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Will Julian Assange Die in Prison?

Will Julian Assange Die in Prison?

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is suffering significant “psychological torture” and abuse in the London prison where he is being held, and his life is now “at risk,” according to an independent UN rights expert. A senior member of his legal team believes Assange may not live until the end of the extradition process.

Assange mumbled, stuttered, and struggled to say his own name and date of birth when he appeared in court on October 21. The Wikileaks founder is being subjected to long drawn-out “psychological torture” as he battles to prevent his extradition to the United States where he faces a slew of espionage charges, warns Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

“Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life,” Melzer said in a statement on Friday.

“His physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration,” writes former British ambassador Craig Murray, who was present at the October hearing. “When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both… his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought… Until yesterday I had always been quietly skeptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture… and skeptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments.

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Did China Just Announce the End of U.S. Primacy in the Pacific?

Did China Just Announce the End of U.S. Primacy in the Pacific?

Last week’s military parade previewed a series of game-changing weapons that could neutralize American seapower.

Military vehicles carrying DF-17 ballistic missiles march during a parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Sheng Jiapeng/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images) 

For decades, the United States has taken China’s ballistic missile capability for granted, assessing it as a low-capability force with limited regional impact and virtually no strategic value. But on October 1, during a massive military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Beijing put the U.S., and the world, on notice that this assessment was no longer valid. 

In one fell swoop, China may have nullified America’s strategic nuclear deterrent, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and U.S. missile defense capability. Through its impressive display of new weapons systems, China has underscored the reality that while the United States has spent the last two decades squandering trillions of dollars fighting insurgents in the Middle East, Beijing was singularly focused on overcoming American military superiority in the Pacific. If the capabilities of these new weapons are taken at face value, China will have succeeded on this front. 

In the West, it is called RMA, short for “Revolution in Military Affairs.” The term was first coined by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov in the early 1980s. Ogarkov, who was at the time serving as the chief of the Soviet general staff, spoke of “developments in nonnuclear means of destruction [which] promise to make it possible to sharply increase (by at least an order of magnitude) the destructive potential of conventional weapons, bringing them closer, so to speak, to weapons of mass destruction in terms of effectiveness.” 

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George Orwell’s Dystopian Nightmare in China

George Orwell’s Dystopian Nightmare in China

Beijing’s tyranny over its people is fast becoming more terrifying than anything in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Michael Hogue 

It has become fairly cliché to call China’s surveillance state—its artificial intelligence-driven facial recognition, the new “social credit system,” its cultural policing and re-education camps for Uyghur minorities—“something right out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Orwell’s dystopian vision, first published 70 years ago this June, was informed by the fascist and communist movements that triggered worldwide military conflict and the deaths of millions of people during the mid-20th century. But Orwell’s warning went well beyond the wars we knew. It cautioned, noted Erich Fromm in an afterword in the 1961 edition, against the loss of humanity and free thought, and the new, increasingly centralized “managerial industrialism, in which man builds machines which act like men and develops men who act like machines.” It showed how that could be used as a tool of totalitarian ambitions.

China convulsed in revolution during the 1940s; Mao Zedong established the one-party state of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. But Orwell, according to Fromm, had his gaze on Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is set in fictional Oceania, one of three of the world’s superstates. Oceania is run by one party, Ingsoc (English Socialism), headquartered in what is left of post-war London. “Big Brother” is the god-like, mustachioed visage serving as the party’s fearsome symbol of absolute authority.

As rooted as Nineteen Eighty-Four is in Orwell’s own uncertain world, he could not have imagined how his predictions for humankind would morph and metastasize beyond the terrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and into the cyber-authoritarianism we are seeing in Xi Jinping’s China today (still run by the Chinese Communist Party). 

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Is America Ready for John Bolton’s War With Iran?

Is America Ready for John Bolton’s War With Iran?

Recently dispatched B-52s and ships are an act of theatrical bravado that ignore the real threat.

Iranian Army in 2016. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia) 

National Security Advisor John Bolton’s announcement this week that the U.S. is deploying a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region seemed perfectly framed to put America on a war footing with Iran. And it is.

Claiming that the decision was made in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton declared that “the United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.” But, he added, “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”

It took the Defense Department a full day to respond to Bolton’s statement, with acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan finally tweeting that the “announced deployment of the @CVN_72 and a @USAirForce bomber task force to the @CENTCOM area of responsibility…represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

Shanahan followed with another tweet: “We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”

The USS Abraham Lincoln battle group had deployed a month ago from its Norfolk, Virginia, home port and was recently engaged in maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon acknowledged that the Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to support CENTCOM during its deployment, but that its arrival was being “accelerated” due to intelligence indicating an imminent Iranian threat. 

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When Deutsche Bank’s Crisis Becomes Our Crisis

When Deutsche Bank’s Crisis Becomes Our Crisis

Our friends in Europe seem totally incapable of addressing their failing financial sector. And that’s not good for anyone.

By anandoart/Shutterstock

Americans generally think of Europe first as a wonderful place to visit. They rarely ponder the economic and financial ties between the United States and European Union, but in fact these ties are extensive and significant to the stability of both economies. One area of particular connection involves the large banks and companies that provide services on both sides of the Atlantic. It is this area of commercial finance that risks are actually growing to the United States—in large part due to political gridlock in Europe stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

Credit market professionals have been aware of problems among the European banks for many years. Their lack of profitability, combined with high credit losses and a lack of transparency have created a minefield for global investors going back decades. Whereas the United States has a bankruptcy court system to protect investors, in Europe the process of resolving insolvency is an opaque muddle that leans heavily in favor of corporate debtors and their political sponsors.

When we talk about true mediocrity among European banks, one of the leading example are, surprisingly, German institutions. Germany, after all, has a reputation for being the economic leader of Europe and a global industrial power, thus the continued failures in the financial sector are truly remarkable.

The biggest example, Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest bank, has had problems with capital and profitability going back decades. But Deutsche Banks’s problems are not unique. What is troubling and indeed significant for American policy makers, however, is the nearly complete failure of our friends in Europe to address their banking sector, either in terms of cleaning up bad assets or raising capital to enable the cleanup.

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The Death of the Internet

The Death of the Internet

Intended to be open, free, and decentralized, it’s now dominated by a handful of companies that control what we see and what we can say.

Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

The internet was meant to be open, free, and decentralized, but today it is controlled by a few companies with grave consequences for society and the economy. The internet has become the opposite of what it was intended to be.

In the early 1960s, Paul Baran was an engineer at the RAND Corporation when he began thinking about the need for a communications network that could withstand a nuclear strike. RAND was contracted by the Pentagon to create a system that could continue operating even if parts of it were destroyed by an atomic blast. It was supposed to be the ultimate decentralized system. 

Baran went on to publish a paper in 1964 titled “On Distributed Communications,” which was influential in establishing the concepts behind the architecture of the internet. 

Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn put these concepts into practice at the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency in the late 1960s, and created the communication methods that make the internet possible. The principles of freedom and openness were at the heart of the design—packet switching made the system robust in the face of nuclear attacks and Internet Protocol allowed for open interconnection.Advertisement

Years later, Cerf said, “The beauty of the internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group.” In his view, “this model has not only made the internet very open—a testbed for innovation by anyone, anywhere—it’s also prevented vested interests from taking control.”

The principle of decentralization went directly against the business models of technology giants like AT&T and IBM. Until AT&T’s monopoly was broken up in the early 1980s, communications were extremely centralized and traveled through dedicated, point-to-point channels. The use of third-party devices on the network was prohibited. 

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The Coming Bankruptcy of the American Empire

The Coming Bankruptcy of the American Empire

Better to bring the troops home on our terms than wait for a debt crisis to do it for us.

The chickens are coming home to roost. It’s only a question of when.

Herbert Stein was chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and is the father of the more well known Ben Stein. In 1976, he propounded what he called “Stein’s Law”: if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Stein was referring to economic trends, but the same law applies just as much to foreign policy and the concept of empire.

Stein’s Law at first glance might seem like a banal platitude. But we should be fully cognizant of its implications: an unsustainable system must have an end. The American empire is internally flawed, a fact that anti-imperialists both left and right should appreciate.

The United States’ national debt is approaching $22 trillion with a current federal budget deficit of over $800 billion. As Senator Rand Paul often points out, bankruptcy is the Sword of Damocles hanging perilously close to Uncle Sam’s neck. Outside of a handful of libertarian gadflies in Congress such as Paul, there is no serious political movement to curb the country’s wayward spending. It would take some upset of multiple times greater magnitude than Donald Trump’s 2016 victory to alter this course.

The United States holds the most debt of any country in the history of the world. In fairness, when our debt-to-GDP ratio is factored in, there are many countries in far more perilous economic situations than the U.S. But there will come a tipping point. How much debt can the system hold?

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A Renaissance of Localism

A Renaissance of Localism

The movement, once as small as the things it appreciates, is finding traction in our frenzied age.

Town Hall meeting in Kentfield, CA, 2017.Photo credit: Fabrice Florin/Creative Commons

People are at last beginning to pay attention to localism.

The idea behind the term is old—ancient even—but it appears to be “having a moment,” so to speak, in this fractured and divisive era. In their recently released book The New Localism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak argue for city-centric growth and governance, touting a more decentralized mode of leadership and problem solving. Both the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute have recently argued that localism could offer more accountability and empowerment to needy communities. David Brooks wrote a column for the New York Times in July arguing that localism might constitute a “coming wave” in U.S. politics and culture. And Duke Law School professor Joseph Blocher argued for Voxthis spring that “firearm localism” might provide a path forward for gun control and gun rights advocates.

It’s worthwhile, amid all this attention, to revisit the work of those who have been touting the benefits of localism for a decade or more. The Front Porch Republic was founded in response to the 2008 financial crisis, as founding editors Mark Mitchell, Jeremy Beer, and Patrick Deneen recognized the profound inability of both political parties to respond to our nation’s needs. They created an online magazine that offered an alternate view, one not so much “Democratic” or “Republican” as bipartisan and prudential. Their contributing team includes many scholars and professors—such as Hope College political science professor Jeff Polet, Spring Arbor University English professor Jeffrey Bilbro, and Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess—but has also featured the dynamic writing and humor of The American Conservative’s Bill Kauffman and Manhattan native Susannah Black.

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Google Wants to Be Your Media Mommy

Google Wants to Be Your Media Mommy

The company suggest it may have to protect us from the bad things that elected Trump and speech that makes us feel unsafe.

Google might soon add its terms of service to the First Amendment. A leakeddocument from the tech giant argues that because of a variety of factors, including the election of Donald Trump, what we call the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The report lays out how Google can serve as the world’s “Good Censor,” a stern mommy figure protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, dangerous behavior, like electing the wrong president again.

The document, which Google has officially characterized as research, is infuriatingly vague about whether any decisions have been made or action has been taken. So think of all this as a guidepost, like the Ghost of Christmas Future showing us potential doom ahead.

Google maintains 90 percent market dominance in the internet browsing space and processes some 3.5 billion searches a day. It’s now talking about changing the rules so the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you’re allowed to say could depend on Google’s opinion of whether or not it will negatively affect others. To Google, the personal liberty of speech may require balancing against collective well-being. The company is acknowledging for the first time that it has the responsibility and power to unilaterally adjudicate between “free-for-all” and “civil-for-most” versions of society.

We should be paying more attention to how they plan to do this. But because the document leaked on Breitbart and because the initial rounds of censorship have impacted mostly those right of center, it has received little critical attention.

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Seymour Hersh and the Disappearing Iconoclast

Seymour Hersh and the Disappearing Iconoclast

He won a Pulitzer for My Lai and cracked Abu Ghraib wide open. But this reporter is still a lonely breed.

Journalist Seymour Hersh in 2009. Credit: Institute for Policy Studies/Flickr

Seymour Hersh, Reporter: A Memoir, Sy Hersh. Knopf, June 2018, 368 pages

When people are comforted by government lies, trafficking the truth becomes hellishly difficult. Disclosing damning facts is especially tricky when editors en masse lose their spines. These are some of the takeaways from legendary Seymour Hersh’s riveting new memoir, Reporter.

Shortly before Hersh started covering the Pentagon for the Associated Press in 1965, Arthur Sylvester, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, berated a group of war correspondents in Saigon: “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? Stupid.” Hersh was astonished by the “stunningly sedate” Pentagon press room, which to him resembled “a high-end social club.”

Hersh never signed on to that stenographers’ pool. He was soon shocked to realize“the extent to which the men running the war would lie to protect their losing hand.” Hersh did heroic work in the late 1960s and early 1970s exposing the lies behind the Vietnam War. His New Yorker articles on the My Lai massacre scored a Pulitzer Prize and put atrocities in headlines where they remained till the war’s end.

Hersh’s 1974 expose on the CIA’s illegal spying on Americans helped spur one of the best congressional investigations of federal wrongdoing since World War II. (Many of the well-written reports from the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities remain regrettably relevant to the Leviathan in our time.)

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Forget Trump: The Military-Industrial Complex is Still Running the Show With Russia

Forget Trump: The Military-Industrial Complex is Still Running the Show With Russia

As the media fulminates, they fail to see how Trump has kept the usual machinery running.

President Donald Trump has strengthened, not weakened, American military and economic opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That fact has been mostly unreported and it is of the utmost importance. Irrespective of what Trump harrumphs about NATO or Vladimir Putin, the multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex (MICC) rules American-Russian relations as it has for seven decades. And the nightmare of the MICC is not to lose a friend, but to lose an enemy.

Fake news is fixated on personalities. Authentic news understands that nations have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. The executive branch in particular has a permanent interest in exaggerating threats to augment its own power and to order up more superfluous military spending.

President Barack Obama, in opposing Russian designs, refused to provide military assistance to Ukraine. Trump has authorized the transfer of defensive military weapons.

Obama limited the U.S. military mission in Syria to defeating ISIS. Trump has expanded the mission to remain in Syria indefinitely and influence the outcome of that country’s protracted civil war.

Trump is also planning a $1.2 trillion upgrade of our nuclear arsenal, including low-yield tactical weapons, largely targeting Russia. His most recent National Security Strategy paper elaborates:

The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world. China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.

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War Doesn’t Make Sense Anymore

War Doesn’t Make Sense Anymore

It’s become obsolete, the days of conquest are behind us, yet the military-industrial complex grinds on all the same.

America spends more on its military than all its enemies put together yet it still can’t win wars. Failed adventures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have drained America’s power and diminished its prestige. The bloated Pentagon budget actually makes us weaker.

Here’s the weird bit: nobody seems to care. If any other government department spent as much and accomplished as little, the populace would be in arms, complaining about wasteful government spending. Instead we mumble “Thank you for your service” and increase defense appropriations.

War has always been brutal and destructive, but once upon a time it had a purpose. William of Normandy invaded Britain knowing victory would make him rich beyond dreams of avarice. Soldiers followed Genghis Khan, Hernan Cortes, and Napoleon Bonaparte for the opportunity to steal gold, land, or slaves from their defeated enemies. Loot captured in war could transform a man’s life, give him the money he needed to buy land or start a business. For thousands of years, the opportunities inherent in battle gave many men their only chance to escape their impoverished origins. Success in war could turn a brigand into a king.

Today it is trade and technology, not conquest, that makes us rich. It is a cliché of the left that America went to war in Iraq to take their oil. This is a serious misreading of history. For one thing, had George W. Bush told Saddam to either share his oil wealth with ExxonMobil or face invasion, Saddam would have certainly complied. For another, Korean, Russian, Angolan, and Chinese companies all control more Iraqi oil fields today than do American firms. Had we gone to war to steal Iraqi oil, we might have done a better job of it.

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For Peace With Putin, End America’s Pointless Wars

For Peace With Putin, End America’s Pointless Wars

Ignore the establishment: Trump has a huge opportunity at his upcoming summit.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit. Credit: Creative Commons/www.kremlin.ru.

The upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is an overdue opportunity for the American president’s next bold peace initiative. It is time for the U.S. to stop its wasteful wars, and Russia can be a constructive partner to this end.

The mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic will howl against any agreement between Trump and Putin—no matter what’s in it. So why not take steps that the American public will instinctively understand and that will provide the support for Trump to end America’s failed interventions? Besides what are his opponents going to do? Vilify him for seeking peace and starting the process of healing the many wounds of the wars? The American people are not fooled by false claims that Trump is soft on terrorism; they are aware that U.S. military interventions oftentimes can—and do—fuel terrorism.

President Trump should propose a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan in exchange for a drawdown of Russian troops in Syria (along with a pledge that America has no interest in reengaging in the Syrian Civil War). This would be consistent with Trump’s oft-stated observation that America’s wars (declared and undeclared) in the Middle East have been a waste.

Trump need not “recognize” the Russian annexation of Crimea but he should assert that a resolution to the situation on the ground in Ukraine is a European matter—to be settled by bilateral negotiations between Russia and Europe.

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The Saudi-UAE Alliance is the Most Dangerous Force in the Middle East Today

The Saudi-UAE Alliance is the Most Dangerous Force in the Middle East Today

The latest: they are bombing a port that accounts for 80 percent of the food and aid trickling into starving Yemen.

Prince Salman meets with officials at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD/Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

For three years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have conducted a murderous campaign to reinstall a pliable regime in the desperately poor country of Yemen. This campaign is based on a lie intended to gain American support: that the two authoritarian monarchies are responding to Iranian aggression. Now the UAE is preparing a military offensive that could split Yemen apart and create mass starvation.

The Saudi-Emirati alliance is the most dangerous force in the Middle East today. Sometimes acting alone, but usually in tandem, the two dictatorships have promoted intolerant Wahhabism around the world, backed brutal tyranny in Egypt and Bahrain, supported radical jihadists while helping tear apart Libya and Syria, threatened to attack Qatar while attempting to turn it into a puppet state, and kidnapped the Lebanese premier in an effort to unsettle that nation’s fragile political equilibrium. Worst of all, however, is their ongoing invasion of Yemen.

To demonstrate support for its royal allies, America joined their war on the Yemeni people, acting as chief armorer for both authoritarian monarchies and enriching U.S. arms makers in the process. America’s military has also provided the belligerents with targeting assistance and refueling services. And our Special Forces are on the ground assisting the Saudis.

The result has been both a security and humanitarian crisis. Observed Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment: “By catering to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the United States has empowered AQAP, strengthened Iranian influence in Yemen, undermined Saudi security, brought Yemen closer to the brink of collapse, and visited more death, destruction, and displacement on the Yemeni population.”

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How the Cult of the Colossal Imperils American Agriculture

How the Cult of the Colossal Imperils American Agriculture

Stressed-out farmers today only grow food for global consumption, and that is leading to a crisis at home.

The 2018 farm bill is currently at a standstill as congressmen debate proposed changes to the bill’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provisions. SNAP is a huge and important welfare program, one that reminds us that the USDA and the farm bill are not focused exclusively on farms, but are also responsible for a bevy of other rural development issues (such as rural energy programs, the rural housing service, and rural utilities service).

But this pause in the farm bill process also gives us an opportunity to talk about what this bill does not usually do well: namely care for the nation’s small to midsize farmers and incentivize sustainable farming methodologies.

This deficit in focus and care is not new. The farm bill’s bias towards bigness has existed for decades now, and was doubly reinforced during the 1970s by USDA Secretary Earl Butz (the man who notoriously told farmers to “get big or get out”). Many of the agricultural revolutions we’ve seen over the past few decades—from small family farms to large-scale factory farms, from crop diversity to commoditized homogeneity—emerged most prominently in the 1970s and 1980s under Butz’s leadership at the USDA. At the time, our understanding of agriculture and its purposes were also shifting: what had formerly been understood as a local enterprise meant to feed local inhabitants was increasingly viewed as a global enterprise meant to foster trade relations and massive corn and soybean sales overseas.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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