Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

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It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

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Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

When is it okay to beat up journalists?

July 8, 2019

Civilization is not so stable that it cannot be broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason, if for no other, revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.

==Bertrand Russell in 1920

Andy Ngo is a photojournalist in Portland, Oregon, who tries to document the claim that the “anti-fa” left engages in unprovoked violence.

The “anti-fa” movement had responded to his charges by breaking his equipment and beating him up, the last time seriously enough to send him a hospital emergency room.

The background is political demonstrations organized by two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, known for engaging in street fighting and trying to provoke retaliation by leftists.  The response by liberals and progressives in the Portland area was to organize much larger counter-demonstrations in reply, which is an effective response.

Andy Ngo after beating

The “anti-fa” movement goes further.  They say it is necessary to meet street violence with violence.  They also say that any fascist – they get to decide who is a fascist – is a legitimate target.

A certain number of self-identified liberals and progressives have written excuses and justifications for “anti-fa” and Ngo’s beating, which is what moves me to write about it.  Otherwise I might have thought of all this as an isolated incident.

Here are some of the arguments:

  • Andy Ngo was looking for trouble and wanted to portray himself as a victim of violence.  If that is so, why give him what he wanted?
  • The reports of Ngo’s beating diverts attention from the real issue, which is that right-wing violence is a worse threat than left-wing violence.  Why can’t you be against both?
  • The “anti-fa” movement hasn’t actually murdered anyone yet.  Good thing Andy Ngo didn’t die of his injuries, then.  The “anti-fa” movement might have been justly criticized.
  • Nobody knows for sure who beat up Andy Ngo.  Supposedly it could have been anyone.  Would that argument be made if some left-wing photojournalist was beaten up after filming right-wing street fighters?

In an earlier era, there were street fighters who called themselves the “black bloc” who’d join peaceful demonstrations and then start breaking windows, overturning cars and so. Like the “anti-fa’ fighters, they wore black clothing and black hooded masks.

They called this as “diversity of tactics.”  The idea is that you do your thing (peaceful protest) and they’ll do their thing (vandalism and street fighting).  The problem with that is that if there is a political demonstration in which the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding and a few break window or throw bricks at police, it is the window-breakers and brick-throwers that will be remembered, not the majority.

This is very different from the miners’ strikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where gun-carrying union members fought virtual wars with corporate mercenaries, National Guard troops and sometimes federal troops.  The right to self-defense is a fundamental right.

The “anti-fa” fighters could provide a valuable service if they acted as a security service for peaceful leftists, as they did during the Unite the Right protests in  Charlottesville., Va., in 2017.

That’s different from denying that there are certain rights, such as freedom of speech, that apply equally to all—the basic principles of liberalism.

If the self-identified left fights the self-identified right with physical force and violence, it will lose.  In the United States today, it is the self-identified right that is better armed, is more willing and able to use lethal force and has more sympathizers in the police and military.

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How to de-partisanize the Supreme Court

July 3, 2019

Nowadays appointments to the Supreme Court are a continuation of partisan politics by other means.

The major political issues of our time are fought out in lawsuits as much as they are in legislative debates or elections.   Maybe this was always true, but it seems to me that stacking the court is being done with much more awareness nowadays than in recent memory.

Self-described liberals do it.  Self-described conservatives do it.  Partisan judicial appointments have several bad effects.

It often happens that several Supreme Court justices reach retirement age during one Presidential term.  It means that President has a greater power than others to stamp his political ideas on the judicial system.

It gives a President an incentive to appoint relatively younger and less experienced judges to the Supreme Court because they will serve longer.  It gives aging and infirm justices an incentive to keep themselves on the bench until a President of their own political faction is appointed.

I propose the following Constitutional amendment to achieve a better political balance on the court.

Each President would have the power to make one, but no more than one, Supreme Court appointment during each two-year term of Congress, with the consent of the Senate.

The new Justice would be sworn in at the end of that term of Congress.

If there were no vacancies on the court, the sitting Justice who’d served the longest would retire.  

If there were more than one vacancy, the additional vacancies would be filled during the next term or terms of Congress.

What this would mean that each President and each Congress would have equal power to make a Supreme Court appointment once every two years.

This would not mean an end of partisanship, but it would mean a better balance.  It would mean that change in the makeup of the Supreme Court would take place over a long period of time and not all at once.

A Mitch McConnell might be able to stymie Supreme Court appointments during one term, but would not get power to make extra appointments during the next term.

The normal term of office of a Supreme Court justice would be 18 years.  That’s a reasonable length of time, but most Justices would be able to retire while in good mental and physical condition.

The fact that vacancies on the court would not always be filled promptly would be inconvenient. but the court has sat with fewer than nine Justices inn the past.

I don’t think there is any chance of such a proposal being adopted at the present time.  But if and when the two parties decide to call a truce, this would be a way to implement it.

From white supremacy to white nationalism

June 17, 2019

This interview with Kathleen Belew was aired July 24, 2018.

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I learned two important things from reading BRING THE WAR HOME: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew (2018).

One is how the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist organizations changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s from vigilantes upholding a racist order to revolutionaries and secessionists trying to overthrow an anti-racist order.

The other is that so much of what I thought of as isolated incidents, ranging from the murder of talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were in fact planned by a revolutionary movement.

Belew began her account with the story of a Klansman named Louis Beam who served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.  He regarded U.S. defeat in Vietnam as a betrayal engineered by Jews and Communists.  He and his like-minded friends regarded themselves as soldiers.  They regarded the war against Communism as the same thing as the war against racial integration and racial equality.

They obtained and stockpiled military ordnance, organized private militias and military training camps and enlisted as mercenaries in support of anti-Communist fighters in Africa and Central America.   The South African and Rhodesian governments made use of them, and so did the Central Intelligence Agency.

They saw no difference between killing Communists in Vietnam or Nicaragua and killing Communists in the USA.  Klansmen and Nazis joined forces in the shooting of Communist anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, resulting in the deaths of five white men and one black woman.

But at some point, they came to regard the U.S. government as hopelessly compromised.  The annual Aryan Nations World Conference at Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced a new organization called the Order, which would coordinate the Klan, Nazis and other white racist organizations, such as the Mountain Church, the White Patriot Party and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

Their new goal was to establish a separate white enclave and eventually to break up the United States and forcibly move whites, blacks and maybe other racial groups into separate areas, while deporting Jews to Israel.  Beam commented that carrying out this program might make the Third Reich seem mild in comparison.

Their idea was that African-Americans, being members of an inferior race, could not have more their civil rights on their own.  They thought that black people must have been aided by the Jews, whom they regarded as super-smart but evil.

Members of the Order swore to carry out “a sacred duty to do whatever is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”

The Order’s plans included (1) paramilitary training, (2) robbery and counterfeiting to raise money, (3) purchase of military-grade weapons, (4) distribution of money and weapons to white power groups, (5) assassinations of enemies and informers and (6) a cell-type organization so that rank-and-file members only knew the names of members of their own group.

Beam’s vision was a “leaderless resistance,” in which there was no top-down chain of command, but a network of cells linked by Liberty Net, a computer network.  This was prior to the Internet, a time when computer networks were a novelty.

They got a lot of their ideas from U.S. Army training manuals on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, and their system of organization resembled the Communist fighters in Vietnam and the radical Muslim jihadists of a later era.

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Will Julian Assange die before he is tried?

May 30, 2019

Julian Assange’s lawyer said that Assange is too sick to carry on a normal conversation, that his health has deteriorated since his arrest, and that he has been transferred to the health ward of Belmarsh prison.

His health had reportedly been failing even before his arrest, as a result of being cooped up in a windowless room for seven years and not being able to get medical care he needed.

There is now no good reason why he shouldn’t receive all the care he needs, and it is possible that he is receiving such care. I hope my suspicions are groundless, and maybe they are.

But the events of the past 15 or 20 years have left me unable to say, “Such and such is impossible because the British (or U.S.) government would never do such a thing.”

It would be much more convenient from the U.S. and British governments if he were to die before being put on trial.  And treating Assange as some sort of super-villain terrorist who requires extra isolation from human contact is one way to accomplish that.

LINKS

Statement of Kristin Hrafnsson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief.

Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill And Hardly Anybody’s Talking About It by Caitlin Johnstone.

The UN Torture Report on Assange Is an Indictment of Our Entire Society by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 5/31/2019]

New jeopardy for Assange and press freedom

May 24, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated Julian Assange on new charges—violation of the Espionage Act of 1917—which carry a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison.

What he is accused of is publishing confidential information disclosing American war crimes in Iraq in 2010.

The previous indictment accused him only of aiding and abetting unauthorized access to computer files, which would have meant a maximum penalty of five years.

Violations of some sections of the Espionage Act carry a maximum penalty of death, but these involve giving military secrets to an enemy in time of war, which Assange is not accused of.

He would most likely wind up in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and conceivably could spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

If he can be sent to prison for that, it means that the U.S. government has the power to commit crimes, up to and including murder, classify the evidence of those crimes as secret and send anybody who discloses those crimes to prison.

If he is sent to prison for that, it means that such freedom of the press as exists in the United States exists at the whim of whoever is in charge of the government.

So far as I know, the only prominent politician who has come to the defense of Julian Assange is Tulsi Gabbard.

In other news, Chelsea Manning is back in prison for refusing to testify against Assange.

And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has rejected a resolution demanding that the President ask permission from Congress before attacking Iran.

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The case Assange’s lawyers will try to make

April 22, 2019

John Helmer, an independent reporter who mostly writes about Russia, said that Julian Assange’s British lawyers will defend him by putting American justice on trial.

British courts have refused Russian requests to extradite Russians on corruption charges, on the grounds that the Russians would not get a fair trial.  They almost certainly would not extradite a Russian on charges of revealing state secrets.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that Assange cannot get a fair trial in the United States any more than an anti-government Russian could get a fair trial in Russia.

The U.S. government has charged Assange with conspiring with then-Pvt. Bradley Manning to gain unauthorized access to a government computer, a charge that carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Ecuador released Assange on the understanding that he would not be tried in a country with the death penalty.  The United States of course has the death penalty, just not on that particular charge.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that there is no guarantee that, once Assange is in U.S. custody, additional charges will not be added, including violation of the Espionage Act, which carries a possible penalty of death.

The computer tampering that Assange is accused of helping occurred in March, 2010.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that, if he was in London at that time, he should be tried on this charge in a British court, not an American one.

Overall, their strategy will be to try to put the United States government on trial rather than Assange.

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The Assange prosecutors’ clever strategy

April 12, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice cleverly Julian Assange is conspiracy to commit computer hacking—not violation of the Espionage Act.

This means that he would not face the possibility of execution or life imprisonment, as would have been possible under the Espionage Act.  The maximum penalty he faces is five years in prison.  Also, he would get a trial in a civil court and not before a secret military tribunal.

But it also makes his extradition more certain.  UK prosecutors promised President Moreno of Ecuador that Assange wouldn’t be extradited to a country with the death penalty.  The United States has the death penalty, but extraditing him to be tried for computer hacking rather than espionage could be seen as a way to keep this promise.

It also means Assange’s lawyers wouldn’t be able to raise the issue of abuse of the Espionage Act as a vehicle for censorship..

I say all this conditionally because there is a strong possibility that additional charges will be added later.

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Did Assange go stir-crazy in embassy?

April 12, 2019

The conventional wisdom is that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno booted Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy because of pressure from Washington.

President Moreno agreed to Washington’s demands that he deny asylum to Assange and dropping claims against Chevron for environmental damage to Ecuador’s rain forest.

He then received $10.2 billion in rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, both headquartered in Washington and dominated by the United States.

CNN and Vox reported claims of strange behavior by Assange—behavior characteristic of a prisoner in solitary confinement who has had a mental breakdown.  If true, Assange is in need of psychiatric help.

Now people who defy the powers-that-be are always targets of character assassination.  All this could well be a smear.  It should be noted that neither CNN nor Vox quotes embassy staff or anyone else who personally observed Assange’s behavior, nor shows any effort to get Assange’s side of the story.

But Assange’s friends say he has suffered a deterioration in physical and mental health and has been denied access to care.  I hope he gets whatever care he needs.

The CNN report said that the Ecuadorian government’s main complaint against Assange was that he interfered in Ecuador’s internal affairs and tried to destabilize the country.

Vox also wrote that Moreno’s main complaint against Assange is that he refused to cease political activity, even when embarrassing to his host country.  He wrote that Moreno blames him for a leak of documents to an anonymous web site showing that he and his family may have profited from offshore bank accounts in Panama.

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Julian Assange arrested, taken from embassy

April 11, 2019

Julian Assange removed from Ecuadorian embassy. Source: Ruptly

British police have arrested Julian Assange and taken him from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was given political asylum nearly seven years ago.

He’ll stand trial on charges of breaking the agreement that allowed him to be released on bail while he was fighting extradition to Sweden to answer questions in regard to alleged rape.  That case was dropped several years ago.

But his case was never treated as a routine extradition case.  The U.S. government regards him as a one-man hostile foreign power because his WikiLeaks organization published secret documents and videos documenting U.S. crimes, notably in the Collateral Murder video.

The issue is not whether he is guilty of jumping bail.  The issue is whether someone can be sentenced to prison for publishing information that a government wants to keep secret.

The practice until now is that whistleblowers are charged as criminals, just like spies, but newspapers and broadcasters have not been charged for publishing the information they get from whistleblowers.

Admittedly this is not logical, but it has made possible a rough balance between government’s need to keep certain information confidential and the public’s right to know what government is doing behind its back.

If Assange is extradited to the United States and convicted of espionage, it will create a precedent by which the editors of the New York Times can be prosecuted for publishing leaked information.  In fact, in theory, the editors of The Guardian in London could be prosecuted by the U.S. government.

Assange is an Australian citizen and has never been based in the United States.   If he falls within U.S. jurisdiction, so does anyone on the planet.

He has a reputation for being a difficult person.  I wouldn’t know about that.  I don’t think anybody’s disposition would be improved by being cooped up in a couple of rooms and never going outside for nearly seven years.

He is a hero.  He has defied the world’s biggest superpower to make known the truth.  It will be a sad day if he goes to prison for revealing the truth.

LINKS

WIKILEAKS DEFENSE FUND

“Assange Is Not a Journalist”: Yes, He Is, Idiot by Caitlin Johnstone.

Julian Assange Has Been Arrested for U.S. Extradition | The Time to Act Is Now by Caitlin Johnstone.

Julian Assange Dragged Out of Ecuadorian Embassy and Arrested by British Police by Matt Novak for Gizmodo.

Julian Assange Arrested in London After Ecuador Withdraws Asylum; U.S. Requests Extradition by Robert Mackey for The Intercept.

Yes, You Should Fear the Arrest of Julian Assange by Kelley Beauchar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Julian Assange Will Die Along With Your First Amendment Rights by Peter Van Buren on We Meant Well.

Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks and the Deepwater Horizon by Greg Palast.

Why the Assange Arrest Should Scare Reporters by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Truth-teller Chelsea Manning faces prison again

March 9, 2019

Chelsea Manning went to prison for seven years for leaking true information about U.S. atrocities in Iraq to WikiLeaks.  Now she has been imprisoned again for refusing to testify before a Grand Jury that is considering indictment WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange for publishing that information.

She is a hero.  Julian Assange is a hero.  Caitlin Johnstone sums up the situation well.

The United States government has just re-imprisoned one of the nation’s greatest whistleblowers to coerce her into helping to destroy the world’s greatest leak publisher, both of whom exposed undeniably true facts about war crimes committed by that same United States government. Truth tellers are being actively persecuted by this same power structure which claims it has the moral authority to topple governments and interfere in international affairs around the world, exactly because they told the truth.

Please take a moment to make sure you’re really appreciating this. Assange started a leak outlet on the premise that corrupt power can be fought with the light of truth, and corrupt power has responded by smearing, silencing, and persecuting him and doing everything it can to stomp out the light of truth, up to and including re-imprisoning an already viciously brutalized American hero like Chelsea Manning.

Source: Caitlin Johnstone

Self-described liberals such as Rachel Maddow have turned on Julian Assange because he published information unfavorable to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.  They say he was in cahoots with Donald Trump.  Then why is the Trump administration going all-out to put Assange in prison?

LINKS

US Re-Imprisons Chelsea Manning To Coerce Her to Testify Against WikiLeaks by Caitlin Johnstone.

Rachel Maddow Deceives Audience About Assange by Caitlin Johnstone.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard Takes a Strong Stand for WikiLeaks and Freedom of the Press by Cassandra Fairbanks for Gateway Pundit.  [Added 3/11/2019}

Chelsea Manning’s Refusal to Testify Against Wikileaks Will Help Save Press Freedom, an interview of Glenn Greenwood on Democracy Now! [Added 3/13/2019]

Chelsea Manning Defies Secret Grand Jury, Julian Assange Scoops Michael Cohen by Ann Garrison for Black Agenda Report [Added 3/14/2019]

Addiction, depression and the war on drugs

January 23, 2019

Hat tip to Pete’s Politics and Variety.

Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015) and Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions (2018)

In the first book, he argued that drug addiction is not mainly a chemical dependency; it is an escape from pain and misery.  In the second, he argued that depression is not mainly a result of a chemical imbalance, it is a reaction to pain and misery.

The answer to both addiction and depression, Hari believes, is to enable people to fulfill their basic needs, material and psychological.

Late last year he was in Brazil, promoting the Portuguese-language version of Lost Connections, and did a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Greenwald about addiction, depression and drug policy.

The most interesting part, to me, starts at about the 38 minute mark.  It is about Switzerland’s successful drug legalization policy, which began in 1991.  

In Switzerland, a heroin addict can visit a clinic and get a medically-supervised injection of heroin.  This does not, as I might have thought, lead to an increase in heroin use.  Just the opposite!

The reason is that Switzerland uses the money saved from not enforcing drug laws to help addicts obtain jobs. housing and therapy.  Over time they commonly find they no longer want to escape from reality.

This fits in with the famous “rat park” experiment.  Scientists found that rats in cages prefer heroin to food and water to the point where they literally will die of starvation.  But one scientist decided to create a “rat park,” containing everything that might constitute a good life from a rat’s point of view.  Happy rats had no interest in heroin.

Unfortunately I don’t think such an experiment is feasible in the United States.  The reason is that millions of Americans, maybe a majority of the population, are stressed and fearful.  Many can’t pay their medical bills.  Many are burdened with student debt. Many are losing ground economically.

I think they would be very jealous if the minority of the population who are addicted to drugs are guaranteed jobs, housing and even drugs themselves.  It is actually more practical to make things better for the American public as a whole than for a targeted group, such as addicts.

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Are police shootings only a race issue?

January 9, 2019

African-American men are shot dead by American police at a much higher rate than white men.  Almost everybody knows this, or should.

In 2012, according to FBI data, African-Americans were 13 percent of the population, but 31 percent of those were shot dead by police, and 39 percent of those shot dead who weren’t attacking.   

But what about shootings of white men?  Are they all justified?  Should we be worried about them?

The World Socialist Web Site pointed out that in some areas of the USA, poor white men are at just as much risk of being killed by police, or even greater risk, as black men.

[There is a] vast and rising death toll among working-class white men in rural and small-town America, who are being killed by police at rates that approach those of black men in urban areas.

Police violence is focused overwhelmingly on men lowest on the socio-economic ladder: in rural areas outside the South, predominately white men; in the Southwest, disproportionately Hispanic men; in mid-size and major cities, disproportionately black men.

Significantly, in the rural South, where the population is racially mixed, white men and black men are killed by police at nearly identical rates. What unites these victims of police violence is not their race, but their class status (as well as, of course, their gender).

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who now teaches criminal justice at CUNY, reported that the states with the highest-rates of police killings have lower-than-average black populations, and the states with the higher percentages of black people have lower-than-average rates of police killings.

Utah has a murder and violence rate below the national average, a low poverty rate, and is 90 percent white. And yet people in Utah are almost five times as likely an in New York to be killed by a cop.  Utah has murder rate lower than NYC, 1/5 the poverty rate, far fewer cops, and Utah is 90% white.  In 2018, the rate of people shot and killed by police in Utah is multiple times higher than NYC.

I’d speculate significant variables are (in no particular order) training, fewer cops per capita, fewer cops per mile (no backup), one-person patrol, more guns, gun culture, more meth, more booze, and race (with more white states having more police-involved shootings).

The ten leading states — as in cops most shootingest states — in rank order, are New Mexico, Alaska, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, West Virginia, Montana and Idaho.  It certainly seems like if we were to focus on the states that have the highest rates of police-involved shootings (and by far), we could find some low-hanging fruit to reduce the number of said shootings.  But to do this we’d have stop thinking of police-involved shootings as primarily related to race.

Collectively the top-10 states are 4.9 percent African-American (compared to 13 percent nationally). These are the cowboy states out west. The 10 states with the highest percentage of black population (collectively 25%) have a rate of police-involved homicide (0.24) that is below the national average.

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U.S. claims jurisdiction over Chinese biz exec

December 11, 2018

Meng Wenzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, a giant Chinese telecommunications company, was arrested while passing through Vancouver on charges related to U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wenzhou

She is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the company’s founder.

She reportedly is accused of concealing the fact that a company called Skycom, which does business with Iran, is a subsidiary of Huawei, and thereby causing Huawei clients to unknowingly violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.

In other words, a foreign business executive has been arrested on foreign soil for breaking U.S. domestic law.  This is a power grab that the U.S. would not tolerate if a foreign government did it to a U.S. executive.

It is a slap in the face at China as a time when Presidents Trump and Xi were trying to resolve trade disputes.  It could raise hostilities between China and the U.S. to a new level.

I can think of four possible explanations for the U.S. action, all of them bad—

  1. President Trump arranged this deliberately as a way of putting pressure on President Xi.
  2. President Trump knew about the charges, but didn’t think they would affect trade negotiations.
  3. American officials proceeded without notifying President Trump because they didn’t understand the significance of their actions.
  4. American officials proceeding without notifying President Trump because they saw Huawei as a security threat or wanted to undermine the Trump-Xi negotiations.

Huawei sells telecommunications equipment and networks.  It reportedly has more than 180,000 employees and does business in more than 100 countries.  It is reportedly the world’s second largest manufacturer of smartphones.

Many Western countries and companies in recent months have stopped doing business with Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom company, because they fear their equipment could be used for cyber-espionage by the Chinese government.  I think that is a reasonable fear.  The arrest of Ms. Meng is not reasonable.

LINKS

The War on Huawei by Jeffrey Sachs for Project Syndicate.

How Huawei’s CFO ended up in a jail in Canada by Julia Horowitz for CNN Business.

What’s going on with Huawei? by BBC News.

Meng’s arrest could plunge US, China into high-tech Cold War by Gordon Watts for Asia Times.

Huawei’s amazing global rise shrouded in controversy by Gordon Watts for Asia Times.

How Meng Wanzhou’s Arrest Might Backfire by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.

Black Lives Matter and the real terrorists

October 14, 2018

My dictionary’s definition of terrorism is “the use of terror and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon.”

If there is any group of people in American history who have been terrorized, it is African slaves and their descendants.  When they were theoretically emancipated, a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, arose to intimidate and subjugate them through the use of terror and violence.  The Klan was a predecessor and role model for Nazism and fascism in 20th century Europe.

I can remember when white people could kill black people with impunity in certain parts of the country. Patrisse Cullors, pointed out in her book, When They Call You a Terrorist, written with Asha Bandele., that white people are still killing unarmed black people out of fear, and often getting off with no punishment or token punishment.

Yet when she joined with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to form Black Lives Matter, they themselves were accused of terrorism, even though Black Lives Matter neither practices nor advocates violence.

The FBI has added “black identity terrorism” to its categories of terrorism.   There could be such a thing, I suppose, but most domestic terrorists, including those who attack police, are white racist terrorists.

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The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

∞∞∞

You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

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Why Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

October 3, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh is a political hack who should not have received the Court of Appeals appointment he has, and should have been rejected by the Senate committee as a nominee for Supreme Court without calling Christine Blasey Ford to testify,

He got his start helping special prosecutor Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton, was part of the legal team that challenged the voter recount in Florida in 2000 and then worked for White House Special Counsel Alberto Gonzalez in the George W. Bush administration.

There are questions as to whether he was involved in discussions of warrantless surveillance, warrantless detentions and torture, and George W. Bush’s sweeping assertions of presidential authority in signing statements. Kavanaugh has said these issues weren’t part of his job, while the Trump administration has held back on releasing the documentary record of Kavanaugh’s service.

What Kavanaugh thinks about these questions goes to the heart of his understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law.  At the very least, he should be questioned closely about what he thinks about these issues.

As for Dr. Ford’s allegations, I’ve not followed the committee hearings closely, but it seems to me that she is telling the truth she says that at age 15, she was in a room with Kavanaugh, he grabbed her and she thought he was trying to rape her.  She was traumatized by something.

We’ll probably never know that Kavanaugh thought he doing.  He may not remember himself.  All we do know is that he has not been frank about what happened.

Should this, in and of itself, be a disqualification for serving on the Supreme Court?

This is not a case like Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, Bill Clinton in 1992 or Donald Trump in 2016, in which supporters of a candidate had to choose between overlooking reprehensible conduct or letting the bad side (as they saw it) win.

The position could be filled by one of many right-wing judges who’ve never been credibly accused of sexually abusing women.

The Trump administration has nothing to lose by withdrawing Kavanaugh’s name and proposing another conservative.  Kavanaugh’s life will not be ruined.  He’ll remain in his plum job as Court of Appeals judge.

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What we know about Trump’s ties to Russia

September 8, 2018

Here’s what is known so far about Donald Trump and his relationship to Russia.

He has had extensive business dealings with rich Russians, including organized crime figures.  He son spoke of how the Trump Organization benefited from Russian money.

President Trump

Like many right-wing Republicans, he admired Vladimir Putin as a decisive, authoritarian leader.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve relations with Russia.  I personally think that was a good thing, not a bad thing.  There is no conflict of interest between the USA and Russia that justifies risk of nuclear war.

President Putin, in response to questions, publicly said in 2015 and 2016 that he would welcome Trump’s election because he wanted better relations with the United States.

Various Russian agencies tried to aid Trump’s campaign, almost certainly by using social media to campaign and probably by leaking embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  I’m not sure how significant this was.  It may have been more significant than I thought.

President Trump has weakened the Western alliance against Putin and Russia, not by making concessions to Russia but by breaking up the unity of the alliance.  Trump’s trade war threatens the economic interests of allies.  So does his demand that they participate in sanctions against Iran and other countries.   His insults and threats are damaging in themselves.

What I see no evidence of is the claim that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made an explicit deal that Trump would ease up on economic warfare against Russia in return to Putin’s help in the election campaign.

I think Putin would have been a fool to make such an explicit deal, especially with someone as erratic and lacking in self-discipline as Trump.  A deal also would be unnecessary.  All that is necessary for him to advance his goals is for Trump to be Trump.

I also think that the various meetings and attempted meetings between Trump’s supporters and Russians in 2016 are an indication that no deal had been made.  If there had been a deal, what need for further meetings?  Trump and Putin would have made sure to keep their supporters apart.

The solution to U.S. problems regarding Russia are in the United States, not in Russia.  Congress should curb presidential power to change tariffs at will and to commit acts of war.  It should reconsider economic sanctions against Iran and other countries that do not threaten us.

Voting systems should be secured against electronic hacking by means of publicly counted paper ballots.  Social media should be protected against robo-memes.  Confidential computer files should be made secure even if it means making FBI and NSA surveillance more difficult.

Unfortunately there is no way to curb Trump’s erratic personal behavior between now and the 2020 election.

LINKS

Interview of Glenn Greenwald for the Huffington Post.  Russiagate skeptic’s new view of what’s proven and not proven at this point.

Manafort, Cohen and why Republicans won’t turn on Trump by Emily Stewart for Vox.

Trump’s business ties with Russian oligarchs

August 14, 2018

I probably should refrain from posting anything more about Donald Trump and the Mueller investigations until Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issues his final report.  But having already posted on this topic, I find it hard to stop.  I continually feel the need to make new posts to clarify or explain or update my previous posts.

My present opinion is that if the Mueller investigation finds anything that Donald Trump or his inner circle have done that is worthy of indictment or impeachment, it is much more likely to be in their relationships with Russian oligarchs and mobsters than with Vladimir Putin or (knowingly) with the Russian FSB.

Trump’s whole business career was based on his relationships with corrupt American officials and organized crime figures.   The revival of his real state empire after the collapse of his casino gambling business was largely due to infusions of Russian money, as Donald Trump Jr. boasted in 2008.

Nobody that I know of has proved that Trump knowingly helped Russians launder money they got from crime or corruption, but the question is not only what he knew for a fact, but what he probably guessed and was expected to know, but made sure not to know.

If he or his family have done anything blackmail-able, my guess is that it has to do with business dealings with individual Russians.

[Added 8/16/2018]  One interesting thing about the reports (linked below) on Trump’s business connections with Russian gangsters is that they began in the mid-1980s.  It indicates that the Russian so-called mafia was already a powerful force with ties to Trump even before the fall of Communism.

LINKS

If Trump is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It Works by Garrett M. Graff for Wired.

Buyers with ties to Russia, former Soviet republics, paid $109 million cash for Trump properties by Anita Kumar for McClatchy newspapers.  In case you didn’t know, multi-million dollar real estate deals paid in cash are highly suspicious.

Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos to Unknown Buyers by Thomas Frank for BuzzFeed.  The author is a different Thomas Frank from the one who wrote Listen, Liberal! or What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Trump’s Russian Laundromat by Craig Unger for The New Republic.

The case for Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The case for Julian Assange in a nutshell is that it should not be a crime to expose abuse of power by government.

The I Am WikiLeaks web site, established by the Courage Foundation, gives a more detailed account of Julian Assange’s life and work, and the various charges against him.  Courage has prepared  infographics that give the essence of Assange’s case.

Click to enlage

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Click to enlarge

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The rule of law and Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The rule of law is a fundamental principle, at least as basic or maybe more basic than voting rights and freedom of the press.

This is part of our British heritage, going back to Magna Carta—the idea that nobody, not even the King, is above the law, and nobody, not even the humblest cottager, is below the protection of the law.

For us Americans, the rule of law was part of our Constitution even before we had a specific Bill of Rights.

The Constitution from the beginning has guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, which means the right of  arrested persons to be told what law they are accused of breaking, and forbid ex post facto laws, which declared things illegal after they were done, and bills of attainder, which declared certain persons outside the protection of the law.

I was shocked and disillusioned by how easily, after the 9/11 attacks, these fundamental principles were forgotten.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and now the Trump administration claim the right to order the killing of anyone they deem a threat to the state, based on secret criteria and without accountability to anyone.

George W. Bush had a kill list.  Barack Obama called has a “disposition matrix”.  I don’t know what Trump calls it.  Most of us middle-class white Americans of have come to regard it as normal, possibly because we think only people with dark skins and Arab names will ever be on it.

I read a chilling article by Matt Taibbi about a journalist who figured out he is on the kill list, and is trying to get off it.  He doesn’t know what he is accused of nor how to appeal.

Julian Assange is in a situation in some ways similar to this journalist.  A grand jury has been meeting in Alexandria, Va., since 2010 to consider his case.  James Comey, when he was FBI director, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions have said they intend to apprehend Assange.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has said he’s not interested in testimony from Assange until Assange is in custody.  Yet no charges against Assange have ever been announced.  If the grand jury has indicted him, those indictments are sealed.

Neither the US nor the UK government has been willing to say whether an extradition request is on file.

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In defense of Julian Assange

July 21, 2018

Suppose a government claimed the right to commit crimes, make those crimes state secrets and prosecute anyone who revealed them to the public.

Could you call such a government democratic?  Could you say its people enjoyed freedom of the press?

Yet that is what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.

Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which makes it possible for whistle-blowers to reveal secret documents without their identity being traced.  Wikileaks publications revealed, among other things, the secret bibles of Scientology, censored videos of protests in Tibet, secret neo-Nazi passwords, offshore tax scams by Barclay’s bank, the inside story of the crashing of Iceland’s economy and texts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What got him into trouble was publication of information of crimes committed by the U.S. government, notably the killing of civilians in Iraq, and secret surveillance of the public by U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is why the U.S. government is determined to capture and imprison him.

The espionage laws are intended to punish those who give military secrets to a hostile foreign power.   In the case of Julian Assange, it is we, the people, who were given the secrets.  We are the supposed enemy.

A U.S. grand jury investigation of Assange has been ongoing since 2010.  It is widely believed that it has made sealed indictments against Assange.

He sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to the United States.  Since March, the Ecuadorian government has cut him off from communicating with the outside world, except for his lawyers and Australian consular officials.

Reportedly the government is planning to expel him from the embassy, leaving him subject to arrest by British police and extradition to the USA.  There his likely fate will be imprisonment, probably for life, or execution.

What can be done to Assange can be done to anyone who reveals information the U.S. government wants kept secret.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press, or their own freedom, should stand with Julian Assange.

LINKS

I Am WikiLeaks.

Ecuador Will Immediately Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Be Prepared to Shake the Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested by Caitlin Johnstone.

Inside WikiLeaks: Working With the Publisher That Changed the World by Stefania Maurizi for Consortium News.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom by Chris Hedges for TruthDig.  [Added 7/23/2018]

When the shoe is on the other foot

July 17, 2018

Jack Goldsmith, who posts on the Lawfare blog, asked what will happen when Russia, China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials for computer intrusions and interfering in their politics.

As the Snowden documents and David Sanger’s great new book and other books make plain, and as U.S. officials are wont to brag, the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

Every one of these intrusions in another country violates that country’s criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage, no less than the Russian violations of U.S. laws outlined in Mueller’s indictment.

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.  [snip]

Recall that President Obama boasted that U.S. offensive cyber capacities were the greatest in the world.

Sanger reports that “the United States remains the world’s stealthiest, most skillful cyberpower.”

Then consider:

  • The wide array of U.S. cyber intrusions abroad revealed by Snowden.
  • Olympic Games, the operation against Iranian centrifuges that Michael Hayden compared in significance to the use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.
  • The Shadow Broker leaks of many of the NSA’s offensive tools and what the NSA was doing with those tools.
  • The U.S. Internet Freedom program, which (among other things) provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations with the aim of achieving political change there.
  • U.S. officials assisting and urging U.S. social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.

This is but a bit of the public evidence—surely a tiny sliver of the overall evidence—of U.S. “interferences” abroad using offensive cyber tools of various sorts.

This is not to say, Goldsmith wrote, that Robert Mueller is wrong to pursue his investigation or that we Americans should not be concerned about securing our computer systems.

But if we want other governments to change their behavior, we must be willing to admit and change our own.

LINKS

Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.  Worth reading in its entirety.

How to Stop Russian Election Interference by Ian Welsh.

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Who’s afraid of Julian Assange?

May 16, 2018

The Guardian reported that Ecuador has spent more than $5 million on closed-circuit TV cameras, 24-hour monitoring and other surveillance of Julian Assange, who took refuge in their London embassy in 2012.

Every communication by Assange with the outside world was monitored and recorded.  Guardian reporters were given access to this information.  I imagine British and U.S. intelligence services also have access to it.

The thrust of the articles is what a nuisance Assange has become to the Ecuadorian government and how understandable it is that they want to get rid of their unwelcome guest.  I am sure this is true.  If I were president of a small, vulnerable country such as Ecuador, I would not wish to antagonize the United States and other great powers.

What the articles also show is Assange’s uncompromising loyalty to his self-appointed mission.  The government of Ecuador expected him to refrain from “interfering” with other countries’ politics.  Assange’s publication of confidential e-mails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was regarded as a violation of that, as was his protest against the arrest of a Catalan independen

Then Assange went on to destroy any hope of a pardon from the Trump administration by publishing more confidential CIA information.  He published new information about Russian intelligence surveillance.  Like him or not, you can’t reasonably say Wikileaks is a tool of any government or political faction.

All of this shows that the campaign against Assange is political.  It is not about criminal justice.  No routine bail bond case would ever result in the huge and expensive effort mounted by the British and Ecuadorian governments to bring Assange under control.  Only the naive would think that his only risk is punishment for bail bond violations.

He is a lone individual, standing up to the world’s most powerful governments and calling them to account.  He is hated and feared for telling inconvenient truths.  How can anyone who cares about political freedom not defend him?  It is Assange’s enemies, not him, who have to justify themselves.

LINKS

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy by Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange by Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy? by Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

The Guardian Rejoices in the Silencing of Assange by Craig Murray.  [Added 5/17/2018]

Ecuador Under Lenin Moreno: an Interview With Andrez Arauz by Joe Emersberger for Counterpunch.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  [Added 5/17/2018]

JULIAN ASSANGE’S DEFENSE STATEMENT.  Statement to the Swedish prosecutor after questioning at the Ecuadorian embassy in November 14-15, 2017.

Understanding Julian Assange and US Media by Mike Swanson.  Good background on Wikileaks and older Wikileaks controversies up to early 2016.

The abandonment of Julian Assange

May 15, 2018

These may be the last days of Julian Assange.   He is under virtual solitary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, cut off from contact with the outside world, while the Ecuadorian government is reportedly discussing handing him over to the British government.

He faces arrest jumping bail in a case in which no criminal charges were ever brought, but his real offense has been to publish information embarrassing to U.S. military and intelligence services.

You would think that liberals, progressives and war protestors would rally to the support of Assange, but, for the most part, they don’t.

I know people who in their youth protested the Vietnam War and supported the release of the Pentagon Papers, but can’t forgive Assange for publishing inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton—as if Clinton were an advocate of peace!

It is not as if the Trump administration considers Assange a friend.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange is “a priority.”   Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and now Secretary of State, called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service”, as if it were equivalent to a foreign government.

Assange is not a perfect person.  Who is?  He is a lone wolf who is not aligned with any of the established political parties or movements.  He sometimes expresses himself in offensive ways.  He hangs out with doubtful people.  A relentless propaganda campaign has uncovered everything he has even done that might seem to be wrong.

Grant for the sake of argument that everything said against him is true (which I don’t believe).  Weigh that against the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken in the wars of the Bush and Obama administrations, and in the wars we can expect to be waged in the Trump administration.

In Wikileaks, he has created a technology by which whistle-blowers can expose crimes and abuses without being hunted down and jailed.  This technology will live on when Assange the individual has vanished from the scene.

Assange’s possible fate is to be turned over to U.S. authorities, followed by execution or life imprisonment.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  If you care about peace, or if you care about freedom of the press, demand freedom for Julian Assange.

LINKS

Being Julian Assange by Suzie Dawson.  This is a review and rebuttal of most or all the accusations that have been made against Assange.

On the Silencing of Julian Assange, interviews with John Pilger and Christine Assange (Julian’s mother) for Consortium News.

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US by James Cogan for the World Socialist Web Site.

People Lie to Themselves About Julian Assange to Justify His Persecution by Caitlin Johnstone on her web page.