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Why we should care about Julian Assange

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Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange in 2010 published information provided to him by then-US Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning that comprised nearly 750,000 classified or unclassified but sensitive military and diplomatic documents.

Among those documents was a collateral murder film clip that showed US Apache helicopters killing people in Iraq including two local Reuters news agency employees, exposing a US military cover-up. The military had claimed that the helicopters were responding to an active firefight and that all killed were insurgents. The film clip showed otherwise, that a war crime was committed.

Manning, who later claimed a transgender identity and changed his name to Chelsea, was jailed for 35 years for transmitting the information to Wikileaks, eventually serving seven before having her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama. Julian Assange spent almost eight years cooped up in the Ecuador Embassy in London to escape extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape purportedly committed during a visit in 2010.

In April, the Ecuadorian government rescinded Assange’s asylum, stripped him of his Ecuadorian citizenship and invited the London Metropolitan Police to forcibly remove him from the embassy. Soon after, Assange was found guilty of skipping bail when fighting the Swedish extradition application and sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment, where he is now housed in solitary confinement at HM Prison Belmarsh.  

On the day of Assange’s arrest in London, the US charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion by allegedly having attempted to crack a password so that Chelsea Manning could search for more classified information using a different username. Chelsea Manning is also now back in prison for refusing to give evidence before a grand jury against Assange, something that made up part of the charges she was convicted of in 2011.

Over the past few days Assange has been further indicted with 17 more charges under the Espionage Act with penalties which could see him spending the rest of his life in a US prison should he be expedited. Swedish prosecutors have also reopened the investigation of Assange for rape and preparing another request for extradition to Sweden.

Assange has been painted as an arrogant, narcissistic sexual malingerer and a threat to ‘national security’ by politicians, the media and even close associates. He was portrayed as an egotistical, unsociable and un-empathetic person in the film made about him “The Fifth Estate,” most of which is apparently true.

However, it’s not Julian Assange’s manner, personality, or social behavior that should be of concern here. It’s our future freedoms and right to know that are at stake in a world that is becoming less transparent and more totalitarian.

There are two major issues that are of concern. The first is about how whistle-blowers are treated by governments. The second is what will be the future consequences to our rights and freedoms from what is happening to Assange.

The Trump Administration’s use of the Espionage Act, which dates back to the First World War, isalarming. The Espionage Act is backdoor censorship to keep information about government secret, especially embarrassing information.  It seeks to circumvent the US First Amendment which guarantees freedom of the press as a pillar of democratic and transparent government. The government is the one that defines what is seditious, and public interest is not a defense under the Espionage Act.

The US government has never charged a single journalist with obtaining or publishing classified information in the 100 years since the Espionage Act became law – notably, for instance, during the New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The use of the Espionage Act thus awakens concerns among journalists and news organizations that the Trump administration is opening a new front against the journalism profession, which has been branded the enemy of the American people.

Equally worrying, by using the Espionage Act to go after a foreign national – Assange is an Australian – the administration is making US law another weapon in its arsenal. Assange is not a US citizen and did not commit any offense on US soil. The US assumption of global legal sovereignty has not been resisted by any government. The power of the US to catch whistle-blowersand muzzle the press is gradually increasing.

It’s now most probable that Julian Assange will never be able to walk as a free man anywhere ever again. The Nobel Foundation has been found wanting again for not highlighting the plight of whistle-blowers, preferring to side with the establishment in the awards it has been handing out. So too are the major press houses complacent when the journalistic profession is under major attack by the US government.

The ‘war on terror’ and Russia meddling in the US election are mere diversions from attempts to gain more control over the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Unelected officials and opaque, rather than transparent, government institutions are an affront to representative government and accountability. There is also a direct attack upon the nature of journalism. The word investigative is now dangerous. Persuading a source of information to provide more information has been defined as a crime now. The message is out there, investigate what the government doesn’t want people to know, and the same will happen to that journalist that is happening to Julian Assange now.

National security is the new mode of censorship and journalist no matter where they are can be subject to indictment. The press is becoming more restricted now than it was a couple of generations ago.

While liberals are concerned about same-sex marriage and the greens about climate change, the greatest threat to the rights and freedom of people is left alone, allowing governments the freedom to continue to encroach these freedoms.

The Assange experiment with Wikileaks has been of great personal cost to him. However the episode playing out now will result in a loss of the freedom of speech and right to know. Journalism could slip into the dark ages where pure investigative journalism may give way to placid reporting of public events. This is a victory for the unaccountable elements of government that are willing to circumspect the Constitution, break laws, kill, and prosecute those who may divulge the truth to the public.

Author’s note: This article first published in the Asia Sentinel

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A Disintegrating Trump Administration?

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If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the only president to have been impeached twice.

According to the rules, the House impeaches followed by a trial in the Senate.  There is precedent for the trial to continue even when the office holder has left office.  Should that trial result in conviction, it prevents him from seeking any future elected office.  Conviction is unlikely, however, as it requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

It has been reported that Trump wanted to lead the crowd in the march to the Capitol, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Secret Service who considered it much too dangerous and could not guarantee his safety.

Various sources attest that Trump’s mind is focused on pardons including himself and his family members.  Whether it is legal for him to pardon himself appears to be an unresolved question.  But then Trump enjoys pushing the boundaries of tolerated behavior while his businesses skirt legal limits.

He appears to have been greatly upset with his longtime faithful vice-president after a conversation early on the day of the riot.  As reported by The New York Times, he wanted Mike Pence to overturn the vote instead of simply certifying it as is usual.  The certification is of course a formality after the state votes already certified by the governors have been reported.  Pence is reputed to have said he did not have the power to do so.  Since then Trump has called Vice President Pence a “pussy” and expressed great disappointment in him although there are reports now that fences have been mended.

Trump’s response to the mob attacking the Capitol has also infuriated many, including lawmakers who cowered in the House chamber fearful for their lives.  Instead of holding an immediate press conference calling on the attackers to stop, Trump responded through a recorded message eight hours later.  He called on his supporters to go home but again repeated his claims of a fraudulent election.

Aside from headlining the US as the laughingstock among democracies across the world, the fall-out includes a greater security risk for politicians.  Thus the rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed raising questions about the inauguration itself on January 20th.

Worse, the Trump White House appears to be disintegrating as coordination diminishes and people go their own way.  Secretary of State Pompeo has unilaterally removed the curbs on meeting Taiwanese officials put in place originally to mollify China.  If it angers China further, it only exacerbates Biden’s difficulties in restoring fractured relationships. 

Trump is causing havoc as he prepares to leave the White House.  He seems unable to face losing an election and departing with grace.  At the same time, we have to be grateful to him for one major policy shift.  He has tried to pull the country out of its wars and has not started a new one.  He has even attempted the complicated undertaking of peace in Afghanistan, given the numerous actors involved.  We can only hope Biden learned enough from the Obama-Biden administration’s disastrous surge to be able to follow the same path.

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Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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