A significant political interview of amazing revelations in “Secret World of the US Election: Julian Assange Talks to John Pilger”

John Pilger, “Secret World of the US Election: Julian Assange Talks to John Pilger” (RT.com, October 2016)

One famous Australian journalist talking to another famous Australian journalist should be a major media event covered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) but unsurprisingly neither of these networks was interested in promoting, let alone broadcasting, excerpts of John Pilger’s astonishing interview of Assange in which nearly every reply Assange gives to Pilger is a jaw-dropping revelation of the depths of the corruption of one of the two major candidates in the 2016 US Presidential elections – I’m referring of course to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate – as revealed in Wikileaks’ releases of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s email server and leaked to Assange’s organisation. The really amazing thing about this interview is that both Assange and Pilger manage to keep their nerve talking about Clinton’s connections to Saudi Arabia and Qatar among others through her and her husband Bill’s humanitarian charity Clinton Foundation and those nations’ funding of ISIS; her obsessive pursuit of regime change in Libya that resulted in Muammar Ghaddafi’s death and mutilation; and the US political establishment’s attempts to derail the other US Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, among other matters discussed.

Those who can’t or won’t bring themselves to believe that Hillary Clinton is steeped in corruption and has broken numerous US laws, from laws on government record-keeping to laws on the conduct of private charities, the law on perjury and laws regarding conflicts of interest during her time as US Secretary of State (2009 – 2013), are advised to refer to various blogs and websites (not all of which are politically partisan) detailing her many blunders and crimes: 21st Century Wire is one good website as are also Club Orlov and Off-Guardian.org among others.

The excerpts from Pilger and Assange’s conversation are gathered up into two main subject groups: the Podesta emails detailing the scope of Hillary Clinton’s numerous conflicts of interest, and Assange’s own predicament, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, awaiting possible extradition by the UK to Sweden on trumped-up charges of rape.

Without a doubt, this interview must be one of the most significant political interviews of 2016 and it is a great pity and tragedy that it isn’t more widely known and broadcast in Australia at least, if not in the United States. The interview and its transcript can be viewed at this link.

Action thriller and soapie drama format in “Underground: the Julian Assange Story” wastes actors and themes

Robert Connolly, “Underground: the Julian Assange Story” (2012)

Fictionalised dramatisation of an episode in the early life of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a teenage computer hacker activist, this film plays as a coming-of-age soapie drama / action thriller with a brisk, no-nonsense style. Several events that were spread out over a number of years in Assange’s pre-Wikileaks life are crammed into what vaguely amounts to a 2-year period  to squeeze out the maximum teenage broken-hearts romance sappiness and the thrill of the cat-versus-mouse game in which it’s not clear which is the cat and which is the mouse. Family drama involving a deranged cult member is thrown in to add extra spice. The result is a very commercial and manipulative made-for-TV thriller ride  with forced suspense weak on characterisation and wasteful of the talents of a fine acting cast that includes Anthony LaPaglia as fictional police detective Ken Roberts and Rachel Griffiths as doting mum Christine Assange. The film has a muddled message about good versus evil and truth versus lies, cover-ups and secrecy but because it is aimed at the general public who are presumed to be not too intelligent when it comes to considering the moral implications of whether it’s better for the powers that be to admit truth and accept responsibility for heinous actions, the message is treated superficially and appears confused or obfuscated, depending on one’s point of view.

The young Julian Assange (Alex Williams) has more on his plate than an 18-year-old boy should have: being on the run with Mum and younger half-brother for several years already with the half-brother’s father Leif, a member of a religious cult led by a female yoga teacher, who wants custody of the younger boy in hot pursuit; and having to support his girlfriend Electra (Laura Wheelwright) who is pregnant with his child. Assange has formed a group called the International Subversives with two others and the trio spend hours together and individually hacking into computer databases looking up and reading information and printing it out for the purposes of political activism. In the meantime, Christine Assange runs her touring puppet theatre company and also particpates in political activism, pausing now and again to berate young Julian for apparently disrespecting her methods of protest while holed up in his room hunched over his flickering screen and typing furiously.

Meanwhile a group of Australian Federal Police officers, led by Roberts, have set up Operation Weather to investigate various computer hacking activities and breaches of sensitive databases, and quickly hone in on the International Subversives, following the members’ exploits and occasionally being upstaged by Assange under the username Mendax. The brief moments in which Roberts tries to come to grips with computer concepts and terminology, and corresponds with Mendax are quite funny, and there is potential for real comedy here: Roberts and the other officers might have realised they were dealing with young men and Roberts might have tried to offer some fatherly advice to Assange / Mendax about dabbling in areas where he might be in over his head. The narrative dives back and forth between the two plot strands of Assange’s messy domestic life and the chase as the activists manage to stay one step ahead of the AFP, yet the AFP learns from its mistakes and gradually encircles the trio, cutting off all avenues of escape.

The whole story would have worked better as a 2-part mini-series with a cliffhanger inserted at the end of Part 1, so as to allow for some character development that would highlight the script’s themes and encourage audience identification with the significant characters of Roberts, Assange, his mother and Elektra. LaPaglia infuses Roberts with enough depth and gravitas to give the impression that on some level he sympathises with Assange when the teenager tells him in their climactic meeting that he’s found evidence that the US has deliberately bombed a shelter and killed 450+ women and children during its attacks on Iraq in 1991. At this point the script is somewhat of a let-down with some terrible lines the actors must blurt out and there is no room for Roberts and Assange to have a more meaningful if very brief conversation or argument over whether the truth, however confronting, distressing or demoralising, should be revealed to the public over and above the need for national security. Griffiths is reduced to a supportive mother stereotype with some godawful lines praising her son to the skies before LaPaglia’s detective. Williams as Assange holds his own in every scene he appears in and as this means the majority of the film, his performance is quite impressive for a film debut.

The constant dashing between the narrative strands keeps the film and its subject and themes at a fairly superficial level, and the music soundtrack, suited for an action thriller, doesn’t fit key scenes well and sounds twee.

Essentially the drama serves better as an introductory guide to Assange and how his early life might have influenced the direction he later took. Ominously, the titles at the end of the film state that the Wikileaks’ uncovering of US military atrocities in Iraq after the US-led coalition invasion of that country in 2003 bears an uncanny similarity to the atrocities the teenager found in 1991. This suggests that the US government and military did not learn anything from the activities of the young hackers and moreover do not learn anything from past errors and outrages they commit in the name of the United States.

Sex, Lies and Julian Assange: TV program exposes lies and corrupt behaviour

Andrew Fowler and Wayne Hurley, “Sex, Lies and Julian Assange” (Four Corners / Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 23 July 2012)

Australian current affairs program Four Corners broadcast a special episode “Sex, Lies and Julian Assange” which investigates the chronology of Wikileaks head Julian Assange’s activities in Sweden 2010 when he visited the country to address a conference and investigate basing Wikileaks’ operations in a secure computer facility there. The episode can be viewed at this link. Reporter Andrew Fowler narrates his detailed inquiry into Assange’s whereabouts and associations with Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin and how these led to the Swedish authorities issuing a warrant for his arrest on charges of rape and sexual molestation and his forced flight to the United Kingdom. Using reports and interviews with various Assange supporters and his lawyers, Fowler uncovers evidence that the rape and molestation allegations against Assange have no substance and are intended to blacken his name and turn the public around the world against him. Fowler also investigates the link between the Swedish government’s pursuit of Assange and the US government’s determination to indict Assange on charges of espionage for Wikileaks’ release of thousands of US diplomatic cables exposing American war crimes in the Middle East.

Fowler describes a blow-by-blow account of what Assange got up to in Sweden and shows that Ardin and Wilen’s groupie- like activities with and around Assange suggest he may have been set up by two honey-pots working on behalf of an unnamed agency or that the two women were under pressure to help concoct a case against him. The reporter goes on to describe the farcical series of events following the issue of the arrest warrant in which a senior prosecutor dismissed the rape allegations and Assange asked for his police interview not to be leaked to the press; in spite of assurances from the police interviewer, the interview did end up being leaked. Assange went to the UK in September 2010 and the following month saw Wikileaks’ exposure of thousands of Iraq War logs detailing US atrocities committed by US soldiers and Iraqi police between 2004 and 2009. Sweden subsequently issued an Interpol Red Notice warrant to arrest Assange and the US government began a full-scale investigation into Wikileaks and a financial blockade of the organisation.

A highlight of the program is its exhibition of a copy of the subpoena issued by a US Grand Jury showing the numbers 10 and 3793, the latter explained by Assange’s US lawyer Michael Ratner as demonstrating that Assange is to be charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. The charge is intended to link Assange’s name with that of Bradley Manning, the US soldier  currently in prison for having passed material to Wikileaks. Significant also is Four Corners’ exposure of Sweden’s record in co-operating with the US, in particular its rendition of two asylum seekers to the CIA who flew the men to Egypt where they were tortured.

However nothing was said about the Swedish government’s record of secretly selling weapons or other military equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia which have rather dodgy human rights records. Nor did Four Corners refer to a bilateral treaty Sweden and the US signed in 1984, supplementary to one signed in 1961, in which Article II (point 1), interpreted broadly, allows the US to bypass standard extradition tests and procedures in requesting Sweden to extradite someone: this is the document that Assange is really afraid of.  If the Swedish government has shown already that it will disregard its own laws in dealing with foreign countries that happen to have global influence or huge buckets of money, how will it treat someone like Julian Assange when the US, militarily and economically superior to Sweden, asks for or demands his extradition?

The creepiest part of the program is its spotlight on the harassment Julian Assange’s lawyers and supporters including one person Assange interviewed in his “The World Tomorrow” series have been receiving from US government agencies. What does it say about the US government’s obsession with Assange that it would send out agents to pursue people associated with Assange and entrap them into informing on him, pressure them to give up information on him or threaten them in some way? What does such treatment tell us about the police state the US has become?

The general thrust of the program is as “hard-hitting” and “direct” as would be expected of most commercially oriented current affairs programs aimed at the general public but it didn’t reveal anything or give any analysis of Assange’s plight that other news and current affairs sources have not already reached. Revelations about the Australian government’s support of the US and abandonment of Assange are well known from other news media and Four Corners simply repeated them. 

Generally the program is a good summary of Assange’s plight and the events that have ensnared him and forced him to seek asylum with the Ecuadorian embassy in London. For people befuddled by the fog of disinformation emanating from British and Swedish media about the rape accusations against him, this clear-headed documentary is a welcome antidote.

 

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 11: Anwar Ibrahim): a fine conclusion to a generally good interview series

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 11: Anwar Ibrahim)” (Russia Today, 3 July 2012)

In this final installment in his interview series, Assange goes over to Malaysia by video link-up to speak to Anwar Ibrahim, the major personality and leader of the political opposition in Malaysia. A former student activist and member of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed’s government in the 1990s, Ibrahim fell out of favour and was thrown out of political life on corruption and sodomy charges, and spent several years in prison. Returning to politics in 2008, he was hit with fresh sodomy and pedophilia charges which he fought through the courts for four years until January 2012, when all charges against him were dropped.

The interview starts with a discussion of Ibrahim’s imprisonment, how he came to be jailed and the reasons for that, and how he coped with the confinement and being separated from his wife and young children. Reading famous Russian writers like Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Shakespeare’s plays helped him to construct an inner life otherwise devoid of social contact and external stimulation. Ibrahim was acquitted of charges in 2004 and released from jail; he then lived in the US and the UK for a time. The interview segues into a comparison of Malaysian-style democracy (or whatever passes as such) with regional countries such as Burma / Myanmar, the security situation in Southeast Asia and whether Malaysia and Indonesia should form a security pact with Australia, and the history of ethnic relations among the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians in Malaysia and how inter-ethnic frictions among these groups and others are exploited by the Malaysian government, political elites and their lackeys.

There’s a sidestep into discussing the application of Islamic Shari’a law in Malaysia and Ibrahim makes the point that his concern is about corruption in the country’s law courts regardless of whether they apply Western laws or Shari’a laws. He also makes a plea for religious tolerance and points out that most people in Malaysia, and in Penang in particular where he hails from, practise such tolerance in their daily lives and during public holidays or important social events such as weddings.

The formal interview concludes with a talk on what the future holds for Malaysia and what Ibrahim plans to do should his opposition party win power in the mid-year 2012 general elections. At the point when Assange would normally say his goodbyes, Ibrahim drags him back for a few minutes to talk about Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia and Assange’s own unhappy circumstances in which the US has filed a secret indictment against him which it intends to use to pressure Sweden to extradite him to US shores after the UK has dumped him with the Swedes to answer allegations of having raped two women, one of whom (Anna Ardin) apparently has ties to anti-Castro Cuban charity funded by the CIA and supported by Luis Posada Carriles who is wanted by both Cuba and Venezuela for having blown up an airliner in 1976. Ibrahim brings up the interesting point that because the US, the UK and Sweden are now seen to be acting as the bullies they have always been, other countries now feel entitled to act the same way; Assange agrees and cites the case of two Swedish journalists detained by the Zenawi government in Ethiopia which felt justified in doing so since it had noted Sweden’s earlier detention of Assange.

Of all Assange’s interview subjects in the series, Ibrahim is one of the more articulate ones though the majority of interviewees have been very impressive in this respect with Noam Chomsky and David Horowitz the big surprise losers. I’d have preferred Assange to have interviewed people with more radical ideas – the kind of interviewee whom Robert Stark in his weekly “The Stark Report” radio interview series takes on – as the choice of people he has had on “The World Tomorrow” was predictable to say the least.  Assange himself has improved as an interviewer as the series progressed and shows himself to be well informed about the politics and history of many different countries. He is passionate about particular issues such as democracy and equality and at the same time is respectful of his interviewees’ opinions.

If more journalists were like Assange in their conduct and in the questions they ask of their subjects, journalism would be much improved in reputation across the world and in English-speaking countries especially. As the situation presently stands, Assange is getting no support from the very people in his profession who should be helping him; this is deplorable and we should hang our heads in shame that we are not holding our media to task over its betrayal of its supposed ethics for allowing him to be thrown by politicians to the wolves in the US government.

This review is based mostly on the transcript of the interview which can be found at this link.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali): disappointing choice of interviewees

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali)” (Russia Today, 26 June 2012)

Here is a really disappointing choice of interviewees: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali are already well-known, Chomsky is arguably past his best as both linguist and political activist and there are many people Assange could have spoken to who are better choices as people likely to influence the world’s future with fresh and innovative ideas and strategies for change. US radio journalist Robert Stark, some of whose Stark Truth interviews I have been following, finds from the land called Out-of-the-Blue interesting interviewees whose ideas, unorthodox and controversial though they might be, at least are stimulating intellectual pabulum. In this penultimate episode, Assange ploughs over familiar territory with Chomsky and Ali: democracy, protests and how First World countries were caught on the hop by the Arab Spring even though early signs, such as demonstrations over escalating food prices and severe food shortages, were apparent.

Ali is an articulate and knowledgeable speaker while Chomsky is his usual monotone scratched-record self. They basically describe what’s been happening in the world from a “leftist” point of view but are unable to go beyond the current situation and say what they believe should be done or what they would like to see occur. The emptiness of the interview is illustrated in the response Ali gives to Assange as to what a new generation of activists can take from the previous generation: Ali simply says, don’t give up, have hope, remain skeptical, criticise The Man and sooner or later “things” will change; Chomsky for his part notes that “a lot of things have changed over the years … often to the better”, that changes are afoot and people “can do something about them” before he compares humans to lemmings charging over a cliff over issues like fossil fuel use and climate change. (Obviously Chomsky has never watched Disneyland documentaries.) Quite a banal message to send to youth from these supposed giants of the Left!

Topics covered include the role of the political centre (that is, the middle ground between so-called “right-wing” and “left-wing” parties) in advancing the agenda of “right-wing” or corporatist interests, South America as a beacon of freedom and independence, the state of democracy under siege from corporatism and state capitalism as practised in the US.

It really should have been apparent to all participants in the interview that the dichotomy between “right-wing” and “left-wing” beliefs and ideologies is an arbitrary one that obscures the real division between those who would concentrate power in a small elite that controls the rest of the world through layers of bureaucrats and/or technology on one hand and on the other those who would decentralise power and spread it to all, confident in the belief that all humans can be trusted to govern themselves and do not need a nanny state to push them along; certainly Chomsky and Ali know enough of the world and what goes on in it to gently yet firmly tell Assange that things aren’t so black-and-white or right-versus-left and that the issue is about power and how it’s wielded, to what purpose and who benefits.

One consolation here is that I have never seen Assange so animated and forthright about his views on democracy, capitalism and industrialisation as he is here; something of the old Wikileaks maverick is coming to the fore at last!

The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan): interesting discussion with a passionate and idealistic politician

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan)” (Russia Today, 19 June 2012)

For his next episode, Julian Assange springs a real surprise by interviewing famous former sports celebrity turned politician Imran Khan – yes, that Imran Khan the former Pakistani cricket team captain / all-rounder and former hand-bag to UK socialite Jemima Goldsmith. The interview takes place over a satellite link between Assange in home detention in the UK and Khan at home and it so happens that the acoustics in Khan’s lounge-room are too good so there is a lot of echo coming through in the film clip when he speaks. Fortunately a transcript can be downloaded here.

Assange starts with a brief survey of how Khan’s political began slowly and then suddenly took off after Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables which revealed the extent of corruption within Pakistan’s government and among the country’s political elite and parties. The interesting thing about the cables is that they show Khan as clean compared to the rest of Pakistan’s political elite. Khan then lays out the territory for Assange, detailing the breadth and depth of criminality in Pakistan’s major institutions, principally the political structure and the military and the people at the top levels in those institutions, and explaining how the country’s huge accumulated debt keeps its people poor and entrenches the corruption.

The issue of Osama bin Laden’s death and the effect that his “assassination” might have had on Pakistan’s relationship with the US are brought up. (My personal view is that bin Laden died in Afghanistan in December 2001 which is why I used quotation marks around THAT word.) Khan expresses the view that the assassination humiliated Pakistan after all the country had done FOR the US in the so-called War on Terror, having lost about 40,000 dead and put in huge amounts of resources in fighting al Qa’ida and accommodating huge waves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. He is fearful that the War on Terror will not only radicalise Afghanistan even more against the US but will completely devastate Pakistan financially and politically. The country’s political elite will benefit from the increased corruption while ordinary Pakistanis continue to pay for their leaders’ sins with their lives. Khan suggests that Pakistan’s relationship with the US must be realigned on the basis of mutual respect and dignity, and self-respect on Pakistan’s part.

It’s not all doom and gloom … Khan mentions Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as role models for Pakistani economic and political development and views the country’s youth, its natural resources and the Pakistani diaspora around the world as assets the country could capitalise on. Hmm, doesn’t Khan know that having valuable natural resources wanted by everyone around the world isn’t necessarily a good thing and that some of the richest countries in the world – Japan, South Korea and Sweden come to mind – actually don’t have much in the way of valuable “natural resources” and their wealth derives from their human capital instead? And that countries rolling in energy and mineral wealth tend to squander the income derived from those?

Khan comes across as a persuasive and passionate speaker and for his age is still quite good-looking. Unfortunately Assange doesn’t press Khan on what political and economic reforms he’d undertake if he were PM so his views on politics and economics remain unknown. A squiz at Khan’s Wikipedia entry reveals that Khan ‘s political platform is a mish-mash of Islamic values, democracy, decreased bureaucracy, liberal (sort of) economics with an emphasis both on deregulation and maintaining a welfare state, an independent judiciary, reform in the army and police force and decentralising and returning political power to the people. In that list one can discern a revulsion against centralised government power and one hopes also that Khan can see that centralised power in private corporations is just as bad as it would be in government, especially if private power is linked to government power.

Overall this is an interesting if not really informative interview: Khan appears genuine enough but his political platform is idealistic and as the cliché goes, only time will tell if he can translate his ideals into reality. A great deal is riding on his shoulders as well.

 

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2): focus on a range of Internet-related issues

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2)” (Russia Today, 12 June 2012)

Continuing his discussion with Cypherpunks Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann and Jakob Applebaum, Julian Assange plays devil’s advocate over a range of Internet-related issues such as personal privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of economic interactions, copyright issues and “stealing” versus “sharing” music and other cultural items. Assange generally sets the direction of the discussion and the others follow, often spiritedly but always in a friendly manner.

Interesting issues that pop up include a discussion of the systems of cyber-organisation that enable governments to spy on citizens and others and to introduce and use laws that back them up against citizens. The architecture of IT technologies that support communications networks and databases can be used by governments and their agencies to do things that are anti-democratic. Laws themselves may be organised or delineated in such a way as to incriminate innocent people in “wrong-doing”. Economic systems as they are, are discussed with the use of Socratic dialogue (with Assange explaining a scenario and the Cypherpunks guys taking it apart) to explore particular ideas and real-life problems and expose the inequalities that might exist behind them. Another subject is pornography, specifically child pornography, and whether censorship of child pornography on the Internet might actually be doing exploited children a disservice: by seeing child pornography on the Internet, people learn the extent and the scale of the problem, why it is such a problem and, because the problem is out in the open, be able to sympathise with victims and work out ways of overcoming the problem and caring for the victims.

Perhaps because filming four people sitting on sofas around a coffee table just talking about topics that can often appear abstract to most people can be a little boring, the camera crew sometimes focus on Assange eating snacks and puffing on a cigar which can detract a little from the seriousness of the issues under discussion. The filming is done well with appropriate close-ups done where you’d expect them and the camera sometimes taking a bird’s-eye view of proceedings at particular points in the film. Topics flow from one to the other quickly so sometimes it’s difficult to know when discussion of one topic has ended and when another topic is being investigated.

The discussion ends on an uplifting note (and Assange with fat cigar between fingers) with Zimmerman emphasising the importance of the Internet as the one major tool for global democracy that we have and with Applebaum stressing that people wanting to make a difference in the world can build alternative paths towards democracy on the Internet.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1): chatty conversation about online surveillance, loss of privacy and reclaiming online freedoms

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1)” (Russia Today, 5 June 2012)

Yes, you read that right and it’s not a typo: Cypherpunks is a movement that originated in the late 1980s by activists aiming to improve individuals’ privacy and security and to act for social change through the proactive use of cryptography and who set up the Cypherpunks’ Electronic Mailing List to achieve those ends. In this discussion which spans two episodes, Assange shoots the breeze with Jacob Applebaum, a staff research scientist at the University of Washington and developer and advocate for the Tor Project, an online anonymity system to fight government and corporate surveillance and Internet censorship; Andy Mueller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany who also runs a company called Cryptophone; and Jeremie Zimmermann of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net which is a European organisation defending online anonymity rights and encouraging awareness of government regulatory attacks on Internet freedoms. The episode available on Youtube.com and the Russia Today website lasts about 27 minutes but a transcript of the 90 minutes of the first part of the interview is available online.

The discussion ranges from obvious topics like Facebook and its role in facilitating government, corporate and military access to people’s privacy and personal information to the extent that Andy says, quite justifiably in a way, that Facebook users are the product and the client base is the advertising companies and other agencies interesting in using the information Facebook users post to their accounts with the network; to the changing role of computer hackers in the online world and their responsibility in creating online tools and encouraging their use for democracy and open exchange of information, and for fighting surveillance, invasion of privacy and repression through the violation of privacy and use and manipulation of personal information. Issues that arise include the increasing complexity of information technology and companies’ deliberate attempts to make understanding this technology difficult by designing IT hardware in such a way that people will have problems opening it to look at the components and see how they all fit together, among other things; the militarisation of cyber-space, IT hardware and even the language used in describing IT concepts and cyber-systems and structures; and how people might win back online freedoms, rights and privileges. Online surveillance of people’s activities and information by governments and other agencies arises again and again to the extent that as a theme it completely dominates the conversation.

More conversational than a formal discussion or interview, the foursome are chatty and meander from one topic to the next so that viewers really have to concentrate hard to follow the direction of talk among the quartet of hackers and media activists. The Cypherpunks guys mention Wikileaks and Assange’s previous work as a hacker in the 1980s quite a bit in a slightly fawning way.

It’s a pity that the episode doesn’t show or have Assange asking Applebaum, Zimmermann or Mueller-Maguhn what they recommend people should do to reduce their online exposure to government, corporate, military and other surveillance, and to resist attempts from those agencies to control their activities or capture information about them. Zimmermann’s admission that he doesn’t use Facebook points to one way people can reduce their online vulnerability to privacy violation. Twitter and Google are mentioned as enabling surveillance and encouraging people to surrender their privacy and information to unknown agents and so avoidance of both, where possible, should be considered.

The discussion ends on the participants more or less agreeing that decentralisation of power and control and people reclaiming that power and control and creating their own information networks are best though no ideas or suggestions are thrown about as to how such decentralisation and reclamation might proceed.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement): a lively discussion which cuts out before the really interesting parts

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement)” (Russia Today, 29 May 2012)

Unfortunately the transcript of this episode is unavailable so this review is based on the half-hour video clip made of the interview which was filmed in the former Deutsche Bank building in London, due to the number of people who turned up to make this episode. Here, Assange interviews the leaders and organisers of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London movements. The program splits into two parts: the first part looks at how the Occupy movement arose and the second part attempts to chart out a likely future path for the movement.

The leaders of the Occupy movement link it to the Arab Spring uprisings that originated in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. Issues that arise during the activists’ conversation include the role of social media in the spread and maintenance of the Occupy movement and people’s realisation that the role of the nation-state in the early 21st century has changed radically from what’s usually taken for granted – a political, social and economic entity that expresses the culture, beliefs, hopes and identity of the people who inhabit its space – and that public policy in nations is not necessarily determined by their politicians on behalf of the electorates who vote for or support them. Several streams of influence have fed into the Occupy movement so it is a multi-cephalic hydra that responds to different political and economic environments in many ways yet whether in London, New York or elsewhere, the movement’s strands have some values and goals in common. The movement is particularly grounded in a historical and economic context: among other things, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 exposed some of the workings and the agenda of the global banking industry and enlightened many people as to the true nature of capitalist society and its institutions.

One diversion from the discussion of the nature of the Occupy movement  comes halfway in the film where Assange mentions Bradley Manning, the US military whistleblower who supplied thousands of US cables to Wikileaks and stresses the way in which US authorities have used him to warn people of the consequences if they follow his rebellious example. The topic isn’t dealt with in much detail but segues into a talk about how Occupy has developed its own forms of media to bypass the official mainstream news media.

An interesting topic Assange raises is Occupy’s preference for using public space instead of underground cyber-networks to spread its message and agenda. This issue continues for several minutes and the activists explain why they prefer to use and dominate public spaces and land. Conflicts that arise between groups within Occupy and between Occupy and the police are dealt with in different ways by the movement in London and New York, depending on the severity of the reaction towards Occupy from the authorities.

The video cuts out before Assange and his guests can discuss the future of Occupy which is a blow. Generally though the conversation meandered quite a lot and some issues were dealt with in considerable depth and others only sparingly. The Occupy activists spoke well and were sincere and passionate about their cause. Had I had access to the transcript, I’d have been able to judge whether this is one of the better episodes in “The World Tomorrow” series but the conversation was quite lively and convivial.

 

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa): Ecuador as microcosm of Latin America in struggling for democracy and social justice

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa)” (Russia Today, 22 May 2012)

Halfway through the series, Assange must have read my mind telepathically as his interview subject for Episode 6 is President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the general theme of the interview is Ecuador as a microcosm of Latin America in its struggle to bring democracy and social justice to its citizens and throw off domination by its own political and economic elites and by the West (predominantly the United States). Correa is an enthusiastic and passionate interviewee who fervently believes in his cause and destiny as the focus for his people’s desire for change and improvement. He is sympathetic to Assange’s plight – at the time, Assange had already spent 500 days under house arrest – and among other things the two discuss Wikileaks’ role in exposing the Ecuadorian mainstream media as complicit in aiding the country’s elites in concentrating and maintaining power and what remedies to undertake to ensure that the Ecuadorian media serves the people instead of a select privileged few. Inevitably Assange and Correa also dissect Ecuador’s relationship with the United States, how the United States has treated Ecuador (and by implication the rest of Latin America) and what the Obama government should be doing to address and satisfy the American people’s demands for democracy and social justice as expressed by the Occupy movements.

As with previous episodes, the episode seen on Youtube.com shows only excerpts of the interview; a full transcript in English and Spanish can be seen at this link. There is far more interesting information in the transcript about a near-coup in September 2010 that could have threatened Correa’s life and how this coup links to a far more serious problem about the role of the media and journalists in maintaining a corrupt political, social and economic order in Ecuador. Correa expounds at some length about how Ecuador’s mainstream media, largely private and controlled by large corporations and banks, has resisted calls for democracy, the rule of law and social justice, and has allowed its owners to hold the country’s major political, legal and economic institutions to ransom. Journalists have acted as shock troops leading the charge in the repression of people’s rights and freedoms. This news comes as something of a shock to Assange and me though really when I consider the state of the news media in Australia and in other Anglophone countries, this should be no surprise at all: the news media in Australia has consistently supported large private interests and encouraged the general public to support politically conservative parties. Is it any surprise that Australia’s early 20th-century reputation as a socially progressive country quickly faded away? Assange suggests to Correa that the solution is for his government to break up the media monopolies and cartels and to ease market barriers of entry to allow small publishers and individuals to make themselves heard without fear of penalty; Correa replies that Ecuador is already discussing a new law regulating its media to enable public government and community organisations to launch radio and TV stations to compete with private broadcasting interests.

An important topic discussed is leadership which Correa defines as the capacity to influence others and to be the focus for change and people’s aspirations for a better life and for justice. Interestingly Correa sees his leadership role as serving his people in fighting poverty and injustice. Assange and Correa discuss US President Barack Obama with respect to his leadership so far of the United States and his ability (or not) to respond to the American people’s demands as expressed through the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The interview ends on a positive note and a little joke as Assange warns Correa against assassination. In its truncated version, this is a highly informative and very revealing interview, and definitely one of the better episodes in this series.