Category Archives: Law

The sacred landscape: DAPL, tradition, & profit


For somebody like Donald Trump, who sees a stretch pristine coastline as merely the opportunity of a golf course and a landmarked historic building as an inconvenienced to be bulldozed to make way for a new hotel,  nothing must get in the way of turning a quick buck.

So it was only natural that he’d reverse the freeze on the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to keep the profits flowing for his campaign contributors.

But for many Native Americans, the landscape through which the pipline passes is a sacred text, a living presence integral to the stories of their origins and being.

Rosalyn R. LaPier, a Native American scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University, explains in an essay for The Conversation, an open access academic journal written for the lay reader:

For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.

But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.

On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,

“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”

As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”

What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?

Meaning of sacred spaces

I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.

My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.

In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.

My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.

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Roman Polanski wants to come back to the U.S.


We are intimately connected with Roman Polanski, though we’ve we’ve only talked with the brilliant director once, and that was some years back when he was first trying to return to the country where he had served prison time for the statutory rape of a young woman a week before her 14th birthday.

There’s no question that it happened,. Polanski admitted it before the late Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, a peculiar character much like a smart Donald Trump in that he was obsessed with his own celebrity and deeply outraged anyone who dared criticize him.

Polanski’s able attorneys had negotiated a plea agreement with the judge, the District Attorney’s office, and the parents of the young woman, but the judge backed out after the director had served the agreed-upon time.

The reason he backed out: He was getting criticism from the wives of the members of the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club, where he spent much of the time he wasn’t serving on the bench.

We know this because he told us.

Just as personal ego is no basis for running a country, it’s no basis for running a courtroom either.

And now the only person who seemed to want Polanski to be exposed to the criminal justice system again is the elected Los Angeles County District Attorney.

It’s certainly not the woman at the center of the case, who has explicitly and repeatedly said she wants Polanski to be left alone.

From TMZ:

Roman Polanski will make a move next week to return to the U.S. and end his child rape case for good, without serving additional jail time.

Polanski’s famed lawyer, Harland Braun, has asked an L.A. County Superior Court judge to unseal a long-secret transcript of the testimony of the prosecutor in the Polanski case.

Braun believes the secret testimony supports Polanski’s claim that he cut a deal to serve only 48 days behind bars for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, and the judge signed off.

Polanski actually spent 42 days in Chino State Prison and was released. But Judge Laurence Rittenband allegedly reneged on the deal and told prosecutors he decided Polanski should spend up to 50 years in prison. That’s when Polanski fled the U.S. for Europe.

Polanski spent another 334 days in custody in Switzerland, while authorities tried to extradite him back to the U.S. A Polish court ruled Polanski has served his time under the plea deal, and now Braun wants the L.A. judge to honor that ruling.

For more on the case and Rittenband’s madness, see Marina Zenovich’s superb documentary, Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, in which we happen to be featured, both on- and off-camera.

And by all means, see our extensive posts on the case.

Headlines of the day: The circus is in town


From the New York Times:

Apologizes for ‘Incomplete’ Account of Calls With Russian

  • Michael T. Flynn has resigned as national security adviser after saying he misled the vice president and others about discussions with a Russian diplomat.
  • The Justice Department believed Mr. Flynn’s attempt to cover his tracks with his bosses could leave him vulnerable to Russian blackmail, a former official said.

And the Guardian:

Trump knew for weeks Michael Flynn misled over Russia contact

  • White House says resignation a result of ‘eroding level of trust’, not potential violation of law, as GOP divided over inquiry into Flynn’s calls with ambassador

And the Washington Post:

Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, officials say

  • The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.
Finally, the gather-it-all-up-and-throw-it-in-the-headline approach from the banned-by-Wikipedia London Daily Mail:

Trump SACKED Flynn: White House reveals president asking for national security adviser’s resignation over Russia lie – and hints at more ‘questionable instances’

  • National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stepped down on Monday night after President Trump demanded his ouster
  • Flynn resigned because he realized he’d become a distraction for the administration, she said. ‘It became increasingly unsustainable for him’
  • The president sought the senior aide’s resignation because of an ‘eroding level of trust’
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan says Trump was right to get rid of his top national security aide
  • Resignation comes on heels of report that Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month about Flynn’s contacts with Russia 
  • Flynn spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. prior to inauguration 
  • Claimed he never talked about lifting sanctions, later backpedaled

Immigration: A campaign, protests, TrumpWall™


Following up on our previous post, the latest news on resistance to Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria and the latest on Pussygrabber’s Erection alias The Wall.

A Mexican presidential candidate campaigns in U.S.

First, from teleSUR English, a Mexican presidential candidate takes the road in the U.S.:

Mexico’s left-wing presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a U.S. tour Sunday beginning in Los Angeles aimed at promoting and defending the rights of Mexican immigrants north of the border.

Lopez Obrador has been an outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and proposals — which include promises of millions of deportations and plans to build a massive wall along the border with Mexico — and has vowed to raise awareness in Mexico and the U.S. about the state of immigrants’ rights under Trump and the harrowing realities underlying migration.

The politician has also called for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to file a complaint with the United Nations against the United States for violating human rights, particularly the rights of immigrants, Mexico’s La Jornada reported.

“Trump is inhumane and harms human rights,” Lopez Obrador said last month after announcing the U.S. tour, which he also said would be part of a growing movement against xenophobia.

Lopez Obrador, known in Mexico by his initials AMLO, launched his campaign in November for the 2018 elections in his third run for president — this time as a candidate for his left-wing Morena party and with a brand new platform focused on tackling inequality and corruption.

A mass protest in Mexico’s capital

Anger at Trump’s racist blather is growing South of the border, and the latest expression of TrumpRage™ came in a mass protest in Mexico City.

From the Associated Press:

About 20,000 people staged a march through Mexico’s capital Sunday demanding respect for their country and its migrants in the face of perceived hostility from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Many marchers carried Mexican flags and dressed in white as a sign of unity and to signal the non-political nature of the march. One of the banners read: “Gracias, Trump, for unifying Mexico!”

The marchers protested Trump’s plans for a border wall and increased deportations of migrants. Trump has also pressured U.S. corporations to provide jobs in the United States, not Mexico.

>snip<

The march also featured many signs supporting Mexican migrants living in the United States.

And Trump promises cheaper wall, billed to Uncle Sam

So much for that campaign promise to make foot the bill for The Donald’s wall.

From the Independent:

Donald Trump has said he will lower the cost of building a wall along the US-Mexico border by negotiating a bargain and using a cheap design.

Mr Trump said the price would drop “way down” once he became involved in the planning process, apparently suggesting the US would foot at least part of the bill.

The President has previously insisted Mexico will pay for work on the 2,000-mile-long “impassable physical barrier”. Mexico has refused to fund it.

Fact checkers and engineers have estimated the cost of building the wall will far exceed the $12bn (£9.6bn) estimate given by Mr Trump. According to a leaked Department of Homeland Security report, the barrier could cost as much as $21bn and take more than three years to construct.

Panama Papers law firm founders arrested


Once in a while a single event provides a juncture between two ongoing stories we’ve been following.

First up, the legislative coup that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent criminal indictments filed against the coup participants as the result of a massive bribery investigation.

The second story is the Panama Papers leaks, the documents proving the existence of and participants in a vast network of “black flag” operation concealing a great deal of the planet’s wealth.

From teleSUR English:

The two founders of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on Saturday, the attorney general’s office said, after both were indicted on charges of money-laundering in a case allegedly tied to a wide-ranging corruption scandal in Brazil.

Firm founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca were detained because of the risk they might try to flee the country.

Attorney General Kenia Porcell told reporters on Saturday that the information collected so far “allegedly identifies the Panamanian firm as a criminal organization that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins.”

Mossack Fonseca is also at the center of a separate case known as the Panama Papers, which involved millions of documents stolen from the firm and leaked to the media in April 2016.

The fallout from the leaks provoked a global scandal after numerous documents detailed how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to hide money and potentially evade taxes.

Fonseca, a former presidential adviser in Panama, has previously denied that the firm had any connection to Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.

Germans impose fracking rules, ban chemical use


Chemical fracking, the use of chemically infused high pressure water to blast apart layers of underground shale to free trapped oil and gas, is the rule in the U.S., despite mounting evidence that some of those chemicals are toxic and are invading local water supplies.

But not in Germany, thanks to new legislation that bans chemical fracking and sets new limits of fracking using water alone.

Still, that won’t solve that earthquake problem.

From Deutsche Welle:

A new legislative package on the use of fracking in Germany went into effect on Saturday, following much heated debate.

The legislation largely bans a particularly controversial form of fracking and imposes stricter rules on fracking overall. The German parliament and the 16 German states had approved the laws in June and July of 2016 after years of push-and-pull over environmental concerns and economic interests.

For environmentalists, the new laws don’t go far enough: They want a complete ban on all types of fracking. “If we want to meet the climate goals set in Paris, we need a clear ban on every type of oil and gas fracking,” said Kai Niebert, the chairman of Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization for German environmentalist groups.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a method used  for extracting fossil fuels. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is pushed into the ground at high pressure to press out gas or oil. It allows the extraction of previously out-of-reach resources, but also poses environmental risks.

The new German laws distinguish between “conventional fracking” and “unconventional fracking.”

Unconventional fracking is used when gas or oil is found not just embedded in rock strata, but bound to the stone. In these cases, the fossil fuel often no longer has gaseous or liquid form. Extremely high pressure and high amounts of fracking liquid – often containing highly toxic chemicals – are needed to extract the fuel.

That practice is now banned in Germany until at least 2021, with the exception of up to four test drillings for scientific purposes. The German parliament is set to reassess the ban in four years’ time.

Will Trump’s National Security Advisor depart?


Before he became National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn had been a controversial figure. Under Barack Obama he had served as the country’s top military spook, right up until he was canned for inflammatory Islamophobic prouncements.

But mere vulgar blatherings were no big deal to a man known for making a few himself. Indeed, they became valuable assets.

Back in November, after Trump’s win, CNN reported:

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been asked to serve as Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, has, on his verified Twitter account, interacted with far right and anti-Semitic figures, maligned the Muslim faith, and shared unfounded news stories.

A CNN KFile review of Flynn’s Twitter account finds that the retired lieutenant general, who once served as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tweeted routinely with members of the so-called alt-right movement, going so far as to endorse a book by one controversial figure who regularly makes offensive comments.

Flynn faced criticism in July when he retweeted an anti-Semitic message. Flynn said the retweet was an accident and deleted the message.

Has Flynn crossed over a line in the sand?

Maybe, but it’s more likely Flynn is headed to the altar of Trumpism as a sacrificial lamb.

The reason?

Allegations of secret per-inauguration talks with the Kremlin.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.

The uncertainty comes as Trump is dealing with North Korea’s apparent first missile launch of the year and his presidency, along with visits this week from the leaders of Israel and Canada.

Trump has yet to comment on the allegations against Flynn, and a top aide dispatched to represent the administration on the Sunday news shows skirted questions on the topic, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter.”

Pressed repeatedly, top policy adviser Stephen Miller said it wasn’t up to him to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.

“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” he said on NBC. “That’s a question for the president.”

But wait, there’s some context to consider

Compared to Richard Nixon’s track record, pre-election talks with Russia amount to chump change.

Consider Tricky Dick and H.R. Haldeman, his soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff.

Nixon and his 1968 campaign allies conducted secret negotiations with a nation the U.S. were currently fighting on the battlefield, actively pushing the North Vietnamese government to hold off on peace talks until after the election.

Nixon then campaigned as the peace candidate against then-Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, promising he had a secret plan to end what was proving to be an ever costlier and bloodier morass, with most of the rest of the world aligned against the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of an unwinnable and morally reprehensible desire to impose its will and control over an Asian nation.

The secret talks with Hanoi were rumored but unreported during Nixon’s subsequent impeachment hearings.

Haldeman ended up doing time in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, stemming from the coverup of a secret funding-and-bugging operation to ensure a Nixon reelection win four years later the Hanoi talks.

Talk about your interfering with a presidential.

So in that context, Flynn’s alleged talks with the Kremlin on behalf of an already openly Putin-friendly candidate, while illegal and possibly criminal, didn’t cost additional U.S. citizens their lives, as did Nixon’s push to delay peace talks.

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