Thursday, March 7, 2019

Last Call For Out Of Con Text

The big story in Cincinnati politics this week is the hammer that Hamilton County judge Robert Ruhlman dropped on Cincinnati's City Council on Thursday.  Five City Council members pled to violations of the state's open meetings law by discussing the fate of City Manager Harry Black via text messages last year, and in the hearing today to have those pleas heard, Judge Ruhlman called on all five to immediately resign from City Council instead.

A Hamilton County judge gave a tongue-lashing Thursday to five Cincinnati City Council members who broke the law by secretly conducting public business via text messages.

Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman told the five they violated the trust of voters and should immediately resign from office.

"You essentially lied to the people of this city," Ruehlman said. "The trust is gone. It's going to take a long time to get that trust back."

The five council members – Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman – all admitted as part of a settlement agreement that they broke Ohio open meetings law by secretly discussing public business in a string of group text messages.

The spectacle of five council members appearing before a judge to acknowledge wrongdoing is unprecedented in modern Cincinnati politics and threatens to unleash more chaos at City Hall, where personal and professional rivalries have interfered with council’s work for more than a year.

None of the five council members spoke in court Thursday, but the judge did plenty of talking. He said their actions betrayed the ideals of those who created a city government that's supposed to serve the public, not elected officials.

"I really believe the five City Council members should resign," Ruehlman said. "No city voter should ever vote for them again."

Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Landsman said he has no plans to step down. "You have to take responsibility for your actions," he said, referring to the texts. "I've said they were a mistake from the beginning."

Sittenfeld said in a statement the group text messages were "an honest mistake" that won't be repeated. But he complained the error has been blown out of proportion by political opponents, including the law firm and the conservative, anti-tax group that have led the charge against the five Democratic council members.

"The important business of the city has been hijacked by politically motivated actions of a local right-wing group and their affiliated law firm, whose goals, put simply, are to cause chaos and enrich themselves," Sittenfeld said.

Seelbach attacked Ruehlman, a Republican, on Twitter, referring to appeals court decisions that went against the judge and describing him as the "most overturned judge in southwest Ohio."

Mark Miller, who filed the lawsuit that brought the text messages to light, said Ruehlman was right to criticize the five council members. "This is very real," Miller said. "How are we going to trust these guys after they purposely did business out of public view?"

One of the five, Young, will be back in court in a few weeks to face a possible contempt of court charge for deleting some of the texts at issue in the case.

Young's lawyer told Ruehlman on Thursday he believes his client deleted the texts before the judge ordered the council members to preserve all of their messages. If that's true, it may shield Young from a contempt of court violation.

And all of this comes from a series of really bad decisions the City Council has made involving Mayor John Cranley.  Cranley and the Council have been banging heads for years now, and both of them have made increasingly bad decisions over protecting their turf from the other, including both sides using former City Manager Harry Black as a pawn.

It's getting ridiculous now, and I'm hoping this will finally be the end of this clown show.

Meat The Press, Con't

Keep in mind that Donald Trump's designation of critical press being "enemies of the people" extends to foreign press and journalists as well who dare to criticize him.

Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, has faced down death threats and harassment over her work exposing Russia’s propaganda machine long before the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. In January, the U.S. State Department took notice, telling Aro she would be honored with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, to be presented in Washington by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Weeks later, the State Department rescinded the award offer. A State Department spokesperson said it was due to a “regrettable error,” but Aro and U.S. officials familiar with the internal deliberations tell a different story. They say the department revoked her award after U.S. officials went through Aro’s social media posts and found she had also frequently criticized President Donald Trump.

“It created a shitstorm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” said one U.S. diplomatic source familiar with the internal deliberations. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” the source said. The decision “had nothing to do with her work.”

The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.”

“We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.

Aro received a formal invitation to the award ceremony not from the embassy but from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol on Feb. 12.

There is no indication that the decision to revoke the award came from the secretary of state or the White House. Officials who spoke to FP have suggested the decision came from lower-level State Department officials wary of the optics of Pompeo granting an award to an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The department spokesperson did not respond to questions on who made the decision or why.

To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president. The Trump administration has barred the hiring of prominent Republican foreign-policy experts who publicly denounced the president during the 2016 election season, including some who have since walked back their criticisms. As another example, Trump himself last year revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who regularly castigates the president on Twitter, and threatened to follow suit with other former national security officials who did the same.

And that's where we are in America right now.  Our government apparatus is terrified of doing anything that might remotely appear to be critical of Trump, for fear they will be hunted down and destroyed by state media brownshirts.

This is not how a free country works, guys.

Trump Cards, Con't

Who knew that one of the most vindictive, nasty, greedy people on earth, one entirely motivated by petty vengeance, one who constantly and consistently referred to critics, journalists, activists, and political opposition as "enemies of the people" has an enemies list that he directed the government to watch?

Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the U.S. government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports.

At the end of 2018, roughly 5,000 immigrants from Central America made their way north through Mexico to the United States southern border. The story made international headlines.

As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding.

But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials.

One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.

These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the U.S. government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.

Now, documents leaked to NBC 7 Investigates show their fears weren’t baseless. In fact, their own government had listed their names in a secret database of targets, where agents collected information on them. Some had alerts placed on their passports, keeping at least three photojournalists and an attorney from entering Mexico to work.

The documents were provided to NBC 7 by a Homeland Security source on the condition of anonymity, given the sensitive nature of what they were divulging.

The source said the documents or screenshots show a SharePoint application that was used by agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations and some agents from the San Diego sector of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

The intelligence gathering efforts were done under the umbrella of “Operation Secure Line,” the operation designated to monitor the migrant caravan, according to the source.

The documents list people who officials think should be targeted for screening at the border.

The individuals listed include ten journalists, seven of whom are U.S. citizens, a U.S. attorney, and 47 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles “unknown.” The target list includes advocates from organizations like Border Angels and Pueblo Sin Fronteras.

So, Trump's political critics were targeted by intelligence services and harassed by immigration services.

That is exactly how autocrats do things.


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