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Posts published in “Richardson”

Time to flip the 5th

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While the national media has been obsessing over the “too close to call” photo-finish in the special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, I’ve been studying the primary election outcome in a district closer to home – the 5th Congressional District in Washington State.

Washington’s 5th includes many communities that are a stone’s throw from Idaho, including Spokane, Pullman, Clarkston, and Asotin. Since 2005, it has been represented by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, now a member of House GOP leadership.

An obedient lieutenant in Paul Ryan’s hyper-partisan caucus, McMorris Rodgers is part of the right-wing cabal propping up Mr. Trump. She recently held a fat cat fundraiser featuring Devin Nunes, the disreputable chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Memorably, Nunes did his utmost to bury the truth about Russia’s attack on our 2016 election. The committee hearings he chaired were a joke.

Recently, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow played an audio tape made by a person who paid to attend this fundraiser. On the tape, Nunes and McMorris Rodgers could be heard stealthily scheming to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein once they had retained their majority. Their intent, clearly, is to protect the president by shutting down the Special Counsel’s investigation. Indeed, Nunes and McMorris Rodgers have done little more than carry water for a manifestly corrupt administration, becoming complicit in the increasingly evident cover-up.

The GOP has shown itself manifestly incapable of putting country above party. They will not hold this president to account. That is why those of us who believe Mr. Trump is a threat to our republic must do everything we can to ensure that Republicans lose their majority. We can take an important step in that direction by defeating McMorris Rodgers.

For the last quarter of a century, Washington’s 5th district has been regarded as a lock for Republicans. But after the primary vote, McMorris Rodgers looks vulnerable; it is not unreasonable to think the district will flip. The state of Washington has a top-two primary in which the two candidates receiving the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, go head to head in the general election. This year, McMorris Rodgers received less than 50 percent of the vote, and – of perhaps greater significance – Democratic challenger Lisa Brown was nipping at her heals, coming within just 1 percent of the incumbent.

Lisa Brown is an exceptionally strong, superbly qualified candidate. She has had proven success at the ballot box, in the Washington state legislature, as an economics professor and, most recently, as chancellor of Washington State University Spokane. First elected to the Washington state House of Representatives in 1992, Brown went on to serve with distinction in the Washington state senate. In 2005, she became the first Democratic woman in the state to hold the position of Senate Majority Leader.

Lisa Brown’s record in the state legislature is one of real accomplishment. She led the creation of the state's Mental Health Parity Act of 2005, which improved the insurance coverage of mental health services for Washington residents. And she worked to successfully expand children's health care and create the nonprofit Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation. She fought to ensure the state properly invested in public schools and infrastructure, worked to strengthen and diversify the regional economy, and helped pass landmark legislation including the simple majority for schools constitutional amendment and marriage equality.

Idaho Democrats and other Idaho progressives would do well to support Lisa Brown’s candidacy. Democrats need to flip 24 Republican-held House seats this year to take control of the 435-seat chamber. Most of us have limited resources and want to support candidates who have a realistic shot at winning. The fact that Lisa Brown came within a hair’s breadth of besting McMorris Rodgers in the Washington primary permits the inference that she is such a candidate. Her stellar record of public service tells us she would be an outstanding member of Congress.

It’s time to flip the Fifth.
 

Silence is unacceptable

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From the outset, Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin was a recipe for disaster. Now Trump has made the situation much worse by refusing to reveal what was discussed at that meeting. In the meantime, the Russian media is having a field day spilling selected beans – information regarding Syria and arms control for instance.

Recently, the Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.” No one this side of the pond knows what these alleged agreements entail. Even the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, has admitted he hasn’t a clue what Antonov is talking about.

The president does not have a blank check to do as he pleases in the realm of foreign affairs. Our founders very purposefully divided responsibility for foreign relations between the executive and legislative branches. They had ousted one king and were not about to live under the rule of another.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates congressional powers including regulating commerce with foreign nations, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, providing and maintaining a navy, and making rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces. Congress also has the authority to lay and collect taxes. Article 2 grants the president command of the military. The president also is empowered to make treaties and appoint diplomats, but only with the approval of the Senate.

Thus, the congressional role in shaping and implementing our nation’s foreign policy is substantive and substantial. The president has no right to usurp it. Our allies shouldn’t be forced to guess at what Trump might have agreed to at the summit. Neither should Congress. Neither should the American people.

This charade has to stop. In an utter abnegation of responsibility, Congressional Republicans shut down Democratic efforts to subpoena the American translator, the only other American in the Trump-Putin meeting. Their cowardice and submission to Trump is exceeded only by Trump’s cowardice and submission to Putin.

There is a widespread and growing belief that our president got played in Helsinki. In response, Republicans have ducked for cover and run. Among those are the members of Idaho’s congressional delegation. After the president's shameful capitulation to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Republican senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch issued woefully anemic statements. Each merely acknowledged that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election and observed that Russia is no friend of the United States.

There was no condemnation of the president’s fawning over Putin, not a peep of outrage over his defense of the Russian attack on our country, or even a passing nod to their oaths to defend our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. Republican strategist Rick Wilson calls this kind of pathetic response on the part of GOP office holders, the "furrowed brow and deep concern act." And it is totally inadequate to the moment.

For some time, many have wondered what Putin is holding over the president to make him behave in such a subservient and unprincipled manner, seemingly selling out his country to curry favor with the Russian dictator.

Now that same concern should also apply to members of the Republican majority in Congress. In the utter absence of bipartisan action, it falls to congressional Democrats to use every tool in their toolbox to demand transparency and accountability from this president. Their minority status makes the task daunting. But they must force the issue. Faithfulness to the Constitution requires nothing less.
 

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

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By all reports, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who President Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court, is exceptionally bright, has a prodigious work ethic and is well-regarded by his colleagues as having a most collegial temperament. But he should not be confirmed as a justice.

There are many concerning aspects to what we already know about Kavanaugh’s professional background and record of jurisprudence. These will be further elucidated as the vetting process goes forward. But whatever more we learn about this judge, we know one thing now that should make this nomination a non-starter: it is the fruit of the poisonous tree and therefore also toxic.

In the law, the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine stands for the proposition that evidence produced as a result of illegal law enforcement activity is inadmissible at trial. There are exceptions to the doctrine, but the animating idea is that if the source of the evidence or the evidence itself is tainted, then any evidence obtained therefrom is tainted as well.

I use the expression metaphorically. Here, if the person lawfully authorized to make the nomination has obtained his position by illegal action, then the nomination itself would seem to lack legitimacy. We know that Mr. Trump is under investigation for obstructing justice, conspiring with a foreign foe to rig our national election in his favor, and – possibly – other serious crimes. Unless and until the Special Counsel’s report is completed, made public and acted upon by Congress, the president’s legitimacy as president is very much in doubt.

At the end of last week, the Deputy Attorney General announced an Indictment against twelve Russians charging them with Conspiracy to Commit an Offense against the United States. Given the specific factual allegations contained in the Indictment, it is not a reach to think that a future Indictment could name the president as a co-conspirator. A Department of Justice memorandum written during the Nixon era concluded that presidents may not be indicted during their tenure in office, but the proposition has never been ruled on by the courts. The Special Counsel may decide to litigate the issue, or he may decide to side-step it by naming the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. Perhaps, at the end of the day, the facts adduced will exonerate the president altogether; but information currently in the public domain strongly suggests otherwise.

If the Special Counsel were to name Trump an unindicted co-conspirator, impeachment by the House should follow. A Senate trial as to the president’s guilt or innocence would resolve the matter. But if, as the American people have ever-more reason to believe, the president was in cahoots with Russia, obstructed justice or otherwise broke the law, his presidency is a poisonous tree and Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is the fruit thereof.

Indeed, if Trump is shown to be an illegitimate president, then logic, a sense of justice, and concerns for basic fairness would seem to require that every executive order and action taken under his direction be erased from the books. But we don’t have a constitutional roadmap setting forth a remedy, and we’ve never faced this bizarre situation before. Our founding fathers can be forgiven for not anticipating this truly incredible scenario.

As a practical matter, the relief as to most presidential actions will have to be prospective and undertaken at the ballot box. But the nomination of an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court is a life-time appointment to the highest court in the land, one from which there is no appeal. For that reason, it is in a class by itself. We can’t have a “do-over” on the nomination of Justice Gorsuch, but until we know the extent – if any – of the president’s complicity in Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, the Senate can – and should – put the brakes on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.
 

The right questions

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No one should be impressed that the president has vowed not to ask prospective Supreme Court nominees their positions on Roe v. Wade.

First, his vows -- marital and otherwise -- are worthless.

Second, he doesn't need to ask the question because the Federalist Society has vetted the candidates. Only those who received the Federalist Society's stamp of approval made Trump's short list, and a candidate wouldn't be on the short list if they hadn't answered the question in the "right" -- make that the "far-right" -- way.

We can also be sure that the Federalist Society knows where their approved candidates stand on issues pertaining to voting rights, dark money in politics, environmental regulation, consumer protection, workers' rights, and every other topic important to the Koch Brothers. No one on the president's short list is about to vote to overrule Citizens United.

Undoubtedly, the folks Trump is interviewing are cut from the same ideological cloth as Thomas and Alito and, most recently, Gorsuch. They are predictable votes for repeal of the 20th Century, at least everything from the New Deal forward.

That being the case, journalists might want to focus on whether the president is asking some questions which the Federalist Society may have overlooked in its pre-election vetting. Such questions would include:

"Must a president respond to a subpoena?"

"Can a president be indicted?""

"Can a president pardon himself?"

"If a president pardons his alleged co-conspirators is that obstruction of justice?"

"If I appoint you to the Court and a case raising any one of these issues comes before you, will you recuse yourself -- or will you have my back?" This one is likely to be asked in a less direct manner – perhaps with a subtle nod and a knowing wink. But however the question is asked, it comes down to the president’s insistence on loyalty, not to the United States Constitution, but to Donald J. Trump.

I'm betting the president, as always focused on his own welfare, is especially eager to know where the finalists stand on these questions. I want to know if asking these questions is part of his interview process, either formally or informally. And if it is, we — the American people — need to know the candidates’ answers.
 

Suffer the children

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The National Lampoon was a humor magazine popular through the 1970s and most of the 1980s. Occasionally, the humor was rather dark as when, in January, 1973, the magazine’s cover featured a picture of an adorable dog with a gun pointed to its head. The caption read: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

That supposed joke was not a serious attempt at extortion, but it illustrates, rather literally, what the practice of extortion looks like. One committing extortion attempts to obtain something, most commonly – but not necessarily – money, through force or threats.

With his inhumane policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at our southern border, Trump is serious as a heart attack. And he is attempting to procure congressional funding for his precious, porous wall by not only threatening to forcibly take children from their parents, but actually doing so – and in the cruelest manner possible.

Trump is an accomplished shakedown artist. His means of persuasion are straight out of Tony Soprano’s playbook. Two months ago, he threatened nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, and two weeks ago, he got his pay-off with wall-to-wall coverage of his historic meeting with the world’s most oppressive dictator. He has imposed tariffs – and threatened to impose additional tariffs – to much the same effect. It seems he will burn down the house to get his way.

But this horrible business at the southern border is uniquely revolting. He is using, and most certainly scarring, innocent children for leverage. He has said, “They’re not so innocent.” I have to believe the vast majority of Americans know better.

One of the most horrifying things we have learned in recent days is that those charged with watching over the children warehoused in cages are not allowed to comfort the children grieving the loss of their mothers and fathers. They cannot hold them, or stroke their hair, or hug them. After all, there could be liability issues.

Please.

The number of lawsuits that will be filed as a result of the harm wrongfully done to these children by the U.S. government will be astronomical. And, God forbid, that a child be raped, or maimed, or dies in a Trump Concentration Camp.

These children of desperate parents coming to our border begging for asylum have something in common with other children, who Trump has treated badly. The children of Flint, Michigan, and Puerto Rico are also children of color, and all of these children are suffering. Those forcibly taken from their parents will, almost certainly, be damaged most of all.

But Mr. “Art of the Deal,” treats these children as if they were pawns on a chessboard or, in his words – “a negotiating tool.”

It’s almost as if he thinks they are less than human.
 

1984

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When our ethically bankrupt president declared that Kim Jong Un “loves his people,” and that “his people love him,” I was reminded of a Party slogan in George Orwell’s novel “1984” – “War is peace/freedom is slavery/ignorance is strength.”

In “1984,” the Party manipulated people by conditioning them to believe it possible to accept two mutually opposing, contradictory beliefs.

This is exactly what Trump now asks of us. He would have us accept the proposition that total repression and violence is love, that people who have been cowed into complete submission love the man who terrorizes them.

Is it an act of love to rape? Is it an act of love to torture? Is it an act of love to force a woman against her will to have an abortion? Is it an act of love to imprison and enslave? Is it an act of love to exterminate? Is it an act of love to starve people to death?

Is mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people an act of love?

Of course none of these atrocities are acts of love. They are the very opposite. And these are the acts by which Kim Jong Un terrorizes his people and demands absolute and unquestioning devotion. Loyalty born of fear isn’t real. It’s a twisted terror-stricken distortion of loyalty, and it certainly isn’t love.

“Double-speak” is a form of propaganda that is both illogical and irrational; it contradicts empirical evidence and buries the truth. It enables a dictator to control the people by stripping them of their humanity, to maintain power in perpetuity by destroying the capacity for independent thought.

If Trump can sell us the absurd notion that Kim Jong Un loves his people when his regime routinely oppresses, tortures, and murders them, then he can sell us anything.

For instance, he can make us believe that he, Trump, “loves” the children forcibly taken from their parents’ arms at our southern border and warehoused like animals in cages; or he can make us believe that he “loves” the victims of gun violence even as his policies ensure that there will be many more such victims.

He wants us to disbelieve the evidence of our own senses – from the trivial (e.g. the size of the crowd at his Inauguration) to the critical (the collective consensus of the scientific community on climate change).

Many of our fellow citizens have succumbed to Trump’s unrelenting propaganda campaign. They believe the lies. And the more lies they hear, the bigger the lies they are told, the more they believe.

Resistance requires mental toughness. Every time you hear a Trump lie, register it as a lie. Call it by its name. Accept the fact that this battle for truth, for norms, for our country’s very soul is not a 50 yard sprint; it’s a marathon.

We must remain mentally tough. We must never acquiesce to double-speak. And we must never conflate hate with love.
 

Fan boy in chief

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There’s an old saying that goes “show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” Increasingly, our president is showing us who his friends are – and aren’t. And in the process, we’re learning ever more about the infantile narcissist who occupies the Oval Office.

In the aftermath of the Singapore summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, I envisioned the follow-up letter Mr. Trump might send the dictator of the most oppressive regime on the planet. It might read something like this:
Dear Mr. Chairman,

I was so honored to meet you!

Some of my nervous Nelly advisors told me we would have little in common, but – boy – were they ever wrong.

I was especially impressed to learn of your execution of your Deputy Premier for Education for having a disrespectful posture in a meeting. The NFL owners sure could learn something from you.

And you rightly consider Christianity a threat to your regime. You are wise to bar its practice in North Korea. (Let’s keep this between us. Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson might not understand.)

To your great credit you have set new standards for sexual violence. (I’m embarrassed to say that my compulsion to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” pales in comparison.)

You might be a rough guy, but you are the very model of an inclusive leader. Your willingness to torture, enslave, starve and murder hundreds of thousands of your countrymen on political, religious, racial and gender grounds is really something, top drawer all the way.

And it turns out we're both anti-choice. I don't think women should have control over their bodies and neither do you. We're sort of on different sides of the same coin. I think we should punish women who have abortions. You force women to have abortions. Either way, we get to tell women what to do with their bodies.

And talk about the rule of law. You’re as ruthless with children as you are with adults. Why cut them any slack? I’ll see if we can send some ICE agents to Pyongyang to pick up a few pointers.

Yes, I was so honored to meet you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to welcoming you with open arms to the White House.

In the meantime, I just want to reiterate my view that “there’s a special place in hell” for that whiner from Canada.

Your biggest fan boy,

Donald J. Trump

It’s torture

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When I was a little girl growing up in the Orchards of Lewiston, Idaho, in the 1950s, it was a wonderful adventure to take the bus downtown with my mom, something we did perhaps once a month. I remember passing under the canopy of trees on Eleventh Avenue, the thrill I got from pulling the string that signaled the driver that ours was the next stop and the joy of sitting at the soda fountain inside Newberry's on Main Street enjoying a burger and shake.

But one day when I was four, the adventure turned into a nightmare.

Somehow, I had gotten separated from my mom. I remember the shock of suddenly realizing she was nowhere near. I ran frantically from aisle to aisle, the store suddenly becoming a terrifying maze, my heart pounding. I called out loudly, repeatedly, urgently, "Mama! Mama! Where are you, Mama?!" I was desperately frightened and remembered thinking, "What if I can't find her? What if I never see her again?"

Maybe only a few minutes passed before Mom found me and gave me an earful for wandering off. But it seemed like an eternity. The fact that I remember this incident with painful clarity all these years later is significant because it speaks to the inevitable trauma being experienced by little children, some as young as 18 months, who are forcibly taken from their mothers at the U.S. border.

I imagine the terror these children experience, which multiplies my short-lived anxiety many times over, and fear the imprint of anguish will stay with them all their lives. They cannot understand why they are being taken away from their mothers; they cannot be sure they will ever see their mothers again. And their mothers must be no less terrified to lose their children to nameless, faceless bureaucrats who, in the indifferent words of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will see to it that “the children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”

In a recent guest opinion in the Washington Post, Jaana Juvonen, a professor of development psychology at UCLA, and Jennifer Silvers, an assistant professor of developmental neuroscience at UCLA, make a compelling case for the proposition that separating vulnerable children from their parents is not only inhumane, but torture. They write:

“Children arriving at the U.S. border in search of asylum are frequently a particularly vulnerable population. In many cases fleeing violence and persecution, they also encounter hunger, illness and threats of physical harm along their hazardous journey to the border. This combination of experiences puts migrant children at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Such anxiety and mood disorders can be debilitating and intractable, particularly when they start in childhood. . . . The practice of separating families at the border is reprehensible and – based on science – goes against international and U.S. law, because the suffering it inflicts constitutes torture of children.”

Now imagine the exponential damage done to children who were not only taken from their parents at the border but are now unaccounted for. Credible news services tell us that as many as 1,500 children seized from their mothers at the border are now "lost.” For those children and their parents, the question of reunification may not be one of “When?” but “Whether?” There is no certainty that they will see one another again. Happy reunions– or reunions of any type – are not a given.

Several people familiar with the failed bureaucratic response to protecting migrant children taken from their parents express concern that the children could be subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, and even human trafficking.

There is no time to waste. Our nation has a moral obligation to find these missing children and reunite them with their parents. This is a national imperative because for these children, every minute of separation from their mothers is not just painful, it’s torture.
 

Dear Brad Little:

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Congratulations on winning the Republican nomination for governor. After begging Democratic voters to register as Republicans to help you defeat Raul Labrador – and getting quite a few takers – you hustled so far to the right that you became a pathetic echo of your opponents.

One of your most repugnant commercials, an ad attacking Raul Labrador, repeatedly referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” You claimed Labrador had voted for welfare for “illegals,” defended criminal “illegals,” and supported amnesty for “illegals.” By my count, you used the term “illegals,” six times in a 30 second ad.

Your incessant use of this pejorative and divisive term was unconscionable. When you refer to people as “illegals,” you use the term as a noun, implying that the person’s very existence – as opposed to their actions – is criminal. Writing for the Huffington Post, Robert Stribley observed that “[t]he term seems especially egregious when the undocumented immigrants are typically coming here because American businesses are actively courting them.”

During the run-up to the primary election, it often appeared that you and Raul and Tommy couldn’t cozy up close enough to Trump; your ad might have been taken straight from Trump’s playbook of innuendo and slurs. Earlier this week, the president ranted, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals . . . “

A day after making this sweeping comment, Trump “clarified” that his remark was meant to be directed at members of MS-13, an especially vicious and brutal gang. But that’s not what he said. Unmistakably, his initial statement conflated MS-13 gang members with all immigrants, implying they were less than human.

Where have we heard this before – this crass characterization of a group of people as something less than human, as “animals?” Of course, you know the answer. We heard it from Adolph Hitler who said, “Jews are not people; they are animals.” It is so much easier to exterminate people when one does not see them as human. Calling them “animals” serves that purpose. So does labeling them “illegals.” It’s a slippery slope.

The language we use in our public discourse matters. Other law-breakers are not referred to as “illegals.” So why apply this polarizing and demeaning term to people unlawfully in the country? One need not condone illegal immigration to treat others with dignity. One need not approve of open borders to refrain from dehumanizing others.

You won your party’s nomination, Brad, and you won it, in part, with this despicable ad. Now grow up and start acting like a thoughtful, decent human being. And remember – in the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel – “No human being is illegal.”