Camille Pissarro Rue Saint-Lazare, Paris 1897
Everything today should be about Julian Assange, really, and the ongoing perversity perpetrated against him.
Why should @realdonaldtrump pardon Julian Assange? Let some of his closest allies explain.
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) December 30, 2020
“In effect, foreign countries could simply issue an extradition request saying that UK journalists, or Facebook users for that matter, have violated their censorship laws.”
A month ago, I would wake up in the middle of the night seized by a recurring nightmare: my little boys, Max, 22 months, and Gabriel, who is three, had been orphaned. I was still here but their father was not. Their father is Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks. Today, that terrible nightmare is all too close to becoming a reality. Julian has been on remand in Belmarsh prison in South-East London for almost two years. He is fighting a political extradition to the United States, where he risks being buried in the deepest, darkest corner of the US prison system for the rest of his life. Julian embarrassed Washington and this is their revenge. The nightmares came to a sudden stop the week before Christmas, when a groundswell of support from all sides of the political spectrum called for President Trump to pardon him.
A leaked audio recording of Julian talking to the US State Department unmasked the trumped-up nature of the charges against him. Leading figures, from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to Nobel Prize winners, such as human-rights campaigner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, have been calling for Julian’s freedom. So far, there has been no pardon. But tomorrow, a British magistrate will decide whether to order Julian’s extradition or throw out the US government’s request. If Julian loses, I believe that it would not only be an unthinkable travesty but that the ruling would also be politically and legally disastrous for the UK. That is because Julian’s case is not about what some people would have you think it is about.
His role in founding the WikiLeaks website is well known and it is fair to say Julian has angered many government and establishment figures around the world. WikiLeaks has published thousands of sensitive classified documents, many from the US military. Yet Julian has been acting in the same way as any other journalist would in attempting to hold the powerful to account. President Obama’s administration realised this, and understood that charging Julian would require them to prosecute international media outlets. After all, newspapers, websites and TV stations had published substantially the same revelations as WikiLeaks. That is why, at the end of his term in office, Obama freed WikiLeaks’s US Army Intelligence source, whistleblower Chelsea Manning, from jail.
With Trump, however, the mood has changed dramatically and under his administration, journalistic practices have been pursued as crimes. WikiLeaks and Julian have been accused of ‘endangering national security’, but US prosecutors admit they have no evidence to support claims that WikiLeaks publications caused physical harm to anyone. Perhaps that explains why their tactics have become increasingly desperate. During Julian’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey in September, the court heard evidence that CIA contractors were plotting to kill him with poison while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Agents-turned-whistleblowers, who were granted anonymity by the court due to their fear of reprisals, also admitted targeting our then six-month-old baby to steal his DNA.
They told the court that they had installed hidden microphones to spy on Julian’s solicitors’ meetings. The offices of his lawyers were also broken into. It might seem unthinkable that a British court would give its stamp of approval to such rampant, illegal actions by the US. It might seem equally unthinkable that a man who was practising journalism in this country, perfectly legally according to UK law, could be tried in a foreign land and potentially jailed for life. But that is what would happen if the UK decides to extradite Julian. It would rewrite the rules of what it is permissible to publish here. Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.
In effect, foreign countries could simply issue an extradition request saying that UK journalists, or Facebook users for that matter, have violated their censorship laws. Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists have said that as long as Julian remains in prison facing extradition, the UK is not a safe place for journalists and publishers to work. The press freedoms we cherish in Britain are meaningless if they can be criminalised and suppressed by regimes in Russia or Ankara or by prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia.
It’s just too crazy.
In accordance with a British magistrate court’s usual procedure, Julian Assange’s Judgment has almost certainly already been written and sent in draft form to the respective teams of lawyers, probably early on Friday evening. The lawyers therefore already know what the decision is, as well as the British government and at least the Department of Justice in Washington. Under established procedure, Assange’s lawyers are not supposed to tell Assange himself what the decision is so he and his family are probably the only people who are directly involved in his case who don’t yet know its outcome. The purpose in sending the Judgment in draft form to the lawyers in advance of the Court hearing is to give them an opportunity to check it for factual mistakes.
The public will not know the outcome until Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser reads out the Judgment in its finalised form, with any factual mistakes corrected, when Court convenes on Monday at 10 am London time. The Judgment should then be published online by the Court Service directly after she has finished. In addition to the Judgment – and obviously to the decision whether or not to extradite, which will be set out in the Judgment – the public may learn immediately afterward whether either of the two sets of lawyers intend to appeal. Either side has seven days to appeal the judgment. While the intent of allowing both sides to see the Judgment in advance is not to help facilitate an appeal, having the judgement before it is read to the court affords attorneys to a chance to consider whether or not to launch one.
If It’s a Split Decision. One possibility that must be considered is that Baraitser may decide to extradite on one indictment and not on the other, for instance, if she rules against extradition on the Espionage Act charges, but decides in favour of extradition on the conspiracy to commit computer intrusion charge (which carries a maximum five year sentence as opposed to 170 on espionage.) I think what would happen in that case is that the British authorities would accept Baraitser’s decision and would try to reach an agreement with the DoJ whereby, in return for Assange’s extradition, the U.S. would commit itself to try Assange only on the computer intrusion charges, and not on the Espionage Act charges. The British over the course of the negotiations would tell the U.S. that if the U.S. were not willing to give that commitment then the British would not be able to extradite Assange to the U.S.
Of course the British (if Assange were extradited to the U.S. on such a basis) would be in no position to compel the U.S. to abide by such a commitment if the U..S were to go back on it once Assange was on U.S. soil. Since that has to be a very likely possibility, one would think it would be a point which Assange’s lawyers would make in the appeal they would be bound to make to the High Court against Baraitser’s decision. In fact in such a scenario it’s not impossible that both sides would appeal to the High Court: (1) the U.S. against Baraitser’s decision to refuse to extradite on the basis of the Espionage Act; (2) Assange’s lawyers against Baraitser’s decision to extradite on the computer intrusion charges. It would be a fascinating battle and it would be fascinating to see how it would play out.
Let the dice roll.
Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday embraced an effort by Republican lawmakers to object to Joe Biden‘s electors and to present evidence of fraud when Congress meets Wednesday to certify election results. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, issued a statement ahead of an expected contentious congressional session next week and just hours after 11 senators led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley announced they would contest the results of the November election on the floor of Congress. “Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,” Short’s statement on behalf of the Vice President said. “The Vice President welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on January 6th,” the statement added.
A 10-day audit would not hurt anyone.
A dozen U.S. senators have now pledged to dispute the scheduled congressional election certification set to take place on Wednesday, with a group of senators this weekend calling for an audit of the U.S. election out of concerns over voting integrity. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz posted an announcement on his Senate website stating that he and ten other senators “intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until [an] emergency 10-day audit is completed.”
The senators called upon an Electoral Commission to conduct that audit, after which “individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.” “These are matters worthy of the Congress, and entrusted to us to defend,” the senators said in the statement. “We do not take this action lightly. We are acting not to thwart the democratic process, but rather to protect it.” The senators join Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who earlier this week also pledged to contest the congressional certification of the 2020 election results.
Read the whole thing.
As thousands of Trump supporters prepare to descend upon the Capitol this coming week amid a presidential election they are contesting, there is a mass of confusion and conflicting information about what happens next. You may have heard that a growing list of Republican members of the House and Senate have pledged to object to the electoral count of some states during Wednesday’s joint session of Congress. Most analysts have said such objections, in practical terms, amount to nothing because while they can trigger debates lasting up to two hours, it would take a majority in both the House and Senate to reject the state results naming Joe Biden the next president of the United States. There are other less discussed and, some insist, less likely scenarios. Some of them are examined in a legal analysis by John Yoo and Robert Delahunty.
Published in October, about two weeks before the presidential election, it plays out multiple scenarios including under circumstances like the ones we face today. It is titled “What Happens if No One Wins? The Constitution provides for election crises—and its provisions favor Trump.” Here are some applicable excerpts from the analysis. “Suppose states send electoral votes that—even if certified by the governor—remain under question, whether because of fraud in the vote, inability to count the ballots accurately under neutral rules, or a dispute between branches of a state government… …Vice President Pence would decide between competing slates of electors…
…If the electoral count remains uncertain enough to deprive either Trump or Biden of a majority in the Electoral College, then the 12th Amendment orders that “the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President… …If today’s House chose the president, voting by state delegations, Trump would win handily.” John Yoo and Robert Delahunty, Oct. 19, 2020. An extended excerpt from the analysis follows: …Suppose states send electoral votes that—even if certified by the governor—remain under question, whether because of fraud in the vote, inability to count the ballots accurately under neutral rules, or a dispute between branches of a state government.
How’s that WHO team doing in China? Haven’t seen any news on that.
U.S. National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger is doubling down on the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese government-run lab in Wuhan. Pottinger, a staunch critic of Beijing, allegedly made the claim in a recent Zoom meeting with British officials. “There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus,” Pottinger reportedly said, according to the Daily Mail. The Trump appointee pushed the theory as the European Union made a new investment deal with China last week over protests from Pottinger and hesitance from the incoming Biden administration. Pottinger, one of the first U.S. officials to raise alarms inside White House walls about the origins of the virus back in January 2020, has reportedly suspected since the early days of the outbreak that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab.
He ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to search for evidence that it had, the New York Times reported in April. A Chinese virologist who said she did some of the earliest research on COVID-19 has publicly claimed COVID-19 was man-made, and that the Chinese government covered up its dangers. Western medical experts have discredited the theory. The World Health Organization has been investigating the source of the virus since the first case was made public in January 2020. Patient Zero has not been found. Pottinger suggested in the recent call with British officials that the WHO probe is a ruse.
“MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” Pottinger told the parliamentarians, referring to fake villages created in Crimea in the 18th Century to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was in good health. “Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story,” Pottinger allegedly said, referring to another theory that the virus was transmitted from animals to humans inside a wildlife market in Wuhan where the first cluster of cases emerged.
Got the pics via Dave Collum.
A team of experts has been assembled in Leeds – thought to be among the first of its kind in the country – to tackle what many fear will be a major aspect of the pandemic. National data suggests between two to five per cent of Covid-19 patients will go on to develop ‘long Covid’ – suffering symptoms beyond 12 weeks – leading to an estimated 980 people in Leeds from the first wave alone. The city’s specialist ‘Covid After-Care team’ began work in September, just days after being set up, in a fast-moving bid to reach those in need in Leeds – and what they have uncovered so far has been startling. From the first 188 patients referred in, they have found the average age was 48, with more women than men, none had originally been hospitalised and many were previously extremely fit including personal trainers and athletes now struggling for breath at rest.
The findings have overturned initial expectations that those most affected would be those who had suffered more severely initially – such as the ‘at-risk’ older age groups – and that symptoms would be mainly respiratory. Dr Bryan Power, a GP and clinical lead for long term conditions at NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, who helped set up the team, said: “It’s not the cohort we expected to see. “They are of a younger age than we expected – including a 17-year-old – and also presenting with a complex range of symptoms. Some patients haven’t been able to work for six months.”
[..] “There is a huge host of symptoms but the main ones we’re seeing are fatigue, shortness of breath – that can be at rest as well as exercise; cognitive problems – people suffering short-term memory problems, concentration, many call it ‘brain fog’. “Pain is another big thing – it can be all-body pain, quite often chest pain or lung pain, headaches. “And tachycardia – the heart can be racing when they’re sat on the sofa or on a walk; autonomic dysfunction, random hot sweats, temperature, dizzy when standing. “And as a consequence of these symptoms we’re finding a lot of anxiety.”
“New York has had a 50% increase in homicides and almost a 100 percent increase in shootings.”
At midnight at the start of the new year, if you listened hard, you could almost hear the teeth of an entire nation grinding, or at least of those watching coverage from New York as Mayor Bill de Blasio danced in a nearly empty Times Square. Millions watched as he dipped his wife in a romantic flourish to Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York.” At least Nero made his own music. The scene drew angry rebukes. Andy Cohen said it made him feel sick. “I did not need to see that at the start of 2021. Do something with this city! Honestly, get it together!” In fairness to de Blasio, it probably seemed harmless. Who would object to a guy dancing with his wife? But sometimes a predictable photo turns into a cursed image. Just ask 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis after he took a spin in an army tank.
The image captured what many considered as his faux commitment to a strong defense. He and his campaign failed to think of how driving around looking like Mickey Mouse on a battle tank would only drive home the criticism of his defense policies. For de Blasio, dancing in a nearly empty Times Square came across not as amorous but as delirious in a city in lockdown with a collapsing economy and soaring crime rates. For many, it reinforced the crisis both parties now face. We have become a nation that seems untethered from all reality. In one of the most liberal cities on earth, de Blasio cannot break 40 percent in popularity. But he, like many others, plays to the extreme wings of his party. As crime raged, he pushed to reduce the police budget by $1 billion and eliminated the plain clothes division. New York has had a 50% increase in homicides and almost a 100 percent increase in shootings.
He also closed public schools despite overwhelming scientific evidence of little risk for coronavirus exposure, notably for elementary students. He finally caved to the pressure from parents and experts, admitting there was little risk in having the schools reopen. He supported the closing of restaurants, sending many to insolvency, despite the fact that they contribute to less than 2 percent of confirmed infections. With New York losing money, de Blasio said the federal government could bail out City Hall and local businesses by simply printing more money, a statement both fiscally and politically delusional. As many highly taxed residents continue to move out of New York, de Blasio voices his “tax the hell out of the wealthy” policy. He recently declared that the purpose of public schools is the redistribution of income.
The eerie image of de Blasio dancing in a dead Times Square captures what could await us in 2021. Even if the pandemic is curtailed with the vaccines, cities like New York have been devastated by the lockdowns. There is no way that the federal government can bail out every business and landlord in one city, let alone the entire country.
Not much choice. It’s either BoJo or Blair.
The public are deeply unhappy with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Brexit negotiations, a damning new poll suggests. The poll predicts that if a general election were held tomorrow neither the Conservatives nor Labour would win an outright majority. Disturbingly for Boris Johnson, the survey says the Conservatives would lose 81 seats, wiping out the 80-seat majority they won in December 2019. It gives the first detailed insight into the public’s perception of Johnson’s handling of the Brexit talks and the pandemic, amid fears that Britain is heading into a third national lockdown. The prime minister is on course to lose his own seat of Uxbridge and Ruislip South, if the insight is accurate.
According to the survey of more than 22,000 people, conducted by the research data company Focaldata, using the multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) method that is said to be more than accurate than conventional polling, the results would leave the Tories with 284 seats and Labour with 282 – an increase of 82. Results in Scotland would see the Scottish National party achieve a near complete sweep, winning 57 of the 59 Scottish seats. The poll also predicts the Liberal Democrats would be reduced to just two seats – in Bath and in Kingston and Surbiton – down from the current 11. One in four voters who supported the Lib Dems in 2019 said they will switch allegiance to Labour. Many of the seats that Labour would gain are in the north of England, Midlands and Wales, part of the “red wall” collapse that swept the Tories to power at the last election, the Sunday Times reported.
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