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, for allegedly releasing 260,000 confidential US government cables to WikiLeaks. Reports confirm that he is being held in solitary confinement; that he only has one hour outside his cell a day; is on suicide watch and has no access to news.

Did Manning act alone? It seems unlikely. Remember Abu Graib – privates made scapegoats for senior Administration figures?

The fear is that the US will apply a range of methods, including coercive pressure, such as water boarding and/or blandishments such as a promise of sentence reduction or waiver, in order to extract a confession from Manning that Assange set him up as his agent of supply. The United States has applied this type of pressure in the not too distant past in order to extract ‘confessions’. Will we see a repeat with Manning?

Virginia is the headquarters of the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Homeland Security. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, has warned that the US has convened a secret federal grand jury. Will a grand jury include people employed by or with family connections to the US national security apparatus? The death penalty is a feature of Virginian law. The stage is set.

Does our government and media realise this, or even care?

The United States surely wouldn’t be game, would it?

Now the case needs to be built. Federal prosecutors are looking for any evidence that Assange conspired with Manning or somehow was an accessory before the fact. They want to prove he was more than a passive recipient of the documents. Did Assange encourage Manning to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system?

Without seeking to help the US construct its case, the problem for us is how would Assange have been able to identify Manning as a possible source of information, deep as he was in the bowls of the US defence department? Assange, even at that time, had a significant public profile, it is far more plausible that Manning contacted Assange and in which case it was not about arranging a game of squash but to sound out Assange on the material that Manning had access to and was capable of down loading.

The New York Times has already noted that “…By bringing a case against Mr Assange as a conspirator the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it was not prosecuting traditional news organisations or journalists who also disclosed information the government said should be kept secret….”

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said, “…I don’t want to get into specifics here, but people would have a misimpression if the only statute you think that we are looking at is the Espionage Act……That is certainly something that might play a role, but there are other statutes, other tools that we have at our disposal….”

The problem with any US “investigation” like this – for which “witch hunt” may be a more accurate description – is the patterns of behaviour to be found in recent American history. There is a record of secret support for less than salubrious regimes with undeclared involvement for example in the overthrow of Chilean President Allende, secret support for drug running Panamanian President General Noriega, the corrupt Marcos family in the Phillipines, Ngo Dinh Diem, General Thieu and Air Vice Marshall Ky in South Vietnam and more recently Karzai in Afghanistan: a further quick sampling would highlight the McCarthy witch hunt of “communists” in the 1950’s, the Gulf of Tonkin incident staged to justify the war in Vietnam, the invasion of Afghanistan that hinged on blaming the government for 9/11, and assertions about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Successive US Administrations have been prepared to cook the books to get the results they want; supporting officials have at times been loose with the truth or have sought to subvert and suppress it. Investigations have all too often been designed to achieve desired outcomes, and a well oiled propaganda machine feeds a substantially complicit media with selective pieces of “evidence” in attempts to keep the public duped and supportive.

Why hasn’t the US signed up to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? What do they fear? Why should we look at America acceptingly, instead of in the same critical light that we bring to bear on China, Russia, Japan, North Korea and Iran. We need to ignore the public relations spin and judge the US by what it actually does, not on what it says.

The more the United States overreacts the more it undermines its own prestige. Blustering and bullying reveals neither maturity nor power warranting respect, but ruthlessness and blind vindictiveness. It demonstrated how much it values fairness, objective truth and due process when, unable to produce any actual evidence of legal wrongdoing by Assange or Wikileaks, it goes in via the back door to clobber them by putting the weights on US multinational financial corporations to cut off the money supply.

What will be the next instalment, a full and frank confession by Manning? A confession that stitches up the gaps to provide a ‘water tight case’ against Assange that Swedish and British authorities feel compelled to allow his extradition to the US? How long will it take to fit up Manning when he has already been in custody for 6 months?