UK judge blocks Assange extradition to US – National & International News – MON 4Jan2021

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UK judge blocks Assange extradition to the US. Trump’s demand to Georgia official to “find votes” may be election fraud. US considers cutting COVID vaccine doses in half to speed rollout. That and more below…

NATIONAL NEWS

Trump’s demand that Georgia official “find 11,780 votes” may be election fraud

Yesterday, a recording surfaced of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the call, Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” the 11,780 votes that would give him the lead in Georgia over President-elect Joe Biden. Trump even threatens Raffensperger with criminal charges if he fails to comply. Specifically, Trump says, “You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen… That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”

Trump then goes on to pressure Raffensburger to simply announce a new vote total. “There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump says.

Did Trump break the law?

Trump’s demand and threat may have broken the law, constituting extortion and possibly election fraud. According to Section 52 of the US Code concerning elections stipulates a prison sentence up to 5 years for any person who:

“(2) knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by…

(B) the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held.”

Bob Bauer, a senior advisor to Biden, says, “We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place”.

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US considers cutting Moderna vaccine doses in half to speed rollout

Both Pfizer and Moderna say their COVID vaccines require two doses to give a person full protection from infection. Despite this, US officials are considering administering only two half doses of the vaccine in order to make the current stock of vaccines available to more people.

Moncef Slaoui, head of the federal vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, says he is in talks with Moderna about the idea. Slaoui asserted that, “We know [two half doses] induces identical immune response” as two full doses. It was not immediately clear on what basis he made that assertion. Moderna and Pfizer have not commented on the plan.

Slaoui also said it would not be clear until spring whether vaccinated people could spread the virus to others.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UK judge blocks Assange extradition to the US

British Judge Vannessa Baraitser announced today that she is ruling against the US Department of Justice in their efforts to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges. The ruling came as a surprise to many who had anticipated that Baraitser would approve the extradition. The US has charged Assange with multiple counts of espionage with sentences totaling 175 years in prison. However, recent DOJ statements suggest the sentence would have been somewhere between 4 to 6 years.

Mental health grounds

Disappointingly, the judge did not reject the extradition on free speech grounds. Nor did she accept the premise of Assange’s defense that the charges were politically motivated and that Assange would not receive a fair trial in the US. Assange’s charges stem from 2010 leaks revealing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, what many consider to be an act of journalism. In her ruling, Baraitser said that US allegations as to Assange’s “conduct, if proved, would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech”.

Instead, Baraitser ruled on the basis of Assange’s deteriorating mental health. Prior to his nearly two-year incarceration in one of London’s worst prisons, Assange had sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London against extradition to Sweden on rape charges. Those charges were later dropped. A near decade of confinement has taken its toll. Baraitser stated that, “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future”. She went on to say Assange had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures during the isolation he would certainly face in the US.

US authorities say they will appeal the decision. They have 14 days to do so. Assange may spend that time at Belmarsh Prison, but a Wednesday bail hearing will make that determination. At present, it is unclear whether Assange will finally be a free man if the appeal is rejected.

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Johnson: No Scottish independence vote until 2055

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that Scotland should not hold another referendum for independence from the UK until 2055. Johnson argues that such referendums should take place only once-in-a-generation, with the thin justification that “they are not particularly jolly events”. In 2014, Scots voted to remain with the UK. However, that was before any serious talk of Brexit appeared on the horizon. Two years later, Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but to no avail.

With Brexit now a reality, along with a new trade regime with the EU, Scotland finds itself losing out on the deal. Among other things, seed potatoes, one of Scotland’s major agricultural exports, have been banned in the EU. 

Johnson and his recent predecessors have repeatedly blocked efforts to initiate a new Scottish independence referendum since 2016’s Brexit vote. In response to Johnson’s recent comments, Keith Brown of the Scottish National Party Keith Brown accused the PM of the “same old incoherent bluster”, warning that “he can’t keep on denying democracy”.

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