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Posts published in February 2018

Disconnection

richardson

For many years, it has been a staple of State of the Union speeches for presidents to populate the House gallery with heroic or sympathetic guests to introduce in connection with various policy initiatives. That Donald Trump, who so often ignores political norms and traditions, repeatedly used this technique in his first State of the Union address does not come as a surprise. The device enables a president – particularly one whose presidency is flailing – to bask in reflected glory.

But, as I listened to the president attempt to weave a coherent narrative in which such introductions aligned with his performance, I perceived a yawning gap between the guest’s actions, for which they were being recognized, and the policies of this administration. I’ll illustrate with a couple examples:

Noting that the past year called upon Americans to recover from floods, fires and storms, Trump lauded a Coast Guard petty officer who endured 18 hours of wind and rain, braving live power lines and deep water, to save 40 lives after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. No doubt the petty officer merited such recognition. But the evidence does not support Trump’s associated comments that the nation has been with all our citizens recovering from natural disasters.

After Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico, Trump made a cameo appearance in San Juan, tossing rolls of paper towels, like boxes of cracker jacks at a baseball game, to people whose lives had been devastated. He suggested that Maria wasn’t “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina and complained about how much money it cost the federal government to respond to the crisis. His comments reflected a cavalier indifference to a ravaged people. And then he left town.

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, writing for Vox, described the dire situation confronting the more than 3 million US citizens living in Puerto Rico. Observing that the lack of basic services has “fueled a mass exodus from the island,” she wrote that “[g]oing to school, having clean drinking water, and even getting regular trash services remains a daily challenge four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.” And Puerto Rico continues to experience the longest blackout in US history with almost 1 million Puerto Ricans still without power.

So, when President Trump, intoned “[t]o everyone still recovering . . . we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” the people of Puerto Rico have every reason to respond with anger and disbelief. Trump has spectacularly failed Puerto Rico, and his words ring hollow.

Another area in which there was a ginned up connection between Trump’s introduction of gallery guests and his administration’s policies was in the area of immigration reform. Trump began his call for immigration reform by introducing two sets of grieving parents whose teenage daughters were brutally murdered on Long Island. Members of the MS-13 gang have been charged with those murders. Trump claimed that “these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” and he attempted to use this terrible tragedy to link those gang members with young immigrants who came to this country illegally at a young age.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California called out the president’s exploitation of the parents' grief explaining: “MS-13 is an example of some of the worst of criminal gang behavior. To equate that with Dreamers and DACA was completely irresponsible and it was scapegoating and it was fear mongering and it was wrong.” She justifiably observed “We’re not supposed to convince the American public of policy because we make them afraid. And that’s what the president apparently thinks he needs to do . . . .”

I would also submit that, if the president were truly concerned about stopping violence in our country, he might more productively look to closing other loopholes in our laws – namely those that allow private citizens to buy and sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks that licensed firearms dealers must perform. This loophole allows felons, minors, and other prohibited individuals unfettered access to firearms. Closing the loophole would be consistent with the Second Amendment and put an end to what the Violence Policy Center has called “Tupperware Parties for Criminals.” Sadly, the president did not give even passing mention to the eleven school shootings that have taken place in our nation since the first of this year.

Elsewhere in his address, Trump introduced an Army staff sergeant who had rescued a fellow soldier severely wounded by an explosion in a booby-trapped building in Raqqa. Trump rightly observed that that “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil,” and noted that he had decided to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Here again, though, he might also have considered closing the gun show loophole. Unfortunately, his goal was not to take the broad view on identifying all responsive policies but to take the narrow approach that would appeal to his base. That said, he elicited our sympathy for a courageous soldier but never connected the dots as to why that soldier’s actions should require that Guantanamo Bay should remain open.

According to pundits who count these things, the president’s speech elicited applause 115 times. Most of the applause was not for the president but for people – everyday Americans – who found themselves in tragic circumstances and who rose, often heroically, to the occasion. We can and we must honor these individuals, but we should not attribute by association their courage, tenacity, and sacrifice to Donald Trump nor should we embrace for their benefit his policies which are not substantially related to their actions.
 

Lieutenant jumble

stapiluslogo1

Idaho may be a state where one party is overwhelmingly favored to win, but within that party, there’s a good deal of uncertainty.

Highly competitive races are afoot within the Republican Party for governor and the first district U.S. House seat. Those races, not especially predictable, have gotten the most attention.

The least predictable of the bunch might be the Republican contest for lieutenant governor.

That’s an office that actually gets a significant amount of attention when it does come open, as it was, sort of, in 2002. That year, the office was held by an incumbent (Jack Riggs) who was on the ballot, but he had just been appointed, and had no time to establish himself. A complex, multi-candidate primary, tightly competitive and hard to predict, ensued. (It was won by now-U.S. Senator Jim Risch.)

This year, incumbent Brad Little is trying to move up to governor, opening the post. Five serious contenders are in the field, and none qualifies as an obvious front-runner.

Over the last couple of weeks KIDO radio in Boise has run an online (and self-selecting) poll of the candidates. Here is how the candidates rated when I last checked -- in alphabetical order.

Marv Hagedorn, state senator from Meridian, 18.5%.

Janice McGeachin, former state representative from Idaho Falls, 32%.

Bob Nonini, state senator from Coeur d’Alene, 24.2%.

Kelley Packer, state representative from McCammon, 16.7%.

Steve Yates, of Idaho Falls, former state Republican chair, 8.5%.

I don’t mean to make much out of a self-selecting poll; candidates often encourage their backers to weigh in (and I saw a Facebook post from one of these candidates encouraging just that). My guess is that Yates’ percentage may be a little understated, because his contacts in the state party structure may be a little less visible now and come more into play later. All of the others, all current or former legislators, have built bases of support within the party, have (loosely) similar levels of political experience, and won election more than once in their home districts. If none of these candidates is an obvious front-runner, there are no clear also-rans either.

Their bases of support also would seem to overlap quite a bit. There could be some perception (not necessarily correct) that Yates and Packer hail a little more from the more establishment Republican side, and Hagedorn a little more from the activist-insurgent side, but even if true that’s not a point you could press very far. Listen to any of them, or check out their web sites, and while you might see somewhat varied emphases you won’t see a great deal of difference between the way they describe themselves. They aren’t describing themselves as champion of one wing or another of the party, or even of a specific group. Everybody is a “conservative” of course, but what else is new? (McGeachin’s site says, “Make Idaho conservative again.” The implication being that it’s a liberal place?)

So how will they differentiate - how will any one of these candidates say, in a compelling and gripping way, that you need to vote for me and not one of those other guys?

First one to figure that out might win.
 

Vietnam in the present day

jones

The Vietnamese are gearing up to celebrate Tet, the lunar new year, with happy new year signs wherever one looks.

It is also the 50-year celebration of the Tet Offensive, which is often cited as the turning point in the Vietnam War. When I returned from my tour of duty in August of 1969, I thought we were on our way to winning the war. It did not turn out that way and that still causes me great pain. However, I think Vietnam is moving on a positive track and has a bright future.

I lived among and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers during most of my tour of duty and got to know many civilians. They were wonderful people and I have fond memories of them. During two weeks in Vietnam these decades later, I have encountered many people just like them from Hanoi to Saigon and points in between. They have been friendly, welcoming and often go out of their way to make a visitor feel at home. When we had to catch an early flight from Dalat to Saigon, the hotel opened breakfast service early to accommodate us.

One of the remarkable things is the courtesy the people show to one another and to foreigners. For instance, the streets of the larger cities are swarming with motor bikes. You would think that a pedestrian would be risking his or her life by trying to cross a crowded street. But, if you can get up the nerve to cross through the traffic, riders will give way so that you feel like Moses must have when the Red Sea parted.

The food is great, the service is friendly and helpful and people are quick to show a genuine smile. My wife are I have enjoyed our interactions with the people of this country. We were in Hanoi when Vietnam beat Iraq in the soccer semi-finals. Young people took to the streets in a lengthy and noisy, flag-waving procession through the city streets to celebrate. When the team won their next game with Qatar during our visit to Hoi An, the same thing happened. They were proud of their country and we were cheering with them.

We watched the soccer final with Uzbekistan at our hotel in Dalat. There we met a bright young man who attributed his almost perfect English to having spent 3 high school years in Boston. He will go far. China is making a play for the affections of Vietnam and people like him. Because of a long history of thorny relations between those countries, Vietnam would like to strengthen its relationship with us. I hope America's recent inward turn does not push them away. We need friends is this region.

The country is not perfect because the people still are unable to exercise some of the freedoms that Americans take for granted. That does not take anything away from the people, who are genuine good folks. We certainly have reason to know that because the Vietnamese who came to the U.S. as refugees after the war have been great additions to the American landscape.

Saigon is a bustling city with lots of development happening. Hoi An is a charming city where my wife, Kelly, and I took Vietnamese cooking classes. Hue is an old imperial city. Hanoi is awakening from a development standpoint and full of friendly people. Our war with the Communists ended badly for us, but I think the outlook for friendship with Vietnam into the future is very positive, if we work to make it happen.
 

Notes . . .

notes

Purely local: Returning home from Portland yesterday, we drove the new Newberg-Dundee bypass in Yambill County. The long-awaited bypass. Compared for the travel available upt to now on Highway 99, it is an improvement. Here's hoping it can become more of one.

The new road - there aren't a lot of "new" roads these days, are there? - was good. It was an easy, pleasant drive of four to five miles, and it showed off some areas off to the side of Newberg and Dundee. Travel speeded up; all of it was traversed at highway speed.

And it will divide the traffic volume heading through the area, which alone will help diminish the periodic parking lot at Dundee.

But . . . the northeast-side entrance, coming in from the Sherwood area, is balky and clumsy; you have to do several lengthy twists and turns, some of them not intuitive, to get to the actual new road. It wouldn't surprise if some people miss the route or just say the hell with it.

And it falls a couple of miles short of connecting directly with the old, existing, Dayton bypass, which would help a great deal.

These may be projects for the future. Hopefully. - rs