The Story Behind The Story Is The Most Interesting Story Of All

Sometimes the story behind the story is the best story of all. Let me explain.

America is all agog, and rightly so, at the latest revelations of alleged collusion between the Trump Presidential campaign, and Russia’s Putin regime, to get Donald Trump elected President of the United States.

One of the fruit of the President’s loins, some cynics might describe him as spoiled and damaged fruit, Donald Trump Junior, just released a series of emails which suggest he was ready, willing and able to collude with the Russians to get Daddy into the White House.

Donald Junior may well have unleashed a firestorm that could burn down the White House but that is another story for another time. His father, the President, took a long time to come to junior’s defence, which is interesting in itself.

When he did, he took to Twitter, of course, his preferred form of communication. And it’s his preferred form of communication because no one can contradict him. If anyone does, or tries to, they’re banned.

The President praised Donald Junior’s “transparency” and “openness”, in releasing the email correspondence. The Trumps use the word transparency in the same way they do modesty. Neither applies to them. For example, there was nothing transparent or open about Donald Junior releasing his emails. The New York Times newspaper already had them and was going to publish. Donald Junior got in first to try and steal the newspaper’s thunder.

While the President might be praising his son publicly, privately he would be calling him a jackass because he’s provided the FBI’s special prosecutor, appointed to investigate Russian collusion in the Presidential election campaign, part, if not all of the smoking gun he needs to prove the case.

Now I am not going to mine the nitty gritty of the emails and the whole Russian election thing. Plenty of others are doing that right now and doing it better than I ever could.

I’m more interested in the other intriguing questions that have come out of this. Such as, who leaked the emails to the New York Times? And what did they hope to achieve in doing so?

Leaked information is done with three goals in mind: the first is the explosive nature of the information being released publicly, the second is the hysterical publicity that almost always accompanies it, and the third is a higher purpose of some kind.

In other words it is always done, selectively, carefully and for a good reason. And the Donald Trump Junior emails leak is no exception.

So let’s start with the first question: Who might have leaked the emails to the New York Times?

The list of potential suspects would have to be small. The first, and most obvious, is that the leaker is someone close to Donald Junior who had access to his private computer. But it is a less likely scenario, I would have thought. Donald Junior could very easily narrow down and successfully identify a suspect and they would be made the scapegoat. Donald Junior would then be able to spin the narrative to be all about the betrayal rather than the contents of the emails. The fact that he hasn’t done so, would suggest the leaker isn’t someone close to him.

Could it have been someone in the intelligence service? Or the FBI? Who could remotely access Donald Junior’s computer? These days that seems perfectly achievable if the latest publicity concerning computer hacking and ransom demanded, is any kind of guide. So if the leaker was the FBI or someone connected to the Special Prosecutor’s office, the question is why would they do it?

That is a much tougher question to answer.

But one reason might be that whoever obtained the emails from Donald Junior’s computer, would have to, or be wanting to prove that Donald Junior wrote them. Just finding them on his computer is not enough and not proof beyond reasonable doubt. Someone else could have written the emails to try and discredit him. This would be especially so if Donald Junior denied being the author of the emails. Proving that he wrote them in the face of his denials would not be impossible but it would be difficult and time consuming. And we are talking about proving them to a legal and possibly criminal standard.

So why not roll the dice to see what Donald Junior does? Leak the emails to the New York Times and see if they can flush him out and get him to publicly say he was the author, which of course is what he did, almost on cue.

Donald Trump Junior is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He has just opened a Pandora’s box worth of trouble for the President.

He has also placed a great deal of pressure on Congressional members of the Republican Party.

The Republicans hold the majority in the Congress and it is the Congress alone that can get rid of the President. Republican Senator John McCain made an interesting observation when he said that more shoes are going to drop before this has ended. Maybe he knows something we don’t.

In many ways President Trump is his own party’s worst nightmare. If they do decide to get rid of him by a Congressional majority he will hardly go quietly into the night. He will go kicking and screaming accusing everyone of a vendetta and a witch hunt. More disturbingly he has plenty of supporters, armed supporters, who believe him when he says it.

Consider this. What if the FBI knew in advance of Trump Junior’s meeting with the Russians and secretly recorded the conversation? Junior says the meeting was a dud and nothing of any substance in relation to the Presidential election was discussed. But… we only have his word for it. All I can say is watch this space.

I am reminded of the Chinese curse: May we live in interesting times. Except it’s not a curse anymore. We are.

Translating Nick Cummins

I wrote this a while ago but never got around to publishing, so here it is:

It’s funny, how the majority of us can be enthralled by people who throw, run, catch or kick a ball. Leather or pigskin, it doesn’t matter. We love it.

We marvel at the athleticism, the freakish skills, an ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and vice versa. We love it when it goes right and we love it just as much when it goes wrong because then we become that exalted oracle of all that is good and true, otherwise known as the armchair critic.

We love the on field entertainment. But every now and then an elite sports person comes along who can be as entertaining just by opening their mouth and saying a few words. One of those people is an Australian rugby player called Nick Cummins.

To know Nick Cummins is to love him. But the hard part is the getting to know him especially if you don’t come from Australia. Nick Cummins speaks English but not as you know it. To follow what he is saying requires an understanding of the peculiar, eccentricities of Australian English. If you don’t have a grasp then you won’t know what the hell he is talking about.

Let me just lay a couple of Nick Cummins-isms on you so you’ll get what I mean.

Nick Cummins has a nickname. He is known as the Honey Badger. He was being interviewed after a rugby match and was asked how he came by the nickname and this is what he said:

“One of the stories that inspires me is that it is documented that a honey badger killed a lion in a one-on-one. What happened was that he clawed the canastas off the big fella. He just went one-two on the ball bag and the big fella has walked around the corner and fell over… that to me is outstanding.”

If you read that paragraph two or three times you might get what he is eluding to. Sort of. Possibly. The Japanese don’t. Nick Cummins is currently playing as a professional in Tokyo and the Japanese called him the Honey Budger, which is kind of cute.

But really, Nick Cummins needs to be accompanied at all times by a professional translator. Lucky for you, I speak perfect Australian and I am happy to translate his best quotes and turn them into something resembling English.

Quote: “I just saw the line, pinned me ears back and ended up bagging a bit of meat in the corner which was tops.”

Translation: I caught sight of the try-line, accelerated to the very limit of my abilities and managed to score, which was pleasing.

Quote: “Yeah mate I bloody was like a rat up a drain pipe in one of them runs there.”

Translation: I ran particularly fast in one instance.

Quote: “He was huffin’ and puffin’ and, mate he did well, he always does, he’s a tough rooster.”

Translation: My teammate was breathing heavily but he persevered. He always does. He is very hardy.

Quote: “I’m gonna have a truckload of pudding and uh, old mum’s good on the cook too so, Dad’s got the tucker ready over there and mum and dad are gonna work together and form a massive feed and I’m going to come in and dominate it.”

Translation: I intend to eat a large volume of pudding. My Mother is more than competent at the culinary arts as well. My Father is getting the food ready over there. The two of them will combine their talents to create a meal of sufficiently large proportions. Then I intend to devour all of it.

Quote: “I was busier than a one-legged man in a bum kicking contest.”

Translation: I was under extraordinary pressure because of the workload I was given during the match.

Of course when people hear Nick Cummins come out with this stuff they are a bit shocked but in a good way. To borrow an Australianism, the Honey Badger is a fair dinkum character and sadly there are too few of them.

But it would be too easy and unfair to describe Nick Cummins as a one trick pony when it comes to producing actions that we can laugh at and admire both on and off the sports field.

He is also a very devoted and loving son to his parents and his brothers and sisters. As a rugby player, Nick Cummins is at the very top of his game. He plays test match rugby for Australia. But very recently he turned his back on the game in Australia to play professional rugby in Japan but not for the reasons that you might think.

Yes he did it for the money. But not for himself, it was for his family. Nick Cummins’ father has incurable prostate cancer which has made him unable to work and that has been a considerable drain on the family finances. Nick Cummins has seven siblings, two of whom have cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disease. So Nick has stepped in and stepped up. He accepted a lucrative contract but it will go to help the family during some very tough times.

Cummins has 40 thousand followers on Instagram, 34 thousand on Twitter and his match videos have millions of views on YouTube.

He is one of the few people who can win over an entire host nation on an Australian rugby tour with a few choice words said in a post match television interview.

While he’s been in Japan he shot some television commercials. You should check them out. Just like the old spice guy but way more funnier IMO.

So he is gone but not forgotten. Hopefully, he will be back soon to entertain us again. The world needs guys like Nick Cummins and not just because we like to watch a skilled athlete. He makes us laugh and that, is the best kind of medicine there is.

 

Those Sneaky Kiwis Did It Again

An extraordinary sporting event just happened in the last 24 hours. No, it’s not what you’d call mainstream sport. Not rugby, basketball, soccer, baseball or cricket but that doesn’t make what happened any the less extraordinary.

It was a yachting race. Although the yachts in this race are not like anything you’ve ever seen before. They fly like the wind or with the wind. They certainly fly across the water.

In case you missed it, New Zealand won the America’s Cup. In sailing terms it’s the equivalent of being the first to climb Mount Everest. Hang on a minute the Kiwis did that as well.

It’s the biggest sailing trophy there is. The Kiwis won it once before sailing in a more conventional looking sailboat. A lot has changed since then. These days the America’s Cup is sailed on super fast catamarans that spend more time on top of the water than actually in it.

So what? You might say. If you did say that you’d be making a big mistake. Many things make this victory extraordinary. For instance, there is the David and Goliath nature of the battle. New Zealand, a small country with limited budgets versus United States Team Oracle with a seemingly unlimited money chest. But to quote another life metaphor it’s not how big it is it’s how you use it.

The America’s Cup is all about technology. Really, really smart technology. And that’s another thing that makes this victory extraordinary. But to appreciate the technology you have to understand it. And understanding the technology in the New Zealand boat is a bit of a challenge. The best way to describe it, think high tech pedal powered boat. Let me explain.

If you look at the New Zealand and American boats they are both catamarans with an aircraft wing for a sail, which is balanced on the top of two canoes that are balanced on top of two or four vertical surfboards. The crews must trim the boat as it flies through the air. The wind provides lift and rudders and foils in the water allow it to manoeuvre. To win, the Kiwis had to be faster, stronger and more manoeuvrable. And that superiority was very evident, very early in the regatta.The New Zealand boat became the first to achieve 100 percent fly time. In other words it was able to complete a race without either of the two hulls touching the water at any time. Flying through the air literally and, depending on the wind, achieving speeds of up to 50 knots or 90 kilometers per hour.

The America’s Cup rules say all teams must sail boats of similar dimension and design, but that still leaves plenty of wriggle room for experimenting with the daggerboards and the hydraulic system for moving the foils and the sail.

And that is where those sneaky Kiwis had it all over Team Oracle. Normally the sails are trimmed by hand powered winches or grinders. It’s hard physical work and it needs to be done quickly to maintain boat speed. But New Zealand produced a stunning innovation. They switched from winch to pedal power. In others words they designed and installed bike like pedal bays in the boat. So spectators were treated to the spectacle of Team New Zealand crew members pedalling furiously to control the carbon fibre wing sail, rudders and the dagger boards. The genius of this innovation meant that unlike Oracle the crew could use their hands for fine-tuning. In a high stakes game like the America’s Cup every little bit counts and can be the difference between winning and losing. The Kiwis were smart enough to realise it was basic physics. Legs produce more power than arms and that power means the team can make necessary adjustments more quickly. And that is exactly what happened. The Americans were simply outsmarted by good old-fashioned Kiwi ingenuity.

Winning the America’s Cup again is huge for New Zealand. It will showcase their innovation and technology as well as their spectacular country and that, in turn, will attract investment. I was living in Auckland when New Zealand was defending the Cup so I know what a big deal it will be. The Auckland harbour will be transformed yet again.

So I take my hat off to New Zealand. The little country, with the very big ideas, that punches above its weight and does it so well. Only this time they delivered a stunning knockout blow and America’s Cup racing will never be the same.

The Story Of The Mystery Plane, The Drugs, The Cash And Maybe The CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane that has confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

 

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

 

 

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are Our Differences? Well, It Depends On How Much You Like Tomato Sauce

I love social experiments. Especially when they involve children. Kids are so smart. They’re insightful, philosophical and profound. They see things the way things should be seen. Unadorned. They have no agenda. And they give it to you straight as an arrow.

Some years ago I was doing a corporate video for a client. Part of the brief involved interviewing a bunch of primary school children aged between 5 and 7. One of the questions they were asked was to describe your ideal house. The answers were amazing of course. There were five star tree houses and houses under the sea. They were imaginative and creative and fun. Children also have no sense of value. They have no concept of any number bigger than a thousand. So when they were asked how much their family home was worth, it varied between 500 and a thousand dollars. The answers were hilarious and the video was a great success.

The BBC also conducted its own social experiment with young children. Their intent was way more serious than mine. They wanted to film children aged between 5 and 7 answering the question: What is it that makes you different? The BBC approach was very specific and scientific. They selected a group of children, with different skin color, different ethnic background, able- bodied children and children with a disability. They were divided into groups of two but to ensure that the answers were not random, the featured groups of two were long standing friends. So the children knew each other well enough to answer the question honestly and easily. And consequently they were also less likely to be intimidated by a camera filming their answers.

The first group to feature was two boys dressed in school uniform. Both went to the same school, and were in the same class. One was black the other white. They were both asked the question: What is it that makes you different? They took a long time thinking about the question. But every time they tried to answer, and they tried many times, both of them would stop mid sentence. Try as they might they could not come up with a single difference. In other words, the friendship they enjoyed and the commonality they shared vastly out weighed any difference they might have, perceived or real.

But my favorite pair was Emma and Lucy. Emma, wearing pigtails, and seated on a chair. Lucy seated in a wheelchair. Lucy never said a word. Emma answered for both of them. And like the two boys,  she pondered the question for some time before finally giving her answer. And it was this: “ Lucy loves tomato sauce. I love tomato sauce but not as much as Lucy.”

 

And that was it. Emma and Lucy. Their only difference?  How much each of them loved tomato sauce, See, I told you, we could learn a great deal from children.

 

But instead of learning from them, we laugh at their innocence and we laugh at their naïve view of the world. Of course as adults we could not possibly see the world this way because we have age and experience and we know about concepts like hatred and bigotry and discrimination. A child will naturally never contemplate any of those thoughts. And that got me thinking. Why can’t we, as adults, see the world the same way as a child does? What is to stop us? A world where our only difference might be that some of us like white wine and some of us like red. Where what binds us together is much stronger than what pulls us apart. Can we see the world that way? The answer is of course we can. We can see the world this way if we want to.

 

You see, the only thing that changes as we get older is choice. Experience and knowledge only increase the options of choice. The only obstacle stopping us thinking one way and not the other is, you guessed it, us. A woman, irrespective of age, never stops being a young girl, acting like a young girl, thinking like a young girl, unless she chooses to. And the same applies to a man. We can see the world as a child sees it, if we choose to. And if we do, it will almost certainly make us better people and our world a better place to live. Worth contemplating don’t you think?

 

 

 

Another Letter To America

Dear United States of America.

Here I am writing to you again.

You’ll be pleased to know it’s not about guns this time. The truth is I can’t take my eyes away from you and your politics. Suddenly you’re a catastrophe waiting to happen. And if the news over the last 24 hours is any guide, the catastrophe’s already happening. It’s in slow motion, of course, but nonetheless moving inevitably towards a massive fallout and collateral damage. Your White House is in daily disarray, in case you haven’t noticed. It lurches from one crisis to another. It’s disastrous, it’s damaging, it’s chaotic. It’s also fascinating. Apologies if I seem to be basking in the warmth of someone else’s misfortune. But the chaos won’t last forever. It can’t. Something has to give.

As a spectator in the relatively safe backwater known as Australia, and a very long way away from you, I can only look on with shock and awe. I could write pages and pages and pages about your President Donald Trump. Whoever writes his biography will have endless sources of amusement and negativity to wade through. No point in me joining the chorus. It is stating the obvious.

I do want to try and understand him. And the only way I can do that, is to liken your President to a famous historic figure of tragedy. A figure, that could only be created by the master of dramatic tragedy, Mr William Shakespeare. Donald Trump really is Shakespeare’s modern day Julius Caesar. So many parallels. A man who thinks that rules and governance and the law don’t apply to him. So did Julius Caesar. A man who flies above it all in his private jet. And he is the only passenger. Ok. Not Julius Caesar, but you get my point.

Like Julius Caesar, Trump’s biggest flaw is vanity. He wants to bask in public adulation. To be adored and admired. To be recognised as a man, who is way bigger than the sum of many or even any parts. He stands alone. A colossus. But like Caesar his fate is foretold. He too, will be dispatched, ruthlessly. By that I mean metaphorically speaking and not literally. He will be dispatched to a political gulag. It won’t be at the hands of obvious enemies. No sir. Trump’s biggest enemies are his friends, his Republican friends in the Congress.

This tornado is getting ready to touch ground. It’s been gathering strength for some time but really the catalyst for what is about to happen began with the reasons behind his arbitrary sacking of the Director of the FBI, James Comey. Your President Trump can’t help himself. He has his press lackeys give one version while he gives another that is completely contradictory. He blindsides his own people. He hasn’t told them of his plans. Why should he? He’s Donald Trump. He can say and do whatever he likes. Well actually no he can’t. He’s not Donald Trump the businessman anymore nor is he Donald Trump the TV host who can simply say your fired. He is Donald Trump, President of the United States and different rules apply. If you don’t believe me, look at Richard Nixon. In fact the word Watergate is getting used a lot lately.

Why Watergate? Because Trump is said to be trying to do what Nixon wanted to do and couldn’t. Stop an official investigation. You see, Trump’s security advisor, General Michael Flynn was sacked after it emerged that he had lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Now, the news has broken that the former Director of the FBI is said to have written a memo, accusing Trump of trying to stop the Flynn investigation. If it’s true, this is political interference of the worst kind. Using your office and power to try and thwart an independent and lawful investigation. That is intolerable. It will not be tolerated by Republican or Democrat. No one has seen the memo. No one knows, for sure, that it even exists. But plenty of people are now saying they desperately want to follow the paper trail. And the bad news for Donald Trump, one of those people most notably, is a Republican. And not just any old Republican. He’s Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. It is the one Congressional committee that has the power to follow that paper trail.

“On the surface that seems like an extraordinary use of influence to try to shut down an investigation being done by the FBI,” Mr Chaffetz said.

“(We are) going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.”

The committee Mr Chaffetz heads has since sent a letter to the FBI requesting that it provide the memo – and any other relevant materials from Mr Comey.

Another senior Republican figure, former presidential nominee John McCain, openly compared the current situation to the Watergate scandal.

“I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it appears at a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,” Mr McCain said to former TV anchor Bob Schieffer at a dinner.

“The shoes continue to drop, and every couple of days there’s a new aspect,” he said. “Get it all out. It’s not going to be over until every aspect of it is thoroughly examined and the American people make a judgment. The longer you delay, the longer it is going to last.”

As you might expect, other Republicans are ducking for cover. It prompted CNNs political reporter Chris Cilliza to say: “ If you are a Republican in Congress, now is the time to panic.”

The story, about the former FBI Director’s alleged memo, was broken by the New York Times newspaper. The Times has not seen the memo, but says one of the former FBI Director’s associates, allegedly read excerpts from it, to one of its reporters.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go, Mr Trump allegedly told Mr Comey according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Now, I’m probably telling you something that you already knew. Please forgive me in the re telling, I know it’s boring and repetitive but I like to re tell the story because it helps me to understand what’s going on.

I also know it’s going to be hard to predict what will happen next. But in my experience these things tend to have a mind and a life of their own. I wouldn’t put money on betting that your President will still be in office by Christmas.

It’s a real pity, Bill Shakespeare isn’t around. I’m sure he’d love to write about your President Trump. What am I saying? He already did. Just called him by a different name. And the setting was Rome, not Washington DC. Smart bloke that William Shakespeare.

Anyhow, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. I remain your friend as always.

Take care and kind regards.

Do I Feel Sorry For The Australian Woman In A Colombian Jail?

I’ve thought long and hard about this. What I am about to say will seem harsh. Maybe even a bit cruel. Certainly it’s heartless. But I have absolutely no sympathy, whatsoever, for the plight of a young Australian woman, languishing in a Colombian jail, facing drug trafficking charges. Sorry. None.

For those who might not know about this, let me tell a little of the back story as I know it to be.

Twenty-two-year-old Adelaide woman Cassandra Sainsbury was arrested, while trying to board a flight for London, at Bogata airport in Colombia. Five point eight kilos of cocaine was later discovered, concealed inside headphones carried in her suitcase.

As you might expect, Sainsbury denied any knowledge of the drugs and claims the headphones were presents for family and friends. According to the Sainsbury version of events, she allegedly bought the headphones, for a ‘cheap’ price, from a man called Angelo or Tom. The problem for Sainsbury, one among many, is that no one has been able to identify or find this man.

According to her Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herran, Angelo or Tom is a ‘ghost’. The lawyer certainly got that right. A ghost as in Angelo or Tom doesn’t exist and never did. In fact Herran went on to say: “ there’s no evidence of his true identity.”

Herran says while he believes his client’s version of events (of course he has to say that being her lawyer) “ it is here that we have a very grave problem. …at this point we do not have any proof that she really was tricked or that this other person that she refers to exists or is guilty.”

Since her arrest, Sainsbury’s Colombian lawyer says the Australian does a lot of crying and is not coping very well with her surroundings. That is perfectly understandable. Colombian prisons are by definition hell-holes. They’re overcrowded, filthy, lacking even the basics of life. Corruption is said to be widespread in the prison system. If she is convicted, Sainsbury faces the possibility of up to 20 years imprisonment.

So is she innocent as she claims? Or is she knowingly guilty? Unfortunately, everything points to the latter. And this is where the story gets very murky. It has now been revealed that Sainsbury’s arrest resulted from a tip off to Colombian authorities by the American Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA. What alerted the DEA was the last minute purchase of a plane ticket on Sainsbury’s behalf in Hong Kong with the destination Colombia via London. An unknown person, bought the ticket to travel to South America. Sainsbury was travelling alone and for a short period of time. In the drug enforcement business, that is known as a red flag for a potential drug mule. In other words, a person prepared to act as a drug courier. Then there were other potential clues like the cryptic social media comments she posted in the days and weeks and months leading up to her trip. In the posts she appeared to be counting down the days to a life-changing event. The now deleted January 10 post read: “ 50 days until I make the biggest move I’ve yet to do…….50 days until everything changes.”

She added the following hashtags: #newbeginnings #newyearnewme #2k17#dreamjob #bondiliving #life #change #love #50daysleft #goodthingsarecoming.

On April 8, she posted a photograph from Bogota along with the comment: “Can’t complain about an all expenses paid work trip, in which (sic) is mainly holiday very little work. It’s the simple things that are the true beauty in the world. Mother Nature has been putting on quite the show for me over here.”

It would appear Cassandra Sainsbury anticipated a windfall of sorts.

Sainsbury’s family claim she was on a working holiday to promote her personal training business — a claim which appears to be supported by Sainsbury’s Instagram posts which are riddled with fitness-related hashtags.

But her fiance Scotty Broadbridge tells a completely different story, claiming she hasn’t done any personal training work for months and her most recent job involved “helping to manage” a cleaning company.

“Although Cassie is a PT, she is not currently personal training and hasn’t been for six months. I don’t know why that was mentioned at all,”  Broadbridge says.

Her fiance might not know but I am perfectly happy to speculate on why her personal training work was mentioned. It might have something to do with concocting a cover story to disguise the real reason for travelling to Colombia.

Broadbridge went on to say: “She helped manage a commercial cleaning business that had both national and international clients. Unfortunately it’s very easy for tourists to get targeted, especially in Colombia.”

So why would Sainsbury be so insanely stupid as to act as a drug mule? The answer is money. It usually is the answer, in these cases. In Adelaide, at one time, Cassandra Sainsbury ran her own gym but it collapsed with Sainsbury allegedly owing tens of thousands of dollars. In 2015, she opened Yorke’s Fitness charging an $800 a year membership but it went broke within six months. When the gym closed, Sainsbury disappeared.

“When she left town, there was rent owing on the premises,” Yorke florist Lyn Gates told a local television station. “It was a shock to me, plus the community … All of a sudden, she just took off and not paid – nicked – the rent and the equipment just disappeared.”

There does not appear to be much public sympathy for Casandra Sainsbury. Her family launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay her legal costs. But it was shut down well short of its funding target because it was attracting a lot of negative comments.

Cassandra Sainsbury finds herself in an awful predicament whatever way you look at it. If she decides to fight the charges it will be two months for her case to be heard. It’s also unlikely she’d be given bail. If she decides to plead guilty, as her lawyer has already recommended, her potential prison sentence could be reduced substantially but it will still be many years inside a Colombian jail.

Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herrán says Sainsbury’s best chance of a reduced sentence is for her to negotiate with Colombian prosecutors in the two-month window before the start of her trial, but his immediate priority is to find a way to get her out of prison.

“She’s young and it is important that she gets out as soon as possible,” the lawyer says. “There are many examples of Colombians and foreigners who have been able to reach an agreement with prosecutors.

“If we can show she hasn’t had problems with police in Australia and no history of contact with drug traffickers, we can make a deal.”

But the Colombian authorities will be pressing Sainsbury to name names before they agree to any plea deal. And that potentially opens her up to even more danger in a prison system that doesn’t like snitches.

While I have no sympathy for her position, I take no comfort at all in seeing her suffering. But at the end of the day Cassandra Sainsbury only has herself to blame for her situation. And whatever lesson she learns from this  it is going to be very, very hard and very, very long.

Welcome To The World Of Donald Trump

A man walks into a bar in Kansas City. Many of the patrons are from a country other than the United States. Their physical appearance is a dead give away. The man asks them, as if he had some God given right, What visa did they hold? Were they in the United States illegally? There was method in his madness. He leaves and returns to the bar with a gun and opens fire killing one person, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian born engineer working for Garmin in the United States. Two other people are wounded, one of them seriously. The seriously wounded man, is incredibly lucky to be alive and still walking because the bullet that struck him narrowly missed his carotid artery and spinal column. This was a racially motivated hate crime. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

A celebrated Australian author of children’s books, Mem Fox, goes to the United States on business. She has a valid visa and Fox has travelled to the US many times before. Make that 116 times before without incident. But this time is different. This time she is travelling directly in the wake of Donald Trump’s anti immigration rantings, by that I mean his executive order on immigration. On her arrival, Fox is detained and questioned for two hours by US Customs officials. “I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” she would later say. “I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby. And I’m 70 years old.”

Fox tells Australian reporters that the Customs officials seem to be turbocharged with the power granted to them by Trump’s order. Fox complains. She receives an apology, but says she will never again travel to the United States. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The White House holds a press conference. The media, the fifth estate, exists to hold people like Donald Trump accountable. Now there’s a fine word with a multitude of meaning. Accountability. You see the media exists as a free and independent entity in a flourishing democracy. In fact it is one of the foundations that a democracy is built on. Politicians can be criticised, questioned and held to account. They can be caught out lying. Now there’s another good word. Mendacity. But when a number of media organisations, like CNN, the BBC and the New York Times, try to enter the briefing room, they are barred. Barred from entering? Are you serious? In contrast ‘friendly’ to Donald Trump news services like Fox News, One America News Networks and the hideous Breitbart news have no problem attending the White House briefing. In fact they are welcomed with open arms. Trump calls the media purveyors of fake news. They tell lies according to Trump. It’s a bit like that story of the pot, the kettle and the colour black. If Donald Trump really wants to see mendacity he should look in the mirror more often. Terrorist attack in Sweden anyone? Is this Stalinist Russia? Not it’s the good old USA, the greatest democracy in the world. Yeah right. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

This media ban is unprecedented. This is a disgrace. This has never happened before in the history of American democratic politics. By democratic, I mean democracy. Not the party. These are the actions of a dictator. A man who thinks he’s above the law and now that he is President of the United States can do whatever he likes, to who ever he likes. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The son of the late and great Mohammed Ali, the greatest American heavyweight world champion boxer of all time, is detained at a Florida airport and questioned about being a Muslim. I guess the name was a dead giveaway. He has the same name as his Dad. But who cares in Trump America. He sounds like a muslim. And all Muslims are dangerous. Right? Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Ali junior and his mother, who was Mohammed Ali’ s second wife, were returning to the United States after a vacation in Jamaica. Ali junior’s lawyer, told a Louisville Kentucky newspaper, that his client was detained and questioned for two hours by Immigration officials, who repeatedly asked him: Where did you get your name from? Are you Muslim? Clearly they were not boxing fans. For the record, Ali junior was born in Philadelphia and holds a US passport. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

He’s besieged. He’s taking a beating in the polls. He’s loved and loathed and despised equally by many including members of his own Government, some of whom keep feeding the media with damaging leaks designed to embarrass and humiliate. So what does he do? He takes his message to the American people. Mass rallies of his supporters.Hang on. Didn’t we just have a Presidential election campaign? He tells them the mainstream media are all liars and the economy is going great. And guess what? He says I’m going to keep having rallies, keep talking to the people because I can’t trust anyone. Only a fool would believe him. This man is a bombast. A wrecker and a hater. He can’t be trusted and will trash alliances, relationships and all of the goodwill the United States has spent decades cultivating. Welcome to the world of darkness. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

What’s The Deal with the Australia US Immigration Deal?

There is something very tawdry going on. I’m sure of it.

Something grubby, shabby and very underhand. It isn’t nice. It might even be illegal or at the very least immoral.

It is the immigration deal that Australia has made with the United States to re settle refugees in America. In a sense it has everything and nothing to do with Donald Trump. Let me explain. I will do my best because quite frankly much of the deal is very unclear and crucial information missing from the narrative.

The deal relates to 1,250 refugees held in Australia’s offshore Pacific detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands. Many of these refugees are from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq. The refugees are stateless, having spent years languishing in these offshore detention camps, that I would call prisons, which the United Nations has repeatedly criticised as cruel and illegal. The refugees are in a no man’s land. They are unable to go home, but cannot come to Australia – even when their right to protection as refugees is confirmed – because they travelled to Australia by boat and that is a no go as far as the Australian Government is concerned. The vast majority of those in Australia’s offshore detention regime are confirmed to have a valid claim to refugee status, meaning they are legally owed Australia’s protection. On Nauru, 983 of the 1,200 refugee status determinations were positive, while 217 were negative. On Manus Island, 78% of 859 the people finally assessed were found to be refugees, while 190 were found not to have a claim for protection. The deal with the United States was also to include hundreds of refugees previously held on Manus or Nauru, or who were in Australia receiving medical care, provided they had been found to be refugees.

Here is where it starts to get very murky. In November the US Obama administration agreed to take an undisclosed number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres. It was both extraordinarily generous and totally inexplicable. Why would the Americans do such a thing? Why indeed. It is a deal that made no sense when Obama was President and even less so now that we have the Donald.

The American resettlement option was accompanied by some strict caveats. It was only to be available for detainees found to be refugees (under the refugee convention). Others who were assessed and found to not have an entitlement to protection would be deemed ineligible. Applicants were to be interviewed twice by US officials before being resettled, in a process that would take between six and 12 months. If a refugee missed out on US resettlement, the existing options of re settlement in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia were still available.

This deal was seen as a significant political win for the Turnbull government. Australia has searched in vain for a sustainable plan for refugees. For more than three years Australia consistently maintained it will never settle asylum seekers on the Australian mainland that come here by boat, a position that has been popular with some voters and is still supported by both of Australia’s main political parties. But the policy has led to regular reports of human rights abuses, and is bitterly condemned by refugee advocates inside and outside of Australia.

At the time of the US agreement, only 24 refugees had resettled in PNG, and a handful in Cambodia. The Manus Island detention centre, was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Papua and Australia is under international pressure over allegations of the sexual abuse of women and children, assaults of children, rape, widespread mental harm and epidemic rates of self-harm and suicide attempts in the Nauru detention centre.

You can see why Turnbull striking a deal to resettle these people in the United States was a godsend. Which again, leads me back to the question: Why would the United States agree to this deal?

Enter the new American President Donald Trump. There is no one on this planet more likely to torpedo a deal like this than President Trump. One of the very first orders he signed as President was to ban Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States. So Australian Prime Minister Turnbull had good reason to be worried. Bilateral arrangements like this refugee deal, are made by the President of the day. They can just as easily be altered or revoked, at the stroke of a pen, by a new President. But even with the possibility of a Trump Presidency on the horizon, Turnbull seemed relatively untroubled. “ We deal with one administration at the time,” he said. “ There can only be one President at the time.”

So you can just imagine what a priority it might have been for Australia to ensure that this deal was ratified by the new American President, come hell or high water or Donald Trump.

Last Sunday a phone call took place between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and newly inaugurated President, Donald Trump. It would be fair to say the phone conversation didn’t go well. Trump told Turnbull it was “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to send the US the “next Boston Bombers” Then he abruptly ended the conversation by hanging up the phone on the Australian Prime Minister. We know all of this courtesy of a leak to a Washington Post journalist who duly reported it. Which brings me to my second intriguing question: Who leaked this information? Was it the White House? Or someone else? Whoever did leak the information has a nice sense of irony in choosing the Washington Post. A newspaper that has no love for the Donald. Watergate anyone? The Trump people denied they leaked the conversation. Why would they? They certainly have nothing to gain from the embarrassing spectacle of an American President treating one of his closest allies with incredible rudeness. Trump later added insult to injury by tweeting; “Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

I think it more probable than not that Australia was the source of that Washington Post story. Of course, I can’t prove it but we had everything to gain and nothing to lose from making it all public. President Trump while maintaining the rage says the deal will most likely be honoured subject to a strict vetting of the refugees. I was not surprised at all by Trump’s reaction. What I am surprised about is his change of mind. If this deal goes through it will be because we have done or are about to do a huge favour to the United States. They clearly owe us. And because all of this is shrouded in such secrecy it only makes me more determined, and hopefully you as well, to know what it is.

I smell a rodent.

 

 

 

 

Princess Leia. More of a victim than an Icon

I’ve been thinking about Carrie Fisher. Thinking about her a lot, lately. But my thinking isn’t in a way that I might have expected.

Yes. I was shocked by her death. So were a lot of people. It made me sad. She was still comparatively young. It is always kind of sad to lose someone like Carrie Fisher, who was highly intelligent, very talented, possessing a great sense of humor and clever at mocking others as well as herself. Read one of her books if you get the chance.

The thing is I had a mild epiphany when I saw a headline describing Fisher as an icon and a role model and a trailblazer for women. The story went on to say that the “ iconic actress paved the way for girls to take over their own galaxies, and she did so while battling her own personal demons. Her ‘Star Wars’ role, and her strength and humour in real life inspired a generation of women who are now deeply mourning her loss. She empowered them to be their own heroes!”

Normally I would totally agree with all of that. But In Carrie Fisher’s case I am not so sure. I think she was more of a victim than an icon. A victim of a Hollywood system, that continues to regard a woman as second class. Certainly treated as worth much less than any man.

In 2005, The American Film Institute awarded the Life Achievement Award to Star Wars creator George Lucas. But it was Fisher’s speech to roast him that stole the show. In just over four minutes, Fisher practices gender equality. She flagellates Lucas as equally as she honours him. She was fearless in sharing her story, while also taking pot shots at herself, and the franchise and the industry that made her famous.

“Hi, I’m Mrs. Han Solo and I’m an alcoholic,” Fisher begins. “I’m an alcoholic because George Lucas ruined my life.” She goes on to call Lucas a sadist, but adds that “like any abused child wearing a metal bikini, chained to a giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more.”

Fisher praises Lucas while also reminding everyone of his shortcomings, and with it, the sexism of Hollywood. She points to “Queen Amadillo, or whatever her name is” in the prequel series, who changed hairstyles and outfits “practically every time she walks through a door.”

“I bet she even got to wear a bra, even though you (Lucas) told me I couldn’t, because there was no underwear in space!”

Fisher was especially aggrieved at how Hollywood and Lucas ‘stole’ her identity. How millions of dollars were made selling her Princess Leia likeness. Fisher did not receive a cent. This is what she had to say in an interview with Newsweek : ” The mistake was I signed away my likeness for free. In those days, there was no such thing as a “likeness,” which is a funny thing to say coming from the family that I came from. There was no merchandising tied to movies. No one could have known the extent of the franchise. Not that I don’t think I’m cute or anything, but when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t think I was signing away anything of value.

“Lately I feel like I’m Minnie Mouse—the identity of Princess Leia so eclipses any other identity that I’ve ever had. How much money could I have made from all this stuff? I don’t want to know. It’s too upsetting. Yet funny. For example, I found out recently that I am a type of marijuana. A friend of my daughter’s actually went to one of those medical places, and she told me there was a type of marijuana named Princess Leia. I never liked marijuana, so the fact that I’m a type of marijuana is ironic.

“I’ve teased George Lucas about this over the years, but he’s never been apologetic.

“When you’re 19 you don’t even think about these things. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was. Harrison Ford was 33! He should have known better! Here’s where I’m dumb. I assume if there’s an argument to be made, Harrison would have made it, and if he made it, I would have heard about it, because we had the same deal. But Harrison hasn’t fixed his deal. So this is an ongoing mistake.

“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity. I don’t like to linger in this zone.

“Me, having a tantrum in the corner for my cut of Star Wars toothpaste? I don’t want to get into it. Every so often, I wonder if Natalie Portman is getting more money than the none I’m getting. If she’s holding a check for Princess Amidala’s likeness in one hand and her Oscar in the other, that would piss me off. “

Ironically, Portman is a classic case in point at how everything and nothing has changed for women actors in Hollywood. In a very recent interview with the British magazine Marie Claire, Portman revealed that Ashton Kutcher was paid three times her salary when they both made the rom com movie No Strings Attached. Portman said that while the pay disparity was ‘crazy’ she was not complaining because her salary was still more than what it would take for the average person to earn in a lifetime of work.

“Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar, “ Portman said. “ In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

The gender pay gap is now a hot topic in Hollywood especially since Patricia Arquette made an impassioned speech about the issue when accepting the Oscar for best supporting actress for Boyhood in 2015.

Later that year, Jennifer Lawrence also bought into the issue after the Sony hacks revealed she had been paid far less for American Hustle than her male colleagues.

“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,'” Lawrence would later write in an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter. “At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the internet and realized every man I was working with, definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.”

Most recently actor Felicity Jones who starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story told Glamour magazine: “I want to be paid fairly for the work that I’m doing. That’s what every single woman around the world wants. We want to be paid on parity with a man in a similar position. And I think it’s important to talk about it.”

Portman, who is widely tipped to score an Oscar nomination for her role in the Jackie Kennedy biopic, Jackie, also told Marie Claire that she intends to make sure that her next film is directed by a woman.

Will all of this make a difference? Maybe. In time. In the meantime, let’s keep having the conversation.