A scandal-tainted GOP federal judge ruled in December to strip a casino gambler of $10 million in winnings just as Republicans prepare to pack the courts in 2017 after blocking Obama appointments to the lifetime posts.
 
The two developments underscore the mainstream media's reluctance to report in depth on judges and nominees except in the rarest of scandals.

Noel HillmanThe Washington Post, for example, omitted any mention of New Jersey federal judge Noel Hillman's past in reporting about him on Dec. 20 in a story headlined Famed poker pro with ‘remarkable’ $9.6 million scheme has to pay it back, judge rules. That omission typifies the timid, superficial coverage that traditional newspapers and broadcasters accord to judges and nominees.

Hillman, shown in an official photo, began his career in 1986 as law clerk for two years to casino magnate Donald Trump's sister. Hillman later helped the George W. Bush administration orchestrate the Justice Department's nationwide political prosecutions to destroy opponents, which resulted in several of the most notorious legal disgraces in recent U.S. history, including the federal corruption prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

Another front-page Washington Post story earlier this week, Trump in position to reshape judiciary with more than 100 vacancies, shows why judicial oversight should loom as major issue after the Trump administration takes office next month.

But that can never occur so long as media outlets foster the illusion that judges are inherently wise, fair and needing little scrutiny. Judges themselves seek to portray this image (as implied by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' year-end report on the federal judiciary, released on Dec. 31).

Today we recap Hillman's innovative (if not activist) casino ruling, then explore the disturbing way he worked his way through the legal system. He reached a position where, beginning in 2001, he helped supervise a series of seemingly partisan Justice Department prosecutions that primarily targeted Democrats, including Siegelman.

The former governor Siegelman, for many years of one his state's most popular politicians, is still being held in the Louisiana federal prison at Oakdale for 1999 conduct that many legal experts say did not constitute a crime, and certainly not one meriting such long, oppressive investigation and punishment.

During Hillman's five-year tenure as a senior official in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, the department waged an all-out crusade against Siegelman beginning in 2001. It joined forces with Alabama's GOP Attorney General William Pryor in a joint federal-state probe that state Republicans had begun at the start of Siegelman's term in 1999.

The special investigation was located at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base for unexplained reasons suggesting the police state tactics in the offing. Playing a lead role was an Air Force colonel who held a joint appointment to the Justice Department and the Air Force Reserves. The Bush administration spared no expense to intimidate witnesses, according to sworn statements and other evidence. For example, they interrogated the key witness Nick Bailey up to 70 times without required disclosure to the defense, and threatened Bailey, a former aide to Siegelman, with 10 years in prison and the likelihood of repeated rape there if he did not provide the required testimony against his former boss.

Siegelman's first trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham indicated at trial that he believed charges were weak (later describing them as the "most unfounded' he had seen in nearly three decades on the federal bench). Authorities shopped for a new judge in a second trial and obtained the ethically compromised trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of the middle district in Montgomery. Fuller thereupon provided many pro-prosecution rulings on dubious grounds, as documented below.

Alabama's two U.S. Senators, Jeff Sessions (now President-elect Trump's nominee for Attorney General) and Richard Shelby, were part of the Alabama GOP power structure that had sponsored the key judicial and prosecutorial nominees aside from Clemon.

Don Siegelman with Charles Cloud Dec. 11, 2015 at Oakdale, LAUpdate: Washington Post's Sari Horwtiz reported Jan. 3 in More than 1,100 law school professors oppose Sessions’s nomination as attorney general. “We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality,” states the letter signed by professors from 170 law schools.

Siegelman is shown at right with a fellow prisoner in a photo in late 2015 after emerging from 57 days in "The Hole" of solitary confinement. His offense? No one in authority will say on the record.

But the treatment reputedly was because Siegelman had echoed legal experts nationally who say that his 1999 conduct — reappointing to a state board businessman Richard Scrushy, a donor to an Alabama foundation Siegelman supported — was not a crime. Authorities have meted out extraordinary reprisal to whistleblowers and others speaking up for Siegelman, including his co-defendant Scrushy.

Tamarah GrimesScrushy said he was offered a plea deal with no prison time if he would incriminate Siegelman but he refused to lie, and was thereupon prosecuted to the hilt for his donation to the non-profit. Fuller gave him the same seven-year prison term as Siegelman, and ordered them hauled away in chains to begin serving time immediately, without the normal stay and appeal bond in white-collar cases.

We estimate the government spent at least $15 million on the case, including $500,000 for one paralegal alone to work under contract (outside standard DOJ channels) at the military base filing evidence, as Tamarah Grimes, shown in a photo and the DOJ's top career paralegal on the case reported. The Obama administration's reaction was to fire her, as we reported in a magazine for paralegals with an exclusive interview headlined "From Justice Dream Job to Nightmare…Why This Whistleblower Was Dissed & Dismissed.

Reflecting on all this last spring, the civil rights attorney, law professor and columnist Scott Horton wrote that some key Justice Department officials believe its reputation would be too deeply hurt if the true facts of the prosecution were ever revealed, according to Horton's Washington Spectator column, The Case for a Presidential Pardon for Don Siegelman.

This helps explain the bipartisan nature of the scandal whereby the Obama administration, sometimes using career personnel, repeatedly helped thwart redress of oppressive Bush political prosecutions, some of which were against Republicans like Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens who were targeted for special reasons, as we have often reported.

Hiding the Evidence?

But cover-up is wrong, as the Justice Department (of all places) should know.

Scott HortonHorton provided key parts of that background in a 2007 Harper's Magazine online column, Noel Hillman and the Siegelman Case. Yet Siegelman must still seek via a recent lawsuit the basic records about his case that should have been disclosed before his 2006 trial. His lawsuit seeking documentation from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility was filed last year, reported under the headline Son of jailed former governor files lawsuit to obtain government information.

Horton, shown in a file photo, reported that Hillman's 2007 nomination for advancement from the district court to the federal appellate court had been blocked because revelations in 2007 demonstrated Hillman's disgraceful conduct as head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section when it targeted public officials like Siegelman on "corruption" charges.

The result not only kept imprisoned targets like Siegelman, so popular in Alabama that he otherwise could have been a potential presidential candidate, but financially ruined their families and those of co-defendants, and rendered their constituents without effective leadership and the national party deprived of several prospective national leaders similarly prosecuted around the nation during the presidency of George W. Bush.

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With scant Democratic help, voting rights groups this week petitioned the Obama Justice Department to investigate an alleged criminal conspiracy by Republicans to suppress enough votes to flip November’s election to President-elect Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, many prominent Democratic leaders and their allies pursued face-saving strategies of blaming Russians and FBI Director James Comey for November’s surprise defeats. They pinned their anti-Trump hopes largely on their long-shot hope that 37 Electoral College voters will change their votes away from their ostensible commitment to follow the announced results in their states.

Greg Palast file photoThe twin developments illustrate how ineffective Democrats and other Trump opponents have been as the president-elect and his allies prepare to transform government in ways that will affect almost every American.

The Trump era looms with a federal government aligned with an increasingly radical Republican control of most states. And Trump will hold vastly increased power over such supposed watchdog institutions as courts, media, and professional groups.

A sparsely attended news conference Dec. 12 at the National Press Club featuring author and film maker Greg Palast — one of America’s top investigators of voting suppression — helps illustrate the disconnect between Democratic leaders and the tens of millions of Trump opponents who are stunned by the November results.

Palast and several representatives of minority groups — some meeting separately there later in the week at the People's Democracy Conference on voting rights — denounced “Interstate Crosscheck,” which is a plan led primarily by Republican state officials. Its catalog of millions suspected of multiple registrations allegedly thwarted many eligible Democrats from voting just once in swing states, thereby enabling the Trump victory.

Kris Kobach Kansas AGThe petitioners presented to a Justice Department PR staffer (as this Justice Integrity Project editor witnessed) what they described as 50,000 signatures asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch (shown below) to launch a criminal investigation of Crosscheck. The petition described Crosscheck as “the racially biased mass vote suppression tactic that affected the 2016 vote count.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Donald Trump advisor shown in an official photo, initiated the recruitment effort for 30 primarily Republican states. They created the secret list of 7.2 million Americans suspected of illegally registering to vote in Loretta Lynchtwo localities for same election, protest organizers said. Trump has referred several times to this claim of massive vote fraud in charging that Democrats were “rigging” the election because many of their supporters planned to vote many times, as illegal immigrants, or otherwise illegally.

The Crosscheck list accuses one-in-eight Asian American voters of voting or registering in two states, organizers said.  

“In fact," organizers wrote, "a two-year investigation by Rolling Stone, which obtained the Trump/Kobach secret list, disclosed that approximately 1.1 million voters on the list, disproportionately voters of color, were purged before the 2016 election — including approximately 50,000 in Michigan and 46,000 in Pennsylvania. While double-voting is a federal crime, not one Asian American, Latino nor African American has been charged, though thousands were removed from the voter rolls."

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last week refuted the dubious rape prosecution Sweden began against him in August 2010.

Julian Assange IndicterAssange’s written response on Dec. 7, with his first detailed defense, underscores the disgraceful procedures used by Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as the complicity of mainstream media outlets that primarily published biased accounts.

With the zeal and arrogance of a police state, Sweden has repeatedly violated due process under a veneer of legal and human rights rhetoric.

Sweden's use of sexual misconduct allegations to capture Assange stems from a coordinated reprisal by the three governments for his WikiLeaks publication in 2010 of leaks that included some 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables and “The Afghan Diaries,” a trove of 80,000 documents.

Hillary ClintonThese materials exposed diplomatic hypocrisy (including regarding Sweden's ostensible "neutrality"), suspected war crimes, and cover-up by Sweden and NATO members.

Our defense here of Assange centers on all-important procedural fairness issues, not necessarily his personal behavior while he was in bed with the complainants. Nor is our defense an endorsement of WikiLeaks and the anti-secrecy platform's wholesale release of sensitive documents, including those designed to hurt Hillary Clinton and Democrats in the recent U.S. elections.

Those are more complicated issues than the procedures Sweden used for fact-finding on the rape investigation, as we told RT America host Ed Schultz during a cable TV interview on Dec. 7.

I was invited to provide perspective on Assange's first detailed, public response in legal proceedings to the rape allegation. The New York Times reported the basics earlier that day in WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Denies Rape in Detailed Account of Encounter.

Anna Ardin and Sofia WilenOur focus on due process includes the right to confront witnesses, including the two shown above, before an impartial tribunal in a public proceeding. That is a bedrock of truth-finding, freedom, law-and-order, and many other core human rights values ingrained for centuries in American and English law.

The end does not justify the means, in other words. If Sweden and allied nations want to capture and prosecute Assange for WikiLeaks they should comply with relevant law, and not engage in the legal charade that's occurred for more than six years at vast expense, including to the reputations of the perpetrating nations.

Yet the discussion below — summarizing major developments since we first helped break stories in 2010 showing secret political and intelligence ties behind this witchhunt — contains plenty of material for those who enjoy spy thriller material drawn from real life, and not merely legal abstractions like "due process."

CIA LogoIt's not coincidental that The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo hit novel and film series by the late Steig Larsson was set in Sweden's hacking community, or that "James Bond" novel writer Ian Fleming in real life had been a top British intelligence official and later European news editor for the North American Newspaper Alliance, a British intelligence front that pretended to operate as a legitimate news organization.

Earlier this year, as example from the Assange case, a prominent left-wing Swedish journalist who had been attacking Assange, Martin Fredriksson, was exposed as a secret asset of Säpo, Sweden's CIA-affiliated intelligence service, as we reported here.

In 2010, we helped break the Huffington Post story headlined Rove Suspected In Swedish-U.S. Political Prosecution of WikiLeaks. It revealed that former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove served in 2010 as a key advisor to Sweden’s conservative governing party at a time when Rove was advocating on Fox News that authorities execute Assange even before any government had filed any formal charges against him.

As of today, Assange still has not been publicly charged with any crime anywhere in the world, although reports have surfaced that American prosecutors obtained a still-sealed indictment against him on espionage charges related to WikiLeaks.

As for disclosure to the public, Sweden merely says it wants Assange's presence for further questioning about alleged sexual misconduct.

Assange has refused to travel to Sweden for further questions (beyond those he answered in 2010) because he fears Sweden would end the sex case charade soon after his arrival and then extradite him to the United States, where he might be imprisoned for life or even executed. Swedish authorities have pooh-poohed that threat but Sweden's track record in such cases, including this, provides no assurance.

The Beginning: A Speaking Trip To Stockholm

In 2010, the Australian-born Assange was visiting Sweden on a trip featuring a talk in Stockholm. He held celebrity status because WikiLeaks disclosures that year of leaked documents challenged not just war-makers, their financiers, and diplomats but a larger power structure of media, parliaments, courts and other watchdog institutions that were failing to expose government secrets and hold wrongdoers accountable.

PayPal blocked WikiLeaks accounts, making Assange's travel difficult. That rendered Assange vulnerable and more dependent than normal on the kindness of strangers during his trip to Sweden to try to set up servers that might be safe from NATO pressures. Sweden maintained an official stance of neutrality during much of the Cold War but also deep connections between the country's leading institutions and those of other Western nations.

On the trip, a politically active conference manager, “AA,” and then a seeming fan of Assange, “SW,” separately invited Assange to sleep in their beds on different nights of his stay.

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Disclosures and analysis at two research conferences last weekend in Dallas confirmed the U.S. majority popular opinion that conspirators murdered President John F. Kennedy in a 1963 plot that authorities have continued to cover up.

John F. Kennedy side profileSimilar analysis shows a cover-up in the 1968 assassination of the leading Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. The combination illustrates the ongoing threat to American presidents since then of attempted assassination, which continues to threaten independent leaders and ultimately democracy itself.

Longtime Republican strategist Roger Stone, a friend and occasional advisor to President-elect Donald Trump, was one of several conference speakers from diverse political viewpoints warning new generations how assassinations poison politics.

"The fact that President-elect Trump has Secret Service protection does not give me solace," said Stone (shown at right), author of the 2013 best-seller The Man Who Killed Kennedy. It blames Roger StoneKennedy's Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for using his extensive ties with the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Mafia and Texas law enforcement to orchestrate JFK's murder and a cover up.

"I pray for him every night," Stone said of his friend Trump, whom he described as like JFK threatening corrupt, war-mongering elements of the nation's power structure, "and I urge each of you to pray for the safety of him and his family."

Today, we summarize research presented at these two conferences commemorating the 53rd anniversary of JFK’s death in downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Although speakers aired many differences (with only some placing Johnson as an active planner of the death, as opposed to presiding over the cover up) virtually all speakers cited evidence of horrific government misconduct in the assassination that is trivialized or ignored by current authorities and watchdog institutions.

This editor delivered a featured Saturday evening lecture at the annual JFK Assassination Conference and helped also at the concurrent JFK Lancer November in Dallas event to recruit members of the new research group Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA).

In personal views that are independent of CAPA's or its other directors who spoke at the conferences, I summarized research showing that a high cabal of U.S. oligarchs worked through the CIA to coordinate JFK's death and the frame-up of accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald. This set in motion a murderous cover-up and a series of corrupt civic catastrophes such as the Vietnam War that continue to hurt the nation.

Dr. Cyril H. WechtI cited evidence also that all recent presidents after Jimmy Carter benefited from covert ties to the CIA or FBI before they entered politics. These relationships with the power structure that controls those agencies helped them win the presidency. But those relationships also tied each president's hands from providing the kind of justice and other independent decision-making that Americans might expect, resulting in the kinds of outrageous injustices summarized in my recent pre-Thanksgiving column, President Obama, I Beg Your Pardon.

CIA LogoThus, the government's failure to expose JFK's actual killer set the stage for a cover-up that involves more recent frauds upon the public. Such cowardly watchdog institutions as Congress, the courts, the media and academia ignore these new threats, I argued, as did many other Warren Commission critics supplying specifics from their observation or research.

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., JD, a pioneering critic of official versions of both the JFK and RFK murders, was a featured speaker at both conferences. Shown in his Pittsburgh lab, he detailed forensic medical evidence showing that official conclusions were medically and otherwise scientifically impossible.

Wecht, 85, drew upon his vast experience as a physician, coroner, professor and attorney to document the physical impossibility that Oswald or accused RFK killer Sirhan Sirhan could have acted alone.

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Two wealthy men, Stephen Prince and Eric Schoenberg, this week participated in an unusual lobbying campaign in the nation’s capital by advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all American full time workers.

Stephen Prince, As two leaders of the non-partisan group “Patriotic Millionaires,” the two described in an interview with the Justice Integrity Project why they support the organization and its goals to reduce income inequality and otherwise foster a better society. The interview took place at one of the long bare tables at the Dirksen Senate Office Building cafeteria. They and a half dozen colleagues and staffers from their Washington, DC-based group were taking a lunch break from their visits to elected representatives.  

“We know there’s going to be a tax cut in the next Congress,” said Prince, shown at right, the vice-chair of Patriotic Millionaires and a Tennessee businessman who founded in 1993 National Business Products, now known as Card Marketing Services. ”But we want to make sure there’s a benefit also for the middle class and the lower-class.”

Eric SchoenbergAn increase in the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is the simplest and otherwise best way to ensure that goal, Prince continued.

More generally, he said the economy will improve if ordinary Americans have stronger buying power for low-priced store goods and items like used pickups. He said his experience goes against “trickle down” economic theory that helping the rich benefits lower classes in an efficient manner.

Tax laws already are adequate to enable him to create new businesses successfully as he has in the past, he said. So, he does not expect windfalls from the next Congress in reduced taxes to prompt significant changes in CEOs’ business strategies and personal spending beyond increasing inequality.

Schoenberg, chairman of CampusWorks, Inc., a provider of technology leadership services to universities and colleges, echoed Prince’s goals and conclusions. Schoenberg (shown at left) holds a doctoral degree and also teaches about "family wealth" as an adjunct associate professor at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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President Obama should pardon the nation’s leading political prisoners and whistleblowers as a lasting legacy, particularly in view of his uplifting rhetoric and his party’s losses Nov. 8.

Justice for those who have been framed in high-profile, historic cases — which include the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy — would provide a vital civic lesson as the nation wrestles with what Electoral College winner Donald Trump has called his campaign for "law and order." Many Americans in the plurality that supported his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton interpret Trump's words, rightly or wrongly, as code for repression.

Democratic and Republican Campaigns DecodedA bold pardon plan for the Obama administration’s final weeks would channel much of the sadness, anger and bickering prevalent among many Democrats who outvoted Republicans in the popular vote by about one percent but still lost the presidency, Congress, and soon the Supreme Court.

Pardons would redress the Obama administration's failings in several specific criminal cases — and bolster reform efforts more generally, including those envisioned by Republicans.

We recommend (and are doing so in lectures in Washington, DC and Dallas this week) that Obama show mercy to a representative sample of still-living defendants in political prosecutions. In some cases, political leaders were imprisoned for long terms far out of proportion to their conduct. In other instances, patsies took the fall for major crimes and brave whistleblowers were crushed.

Abraham Bolden recent photoThese injustices have cleared the way for more powerful malefactors to escape. Perhaps worse, honest law enforcers, whistleblowers, and other good citizens are being discouraged for the future.

Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has documented these abuses extensively, as well as the way powerful financial and intelligence operatives assisted the president's early career in secret. Today, we draw on these previous columns and our book, Presidential Puppetry, which contain extensive appendices citing others' reporting and evidence.

The material today is blunt. That's needed to cut through the post-election clutter of punditry. Therefore, the president probably would not like it if he saw this. So, this column is not aimed for his attention but for yours. You cannot pressure effectively without the basic facts.

Several of the recommended pardon recipients, such as President Kennedy's former Secret Service protector Abraham Bolden (shown above), met their unjust fate because their brave whistleblowing sought to redress some of the nation's most outrageous scandals. Malefactors so powerful as to constitute a "Deep State" of hidden government controllers created some of these scandals.

Paul Schrade Associated Press poolOther defendants, such as Sirhan Sirhan, the accused killer of the leading 1968 Democratic presidential contender Robert Kennedy, appear to have been fall guys set up to hide the intrigues that shape our political landscape today. Even if Sirhan did kill Kennedy, as seems unlikely from the evidence, Sirhan should have been released long ago under standard parole guidelines. Instead, authorities are able to keep any important secrets hidden.

The photo of Kennedy's close friend Paul Schrade at right symbolizes the torment felt by some of those in the know about the nation's deepest mysteries.

The photo was taken by an Associated Press pool reporter during a closed February hearing after California authorities again denied Sirhan parole unfairly and with scant explanation. Schrade was shot by Sirhan in the head during the 1968 killing in a pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. Schrade is among those who believe Sirhan was firing a gun from Kennedy's front and could not possibly also have shot Kennedy from behind with the fatal bullet.

Yet authorities perpetuate the conventional wisdom through the years after destroying evidence, ignoring witnesses like Schrade, and keeping Sirhan behind bars.

Therefore, it would take an act of political courage for President Obama and his team seriously to reopen any of these mysteries. But the important point is that action by Obama would lessen the public's plight, not just that of defendants.

That would make pardons all the more impressive for his legacy because they would illustrate how he changed from his announcement just before taking office in 2009 that he would "look forward, not backward" at alleged government misconduct. Commentators interpreted Obama to mean that he would essentially ignore previous government crime, such as CIA torture.

President Obama and daughters at annual Turkey Pardon ceremony 2015Obama issued just one presidential pardon during his first term. That was far below the number granted by his predecessors. Obama's first White House counsel, Gregory Craig, has since explained that presidents and governors these days risk hurting their reputations by using their constitutional powers to grant clemency.

So, increasingly, few of them undertake a responsibility that Constitution framers regarded as essential for chief executives to grant, as we reported in a 2012 column Presidential Clemency System Broken, Experts Say. The trend illustrates yet-another aspect of the decline of rule of law and is particularly harmful when used to silence those involved in historic events since at least some person released is bound to become controversial.

Obama granted vastly more clemency actions during his second term. But he took few risks because he and his pardon office at the Justice Department focused on low-profile offenders.

The president reduced 102 sentences last month according to a CNN report, Obama reducing 102 inmates' sentences, the latest batch in a record-setting effort by the White House to reverse harsh sentences for mostly nonviolent drug offenders.

"Obama has now granted clemency to 774 individuals, the vast majority of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes," the report said. "Just in the past year, Obama has granted clemency to 590 prisoners, the most commutations in any single year of US history."

Few of the beneficiaries were known to the public. Thus, the president conserved his political capital especially in his first term by studiously avoiding high-profile clemency that might annoy the nation's power structure, which has been instrumental, if not treasonous, in some of the major cases described below.

Obama Options

The president could simply limp through his remaining weeks and ceremonies (including the annual symbolic pardoning of a turkey at the White House) as he and the nation await the dismantling of his major policies and programs under a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House, Senate and Supreme Court.

The White House photo above from last year on Nov. 25 displays a feel-good moment. The president, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and National Turkey Federation Chairman Jihad Douglas participated in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

But a difference this year is that many people do not feel good and want more than photo ops and rhetoric from leaders.

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