Trump impeachment trial begins

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in the Senate on Thursday (US time).

The lead up to this has been highly partisan, with Democrats promoting the trial and Republicans publicly judging in advance – with a majority they seem likely to acquit the president.

Before the trial began McConnell makes case for Trump acquittal ahead of trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday ripped House Democrats and made the case for the upper chamber acquitting President Trump as he waits for the articles of impeachment to be transmitted.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, did not directly call for senators to vote to acquit Trump but argued that senators cannot follow the House’s lead and agree that the president deserves to be impeached and ultimately removed from office.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road.

Others claim that Trump is leading the US down a dangerous road.

If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile more has been happening – White House hold on Ukraine aid violated federal law, congressional watchdog says

The White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year, according to a decision by a congressional watchdog released on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

Not surprisingly:

The White House quickly rebutted the charge, criticizing the agency’s decision as an “overreach” and an attempt to insert itself into the “media’s controversy of the day.”

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

Lev Parnas: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night the president was fully aware of what he and associate Igor Fruman were doing in Ukraine. Parnas made the comments during an interview with Rachel Maddow, in which he also leveled allegations against Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

He also stated that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “He lied,” Parnas said.

In the interview, Parnas alleged that he was given specific instructions by Giuliani to inform Ukrainian government officials that the United States would withhold aid unless the Ukrainian government announced it was opening an investigation into the the Bidens.

“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas said. He also claimed that Giuliani told Ukrainian officials that Parnas was there as a representative of both himself and Mr. Trump, and that Ukrainian officials understood he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Giuliani denied that claim while the interview was airing.

Parnas and Fruman are accused of helping Giuliani in his attempts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Fruman, originally from Belarus, were arrested on campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport in October.

Ukraine has announced a criminal investigation – but not into Joe Biden: Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

As part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s allies were trying to have Ms. Yovanovitch, who was seen as an impediment, removed from her post. Mr. Trump recalled her last spring.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” one message from Mr. Hyde read.

Mr. Parnas said in a televised interview on Wednesday that he had not taken Mr. Hyde’s offer seriously.

Mr. Hyde told the Sinclair Broadcasting host Eric Bolling in a television interview on Wednesday that he was “absolutely not” monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. He said he was under the influence of alcohol when he sent his messages to Mr. Parnas.

“It was just colorful, we were playing — I thought we were playing,” Mr. Hyde said.

An odd sort of thing to be ‘playing’ about.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released on Thursday that the country “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings,” the statement read.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

There may have been a lot of bravado and fake conversation going on, but the holding back of aid wasn’t fake.

It’s hard to see anything good or definitive coming out of the trial. Both sides will probably try to claim some sort of victory.

Green Minister accused of ‘rubber stamping’ land sales (implementing the law)

Minister of Land Information Eugenie Sage has been accused of allowing land to be sold to ‘foreigners’, but Sage says she is implementing the law as her job requires.

Critics seem to expect that Sage should change the way things are done ‘because the Greens are in Government’, but the Green Party doesn’t have to power to change how laws are implemented, nor to change laws to suit green activists.

RNZ: Green MP Eugenie Sage accused of ‘rubber-stamping’ land sales to foreigners

Eugenie Sage is being accused of continuing National’s practice of “rubber-stamping” the sale of sensitive land to foreigners.

New figures reveal the land information minister and Green MP has approved nearly every application to cross her desk over nine months, rejecting just 30 hectares out of almost 60,000 hectares.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford is warning the news will stir up more disquiet among the party’s supporters after an earlier backlash over Ms Sage’s decision to allow a Chinese water bottling giant to expand.

“Her role is meaningless. The party’s role is meaningless,” Ms Bradford told RNZ.

She was shocked Ms Sage approved the sale of so much land to overseas people.

Bradford doesn’t seem to understand how multi party MMP governments work. Ministers don’t get to do whatever a few activists from their party demand.

“You’d think that either [the Greens would] move their person out of the role or they’d negotiate a damn sight harder with their coalition partners about changing policy on it.”

If Green ministers couldn’t do whatever party activists wanted they should resign? That would give them even less say over how things are done.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa spokesperson Murray Horton said the approval rate made a “mockery” of the government’s promises to curb foreign investment.

“The Greens need to be a bit bolder, frankly. They’re in government for the first time ever.

“They have a mandate from their members and the people who vote for them to actually establish a point of difference.”

But they don’t have a mandate from the country, they only 6.27% of the vote. That is nowhere near a democratic mandate.

Between 1 November and 26 July, Ms Sage approved 21 applications covering about 55,957 hectares. She turned down two requests relating to 30 hectares.

But Ms Sage said most of approved land – roughly 40,000 hectares – related to the sale of Mount White Station, a sheep and beef farm in Canterbury.

In that case, the Czech buyer already had permanent residency and his wife and children were New Zealand citizens.

“There was very limited opportunity for discretion because … it had only been triggered as an application under the Overseas Investment Act because he was out of the country for a period.

“I’m bound by the law, and as a minister, I implement the law.”

Many of the other applications related to forestry which was a government priority area, she said.

“We need more investment in forestry to meet the billion trees’ commitment to ensure that we are sequestering enough carbon to meet our climate change objectives.”

Ms Sage rejected claims she was acting in the same way as her predecessors, pointing out that she had turned down two applications in nine months.

“Under National, I think you had one application – Lochinver – turned down during their period in government.”

Not a big difference in numbers.

The government extended the Overseas Investment Office’s oversight in November and banned house sales to most foreigners in August.

Ministers also directed officials to review the Overseas Investment Act with changes expected by 2020.

So some changes have been made and more could change this year. These things take time in Government.

Sue Bradford has proven in the past she can act on her principles, but idealists outside parties and outside Parliament can’t do anything but criticise what happens within the democratic process.

Dissatisfaction of Government by green activists risks dividing the Green Party and reducing the power they do have. It wouldn’t take much for them to drop out of Parliament altogether, and then they would have much less ability to change anything.

Russian PM and Cabinet resigns, Putin power push?

RNZ: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally put forward Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known head of Russia’s Federal Tax Service, to be Russia’s new prime minister, the Kremlin said.

Putin gets to choose who Russia’s Prime Minister is?

It came after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was resigning to give Putin room to carry out changes to the constitution.

And Putin gets to decide on what changes can be made to the Russian constitution?

The unexpected resignation, which came shortly after Putin proposed a nationwide vote on sweeping changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament, mean Russia would also get a new prime minister.

Wednesday’s changes will be seen by many as the start of Putin’s preparations for his own political future when he leaves the presidency in 2024.

Whoever he picks as prime minister will inevitably be viewed as a possible presidential successor – echoing the way that Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 to become prime minister under Medvedev, who then stepped aside four years later to allow Putin to resume the presidency.

Reuters: Putin unveils shake-up that could extend his influence as cabinet quits

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes on Wednesday that would give him leeway to extend his grip on power after leaving the presidency, and picked a new prime minister after Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet resigned.

The dramatic moves were widely seen as preparing the ground for 2024, when Putin, now 67, is constitutionally obliged to leave the presidency after occupying the Kremlin or the prime minister’s job continuously since 1999.

Critics have long accused Putin of plotting to stay on in some capacity to wield power over the world’s largest nation – and one of its two biggest nuclear powers – after he steps down. Putin, a former KGB officer, has always kept mum on his plans.

But the constitutional changes he set out, which he suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as prime minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up.

Under his proposed constitutional changes, the powers of the presidency would be diminished and those of the prime minister’s office beefed up.

Opposition politician Leonid Volkov said it looked as though Putin was digging in.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively toward setting Putin up to rule for life,” Volkov wrote on social media. Dmitry Gudkov, another opposition politician, said Putin had decided to re-arrange everything around him now rather than wait until closer to 2024.

Putin told the political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech that he favored changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions.

“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament … of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”

And it could increase the future power of Putin, designed by himself.

New Zealand ‘food’ birthstones

Image

I don’t like hokey pokey ice cream. NZH:  Tip Top, Zany Zeus, Puhoi Valley: New Zealand’s best ice creams revealed – Boysenberry Ripple is very nice, I hope the multinational company that recently bought Tip Top keep producing it without changing it.

Mince pies vary a lot but some a very good. I prefer potato top – with pie carts gone you have to add your own peas these days to get pea, pie and pud.

Pineapple lumps are ok when they aren’t hard (they are often hard in our weather), but I wouldn’t buy them for myself. Some people put them in ambrosia but I prefer chopped up mini chocolate fish in the mix (with boysenberries, yoghurt and whipped cream).

I’ve never heard Cheerios called Little Boys. They’re still a standard at kids birthday parties, and as an easy ‘finger food’.

Cheese rolls are still going strong in the south at least. They are often sold as fundraisers.

Sausage sizzles have largely survived food serving regulations, fortunately.

Custard squares can be messy to eat (easier if they are not to high), but are worth the effort.

I’m ok with Vegemite over Marmite even though it’s from Australia (Aussies are allowed to have good taste with some things).

Whitebait fritters are an endangered species, or at least the main ingredient seems to be. I’m not a fan of eating whole fish.

The popularity of Jaffas has dropped since Cadburies deserted Dunedin. Not my thing. I remember them rolling down the wooden floor of the Memorial Hall as a picture theatre.

Lamingtons, raspberry or chocolate, especially with whipped cream, nice. They’ve been around for a while – an old trick was to ice a piece of rubber (and coat with coconut of course).

I had a chocolate fish for breakfast yesterday. I was rummaging in the pantry and there was just one left in the bag. I saw them being made in the Cadbury factory in the late sixties, and sampled one fresh off the line.

Boris Johnson versus Scotland’s right to choose

Nicola Sturgeon:

1/ Tories are terrified of Scotland’s right to choose – because they know that when given the choice we’ll choose independence. Tories have no positive case for the union – so all they can do is attempt to deny democracy. It will not stand.

2/ The problem for the Tories is the longer they try to block democracy, the more they show the Westminster union is not one of equals and fuel support for independence. This response predictable – but also unsustainable and self defeating. Scotland will have the right to choose.

3/ @scotgov  will set out our response and next steps before the end of this month – when we will also again ask @ScotParl  to back Scotland’s right to choose our own future.

It looks like Johnson will succeed on enabling the United Kingdom to be independent of the European Union, but opposes Scotland’s right to choose whether to be independent of England.

Curriculum encouraging climate activism and capitalism

Should the school curriculum be limited to bland academic subjects, or should it also encourage critical thinking, care about important issues and advice on capitalist activities?

Should kids be taught about dealing with outrage expressed on Twitter?

I did reasonably well at school academically, but was often bored and uninspired. I left after getting University Entrance in the 6th form to get a job, wanting to avoid another year of tedium and years of university.

One stand out period at school was when Grahame Sydney (who gave up teaching after a few years and took up painting) plaayed us Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.  We were too young to be potentially affected by being balloted into the New Zealand Army and being sent to Vietnam, it provoked thought about the a big issue of the time and got some interesting discussion going.

The Taxpayers’ Union put out a media release:

Climate change curriculum skirts close to taxpayer-funded propaganda

The Government’s new climate change educational material for year 7 and 8 students skirts close to taxpayer-funded propaganda, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The new taxpayer-funded curriculum promotes the campaigns of Greta Thunberg, School Strike for Climate, and even Greenpeace. Students are encouraged to reduce their feelings of climate guilt by participating in this kind of political activism.”

“Left-wing campaign groups would be spewing if the national curriculum ever promoted the Taxpayers’ Union vision of a prosperous low-tax New Zealand. The national curriculum should not be used to promote particular political groups or agendas.”

“A sensible climate change policy would focus on the science and policy options. But even on these points, the course is weak: it promotes a tax on carbon while failing to mention that we already have an Emissions Trading Scheme.”

“A major portion of the material is fluffy, condescending rubbish. Students will have to sit through five different sessions focused on their feelings about climate change, with activities including a ‘feelings splash’ and a ‘feelings thermometer’.”

The teacher resources even include a 15-page ‘wellbeing guide’ for teachers and parents, which warns: Children may respond to the climate change scientific material in a number of ways. They may experience a whole host of difficult emotions, including fear, helplessness, frustration, anger, guilt, grief, and confusion. When discussing the material, teachers may encounter students who cope through avoidance, denial, diversionary tactics, wishful thinking and a range of other coping mechanisms.

“This isn’t teaching kids how to think – it’s telling them how to feel.”

It would be terrible if schools dealt with feelings about important issues. (Actually schools do deal with feelings, especially when there are deaths and disasters that could impact on kids).

Should discussing the Australian bushfires and their possible causes be banned in schools?

Should anything that could be construed by someone as political be banned?

@GraemeEdgeler points out

And here is teaching resource encouraging students to become property developers, selling off and subdividing publicly-owned land.

https://t.co/eeSHElhKqB?amp=1

He asks:

Why are schools encouraging capitalism and not socialism?

Should schools stick to reading, riting and rithmetic, and ignore everything else in the world?

 

Open Forum – 15 January

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you, or you think may interest others.. 

If providing opinions on or summaries of other information also provide a link to that information. Bloggers are welcome to summarise and link to their posts. Comments worth more exposure may be repeated as posts. Comments from other forums can be repeated here, cut and paste is fine.

Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some ground rules:

  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
  • Please don’t post anything illegal, potentially defamatory or abusive.

FIRST TIME COMMENTERS: Due to abuse by a few, first comments under any ID will park in moderation until released (as soon as possible but it can sometimes take a while).

Sometimes comments will go into moderation or spam automatically due to mistyped ID, too many links (>4), or trigger text or other at risk criteria. If they pass muster they will be released as soon as possible (it can sometimes take hours).

A change in approach by political media?

Here’s a sign of at least recognition that political media coverage should improve.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): The election is nearly here – let’s strip it back to what really matters

So what’s the moral of the story? That so much of the political discourse these days is seen to be more focused on the game playing and the sport of politics, rather than the substance. And that is contributing to the sense that politicians are increasingly out of touch with voters.

We in the media can cop some of the blame. In our drive to explain the “why” and “how” of politics it can look like we’re focusing on personalities rather than policies.

It’s also no secret that there is a voracious appetite for personality-driven political coverage, while the appetite for policy-driven stories is more niche.

Is there really a “voracious appetite” for personality-driven political coverage? It is very click driven, but that is often through misleading and inaccurate headlines.

I don’t condemn that; to an extent, I’ve always believed that we vote for our politicians as much on character or judgement as the policies they hawk.

Their credibility is central to whether we believe in their promises.

But in the hot house of Parliament – where politicians and the media collide regularly on the chaotic weekly caucus run, or “on the tiles”, which is where MPs stop for journalists on their way into the House – it’s all too easy to lose perspective.

It’s also a chicken and egg thing. Politicians pay armies of spin doctors to churn out policy positions in soundbites, and the leaders spend hours being coached by their media minders on how to answer questions.

If this was all about enabling a substantive policy debate, or holding their opponents to account, fair enough.

But that’s not it, of course. It’s mostly about framing the narrative, and staying on message. It’s about winning the game in other words.

But does it win the game? I think that many people are unimpressed by PR framing and words that don’t match action s and behaviour, some to the extent of being turned off the politician, party or politics in general.

The stakes are high so it’s not surprising they play the game this way.

It surprises me. I think that substance and delivering is far more important than PR claptrap that may be perceived by analysts to win small battles of words, but loses the war of credibility and leadership.

Winning power means getting to bend an economy and a people to suit their vision.

But that’s also why we deserve much better.

So once Ardern names the date, let’s all pledge to strip this election back to its essentials, and focus on he story behind the personalities and the soundbites.

We do deserve better, from politicians and from media. Tracy Watkins has at least started the year recognising they need to do better, but once the playground begins will anything change? It’s very easy to get dragged into the PR game playing.

Just two choices, fossil fuels or ‘sustainability’? No.

We have problems with climate change.

We also have problems on both sides of the climate change debate.

On one side their are arguments like ‘it’s all natural’, ‘we shouldn’t do anything’, ‘we can’t do anything that will make any difference’. here are organised dissers and dismissers – I’m not sure what their actual motives are. Perhaps some are trying to protect status quo big business, or they fear change so resist change that may slow down change.

This side of the argument often tries to rubbish science they don’t like (while liking science and pseudo science that supports their argument or supposedly debunks the overwhelming weight of evidence). A lot of their arguments are fairly easily dismissed.

I think that some the other side of the argument is more of a problem – those who urge drastic change to mitigate climate change without giving any idea of how that would be done or what the possible consequences might be.

David Slack (Stuff): Is it hot enough for you yet?

We have just two choices, they both take us into the unknown, and we have to pick one: give up fossil fuels and move to sustainability, or remain unsustainable and live with the consequences.

We don’t have “just two choices”.

If we “give up fossil fuels” (and some go as far as saying or implying this should be immediate and total) the consequences would be enormous. Virtually no more flying. Virtually no more shipping. Drastically reduced private and public transport. Countries that rely a lot on on fossil fuels, like the US, China and Australia, would have extreme energy deficiencies, with no way of switching to electric transport to any degree.

The flow on effects of these changes alone would have a massive impact on our way of life – and would cost lives. We rely on fossil fuels for emergency services.

There would be massive impacts on food production and distribution.

Any sort of rapid change away from fossil fuels would cause far more problems than continuing on much as we are.

Slack has omitted the obvious choice – work towards alternative energy options as as quickly as we can – far more quickly than we are at present – but without putting civilisation on Earth at risk of catastrophic collapse.

The lack of urgency on some things, especially energy conservation, seems negligent to me. All homes and offices should be well insulated and double glazed at least, and this could be done quickly. It would cost quite a bit, but the risks are negligible, and I think we are better off not requiring as much alternative energy.

But if activists and journalists push for extreme measures this distracts what is do-able and what would actually be sustainable. One of the worst effects is that their demands are easily dismissed as extreme and unworkable, but this allows the other side of the argument room to dismiss all efforts to mitigate climate change effects.

Progress has been made in New Zealand this parliamentary term on a plan towards net zero emissions, this is a long term and fairly vague aim – the target is 2050, thirty years away.

We should be doing much more, starting this year.

I think that Jacinda Ardern may have made a mistake claiming that dealing with climate change is our modern ‘nuclear’ issue.

New Zealand made a symbolic stand against nuclear weapons in the 1980s (and i supported that) – but all we had to do is oppose some ship visits and protest against bomb tests a long way away from here. We didn’t need to change our way of life.

What we should be doing about climate change, and energy conservation, and pollution, requires actual significant change in how we live, now. Some will resist this, but I think most would get behind leadership on this and shift their way of living towards a more sustainable future.

A lack of significant action by the Government leaves rooms for people like Slack to propose stupid choices.

We should be radically changing our thinking about how we live, and we should become more environmentally aware.

We need a plan that is somewhere in between the extreme anti-change brigade and the extreme change/massive vague experiment proponents – closer to the latter, but a plan that reduces risks as quickly as possible without creating bigger risks.

 

Brexit: UK MPs vote 330-221 for Withdrawal Agreement Bill

Progress is finally being made on the UK exit from the European Union,

BBC: MPs give final backing to Withdrawal Agreement Bill

The Commons voted 330 to 231 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and it will now pass to the House of Lords for further scrutiny next week.

If peers choose to amend it will it come back before MPs.

The bill covers “divorce” payments to the EU, citizens’ rights, customs arrangements for Northern Ireland and the planned 11-month transition period.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 January.

The bill comfortably cleared its third reading in the House of Commons, as expected, with a majority of 99. All 330 votes in favour were Conservative.

It took just three days for the bill to pass the remaining stages in the Commons, after MPs gave their initial approval to the legislation before the Christmas recess.

The latest vote gives approval to the 11-month transition period after 31 January, in which the UK will cease to be an EU member but will continue to follow its rules and contribute to its budget.

The purpose of the transition period is to give time for the UK and EU to negotiate their future relationship, including a trade deal.

Also: