Category Archives: Politics

Remember the Python “lumberjack” skit?

It seems to me that the continuing revelations of Trump’s Russian ties probably have many of the GOP’s political troops, including members of Congress, feeling a lot like the Mountie chorus in the famous Monty Python Lumberjack skit. Love those sideways glances between them as the skit progresses.

tRump’s Russian links keep going and going

Donald Trump’s administration made a crucial mistake when they started banishing certain reporters from their press conferences? They don’t get it. Real news isn’t made in press conferences. Real news comes through dogged reporting. And it’s dogged reporters who now have ahold of the Trump-Russia connections, and the news continues to flow.

Today it an AP story reporting a $10 million per year contract between a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin and Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager during the crucial months around the GOP convention.

AP quotes Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif, a member of the House Intelligence Committee: “This is not a drip, drip, drip” situation, she said. “This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements.”

The bits and pieces are coming together, and they are pretty damning so far.

Russian interference in the elections. Extensive contacts between key Trump campaigners and the Russians.

Key and unexpected Trump policy shifts favoring Russia. David Corn, writing for Mother Jones yesterday, described how Manafort lied to reporters while trying to gloss over Trump’s new skepticism about Nato and a willingness to abandon mutual defense agreements with Europe and an openness to Soviet agggression (“How Paul Manafort Tried to BS Me—and the World“).

Now Reuters reports Secretary of State Tillerson is reportedly planning to skip his first meeting with NATO allies in April and instead go to Moscow later in the same month.

Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire, says we should recognize the framework of all these revelations.

Anybody who’s spent five minutes covering a state capital can recognize the basic infrastructure of the shady dealings under examination. Rich guy of dubious provenance needs a political power player to get richer. Political power player needs rich clients to acquire more power. Guys in expensive suits up in the Commonwealth (God save it!) have been operating this way literally for centuries. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a contract to build a new highway or a deal to subcontract the nation’s foreign policy. The fundamental human venality doesn’t change. Only the stakes do, and the size of the collateral damage.

This is all mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Hawaii Supreme Court narrows definition of “disorderly conduct” in case of Hawaiian activist

My column in Civil Beat this week tries to explain a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of Hawaiian activist who had been charged with disorderly conduct after trying repeatedly to speak with then-Mayor Peter Carlisle at the city’s 2012 Lei Day Festival (“Ian Lind: Hawaiian Activist Was Right All Along, Supreme Court Rules“).

The case involved the arrest and conviction of Laulani Teale, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, homeless advocate, peacemaker and musician.

Her “crime,” according to court records, was to make repeated attempts to speak with then-Mayor Peter Carlisle when he appeared at the city’s annual Lei Day Festival at Kapiolani Park and, for a time, was seen shaking hands and speaking with members of the audience. Police blocked Teale from approaching the mayor and, when she repeatedly tried to walk past them, arrested her and led her away in handcuffs.

The court’s decision narrows the application of the “disorderly conduct” law and will make it more difficult in the future to use “disorderly conduct” as a catch-all charge to control situations in which the authority of the police is questioned or challenged.

I admit that the column is too long. I got into reading the case documents, including transcripts of testimony during the original trial, and ran out of time I would normally use to edit and polish. My fault.

But I came away with several impressions.

First, police officers testified they were there to protect the mayor, one adding, “at all costs.” But it appears that while they said they had to protect him from being attacked, they were at least equally interested in protecting him from confrontations with unhappy constituents.

A case can certainly be made that there’s a First Amendment right to personally speak with the mayor at such a public event, or at least a good case against using police powers to screen those who are allowed to get close to the mayor based on their personal beliefs or on the likelihood they will raise critical questions (rather than simply fawning comments).

And the court decision deals directly with when a protest that interrupts or inconveniences becomes “disorderly” in a legal sense. And the courts answer is that “disorderly conduct” isn’t as broad a category as police and prosecutors have tried to stake out.

Second, reading the transcripts, district court was not a friendly place for a protester, civil in demeanor or not. Although this was a criminal trial, and of course we know that one has to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the court seemed to allow little time for the defendant, who was representing herself, to create that reasonable doubt. When a key police witness dodged and weaved to avoid answer direct questions during cross examination, the judge appeared put out with the questions, not the deliberate avoidance of answers.

Third, some of that police testimony led the attorney who handled the appeals in the case to allege that at least one officer gave false and misleading testimony. That was never resolved, but it doesn’t give the public a lot of confidence in the way the system works, especially at the lower levels.

Then there’s the official hypocrisy about things Hawaiian. The city is eager to appropriate Hawaiian culture and arts as tourist bait, but not at all eager to deal with the much harder issues Hawaiians face, from homelessness to health care to education to discrimination.

In any case, the column is there for your reading since Civil Beat is no longer behind a paywall.

Trump budget to signal huge retreat from world affairs

Foreign Policy magazine is reporting that the Trump administration is going to propose slashing more than half of what the U.S. spends annually for United Nations’ programs (“White House Seeks to Cut Billions in Funding for United Nations“).

And it’s not just the U.N. facing big cuts, but funding for other types of foreign assistance and even the State Department itself.

FP says the moves signal “an unprecedented retreat by President Donald Trump’s administration from international operations that keep the peace, provide vaccines for children, monitor rogue nuclear weapons programs, and promote peace talks from Syria to Yemen, according to three sources.”

And what will this mean?

Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said cuts of this magnitude would create “chaos.”

This is a single-minded selfishness of a sick billionaire’s view of the world that, if actuallly pursued, is going to come back to bite us right you-know-where.

Even without dealing with what this says about the lack of simple human empathy or caring about others, the president’s people seem blissfully unaware that the U.S. is less than 5% of the world’s population, and chaos elsewhere in the world can’t be contained or made to work in our favor.

FP cites observers who predict that Congress will not agree to cuts of this magnitude and that this part of the president’s budget, at least, is unlikely to pass.

I’m not sure that’s really comforting…