By M.R. Josse
GAITHERSBURG, MD: In this tranquil Maryland haven, a stone-throw distance from the hurley-burley of Washington, D.C., it is impossible to escape the buzz from news that keep streaming out of that ‘swamp’ – as President Donald Trump so famously dubbed it on his campaign trail in 2016.
GAME OF THRONES
While it is impossible, in this space, to cover even a clutch of the most significant of them, what can perhaps be stated without much risk of contradiction is that, increasingly, the bulk of such news stories is related, some way, to the 2020 presidential elections.
Currently, a prime focus of political, media and academic attention is on the contents, in their entirety or a very substantial part thereof, of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 polls.
At the very core of the blizzard of opinions and robust political maneuvering that is currently swirling around is the Republican effort affirming that Trump did not collude with Russia and did not ‘obstruct’ justice in that regard against the Democratic camp’s equally assiduous endeavors to demonstrate that he is guilty of the latter charge – which Mueller tantalizingly left unanswered.
Thus far, Attorney General Williman Barr’s attempt to satisfy the inquisitive political mind by producing a four-page summary and making two trips to Congress promising a greatly expanded report in the near future has only whetted the appetites of many in Congress and beyond for more information.
As a NPR report by Ron Elving has it, that means that tension between President Trump and Congress is likely to escalate into a constitutional confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of government in a sort of legal Game of Thrones.
Some form of compromise might eventually evolve, Elving holds, but it is more likely that the dispute will eventually reach the Supreme Court. “If so, it may be the most explosive of all hand grenades that are expected in the high-court’s black-robed lap in the month ahead.” Personally, that seems a fair enough prognosis.
A spectacular news item last week was the arrest of WiliLeaks founder, Julius Assange, by Britain and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy where he had been lodged for the past seven years as a guest of a then-sympathetic Ecuadorian government.
His arrest came after Assange, who describes himself as an advocate of information transparency but by others as a handler of stolen goods, skipped bail in 2012 over allegations by Sweden of rape and sexual assault, charges dropped in 2017.
The arrest of Assange, an Australian national, came in the wake of Ecuador – where a new government is now in power – scrubbing his asylum status and its London ambassador inviting the British police to remove him from its embassy.
Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno, called Assange a “miserable hacker” and “a spoiled brat” who was disrespectful to officials charged with his care at their London embassy. At a public function in Quito, Moreno repeated the allegation Assange had smeared his own fecal matter on the walls of the embassy and said it was a sign of how he viewed Equador as an insignificant, third-rate country.
Some incredibly still see Assange, a computer programmer, as an intrepid campaigner for truth; far more however – including major governments – perceive him as a reckless ‘hacktivist’ and the man behind the whistle-blowing site WiliLeaks set up in 2006.
Most strikingly, Assange conspired with a U.S. army intelligence analyst, Chelsea (earlier Bradley) Manning, to dump a slew of stolen U.S. confidential documents, at the first instance, in 2010, including thousands dealing with classified military material and diplomatic cables which were circulated around the world via Internet.
(I recall two specifically: one, a diplomatic cable describing the details of a meeting between American Ambassador James Moriarty and the then Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey; another, a more trivial item, describing a spat between yours faithfully and Hindustan Times’ Indian correspondent, Ashok Vyas, as it related to some U.S. policy move vis-à-vis Pakistan!)
Apparently, the arrest of Assange was the result of a deal cut between London and Quito – an arrangement by which the former committed not to send Assange, post-arrest, to any country where him could face the death penalty and the latter to facilitate his arrest by canceling his asylum status.
Assange is currently facing possible extradition to the U.S. to face computer hacking charges relating to his collaboration with Manning. The case against him is shaping up in the U.S. to be a major test of the principle of a free press versus the government’s legitimate need to keep security secrets.
According to CBS, the U.S. Justice Department’s unsealed indictment shows that Assange has been charged with computer hacking crimes for trying to illegally access “secret” materials on a U.S. government computer. The charge relates to materials stolen by Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks. She (then, a he) was working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and was arrested in 2010.
With India now in the throes of multistage general election a brief reference to thoughtful commentaries may be topical.
An AFP story, entitled “The tycoon factor”, described the inordinate amounts of cash sloshing around, raised fears about the integrity of the world largest democratic process.
Karan Thapar, in the Hindustan Times, informs that India has, in fact, become “two countries” – with “a sharp divide between the southern states and all the others.”
Then, an NPR commentary by Lauren Frayer concludes that the elections will, among other things, decide “India’s future as a secular republic.” The word ‘secular’ has apparently become a four-letter word, with even secular parties such as the Congress now shunning its use.
Intriguingly, recalling past braggadocio about a rising or great India, foreign affairs has received little or no attention.
Possibly, the Nepalese political and media class have taken note.