Champions of Democracy – Sweden, Turkey and Ecuador

It seems as long as I can remember, Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway, and their neighbours, Finland and Denmark, have been held up as models of civilised behaviour and individual freedom, as paragons of democracy, excellence in education and pretty much everything else that’s good and true. Check out any list you like, you’ll find them right up there near the top:

  • Transparency? Denmark 1st, Finland 3rd, Sweden 4th, Norway 6th.
  • Standard of living? Norway 1st, Denmark 3rd, Sweden 6th, Finland 8th.
  • Press freedom? Norway 1st, Sweden 2nd, Finland 3rd, Denmark 4th.
  • Women’s rights? Finland 2nd, Norway 3rd, Sweden 4th.
  • LGBT rights? Sweden 4th, Norway 6th, Denmark 7th.
swedish girls

Swedish women standing up for their rights

So I suppose they may feel justified in adopting a “holier-than-thou” attitude towards us less enlightened mortals lower down the scale. Look at Turkey! 75th place on the transparency list (well, at least that’s over half way!); 130th for women’s’ rights; 36th out of 38 OECD countries for standard of living; 46th out of 49 in Europe for LGBT rights! And that’s before we get started on freedom of the press! 162 journalists in prison! Or 81, or more than 200, depending on which source you believe. You’d wonder if there was anyone left to report the news.

Then I decided to check one or two statistics. I found that, according to official figures, there 2,459 published newspapers in Turkey, including 55 broad circulations dailies, 23 regional and 2,381 local rags! So I guess there must be a few journalists still scribbling. And then there are the television channels: 27 national, 16 regional and 215 local! Magazines? 2,522. Radio stations? 87. Furthermore, around the country there are 33 tertiary communications faculties catering for 5,000 students each year. So it seems the government has its work cut out if its going to be successful in stifling dissent.

Another aspect of the problem lies in defining exactly what a “journalist” is? Am I a journalist when I write this blog? Is Julian Assange a journalist? Possibly that accounts for the difficulty in counting how many of us are in prison.

finland winter

Rule One: Don’t blink or you’ll miss the daylight

Don’t you love statistics? I switched tack and researched a few more. I found that per capita consumption of alcohol is more than five times higher in Denmark and Finland than in Turkey; four times higher in Sweden and 3.5 times higher in Norway. I learned that, among 37 OECD countries, Turkey has the second-lowest suicide rate – with far fewer people topping themselves than in those self-righteous north European paradises. Maybe it has something to do with the climate, I thought. Average annual temperatures in Helsinki (high, low) are 9° C and 1° C; in Oslo, 10° and 2°; in Stockholm, 10° and 4°, and Copenhagen, 11° and 5°. From November to February, Stockholm averages 7.5 hours of daylight per day. So nowhere’s perfect, right?

Still, I was a little disappointed to read the other day that Sweden is obstructing the government of Turkey in its attempts to extradite from Spain a “journalist” they accuse of spreading terrorist propaganda. Hamza Yalçın apparently took refuge in Sweden in 1984, after spending some time in prison for political activities at a time when Turkey was roiling in violence from the extreme left and right. He was involved with an anarchist organisation that openly advocated violence to overthrow whichever government was in. Street violence ended when a military junta seized power in 1980, the third such takeover in twenty years.

It seems Sweden granted citizenship to Mr Yalçın, but he chose to retain his Turkish status – which is why that government feels it has the right to call him to account. You would think Yalçın might have been happy with the current government of Turkey since they have managed to pull the teeth of the country’s formerly all-powerful military – and it has been twenty years since they were last able to overthrow an elected government. Since he has been in Sweden, however, Hamza has continued his involvement in the political situation back home – criticising the government in a Turkish language magazine Odak (Focus). Turkish authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest. He was picked up by local police at Barcelona Airport and is being held in custody while a Spanish court decides whether or not to extradite him to Turkey. Enter the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, who is reportedly working to ensure the poor man gets his rights.


Vikings enjoying a few drinks

On the plus side for Sweden, I hear they have decided to drop their rape investigation against Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder was granted sanctuary in the Ecuador Embassy in London after British courts had agreed to extradite him to Sweden, despite the fact that no actual charges had been laid. While he admits having sex with the two women concerned, Assange maintains that relations were mutually consensual. And you have to admit, the guy doesn’t fit your picture of a typical rapist. The women concerned are aged 27 and 31 respectively, not underage schoolgirls – and Sweden does have a long-standing reputation for moral flexibility in the field of sexual relations. Still, it’s a woman’s right to say “No” – though on the whole it’s probably better to say it loudly and clearly before taking a guy you don’t know very well back to your flat, getting naked and climbing into bed with him.

Assange, for his part, is certain that the rape accusations were fabricated to get him to Sweden whence he could then be extradited to the United States, where authorities would very much like to try him for spying, treason, conspiracy or whatever, lock him up in a penitentiary somewhere and throw away the key. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

So let’s take a look at our trio of democracies:


Didn’t get quite as much coverage in the West as that iconic pic from Tiananmen Square

  • Turkey, the world’s second-highest provider of international aid; whose head of state is the first democratically elected president in the 94-year history of the republic; governed by a political party that has gained majority popular support in 7 elections since 2002; currently struggling to feed, house and employ three million refugees from the civil war in Syria; whose people last year faced down guns and tanks to thwart an attempted military coup.
  • Ecuador, Latin America’s largest recipient of refugees, with net annual immigration; whose government has, for five years, courageously stood up to pressure from powerful governments to protect the right of press freedom; whose president for ten years, Rafael Correa, worked tirelessly to ameliorate high poverty and inequality and improve health and education services (even the CIA World Factbook website admits this!) in the face of powerful opposition.
  • Sweden, cooperating with the world’s number one imperialist super-power to help them silence brave voices working to reveal the extent of their lies and evil actions; and siding with other hypocritical European “democracies” (Greece and Germany) to harbour traitors and terrorists lawfully sought for trial by the government of Turkey.

Who gets your vote?


Who’s Behind the Attempted Coup in Turkey?

“I am deeply hurt!”

Blond John Bass

More than just another bimbo

It was John Bass, United States’ Ambassador to Turkey speaking in an interview with several Turkish journalists reported in our local daily on Sunday. He had been asked for his evaluation of the failed coup attempt on 15 July, and said he was deeply hurt that some commentators were suggesting, without a scrap of proof, that the United States had had prior knowledge of, and may even have had a finger in it. In fact, there was nothing in the report to say that any of the journalists present had even implied such a thing, so it may be that the ambassador “doth protest too much.”

As usual with diplomats, lawyers and politicians, however, the wording of the denial is very important. The honourable ambassador, you will note, is not hurt that his government is being accused, but that they are being accused without a scrap of proof. Well, of course, it’s not easy to prove these things at the time – the evidence tends to come out much later. Spooks are notoriously good at covering their tracks. It’s their job. Turkey’s political leaders also have to be particularly careful with the wording of their statements, whatever their suspicions, or even evidence, may be. President Erdoğan has been quoted as saying, “Gulen’s followers “are simply the visible tools of the threat against our country. We know that this game, this scenario is far beyond their league.”

The Brothers

Probably they would have been deeply hurt too

Turkey experienced three full-on military coups between 1960 and 1980, and there is ample evidence for CIA involvement. In recent years there has been much written on the subject of Gladio, an Italian word referring to CIA and NATO-sponsored secret armies that “colluded with, funded and often even directed terrorist organizations throughout Europe in what was termed a ‘strategy of tension’ with the aim of preventing a rise of the left in Western European politics.” American writer and journalist Stephen Kinzer published a book “The Brothers” in 2013 in which he details the activities of John Foster and Allen Dulles who, as head of the CIA and Secretary of State in the 50s and early 60s instigated “six regime-change operations . . . Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba, and the Congo, including the first presidentially authorized assassinations of foreign leaders in American history.”

Mr Bass, you guys have a long history of removing, or attempting to remove, leaders of sovereign nations whose policies and activities don’t meet with your approval. So don’t come the raw prawn with us!

Dear readers, you may think the following notes on falling oil prices have nothing to do with a failed military coup in Turkey, but don’t be too hasty.

I read an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph a week or so ago entitled Texas shale oil has fought Saudi Arabia to a standstill. Quoting a number of sources, the article was lauding the success of the shale oil industry in reducing the costs of the fracking process, enabling the United States to meet its own needs and drive down the global price of oil, thereby dealing a severe blow to the OPEC countries who, as we all know, are Muslim Arabs. The headline and much of the text focuses on Saudi Arabia and the damage the US is inflicting on the Saudi economy with its industrial might.

A recent article in The Economist purported to explain, in a similar vein, why oil prices are falling so low on the world market. The two main factors put forward were:

  • America has become the world’s largest oil producer, and
  • The Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price.

fracking dangersWell and good, but let’s take a closer look. First of all, how has the US suddenly gone from being a major importer of oil, to the world’s largest producer? By fracking shale oil is the answer. What’s that all about, you may ask. Like any other natural resource, supplies of oil run out as you consume the stuff. The United States has long since used up all its easily accessible supplies of oil, and found it cheaper to buy elsewhere. They still have oil, of course – that Telegraph article claims the Permian Basin in Texas has as much as Saudi Arabia’s largest oil field – but it’s not easy to get at. Enter the fracking process. Wikipedia explains: “The process involves the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely.” There are serious environmental concerns with this:

  • The process requires huge amounts of water, which inevitably becomes contaminated, even if it does return to the surface, and a lot of it doesn’t.
  • There seems to be some secrecy in the industry about chemicals used in the process.
  • Large areas of land are rendered unsuitable for other uses, including wildlife.
  • There is enormous noise pollution, both from the process itself and from convoys of trucks bringing sand and other necessary materials to the site.
  • There is also a danger of increased seismic activity resulting in earthquakes.

For these reasons, the extraction of oil by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is under international scrutiny, and has been banned outright in some countries.

Wall St crooks

Where do you slot in?

According to a source quoted in that Telegraph article, much of the finance for the fracking industry is being supplied by Wall Street private equity groups such as the Blackstone and Carlyle Groups. Of course wise investment is an important motive for those businesses, but some might argue that equally important is the need to keep the world safe for capitalism. Daniel Rubenstein, one of Carlyle’s founders is identified in his Wikipedia biography as “financier and philanthropist”. He is also credited with having foreseen, in 2006, that private equity “activity” was about to crash – which it did indeed – but predicted in 2008 that the lean period would soon be over and he and his cronies would be back sucking the world dry more profitably than before. Three big cheers for philanthropy, people!

Do I sound sceptical? Apart from the involvement of Mr Rubenstein and his “philanthropic” ilk, I have other reasons. My primary concern is I do not believe Saudi Arabia is the main target of US strategy here, nor is a desire to be self-sufficient in oil production for its own sake, and I’ll tell you why.

Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and the single biggest customer of the US arms industry. What do they do with all that military hardware, given that they don’t seem to be directly involved in any actual wars, to the best of my knowledge. Another source in that Telegraph article asserts that the Saudis are proxy suppliers of military hardware to Egypt and “an opaque nexus of clients in the Saudi sphere.” Whose proxy? No prizes for guessing that one! Furthermore Saudi Arabia has ample foreign reserves and its oil is very cheap to extract. It is well placed to withstand a long siege of low oil prices without seriously affecting the bloated lifestyle of its citizens.

OPEC, however, is not just composed of Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims. Venezuela, with the world’s second largest oil reserves, was one of the five founding members of OPEC in 1960. Also in the group are Ecuador, Indonesia and several African countries with low per capita incomes: Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. Do you see any countries in that list that Wall Street financiers might not love? Ecuador and Venezuela have been at the forefront of South American Bolivarian socialist progress for two decades. Rafael Correa and his neighbour Hugo Chavez began the process of nationalising their countries’ resources and using them to raise living standards for all their people, and Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro has continued on the same track.

USA wants Venezuela

When the fracking’s over . . .

In 2002 a military coup in Venezuela succeeded in overthrowing President Chavez, but after huge demonstrations of public support, the generals handed the reins of government back 47 hours later. According to Wikipedia, In December 2004, The New York Times reported on the release of newly declassified intelligence documents that showed that the CIA and Bush administration officials had advance knowledge of an imminent plot to oust President Chavez, although the same documents do not indicate the United States supported the plot.” Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Not a scrap of evidence, as the US Ambassador to Turkey would say. However, those Wall St financiers don’t give up easily, and they don’t have to win elections to stay in power. There is more than one way to bring down a government you don’t like. Ask Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi.

I came across an article in Global Research last month entitled US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, is Tearing Venezuela Apart. The writer, Caleb T Maupin, argues, The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market . . . In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution . . . The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports”.


A Nigerian child’s share of his nation’s oil wealth

Who benefits from this economic war? No prizes for guessing that one either. Who suffers? Well, that’s pretty obvious too. The people of Venezuela and Ecuador in the short term, of course – but more so in the long term if the populist economic reform process can be derailed. The people of those African oil-rich countries, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola, certainly, if the multi-national oil companies can retain their control of production. But there are others too, who receive even less publicity: the millions of migrant labourers from India and other poor countries who have been working in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy states in the region. A news report ten days ago revealed  that the Indian government had come to the rescue of more than ten thousand of their citizens starving in Saudi Arabia. 16,000 kg of food was distributed by the consulate in Jeddah to penniless workers who had lost their jobs and not been paid. The report claimed that there are more than three million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia, and more than 800,000 in Kuwait, many of whom have not been paid for months after factories closed down, and employers are refusing to feed them. The Indian government is taking steps to evacuate as many as possible.

Supporting Turkey

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge . . .

It seems there are many ways the world’s sole remaining super power and its financial backers can get rid of “unfriendly” foreign governments and individuals:

  • Invasion and total destruction is one;
  • Drone strikes are more incisive and undoubtedly cheaper;
  • CIA-sponsored military coups have had some success;
  • Destroying a country’s economy is slower, but leaves less obvious dirt on the hands of the perpetrators, and has the additional advantage of inciting the people of the targeted country to oust the government themselves.

It is clear that the United States, or at least the small amoral power group who control it, do not care if they irreparably destroy their country’s natural environment, nor how many helpless, innocent people at home and abroad suffer for their greed. The US Ambassador to Turkey may be deeply hurt – but I doubt it. Any moisture you see in his eyes will surely be crocodile tears.

Edward Snowden and Abdullah Gül – Influencing the world!

Amidst the doom, gloom and despondency that seems to fill a large part of the news media’s daily output, it is  occasionally reassuring to see some glimmer of hope for a positive future. I was delighted to see that Time magazine has included Edward Snowden among its ‘Pioneers’ in its latest list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People. Also on the list is Abdullah Gül, President of Turkey – though sad to say, not Julian Assange, whom the world seems to have forgotten about. I assume he is still holed out in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Time magazine and Rafael Correa – brothers-in-arms in the fight for freedom!?

By Daniel Domscheit-Berg
The renegade in exile
Edward Snowden’s story is one of choices. He is said to be a computer genius, but he has chosen to do what is right rather than what will enrich him, and he has chosen to do what is right rather than what is lawful. Showing a sense of great responsibility, he has exposed a global system of surveillance whose sheer dimensions are unfathomable.
This system threatens the very foundation of individual freedom throughout the world. And it threatens the basis upon which our democracies are built. Cynically, it does so by undermining and exploiting the very tools of communication and sharing that are meant to enable, engage and enrich us.
Snowden has given us a window of opportunity in which to make an informed, self-determined choice about this system. Our responsibility is to make sure it will not be the last choice we make. We must not waste time—for his sake, for ours and for the sake of our children. Our future is at stake.

(Domscheit-Berg, a German technology activist, is a former spokesman for WikiLeaks)

Capitalism and Democracy – Julian Assange and the search for truth

How many airline meals can you eat on a return trip from Istanbul, Turkey to Auckland, New Zealand? How many hours can you sleep? How many times can you clamber over your co-passenger in the aisle seat to visit the toilet or stretch your atrophying muscles? How many movies can you watch? I lost count, but I can tell you that Singapore Airlines are marginally better than their Malaysian neighbours in most departments – especially their inflight entertainment package.
Interesting as cinema –
but seemed to lose
sight of the main point
The films I watched, going and coming over half the world’s circumference have all faded from memory – except one, and I want to tell you about it.  ‘The Fifth Estate’ is a dramatization of three years in the life of maverick Australian computer genius Julian Assange and his Internet whistle-blowing creation Wikileaks. The film, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in the leading role, was released in October 2013 with very little media attention. Had it not been for Singapore Air’s inflight movie programme, and the ineffable boredom of twenty-plus hours in a cattle-class cabin, I would have missed it for sure.
As cinema entertainment, the film is less than riveting. Assange himself apparently refused to cooperate in its making, calling it ‘a massive propaganda attack.’ According to Forbesmagazine, ‘The Fifth Estate’ was the biggest movie flop of 2013. In what some might consider a sad case of insensitive and offensive political incorrectness, they entitled their list ’10 Box Office Turkeys of 2013.’
Well, that’s Forbes, whose owners apparently call their magazine ‘The Capitalist Tool’, so you probably wouldn’t expect them to be awfully sympathetic to Assange and his revolutionary website. I don’t know what your criteria are when choosing a movie for an evening at the cinema, but media hype and box-office takings have never been high on my personal list. I haven’t seen, and have no intention of seeing The Hunger Games 2, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Fast and Furious 6, or any of the other Hollywood serial blockbusters targeting the appetites of dysfunctional adolescent US males.
Who needs to see dystopian post-apocalyptic future worlds on screen – when we’re surrounded by dystopia in the here and now? On the other hand, if those gremlins in the White House and the Pentagon are precipitating the world into apocalypse now, that’s something I do want to know about – and I applaud the heroic efforts of non-conformists like Assange, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning in bringing Washington’s dirty secrets out into the open.
The biggest problem with the film, in my opinion, is that it focuses too much on the character of Assange himself. That’s to be expected, of course, in a Hollywood movie. In the end, as with The Social Network, about Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, story-telling becomes the object of the exercise. You need character development, human interest and some kind of moral or social message. If you want to see a documentary about Wikileaksand its impact on global politics, don’t expect to find it here.
Unfortunately, when historical truths are glossed over, distorted or forgotten, cinematic fiction often becomes the accepted version. News media seem to have pretty much lost interest in Julian Assange. He has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 2012, besieged by local constabulary tasked with apprehending him so that he can be extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations that he raped or molested (you’d think it would be clear one way or the other) two women aged 26 and 31.
Circumstances surrounding events in Sweden in 2010 are murky to say the least. At first the case was thrown out by the Chief Public Prosecutor but police apparently continued investigations and it was reopened. MPs in Swedenrecently called on prosecutors to travel to London to conduct their questioning – but they refused. Assange claims to have text messages from the two women saying that Swedish police encouraged them to bring charges of rape. Whatever the truth of the matter, Assange denies the accusations and believes there is a plot to have him extradited from Sweden to the United States where far more serious charges will be brought against him – with the threat of life imprisonment or even execution.
It’s hard to know. Undoubtedly Uncle Sam and his current administration were seriously embarrassed by Wikileaks’ revelations about their activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their spying on leaders of supposedly allied countries. It would be perfectly understandable if they wanted to get Assange and shut him up for good, one way or another. The matter is complicated somewhat by his being an Australian citizen – though the government of that democratic nation seems conspicuously unwilling to stick up for him.
One thing the film does demonstrate very clearly is the way Assange’s enemies (and they must be many and powerful) have managed to shift the debate from the actual revelations about US skulduggery, to the character of the man himself. The concluding scenes of The Fifth Estate suggest that Assange is an egotist and showman, more interested in self-aggrandisement than in truth and justice. Police action in Sweden and the UK has painted him as a serial rapist trying to avoid the legal consequences of his depraved behaviour. The United States Government portrays him as a virtual murderer with the blood of patriotic US personnel on his hands.
News media, for the most part, accepted the spin and disseminated it – before subsequently losing interest. Public attention was diverted from serious questions such as whether US military personnel should actually be in Iraq or Afghanistan; what is the true nature of their activity in those countries; and whether anyone in the world is safe from surveillance by the US government.
A similar pattern of behaviour is evident in the treatment meted out to two of Wikileaks’ sources, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Elizabeth (aka Bradley) Manning. Snowden has been in Russia since June 2013, having been offered temporary sanctuary. This was necessitated by the US Government’s revoking his passport and charging him with espionage and theft of government documents. A recent article in the Washington Post questions Snowden’s commitment to democracy and open government on the grounds that he has taken sanctuary in a country accused of violating these principles. The implication is that the guy would better demonstrate commitment to truth and freedom by returning to the USA where he could be tried and put away for the rest of his life, as seems to be the case with poor Chelsea Elizabeth.
Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning is the 26 year-old US private who turned over vast quantities of military documents relating to the conduct of American military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2013 he/she was convicted of espionage and theft and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. The day after sentencing, Manning made a public announcement that he now wished to be known as Chelsea and would be undergoing hormone therapy to confirm what he/she considered his/her true identity as a woman.
Well, it’s easy to see how some might consider that Manning’s personal problems would account for erratic behaviour and explain to some degree why he would do what he did with those confidential military documents. It’s easy to understand how some, within the news media and US society at large might want to focus on Manning’s sexual identity and lose sight of the greater issue of what those documents actually revealed.
The Wikileaks story, as it is currently unfolding, raises an interesting question about individuals who achieve beyond the limits of normal human expectations. The high achiever with feet of clay is axiomatic. Should Bill Clinton be remembered for having presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history – or for having sex with that woman? If the current Prince of Wales ever becomes King Charles III of Great Britain, will we want to think of him as a committed champion of the environment and other worthy causes, or as a guy who once compared himself to a tampon in the service of his mistress? Shane Warne is arguably one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game of cricket – but one could easily tell a different story by focusing on his foul mouth, marital infidelities, use of banned substances and the taint of match-fixing.
It takes a certain kind of character to blow the whistle on an employer. Most of us put up with the dirt we see in our workplaces. We turn a blind eye, rationalise it away, or conspire to become part of the problem in the interests of career advancement or mere job security. It takes rare courage to speak out, to go to the media or some other outside party and divulge corporate corruption and evil-doing. A healthy society needs to act on information thus obtained to ensure that corporations and governments are truly accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, all too often, the whistle-blower is denigrated and punished, and the real criminals escape to continue their wicked ways.
As an interesting comparison with the foregoing, there’s another computer whizz-kid global citizen I’ve been keeping an eye on over the last year or so – a certain German entrepreneur born Kim Schmitz. Schmitz, like Bradley Manning, also changed his name, though not his sexual identity. Now known as Kim Dotcom, he is resident in New Zealand, having taken refuge there from the long arm of US law, which was pursuing him to answer charges of copyright infringement related to his highly successful file-sharing site, Megaupload.
Unlike Snowden and Assange, whose search for sanctuary was denied by all of the so-called free nations of the world, Dotcom was welcomed with open arms (albeit in conditions of some secrecy) by the government of New Zealand, who granted him residency under the ‘investor plus category’[1] – reserved for immigrants undertaking to invest $10 million in the country; this in spite of a history of convictions in Germany for computer fraud, data espionage, insider trading and embezzlement.
After being granted residency in New Zealand, Dotcom was convicted in absentia by a Hong Court for similar offences, but the New Zealand government declined to extradite him because it did not consider the crimes sufficiently serious. Upsetting the United States of America, however, is a different kettle of fish, and the slippery gentleman was arrested at his Auckland mansion by NZ  police in January 2012 in a high profile operation involving, reportedly, 76 officers and two helicopters. According to Wikipedia, ‘assets worth $17 million were seized including eighteen luxury cars, giant screen TVs and works of art. Dotcom’s bank accounts were frozen denying him access to US$175m (NZ$218m) in cash, the contents of 64 bank accounts world-wide, including accounts in New Zealand, Government bonds and money from numerous PayPal accounts.’
Since then, Dotcom has been released from jail, a court decided that seizure of his funds and property had been illegal, he is seeking compensation from the NZ Government, and has made claims that the US Government prosecuted him in return for contributions to President Obama from certain Hollywood studios. He has subsequently opened a new website called ‘Mega’, released a music album and two singles, and founded a political party. When I was in New Zealand in January I saw several city buses sporting large portraits of Dotcom advertising his album. Clearly the man has a gift for self-preservation and publicity.
So what makes him different from Julian Assange? The obvious factor is money. Dotcom is a multi-millionaire whose wealth has enabled him to buy refuge with a respected member of the international community of nations, pay for the best legal representation and command the assistance of municipal mayors, ministers of the Crown and even the Prime Minister himself. Assange, on the other hand, made little or no money from his Internet activities, lived out of a suitcase, was dependent on the goodwill of friends and supporters, and, when the chips were down, became a hunted man with the international community ganging up to hound him.
A less obvious difference between Assange and Dotcom is the political leader under whose wing they are sheltering. Dotcom seems to have bought the protection of a capitalist government, of a prime minister who is the privileged friend of big business, whose ethical standards are, apparently, up for negotiation. Assange, in contrast, found that, when all had deserted him, he was offered protection by the president of a country who has fought for its national interests, reduced its high levels of poverty, indigence and unemployment, and been re-elected for a third term in office with an increased majority. Rafael Correa of Ecuador may not be the US’s favourite neighbour, but he is doing the world and the cause of democracy a great service.

Freedom of Speech in Other Places – apart from Turkey

‘No nation can achieve stability and economic growth if half the population is not empowered.’
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton uttered the words recently in a speech she made in Tokyo (Time, 23 July 2012). Apparently she was referring to Afghanistan, and the sad plight of that nation’s women – oppressed, downtrodden and disenfranchised. No doubt Mrs Clinton feels genuinely sorry for her disadvantaged sisters in Muslim countries, but is she aware that the average voter turnout in US presidential elections since 1992 is 52%? I can’t help feeling Madame Secretary might more profitably focus on the 48% of her own citizens who seem to feel that democracy in the land of the free has little to offer them – and look for ways of empowering them.

I mentioned in my previous post, a book called American Theocracy, where the writer Kevin Phillips posits an unholy alliance of Big Oil, the Debt/Finance Industry and fundamentalist Christianity which he claims have united to govern the United States. The book was published in 2006, and Phillips’ primary concern was President George Dubya Bush, and what he saw as the Republican Party sell-out to that Big Three. Phillips details the elements of the partnership:

  • Encouragement of continued profligate oil consumption, refusal to develop alternative fuels and limit carbon emissions;
  • Continued encouragement of consumer-driven economic growth fuelled by the debt/finance industry;
  • Deregulation of the finance sector, tax-cuts for the wealthy and calls for reduced government spending on social programmes;
  • Refusal to accept the case for global warming, and support for the lobby against abortion and in favour of teaching creation/intelligent design in schools, are all part of the plan.
  • The beauty of it is that it appeals to all of the Big Three: unfettered capitalism does not conflict with the beliefs of the religious loonies convinced that end-times are upon us and only Jesus can save the world, so there’s no need for social welfare programmes – bankers don’t really care what kind of rubbish kids get taught in schools and no doubt abortion, like everything else, will always be an available option for the rich.

Did anyone seriously believe that the Iraq invasion wasn’t about oil? Or that George W Bush is a true follower of Jesus? Honestly, if I thought Jesus loved the 43rd president, I’d have to rethink my whole understanding of Christianity.

As you may have realised, this post doesn’t have much to do with Turkey – or at least only peripherally – so at this point you may want to switch to another channel. My focus here is Ecuador, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the USA, Chile and Venezuela, not necessarily in that order.

Rapist or champion of freedom of the press?

No doubt, like me, you’ve been following news items from London about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks guy. That he’s been accused of sexual assault by a couple of women in Sweden; that he’s holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in the plush neighbourhood of Knightsbridge; that the London Metropolitan Police Force has mobilised significant manpower to ensure that he can’t sneak out of the country; that the UK Government seems committed to extraditing the guy to Sweden so that he can be questioned about the alleged offences.

I have to admit I didn’t pay much attention to those Wiki-leaks when they first surfaced. I’ve always been fairly cynical about governments and politicians, and I guess I felt that nothing would surprise me. I had to do a check in the archives to see what all the fuss was about, and I can see why the US government and military would be unhappy to have such information made public. Those ‘Afghan War Logs’ and ‘Iraq war Documents’ showing that there were significantly more civilian deaths over there than official sources had been letting on; and that there seemed to be a policy of ignoring complaints of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers. Then there was that embarrassing video showing a couple of helicopter gunships mowing down apparently unarmed civilians, along with a Reuters journalist or two.

So, you can also kind of appreciate why the US army was quick to arrest a young private suspected of passing on the above material to the Wiki people. Bradley Edward Manning  is 24 years old and openly gay, with some history of psychological problems. In spite of that and his lowly rank, because of his high-level IT skills, he was posted to Baghdad and put in a position where he had access to databases storing extremely sensitive classified information. Private Manning, apparently disturbed by what he saw, and believing that the public had a right to know, took the difficult decision to blow his whistle. As a result, he has been in custody (much of it of a particularly unpleasant nature) awaiting trial on a number of charges, at least one of which carries the death penalty – though prosecutors say they won’t ask for it.

Which is where WikiLeaks comes in. According to its website ‘WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists.’  Well, if you’ve ever considered blowing the whistle on an employer, or heard about someone who did, you’ll be aware that the action carries some risks and dangers. And given that few institutions, from the corner grocer up, are as squeaky clean as they could be, you might think that there is a place in the world for an organisation like WikiLeaks. Julian Assange clearly thinks so – and that is what has landed him in trouble.

It is fairly evident that the US Government is keen to get its hands on this gentleman, and probably put him away for a long time, as a salutary lesson to others who might be tempted to emulate his obsession with transparency and freedom of information. His own government in Australia has indicated a lack of sympathy, and an inclination to cooperate with the USA. There is some evidence that plans are proceeding in secret for a grand jury indictment. Several high profile politicians and political commentators in the US have even recommended that Assange should be assassinated.

Interesting then, that an apparently unrelated and somewhat bathetic affair has arisen to threaten the WikiLeaks boss’s liberty. Two women in Sweden made complaints of rape and sexual assault against him in 2010. Despite clear evidence that Assange was consensually in the beds of the ladies concerned, and that the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office originally decided that there were no grounds for a rape charge, nor for having him arrested, this decision was subsequently overturned, and Swedish Police issued an international warrant for his arrest. Assange gave himself up to police in London, but, when it became clear that UK authorities were determined to extradite him to Sweden, he sought and was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy. It seems his fear is that, once in Sweden, the US Government will arrange for him to be sent to the US, where, he suspects, retributive justice will be swift and sure.

Assange and his lawyers believe that the Swedish business has been organised to give US authorities time to prepare a more serious case against him. They have asked the Swedish Government to guarantee that they will not authorise Assange’s extradition to a third country (the USA) – which they have refused to do. In the mean time, the Brits have police swarming all around the embassy to ensure the WikiLeaks man doesn’t sneak out. They even went so far as to imply to the Ecuadoreans that force could be used to apprehend him – a threat which they later retracted. Nevertheless, you have to ask, where does a relatively minor South American nation like Ecuador fit into this business?

Apart from a lifetime of eating their bananas, I confess to an appalling ignorance about Ecuador. Now that I know it is about the size of New Zealand, with a population of around fifteen million, I can understand why. However, it seems the small Latin American country has assumed some international fame (or notoriety) since the election of President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado in 2006. Despite having studied economics in the US, Correa seems to be leading his nation’s march with a different drum. With the aim of reducing poverty and unemployment, and minimising Ecuador’s dependence on foreign companies and capital, he negotiated major restructuring of its external debt and a greater share of its oil profits. His government refused to renew the US military’s lease on the Pacific coast airbase of Manta, has been resisting IMF pressure to monitor its economic plan, and pursuing policies encouraging conservation in Ecuador’s share of the Amazon basin. Correa has apparently even endeared himself to the main group of indigenous people by learning their language. To tell you the truth, he doesn’t sound like such a bad guy to me.

One problem he has, however, in his relations with his large northern neighbour, is that he is good mates with Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela since 1999. Some sources suggest that Venezuela’s oil reserves could be larger than those of Saudi Arabia, and at present it is the US’s third most important source of oil. Little wonder then that there is some disquiet in upper echelons of the US Government that Chavez ‘probably doesn’t have the interests of the US at heart.’

Chavez’s self-styled policy of Bolivarianism opposes imperialism, capitalism and neo-liberalism, and has focused on participatory democracy and nationalising industries (especially oil). He has been influential in the establishment of the Bank of the South, a partnership among South American nations to provide finance for ‘the construction of social programs and infrastructure.’ In 2002 he was ousted in what may be one of history’s shortest-lasting successful military coups. Chavez maintains that the US was involved in planning the coup, and even its military leaders are on record as saying they believed they were operating with US approval. Whatever, the result was a huge outpouring of popular support for Chavez, resulting in his reinstatement a mere forty-seven hours later.

This got me wondering if there are any leaders of South American countries that are loved by US and British governments – and one surprising name I came up with was Augusto Pinochet, dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990. General Pinochet came to power when a military coup, reputedly endorsed by the Nixon administration and the CIA, ousted the elected government of President Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s regime was characterised by free-market economic ‘reforms’, restrictions on labour unions and privatization of state assets, not to mention the imprisonment, torture, and or ‘disappearance’ of tens of thousands of civilians, some of which, unfortunately, were Spanish nationals. As a result, the General was arrested in the UK in 1998 and the government of Spain sought his extradition to face numerous charges of human rights violations. A protracted legal battle ensued, at the end of which Pinochet was released after Tony Blair’s Home Secretary, Jack Straw, overruled a House of Lords decision to extradite him to Spain. Apparently former US President Nixon, and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had both interceded with Blair’s government on Pinochet’s behalf.

OK, Nixon we’ve touched on above, but what was Mrs Thatcher’s interest here? Well, it seems that General Pinochet’s military had given major support to the Iron Lady’s Falkland Islands campaign back in 1982. Some sources say that Chile provided invaluable intelligence about Argentinean air attacks, tied up elite Argentinean forces with threats of cross-border incursions, and even allowed British aircraft to operate with Chilean colours. Given that Dame Maggie probably wouldn’t have won a second term in office without the jingoistic patriotism generated by the Falkland Islands victory, you can see how she might have felt she owed General Augusto a favour or two. Unfortunately for Julian Assange, he clearly doesn’t have the same ties of ‘friendship’ in high level international political circles.

Even so, you might think that the British Government could take a slightly less hard-line approach to the WikiLeaks guy, if the issue really is just a matter of a couple of somewhat debatable sex offences in Sweden. As a comparison, I’d like to tell you about an on-going affair in my beloved homeland, New Zealand.

Kim Dotcom is a 38 year-old computer genius of German-Finnish parentage, currently resident in New Zealand, but very much wanted by authorities in the USA to answer charges of copyright infringement against his highly profitable company Megaupload. Admittedly, Mr Dotcom (or Schmitz, if you prefer), has a somewhat murky record of shady business practices preceding his Megaupload activities, but knowing this, the NZ government granted him permanent residency in 2010. Subsequently, however, NZ police raided his palatial home in January this year, and took the internet entrepreneur into custody – since when there has been a continuing legal shemozzle over the question of extradition. Most recently, a NZ High Court judge has ruled that in seizing Dotcom’s property, police exceeded the authority of their warrants, and the case is continuing. As an interesting aside, a prominent NZ Member of Parliament and strong supporter of the Prime Minister, has been accused of soliciting and obtaining a large donation from Dotcom for election purposes – but probably that has nothing to do with the larger matter. Whatever the case, I’m feeling kind of proud of my country for standing up to US corporate interests.

And I’m also feeling a little sorry for Turkey, as its government continues to field international criticism on human rights and freedom of the press issues. Is hypocrisy too strong a word to use for grand-standing politicians who seek votes by criticising other sovereign states while refusing to acknowledge the dubious practices of their own?

At the recent Pacific Forum in the Cook Islands, evidence has emerged of increasing competition between the USA and China for influence in the Pacific region. China, apparently, is making significant financial investment in tiny developing nations, and US officials are not happy, despite the fact that the US economy would probably implode without Chinese monetary input. One US spokesperson was quoted as saying:

” . . . we have consistently been calling for increasing transparency in the Chinese military posture.” Apparently the United States also ‘hopes to boost the forum as a regional alliance to combat shared threats such as climate change, encourage economic development and protect marine stocks in the face of overfishing’.

Run that by me again: the US government is calling for military transparency, and is acknowledging the threat of climate change?