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Posts published in “Richardson”

The joy of voting

richardson

My Mom, Angeline Hansen, was a 5’2” dynamo. The daughter of Czechoslovakian and Croatian immigrants, she was born shortly after her parents arrived on our shores. When Mom was just five years old, her mother died in the Pandemic of 1918.

The oldest girl in a family of six small children, Mom did her best to help her father with the younger children. Because the family was very poor and she was needed at home, Mom dropped out of school after 8th grade. She was married at 16 and had her first baby at 17. 23 years later, the last of her four children was born. That was me.

Mom’s life had been hard; yet she persevered. And because she had wanted for much, she was determined that her children would have the education and opportunity she did not have.

Mom was a role model of good citizenship, volunteering in my classroom and at our church, and helping out in the community anytime there was a need. Long before “pay it forward” had been coined, Mom often mentioned the caring neighbors who helped feed and clothe her and her siblings during tough times. As a wife, mom, and grandma, Angeline Hansen definitely “paid it forward.”

At the age of 87, Mom faced declining health, and was growing deaf. My family moved her from her long-time home in Lewiston to a wonderful care center in Boise. Getting acclimated to her new home, Mom had just a few requests. She asked that we decorate her room with an American flag, photos of all her children and grandchildren, and a tapestry of Jesus. She also asked me to help her register to vote in her new precinct.

Voting had always been a big deal in our family. Mom, a homemaker, and Dad, a mill worker, would always get dressed up to vote, and they would bring home sample ballots for my sister and me.

As election day approached that fall, I asked Mom if she wanted to vote absentee. The answer was a firm, “No.” She wanted to go to the polls and cast her vote in person.

Early in the morning on election day, we walked slowly into the polling place, my arm linked in hers. Mom turned to me, smiling but with tears in her eyes, and said, “I just love it when they say, ‘Angeline Hansen has voted.’ It makes me feel like I’ve done my duty.” I gave her a hug.

Mom’s polling place was in a gymnasium, and the voting booths were busy. When a booth was available, Mom voted. Then taking my arm, she slowly returned to the table to give the poll workers her ballot. “My name is Angeline Hansen, and here is my ballot,” she declared.

The young man at the table took her ballot and quietly said, “Angeline Hansen has voted.” I could tell Mom hadn’t heard him and asked him to please repeat what he had said a little louder. The young man willingly obliged, saying in a more audible voice, “Angeline Hansen has voted.” I looked over at Mom and could tell that she still hadn’t heard him.

Knowing that this would be the last time Mom voted, I asked the young man, “Could you please just belt it out?” The young man was a bit taken aback by my request but looked up with kindness at Mom who was waiting with anticipation. Then – bless him – he stood up, and in a booming voice declared, “Angeline Hansen has voted!” Everyone in the gymnasium turned to look. But Mom just beamed and loudly whooped, “Woo-hoo!”

Like Mom, I typically enjoy voting in person. But this election, because of the pandemic, I’ll be voting absentee. When I drop the ballot in the mail box, I’ll be thinking of Mom. I’ll remember the joy and pride she took in voting, and I too will exclaim, “Woo-hoo!”
 

The flowers of democracy

richardson

When the late Bill Hall was editorial page editor of the Lewiston Tribune, he once called political yard signs "the flowers of democracy.” Someone had complained to Bill that yard signs were a nuisance and “cluttered up the landscape,” In response, Bill penned an opinion piece reminding folks that yard signs represent the right of every citizen to advocate for the candidate of their choice, and – like conventions, debates, rallies and parades – are a venerable part of our civic dialog.

As an impressionable high school student reading the “Trib,” Bill’s colorful phrase “the flowers of democracy,” stayed with me.

This year, in an incredibly tense political environment, many are asking if they dare show their support for Biden-Harris by displaying a yard sign. Some are fearful of vandalism or social ostracization, especially in some rural parts of my state. Several people are even anxious about displaying a bumper sticker on their car.

The fear is understandable. No one wants to have their property damaged, or be the object of road rage. No one wants their children shunned at school because their family does not conform to some perceived prevailing point of view.

The Washington Post recently ran an article about the heightened concerns over yard signs and noted that for many Biden-Harris supporters “ the easiest option . . . is to put the sign inside a window or bring it in at night – or order a flag or banner that can be mounted high off the ground.”

The Post observed, “Others have invested in a motion-activated camera or have placed signs within sight of doorbell cameras. One woman stapled her sign to a porch railing, and another positioned hers in a poison ivy patch.” While I’m not recommending the poison ivy, I admit to finding some wisdom – if not humor – in that approach.

But poison ivy aside, it is a travesty it has come to this; and we must find a way to address the insanity. We must find a way for people to safely exercise their right to political speech without fear of retribution.

There are many views on the wisdom of displaying yard signs and bumper stickers, and I respect each individual’s choice in this matter. People know their own communities, neighborhoods, and personal circumstances, and there are times when taking one’s political views to the ballot box will have to suffice.

But I believe there is strength in numbers. As a Biden-Harris supporter in a red state, I understand that many like-minded people are hesitant to step forward and display a yard sign to show their support for a ticket unlikely to win Idaho’s 4 electoral votes. But Trumpian bullies will be less likely to attack if they know we are not solitary souls, but many.

To its credit, the 2020 session of the Idaho State Legislature enacted a new law that forbids homeowner’s associations from prohibiting the display of political signs. While a homeowners’ association may adopt reasonable rules regarding the time, size, place, number, and manner of display of political signs, it may not forbid them altogether. See Idaho Code Section 55-115(5)(a)-(e).

I’m looking forward to planting my “flowers of democracy” this year. My precinct leans Republicans so some neighbors will no doubt disapprove. But others, who share my views, might see my signs and decide that they, too, will display a Biden-Harris sign. At a minimum, they will know they are not alone.

And the day after the election, I’ll take my signs down. As Bill Hall noted, once the election is over the “flowers of democracy” turn into crabgrass.
 

In 100 days (or so) …

richardson

As I write this, we are 100 days out from the November 3rd election. Ever since election night 2016, I’ve been holding my breath. The Russian-engineered election of Donald Trump to the presidency was, for so many of us, a traumatic event. Every day since that terrible night, we have seen ever deepening shadows of oligarchy, tyranny, and torture.

As the litany of horrible words and deeds has spilled forth from Mr. Trump and his sycophantic entourage, I have feared for our country, for the future of our representative democracy, for the rule of law. He doesn’t just ignore our nation’s governing norms, he obliterates them.

Long before he took the oath of office, Mr. Trump sought to exploit our differences and divide Americans, to turn us into a nation of bitter rivals who talk past each other, excoriate each other, and see governing as a zero-sum game.

If there had been the slightest hope that a President Trump would exceed expectations and become even a sliver of a statesman after the election, that hope was extinguished on Inauguration Day when he bellowed out his “American Carnage” speech. His presidency, like his candidacy, would be that of a demagogue. He would play, relentlessly and unashamedly, to his base.

And if there was any hope that members of his party would stand up to Trump’s recklessness and savagery, that too was annihilated when it became clear that the senate and house GOP “leaders,” and their respective caucuses, would turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to any and all presidential wrongdoing. They transcend mere enablers; they are fully Trump’s confederates.

Over the last two years, the resistance has grown with the Women’s March, the rise of Indivisible Groups, and the abundance of new leaders stepping up to run for office. The 2018 mid-term election offered a life-line to our republic, issuing in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Yet, the senate has remained in the grip of Mitch McConnell, a ruthless partisan who, like Trump, cares only for his own power and privilege; the country be damned.

Through it all I’ve held my breath. It hasn’t felt safe to exhale because the senate Democrats have been helpless to stop the Federalist Society’s hostile takeover of the judiciary, because our president has routinely alienated our allies and kissed-up to our enemies, often expressing his desire to emulate them, and because he sends anonymous federal law enforcement agents into our cities to suppress protesters exercising their first amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly.

It hasn’t felt safe to exhale because our president shamelessly monetizes the presidency for personal gain and speaks highly of an accused child sex trafficker, while routinely denigrating democratically elected women leaders, because he demeans and dehumanizes members of the free press, especially reporters who are women of color, and because he has utterly and completely failed to address the pandemic ravaging our nation. Indeed, he has routinely made it much, much worse. This is, of course, a woefully incomplete list of Trump’s transgressions; but any one of them warrants his resounding defeat and removal from office.

Now, 100 days out from the general election, I dare to hope that the day will come when I can exhale, that our nation will reject Trumpism and its cruel treatment of immigrant children, of the elderly and disabled, of Gold Star mothers and prisoners of war, of those poisoned by lead in their drinking water and others decimated by hurricanes, of black Americans whose demands for equal justice have been too long denied; of vulnerable people of all ages and backgrounds who are falling ill and dying of an insidious virus.

I dare to hope that our nation will, in the words of our sixteenth president, be touched again “by the better angels of our nature,” that a government “of, by and for the people,” will not perish from this earth.

So, I will continue to volunteer and contribute to former Vice President Joe Biden. I will lend my voice to the resistance and persist in speaking my truth. Our republic and its citizens cannot endure four more years of unchecked, burgeoning tyranny. Until the polls close on November 3, we cannot relax; we cannot exhale. And when we prevail, the work of rebuilding our nation will lie before us. It starts in just 100 days.
 

An ever-smaller tent

richardson

In the immediate aftermath of Trump commuting the sentence of convicted felon Roger Stone, we're seeing a glut of articles proclaiming that many Republicans have "had enough" of Trump's divisive rhetoric and destructive actions -- or in the case of Covid-19, his failure to act. This is so much window-dressing. There's no substance behind it.

Those Republicans who appear to be skittering for the hills are spineless figures who would have us believe that, like modern day Rip Van Winkles, they have -- until just now -- slept through the Trump presidency. They would tell us that at long last, on the eve of a national election, they have suddenly awoken to the devastation wrought by their standard bearer.

But even at this very late date, their hand-wringing and expressions of concern are tepid and unconvincing. Many of those up for re-election want to create "distance" between themselves and the president, not because they are truly chagrined by his words and deeds, but because they are terrified his plummeting polls presage a rout in November.

The former Republican strategists who run the Lincoln Project predicted in a recent ad that many of Trump's most unabashed enablers would, in the eleventh hour, begin to gin-up a narrative that they could return the Republican Party to its rightful bearings. The ad minced no words in giving the lie to such a claim; the message was simple: We couldn't trust them to do the right thing for the last four years. We sure as heck can't trust them now.

Utah senator Mitt Romney, alone, voted to impeach and he has called out the President's "historic, unprecedented corruption." For his pains, Romney has become a pariah in Trump's party. The rest of them are complicit sycophants, no better than Trump himself. Having sold their political souls to a corrupt, inept carnival barker, they are an integral part of his circus. And, as the polls suggest, the circus is performing poorly in an ever-smaller tent.
 

Suffer the children

richardson

For years now, Trump has blithely and cruelly separated immigrant children from their parents at our southern border. He has done so in a blatant attempt to cater to his xenophobic base. Now, he is again using children - this time our public schoolchildren - as a pawn for political advantage, desperately hoping to stimulate the sputtering economy, even at the cost of our children's health.

When President Trump threatens to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t reopen this fall, his threat is primarily directed at schools – and school children – most in need. Many schools could get by with the funding provided by state and local sources, but it is the Title 1 schools, and the children who attend them, that will be hit hardest.

Title 1 provides supplemental funds to school districts to assist schools with the highest student concentrations of poverty to meet school educational goals. Thus, schools with large concentrations of low-income students receive supplemental funds to assist in meeting student’s educational goals. The number of low-income students is determined by the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.

Among the students served by Title 1 funds are migrant students, students with limited English proficiency, homeless students, students with disabilities, neglected students, delinquent students, at-risk students or any student in need.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in fiscal 2017, the federal government provided $56,838,048,000 in funds to local education agencies for public elementary and secondary education. Those funds support many programs, including Title I, special education and nutrition.

Two states among the top five recipients of federal education funds are Texas, which received $6,246,798,000 in FY 2017 and Florida, which received $3,202,127,000 in FY 2017. Perhaps it is no small coincidence that Texas and Florida are also among the top five on another list, that of states experiencing the sharpest spikes in cases of Covid-19.

How like the president to threaten to withhold funds from the students most in need, many of whom live in communities hardest by the pandemic, many of whom are children of color. How like the president, in his cruelty, to threaten the most vulnerable among us. Suffer the children, indeed.
 

Impeachment redux

richardson

It seems increasingly likely that Trump was briefed on, and failed to respond to, Putin offering a bounty for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. Even in an administration that brazenly discards norms and consistently lowers the bar, this shocks the conscience and must not go unaddressed. The House of Representatives needs to begin hearings in aid of impeachment.

Some will say that such hearings would be a futile exercise. They will predict -- probably correctly -- that even if the House votes to impeach, the GOP Senate will never vote to convict. After four years of embracing our errant president ever more tightly, Republicans aren’t likely to spurn him now.

Others will argue that the general election is just four short months away and that the people can vote to remove him then. That point, too, has merit.

But here's the thing. If we do not immediately act to remove Trump from office, how do we explain our inaction to the brave and patriotic soldiers serving abroad? How do we justify making them wait until January to have an engaged and loyal commander-in-chief? How many more Putin-sponsored body bags will be met by grieving families? How many more bounties will be paid?

As my friend and former Idaho state representative Gino White predicts, “History will judge Trump harshly, which will lead to the question of ‘what did the opposition party do?’” Gino rightly suggests that the answer should be “everything we could.”

The hearings would not need to be long and drawn out. If Trump was briefed about this travesty and did nothing, the proof should be easily obtained and presented. Moreover, under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no person who has sworn an oath to support the Constitution, who has later gone to war against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the nation's enemies can serve in a state or federal office.

Trump took such an oath and it would seem a small matter to adduce evidence that, even after being briefed on Russia’s machinations, Trump actually rewarded Russia by inviting Putin to visit the White House, by pulling American Troops from Germany, and – most incredibly – by pushing for Russia’s inclusion in the G-7. The U.S. may not be at war with Russia, but Russia is most certainly our enemy. Trump’s actions, in the face of Putin's treachery, gave Russia aid and comfort and should disqualify Trump from serving in federal office.

Once again House Democrats are called upon to lead by example. Unlike Trump and his Republican cohort, they should do the right thing without hesitation. They must investigate promptly and, if the facts warrant impeachment, proceed to schedule that vote. If Republican senators choose to nail themselves to the mast of the sinking S.S. Trump, so be it; they will have the distinction of going down with the first American president to be impeached twice.
 

It didn’t have to be this way

richardson

The world has reached a grim milestone. More than 400,000 have died from Covid-19, and more than 100,000 of the dead are from the United States.

Incredible.

We have only 5% of the world's population but one-quarter of the world's deaths.

Never forget that we, the richest, most powerful nation in the word, had the time to get it right. We saw what was happening in Asia and Europe and received warnings aplenty. We had time to procure necessary equipment, arrange for adequate testing and tracing, require physical distancing and implement other preventive measures, all of which could have saved thousands of lives.

But tragically, our pig-headed president called it a "hoax," ignored scientific experts, conjectured that the disease would "magically disappear," offered witch-doctor cures, and demanded the nation prematurely re-open for business all because he wanted to ride a once-booming economy to re-election.

And to this day, Trump continues to pit state against state in a scenario that has all the trappings of the Hunger Games. Of course, the states don't have the wherewithal to uniformly and successfully address the pandemic; that requires a national response, and such a response is the responsibility of the federal government. Against all reason, Trump refuses to acknowledge or accept that responsibility. It's easier, after all, to blame others when things aren't going well. And make no mistake about it; things are going very, very badly.

Mr. President, the economy ain't booming and thousands of Americans continue to become ill and die because of your inaction, indifference, and ineptitude. You seem never to understand that public health and economic vitality are inextricably bound; by ignoring the former, you have also devastated the latter. Your tiny little hands are soaked in blood. You are an abomination.

Never forget that it didn't have to be this way.
 

No rubber stamp

richardson

Last week, I joined more than 1,000 of my former Department of Justice colleagues who have asked leave to file an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Michael Flynn case. Together, we have 14,300 years of experience enforcing the federal criminal laws in every administration since that of President Eisenhower.

In our brief, we urged U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan to uphold the rule of law and deny Attorney General Barr’s request to dismiss the Flynn matter. In this column, I offer a summary of key arguments made in that brief, but in the interest of brevity, have omitted citations.

There was a time when federal prosecutors had complete discretion to terminate any criminal case at any time, and for any reason. That changed in 1944 when the Supreme Court promulgated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a) which provided: “[t]he government may, with leave of court, dismiss an indictment, information or complaint.” By including the phrase, “by leave of court,” the Supreme Court made it clear that the prosecution’s right to dismiss a criminal action was no longer unfettered but was instead subject to judicial oversight and approval.

Acknowledging that the government’s discretion to dismiss a case remains “broad and should be disturbed only in rare circumstances,” we urged the Court to “exercise its authority to undertake a searching review of the government’s request. Case law holds that a court may deny a governmental dismissal motion to which the defendant has consented “if the motion is prompted by considerations clearly contrary to the public interest.”

Because the government’s motion “bears the hallmarks of a brazen attempt to protect an ally of the President,” a searching review is needed “to protect the public interest in the integrity of the Department of Justice and the fair administration of the criminal law.”

Flynn’s case is not in the early stages of charging or pretrial discovery, or even in the middle stages of pretrial preparation and plea negotiation.

Indeed, it is at the end stage – ready for sentencing. Imposition of sentence is a matter for the trial judge. Flynn has pled guilty – twice – admitting under oath that, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor, he lied to FBI agents about his communications, made during the 2016 presidential campaign, with a high-ranking representative of a hostile foreign power.

Now, as the clock readies to strike midnight in this matter, the government claims that Flynn’s lies were not “material.” Case law holds that the “dropping of any offense” at this late stage of the proceedings threatens “an intrusion on the judicial function.”

It is no secret that the president has closely followed developments in the Flynn prosecution, making repeated public statements critical of the prosecution and lauding Flynn’s loyalty. He has often implied that Flynn might receive a presidential pardon. The president’s rapt attention to this case is significant, permitting the inference that Attorney General Barr’s motivation in bringing the motion to dismiss at this very late hour is not to serve the interests of justice, but to placate the president.

Were the court to “bless the Executive’s proposed absolution of [Flynn],” who is a close associate and strong supporter of the president, without conducting a probing inquiry, it would bring into question the integrity of the judiciary itself. And it would risk deeply undermining public confidence that justice is being fairly administered.

The government’s claim that Flynn never committed a crime is premised on the notion that “new” evidence shows that Flynn’s statements were not “material,” so as to warrant his prosecution. The government is wrong on both the facts and the law. The government advances the “wholly novel position that concededly false statements like the one Flynn made to the FBI do not constitute a crime if, at the time the statement was made, the FBI did not already have an ongoing criminal investigation of the defendant.” At the time of the FBI interview, the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation focused specifically on Flynn’s direct role, as a member of President Trump’s campaign, in Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as other dealings with foreign nationals.

The federal statute pursuant to which Flynn was prosecuted, 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, applies broadly to “any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States,” and criminalizes false material statements made in connection with any such matter. The sweeping scope of this statute dovetails with the FBI’s jurisdiction "to investigate potential violations of federal criminal law and threats to national security that may or may not be criminal in nature."

For a lie to be material, the government need only make “a reasonable showing” of the “potential effects of the statement.” Judge Sullivan “has already analyzed the materiality of Flynn’s false statements in considerable detail, and has held that they were material in ways both narrow and broad.”

The closing paragraph of the brief cautions that, were the Court to grant the government’s motion, it would sanction using the awesome power of prosecution for political reasons, antithetical to the public interest : “A democracy governed by the rule of law requires a Justice Department that acts evenhandedly when exercising its vast powers. There is ample evidence that under its current political leadership the Department has been weaponized to do the opposite: to punish the President’s opponents and reward his friends. The government’s motion to dismiss the prosecution of a presidential ally who has twice confessed to serious crimes is yet another step down this dangerous path. The career officials who carry out the Department’s work and whom the President routinely maligns cannot speak in their own defense. But this Court has the authority and the obligation to ensure that federal law-enforcement power is exercised in the interest of the people – the public interest – as the Constitution requires. We respectfully ask the Court to do so."

This case raises extremely important issues; It merits careful watching.
 

A cautionary tale

richardson

There are many reasons I don't take the predicted "second wave" of the Covid-10 Pandemic lightly. Among them is the fact that the devastation caused by the second wave of the 1918 Pandemic resonated in my mom's life and, hence, in mine.

In early May of 1913, my mom, Angeline Dvorak, was born. The daughter of Czech and Croatian immigrants, mom was the third child and first girl born in her family. In rapid succession, her parents had three more children -- two more girls and another boy.

Mom was just five years old in 1918, when the so-called "Spanish Flu," swept the planet. The Dvorak family lived in a tight-knit Slavic community outside Chicago, and my grandmother tended the ill and dying and helped care for those they left behind. She survived the first wave.

Then came the fall and the even more deadly second wave. Mary Dvorak was one of the last to fall ill. In early November of 2018, she was struck and died, one of an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims worldwide. She left behind a devastated husband who was ill-prepared to care for his young brood.

The pain of Mary's sudden and terrible passing haunted her children all the days of their lives. Mary was much more than a statistic. She was a young wife, a loving mother, a flesh-and-blood member of a connected community where she had nursed the ill and given all she had to help others.

Every time I see the face of a doctor or nurse, a paramedic or ambulance driver or one of the many other care-givers who has died of Covid-10, I think of my grandmother, and I pray for their survivors.

A recent survey showed that only one in eight of our fellow citizens knows someone who has died of Covid-19. For most of us, the thought of dying from -- or losing a loved one to -- the virus remains a remote possibility. We may have been troubled to learn that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had tested positive -- and we may have been heartbroken to learn that John Prine had died from the infection, but such news of prominent people is still steps removed from our daily lives.

And maybe, with luck, the first wave will spare the great majority of us from any immediate loss. But Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us that a second wave is "inevitable." If history repeats itself, the second wave may well be much worse than the first.

Like many, I often think of my departed parents and wonder how they would respond to the issues of the day. On my mom's birthday, I found myself asking what she would want me to write about. I feel certain she would want me to tell this part of her story. It is, without doubt, a cautionary tale.