Common Dreams Staff

Brazilian President Lula da Silva demands freedom for Julian Assange

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva has called for freedom for Julian Assange and denounced the lack of concerted efforts to free the journalist.

Lula spoke to a group of reporters in London Saturday while in town to attend the coronation of King Charles III.

Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has spent four years in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison while fighting extradition to the United States.

"It is an embarrassment that a journalist who denounced trickery by one state against another is arrested, condemned to die in jail and we do nothing to free him. It's a crazy thing," Lula told reporters. "We talk about freedom of expression; the guy is in prison because he denounced wrongdoing. And the press doesn’t do anything in defense of this journalist. I can't understand it."

"I think there must be a movement of world press in his defense. Not in regard to his person, but to defend the right to denounce," Lula told the reporters. "The guy didn't denounce anything vulgar. He denounced that a state was spying on others, and that became a crime against the journalist. The press, which defends freedom of the press, does nothing to free this citizen. It's sad, but it’s true."

Also, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday he too was frustrated over the continued detention of Julian Assange: "enough is enough."

"I know it's frustrating, I share the frustration," Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. from London for the coronation of King Charles III.

"I can't do more than make very clear what my position is, and the U.S. administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government's position is. There is nothing to be served by his ongoing incarceration."

"Enough is enough, this needs to be brought to a conclusion, it needs to be worked through," said Albanese.

Assange has battled for years to avoid being sent to the U.S., where the journalist faces 17 charges of espionage because of WikiLeaks’ publication of a trove of classified documents in 2010.

US prosecutors allege he published 700,000 secret classified documents which exposed the United States government and its wrongdoings in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wikileaks received the documents from Chelsea Manning.

Albanese said Australians cannot understand why the US would free the source who leaked the documents, Chelsea Manning, while Assange still faces life in prison.

President Joe Biden has been accused of hypocrisy for demanding the release of journalists around the world, while he actively seeks the extradition of Assange to face American espionage charges.

Assange faces a sentence of up to 175 years in a maximum security prison if extradited to the United States.

IAEA chief: Situation at Zaporizhzhia 'becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous'

The situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has taken a turn for the worse as Russia has begun evacuating 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region, including Enerhodar.

The BBC has cited a Ukrainian official as saying this has sparked a "mad panic" - and traffic jams have been observed as thousands of people pack up and head out of the city.

The exiled mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, wrote on Telegram that shops in the evacuated areas had run out of goods and medicine. He also said hospitals were discharging patients into the street amid fears that electricity and water supplies could be suspended.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ) experts still at the plant site are continuing to hear shelling on a regular basis, including Friday night. Ukrainian authorities on Sunday said that a 72-year-old woman was killed and three others were wounded when Russian forces fired more than 30 shells at Nikopol, a Ukrainian-held town neighboring the nuclear plant.

The situation is “becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said Saturday.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement :

“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous."

"I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant."

"We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. This major nuclear facility must be protected."

"I will continue to press for a commitment by all sides to achieve this vital objective, and the IAEA will continue to do everything it can to help ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant,” he said.

The expected Ukrainian spring counter-offensive is viewed as likely to take in the Zaporizhzhia region, around 80% of which is controlled by Russian forces.

'All of the survivors are adults': At least 58 migrants killed in boat crash near Italian coast

At least 58 migrants died when their overcrowded wooden boat smashed into rocky reefs and broke apart off southern Italy before dawn on Sunday, the Italian coast guard said. Survivors reportedly indicated that dozens more could be missing.

"All of the survivors are adults," AP quoted Red Cross volunteer Ignazio Mangione. "Unfortunately, all the children are among the missing or were found dead on the beach."

The Italian news agency ANSA said 20 minors are among the dead, including one newborn.

Italian state TV quoted survivors as saying the boat had set out five days earlier from Turkey with more than 200 passengers with people from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan onboard.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government-elected last year on a pledge to stop migrants from coming to Italy-has vowed to stop migrants reaching Italy's shores and in the last few days pushed through a tough new law tightening the rules on rescues.

The Guardian reported:

The prime minister Giorgia Meloni's rightwing government, which came to power in October, imposed tough measures against sea rescue charities, including fining them up to €50,000 if they flout a requirement to request a port and sail to it immediately after undertaking one rescue instead of remaining at sea to rescue people from other boats in difficulty.

Rescues in recent months have resulted in ships being granted ports in central and northern Italy, forcing them to make longer journeys and therefore reducing their time at sea saving lives. Charities had warned that the measure would lead to thousands of deaths.

'Disgracing himself': Hakeem Jeffries blasted after stumping for anti-abortion judge

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries joined New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state Democrats at a Bronx rally Saturday, just days ahead of what is sure to be a contentious confirmation hearing in which progressive lawmakers opposed to LaSalle’s appointment to lead the state Court of Appeals could be decided.

Progressives charge that Hector D. LaSalle is too conservative, anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-due process and his appointment would tilt the state’s top court further to the right.

Jeffries, however, voiced his support for the judge, saying LaSalle is “highly qualified to serve as the chief judge.”

“Period, full stop,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries urged an “up-or-down” vote by the full state Senate. “It’s important for the entire New York state Senate to treat this nomination with the same dignity, decency and respect that every other nomination has received,” he said.

In December, the Democratic governor announced that she'd chosen the conservative judge as the next chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Judge LaSalle is currently the presiding justice of the Appellate Division in Brooklyn.

The nomination was described as "mystifying" and "horrible news" by legal experts, including public defender Eliza Orlins, who pointed to LaSalle's record on abortion and labor rights as reasons that he was "potentially the worst of the seven nominees" the governor chose between.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Progressive lawmakers are working to let the nomination die in committee without advancing it to a full Senate vote. At least 14 Democratic senators have indicated they oppose his selection.

The confirmation fight pits the moderate Hochul against the party’s progressives. Politico reports:

Progressives and labor leaders see the pick as a betrayal after many within their ranks worked to deliver vital last-minute votes to Hochul during the final frantic days of last year’s election. Some reluctant allies are regretting their decision.

“She promised us that we would have a seat at the table,” Jimmy Mahoney, the president of a statewide iron workers union, said at the state Capitol on Monday as labor leaders rallied against the nomination. “She put us on the menu. This is not right. The way it was rolled out, it was so unprofessional and backstabbing.”Democratic leadership in the state Senate warned the newly-elected governor in early December that there would be fierce opposition to a LaSalle nomination

Common Dreams reported last month:

LaSalle is currently the presiding justice of the New York Supreme Court's Second Judicial Department, and as Alexander Sammon and Mark Joseph Stern wrote at Slate, "his record as an intermediate appeals court judge demonstrates a deep hostility to the very values that Hochul claimed she wanted to uphold with this appointment."

In 2017, LaSalle ruled that a so-called "crisis pregnancy center"—where people are pressured into carrying unwanted pregnancies instead of obtaining abortion care—should be shielded from the state attorney general's investigation into whether the facility was practicing medicine without a license. The judge invoked the First Amendment when he ruled that "advertisements and promotional literature, brochures, and pamphlets that the [center] provided or disseminated to the public" should not be investigated.

He also joined other judges in 2015 in handing down a "shocking" opinion, Sammon and Stern wrote, that allowed Cablevision to sue union leaders for criticizing the company's response to Hurricane Sandy, and ruled in 2014 that a criminal defendant should be blocked from appealing his conviction after the defendant claimed he'd been subjected to an illegal search.

Although Hochul claimed she was planning to nominate a chief justice who would help "defend against [the U.S.] Supreme Court's rapid retreat from precedent and continue our march toward progress," if LaSalle is confirmed by the state Senate to a 14-year term, he "would entrench a reactionary majority that would fight tooth and nail against the priorities of New York progressives," wrote Sammon and Stern.

Scientists revive 'zombie' virus after 50,000 years trapped in Siberian permafrost

As our world continues to warm up, vast areas of permafrost are rapidly melting, releasing material that's been trapped for up to a million years. This includes uncountable numbers of microbes that have been lying dormant for hundreds of millennia.

To study these emerging microbes, scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research have now revived a number of these "zombie viruses" from the Siberian permafrost, including one thought to be nearly 50,000 years old – a record age for a frozen virus returning to a state capable of infecting other organisms.

The team behind the study, led by microbiologist Jean-Marie, says these ancient viruses are potentially a significant threat to public health, and further study needs to be done to assess the danger that these infectious agents could pose as the permafrost melts.

The researchers warned it may just be the tip of the iceberg:

'One-quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permanently frozen ground, referred to as permafrost,' researchers wrote in the paper.
'Due to climate warming, irreversibly thawing permafrost is releasing organic matter frozen for up to a million years, most of which decomposes into carbon dioxide and methane, further enhancing the greenhouse effect. Part of this organic matter also consists of revived cellular microbes (prokaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes) as well as viruses that remained dormant since prehistorical times.'

According to Global News:

In 2014, the same researchers unearthed a 30,000-year-old virus trapped in permafrost, the BBC reported. The discovery was groundbreaking because after all that time, the virus was still able to infect organisms. But now, they’ve beaten their own record by reviving a virus that is 48,500 years old.

"If the authors are indeed isolating live viruses from ancient permafrost, it is likely that the even smaller, simpler mammalian viruses would also survive frozen for eons," virologist Eric Delwart from the University of California, San Francisco told New Scientist.

Gavin Newsom calls for windfall tax on big oil profits

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Friday for a windfall profits tax on oil companies that would go directly back to California residents.

While crude oil prices are down nationally, big oil companies have increased gas prices in California by a record 84 cents per gallon in just the last 10 days.

“Crude oil prices are down but oil and gas companies have jacked up prices at the pump in California. This doesn’t add up,” said Newsom. “I’m calling for a windfall tax to ensure excess oil profits go back to help millions of Californians who are getting ripped off.”

California lawmakers are not due back in session until January 2023, which would be the earliest Californians could see any movement on this.

Calls for windfall profits taxes have increased globally in recent weeks.

On Friday, the European Union agreed to impose a new windfall profits tax on fossil fuel companies reaping massive profits from the high price of oil and natural gas.

And on September 20th, in his opening remarks to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on "all developed economies" to tax fossil fuel companies to help those suffering from the climate and cost-of-living crises.

Guterres’ windfall tax proposal would direct those funds: "to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis; and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices."

Guterres accused oil and gas giants of “feasting on a whole bunch of billions of {dollars} in subsidies and windfall profits whereas family budgets shrink and our planet burns.”

Also last week, a report authored by world-renowned economists and advocates called on governments to enact windfall profit taxes and other "emergency" measures to avert a global recession.

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, approved a 25% windfall tax on oil and gas firms in May—but new right-wing Prime Minister Liz Truss has made clear she opposes windfall taxes and won't support any new ones.

'Enough is enough': Protests erupt in the United Kingdom amid soaring prices and tax cuts for the rich

Hundreds of thousands people marched and rallied Saturday in over 50 towns and cities across the UK on a National Day of Action protesting the cost of living crisis in the largest wave of simultaneous protests seen in Britain for many years.

The organizers of the 'Enough is Enough' campaign lists their five demands as:

  1. A real pay rise
  2. Slash energy bills
  3. End food poverty
  4. Decent homes for all
  5. Tax the rich

"The people need to be out in the streets and demanding change from this government, and if necessary, a change of government entirely," said Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT), in a TV interview Friday, as he noted that top executives in the rail industry are expected to gain up to £60,000 ($67,000) from the "mini-budget" introduced by the Conservative government last week.

At King’s Cross rail station in central London, activists supported striking rail workers by rallying outside.

MP Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, spoke to the large crowd in London denouncing the new government’s plans to cut taxes for the richest and benefits for the poorest.

“Our strength is our organization, our strength is our unity,” Corbyn said. “So let’s stand up for what we believe in.”

Don't Pay, a campaign to encourage people to not pay their energy bills, also joined Saturday's rallies.










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