Time is ticking away.
Julian Assange is showing all the symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to psychological torture and should not be extradited to the US, according to a senior UN expert who visited him in prison. Nils Melzer, UN’s special rapporteur on torture, is expected to make his appeal to the UK government on Friday. It comes after Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, was said by his lawyers to be too ill to appear by video link for the latest court hearing of the case on Thursday. Assange has been moved to the health ward of Belmarsh prison, London, where he has been serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail while fighting extradition to the US.
He is accused of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents containing the names of confidential US military and diplomatic sources. After meeting Assange earlier this month in the company of medical experts who examined him, Melzer will say on Friday that he fears the Australian’s human rights could be seriously violated if he is extradited to the US and will condemn what he describes as the “deliberate and concerted abuse inflicted for years” on him. “Physically there were ailments but that side of things are being addressed by the prison health service and there was nothing urgent or dangerous in that way,” Melzer said.
“What was worrying was the psychological side and his constant anxiety. It was perceptible that he had a sense of being under threat from everyone. He understood what my function was but it’s more that he was extremely agitated and busy with his own thoughts. It was difficult to have a very structured conversation with him.” [..] The lawyer [..] said that his office had been approached by Assange’s lawyers in December. But he said that he was initially reluctant to do so, admitting he was affected by what he called the “prejudice” around the case.However, he began looking into the case again in March and, earlier this week, wrote letters to the foreign ministers of the US, the UK and Sweden.
“In the course of the past nine years, Mr Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination,” Melzer will say on Friday. He added the UK authorities had contacted his Geneva office to indicate that the British government would be issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of the assertions made in his letter. [..] “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”
I doubt Orwell ever knew how right he was.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today sits in the Belmarsh High Security prison in southeast London. Not just for his sake but for everyone’s, we now have to hope he’s never moved from there to America. The United States filed charges against Assange early last month. The case seemed to have been designed to assuage fears that speech freedoms or the press were being targeted. That specific offense was “computer hacking conspiracy” from back in 2010. The “crime” was absurdly thin, a claim that Assange agreed (but failed, apparently) to try to help Chelsea Manning develop an administrative password that could have helped her conceal identity as she downloaded secrets. One typewritten phrase, “No luck so far,” was the damning piece of evidence.
The troubling parts of that case lurked in the rest of the indictment, which seemed to sell normal journalistic activity as part of the offense. The government complained that Assange “took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.” Prosecutors likewise said, “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” The indictment stressed Assange/Manning were seeking “national defense information” that could be “used to the injury of the United States.” The indictment likewise noted that the pair had been guilty of transmitting such information to “any person not entitled to receive it.” It was these passages that made me nervous a month and a half ago, because they seemed to speak to a larger ambition.
Use of phrases like “national defense information” given to persons “not entitled to receive it” gave off a strong whiff of Britain’s Official Secrets Acts, America’s Defense Secrets Act of 1911 (which prohibited “national defense” information going to “those not entitled to receive it”) and our Espionage Act of 1917, which retained many of the same concepts. All of these laws were written in a way that plainly contradicted basic free speech protections. The Espionage Act was revised in 1950 by the McCarran Internal Security Act, sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McGarran (who incidentally was said to be the inspiration for the corrupt “Senator Pat Geary” character in The Godfather). The change potentially removed a requirement that the person obtaining classified information had to have intent to harm the country.
There was a way to read the new law that criminalized what the Columbia Law Review back in 1973 (during the Pentagon Papers controversy) called the “mere retention” of classified material. This provision buried in subsection 793 of the Espionage Law has, since passage, been a ticking time bomb for journalism. The law seems clearly to permit the government to prosecute anyone who simply obtains or receives “national defense” information. This would place not only sources who steal and deliver such information at risk of prosecution, but also the journalists who receive and publish it. If the government ever decided to start using this tool to successfully prosecute reporters and publishers, we’d pretty quickly have no reporters and publishers.
I’m not exaggerating when I say virtually every reporter who’s ever done national security reporting has at some time or another looked at, or been told, or actually received copies of, “national defense” information they were technically “not entitled to receive.
Britain employs torture. What do its own laws say about that?
We are seriously worried about the condition of Julian Assange. He was too unwell to appear in court yesterday, and his Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, found him in a state where he was unable to conduct a conversation and give instructions. There are very definite physical symptoms, particularly rapid weight loss, and we are not satisfied that genuine and sufficient diagnostic efforts are being made to determine the underlying cause. Julian had been held for the last year in poor, highly confining and increasingly oppressive conditions in the Ecuadorean Embassy and his health was already deteriorating alarmingly before his expulsion and arrest.
A number of conditions, including dental abcesses, can have very serious consequences if long term untreated, and the continual refusal by the British government and latterly the Ecuadoreans to permit him access to adequate healthcare while a political asylee was a callous denial of basic human rights. I confess to feeling an amount of personal relief after his arrest that at least he would now get proper medical treatment. However there now seems to be no intention to provide that and indeed since he has been in Belmarsh his health problems have accelerated. I witnessed enough of the British state’s complicity in torture to know that this may be more than just the consequence of unintended neglect. That the most lucid man I know is now not capable of having a rational conversation is extremely alarming.
There is no rational reason that Assange needs to be kept in a high security facility for terrorists and violent offenders. We are seeing the motive behind his unprecedented lengthy imprisonment for jumping police bail when he entered political asylum. As a convicted prisoner, Assange can be kept in a worse regime than if he were merely on remand for his extradition proceedings. In particular, his access to his lawyers is extremely restricted and for a man facing major legal proceedings in the UK, USA and Sweden it is impossible, even were he healthy, for his lawyers to have sufficient time with him adequately to prepare his cases while he is under the restrictions placed on a convict. Of course we know from the fact that, within three hours of being dragged from the Ecuadorean Embassy, he was already convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term, that the state has no intention that his lawyers should be able to prepare.
It’s like hammering in a nail with a pair of scissors.
In a surprise announcement that could compromise a major trade deal, Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he is slapping a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the border. He said the percentage would gradually increase “until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied”. Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning “a major statement” that would be his “biggest” so far on the border. “On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” he wrote, “at which time the Tariffs will be removed.”
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, responded with a two-page letter to Trump on Thursday night. “The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol,” he said. “With all due respect, even though you have the right to say it, ‘make America great again’ is a fallacy because, until the end of times, and beyond national borders, universal justice and fraternity should prevail,” he wrote. Amlo, as the president is commonly called, offered his US counterpart history lessons on past periods of cordial US-Mexico relations. He also included details of his plans to develop Central America to stop migration and warned: “I don’t lack courage, I’m not a coward nor timid, rather, I act on principles.”
“The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this.”
Update 2: some borderline apocalyptic observations from Bloomberg markets live managing editor, Mark Cudmore who writes the following: “This Mexico tariff news is far worse than even the initial market reaction makes it out to be. The timing is almost immediate. Chaos for both companies and bureaucrats. No time for anyone to prepare or make contingencies. The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this. The U.S. imported almost $350b worth of goods from Mexico in 2018. What makes it even worse again, if possible, is that so many traders were hoping Trump would soon take a more conciliatory trade zone because U.S. stocks have weakened. This is a black swan event for markets and people aren’t even registering. Maybe traders are all hoping there’s some mistake or that this won’t be implemented.”
Update 1: it’s going from bad to worse, with the White House warning that it will hike Mexico tariffs to 25% by October 1, if the border crisis persists, as Trump is activating a scorched earth approach whereby he will “punish” any offshore nation that he believes is transgressing, by imposing tariffs. Meanwhile, moments after Trump’s shock tweet, the Mexican deputy foreign minister Seade said that if President’s threat to impose tariffs is carried out, “it would be disastrous”, and Mexico would “respond strongly”, adding that “we will not remain with out arms folded” before the tariff deadline “to see if it is serious.”
“Trade policy and border security are separate issues.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) condemned President Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico late Thursday, calling the move a “misuse” of presidential tariff authority and cautioning the levies could derail passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Grassley said in a statement. The lawmaker cautioned that following through on Trump’s tariff threat “would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA,” a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them,” he added. Trump announced he would impose the tariffs to pressure Mexico to stop the flow of migrants into the U.S. via the southern border. [..] Grassley had previously threatened to derail Trump’s central trade achievement over continued steel and aluminum tariffs. Last week, Trump hinted that he had reached a deal to drop those tariffs, paving the way for the USMCA in the Senate.
“This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.”
The systemwide US Russophobia that reached its nadir with Russiagate has created a “catastrophe” for both domestic politics and foreign relations that threatens the future of the American system, professor Stephen Cohen tells RT. War with Russia could easily break out if the US insists on pursuing the policy of “demonization” that birthed Russiagate instead of returning to detente and cooperation, New York University professor emeritus of Russian history Stephen Cohen argues on Chris Hedges’ On Contact. While NATO deliberately antagonized post-Soviet Russia by expanding up to its borders, the US deployed missile defense systems along those borders after scrapping an arms treaty, leaving President Vladimir Putin devoid of “illusions” about the goodwill of the West – but armed with “nuclear missiles that can evade and elude any missile defense system.”
Cohen believes the conspiracy theory – which remains front-page news in US media despite being thoroughly discredited, both by independent investigators and last month by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report – is the work of the CIA and its former director, John Brennan, who are dead set against any kind of cooperation with Russia. Attorney General William Barr, who is investigating the FBI over how the 2016 counterintelligence probe began, should take a look at Brennan and his agency, Cohen says. “If our intelligence services are off the reservation to the point that they can first try to destroy a presidential candidate and then a president…we need to know it,” Cohen says. “This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.” And the damage wrought by this “catastrophe” hasn’t stopped at the US border.
“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it.”
The Malaysian government wants strong evidence to show that Russia is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy in 2014, said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today. He said Malaysia accepted the investigation report of Holland but only up to the point where the plane was brought down by a missile made by Russia. Mahathir said while the government agreed that the plane was brought down by a Russian missile, it cannot be certain that the missile was launched by Russia. “They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence? We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian-type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine. “You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians.
“It could be by the rebels in Ukraine; it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCJ) here today. Mahathir said people of Russia are military people and they would know that MH17 is a passenger plane. “I don’t think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he said. The prime minister said Malaysia should also be involved in examining the black box as the plane belongs to Malaysia and there were Malaysian passengers. “We may not have the expertise but we can buy the expertise. For some reason, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened.
“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it. “The idea was not to find out how this happened but seems to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians. This is not a neutral kind of examination,” said Mahathir. “Had a neutral party examined and made the conclusion, Malaysia is willing to accept the findings but here we have parties with political interests in the matter,” he added.
Why is the CEO still in office?
Boeing has admitted it “fell short” when it failed to implement a safety alert system on the 737 Max. The aircraft was grounded globally in March after two crashes within months. Boeing boss Dennis Muilenburg said a mistake had been made in the software for a cockpit warning light called an “angle-of-attack (AOA) disagree alert”. He said: “We clearly fell short and the implementation of this angle-of-attack disagree alert was a mistake, right, we did not implement it properly.” In an interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News he said Boeing was now fixing the problem.
The alert could have notified pilots and maintenance crews that there was a problem early in the flight. One flight safety expert said if there had been an AOA disagree alert on board the Ethiopian airlines flight it “would have been the very first clue” for the pilots that something was wrong. Chris Brady, a pilot and author of The Boeing 737 Technical Guide said: “I’m fairly confident that the Ethiopian Airlines flight probably would not have crashed if they had had the AOA disagree alert” on the aircraft.
“This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.”
On Thursday, the US Treasury yield curve sagged further in the middle, producing an ever more beautiful middle-age sag, so to speak, that first started taking shape late last year. The chart shows the yield curves on seven dates. Each line represents the yields from the 1-month yield on the left to the 30-year yield on the right, on that date. The steep green line coming up from the bottom represents the yields on December 14, 2016, when the Fed got serious about rate hikes — the steep slope, with short-term yields a lot lower than long-term yields, is what a yield curve in normal-ish times is supposed to look like. The beautifully sagging red line represents the yields today, May 30. The entire portion of the yield curve from the 3-year yield through the 10-year yield has now dropped by over 1 percentage point since the peak on November 8, 2018.
Some more standouts: The 3-year yield inched down to 2.00%, the lowest since January 2, 2018, forming the low point of the middle-age sag. On Nov 8, it was at 3.05%. The 10-year yield dipped to 2.22%, lowest since Sep 18, 2017, and below 1-year and shorter maturities; but it remains above the 2-year yield and in this cycle has not inverted with the 2-year yield yet. The 1-month yield ticked up to 2.37%, from 2.35% yesterday, which had been the bottom of its range, and as is to be expected, right in the middle of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate (2.25% -2.50%). The 6-month yield had been anchored since late October at round 2.5%, with only slight variations. It now too has dropped out of this range and hit 2.38% over the past two days but ticked up to 2.40% today. The 30-year yield dropped to 2.65%, the lowest since Nov 7, 2016. This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.
AOC should be focusing all her energy on Assange.
A conversation on Twitter has led to an unlikely collaboration between the Republican senator Ted Cruz and the Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to pass legislation targeting lobbying by former members of Congress. The two lawmakers tweeted support of placing restrictions or a potential lifetime ban on former Congress members becoming lobbyists. The conversation began when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a study from Public Citizen that found 60% of former Congress members had taken jobs influencing federal policy. “If you are a member of Congress and leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around and leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” she wrote.
Cruz retweeted Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting bipartisan legislation to fight the Washington political “swamp”. The Republican House representative Chip Roy tweeted that he would help Ocasio-Cortez spearhead the effort. She agreed to create a bipartisan team in the House while Cruz forms one in the Senate to write a ban. [..] Previous efforts to prevent lobbying from former congresspeople have been put forth but not passed, including a 2017 bill co-sponsored by the Republican senator Cory Gardner and the Democratic senators Michael Bennet and Al Franken. Also in 2017, Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced legislation that would ban lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues until five years after leaving office, but it failed to gain traction.