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A history lesson

richardson

Earlier this week, we learned with much sadness that Linda Carol Brown had passed away. Linda, you may recall, was the little girl who could not attend the all-white school just 5 blocks from her home. Instead, she had to walk through the Topeka, Kansas, rail-yard to get on a bus that would take her several miles away to a segregated school.

Linda’s father thought his daughter should be able to attend the neighborhood school, and he sued the Topeka Board of Education to make that a reality for his little girl. The case, famously, wended its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where a unanimous court overruled Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and declared that “separate is not equal” in public education.

In Plessy, there was but one dissenting vote, that of Justice Harlan who wrote: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” His was a solitary, but barely audible, voice crying in the legal wilderness of the late 19th Century. It would take more than another half century for change to come.

In the wake of Linda Brown’s passing, it is fitting to reflect on the landmark case of Brown v Board of Education. And it is important to consider what many do not know - the decision almost went the other way. At the halfway mark of the last century, segregation was enshrined into law in many states and, in other states where segregation was not legally protected, it was nonetheless practiced openly.

Brown v Board of Education was first argued in December, 1952 and, at the time, many thought it unlikely the Supreme Court would reverse Plessy even though the appellant firmly established that legal segregation harmed black children. The Court was deeply divided and, in June of 1953, ordered that the case be re-argued.

But before the re-argument scheduled for September 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died in his sleep. His replacement, California's governor Earl Warren, took the time and made the effort to move a seemingly intractable mountain. He did what many thought impossible: he built a consensus of his fellow justices, and - in the end - brought even the most recalcitrant justices along.

The result of Earl Warren's labors was a unanimous decision that declared: “[I]n the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

These many years later, we remain indebted to Linda Brown, her father, and an extraordinary team of lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall, who would later join the Supreme Court, for their skill, courage and tenacity in challenging a holding repugnant to the first “self-evident” truth stated in our nation’s founding document – “that all men are created equal.”

And we remain mindful of the fact that the replacement of even one justice on the nation’s highest court can change the course of history.

With that thought in mind, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the balance of power in the next Senate is one that will soundly reject any Trump nominee to the high court – and every other federal court – whose judicial moorings suggest he or she would take our nation backwards. Among the current Supreme Court justices are some who would repeal not only the progress of the Twentieth Century but of the Nineteenth Century as well.

Our nation has come too far to turn back now. Every issue of consequence to the functioning of our republic will, eventually, be addressed in some manner by our nation’s highest court. As the Brown case makes clear, who sits on the Supreme Court can make a real difference in the outcome of critical decisions. We don’t vote for the justices, but we do vote for the senators who confirm or reject them. In 2018, the future of the Court is on the ballot.
 

The Balukoff case

richardson

Idaho Democrats are fortunate to have two qualified candidates seeking their party’s nomination for governor, and I will gladly support whoever wins the primary. That said I believe that A.J. Balukoff not only has a better shot at winning in the general election, he would make a more effective governor from day one.

As I see it, the five most important challenges facing Idaho in the years to come involve education, health care, job creation, equal access to justice, and public lands. Both candidates’ positions on these topics largely align with my own, but A.J. has the depth and breadth of experience to propose sound, progressive legislation and the skill set to persuade a Republican legislature to enact his proposals into law.

A.J. believes that a state’s future is only as strong as its commitment to quality public schools. For 21 years, he has been an active member of the Boise School Board, constantly and consistently advocating for top-flight public education for all children. He knows that public education enables children to grow into well-informed citizens who can contribute to their neighborhoods and communities and effectively compete in the work force. As Idaho’s governor, A.J. will make our public schools, colleges and universities a top priority.

And A.J. knows how important it is for all Idaho families to have access to quality health care. He has been a Board Member for St. Luke’s Hospital for 13 years and is firmly committed to expanding Medicaid to ensure that the almost 80,000 Idahoans without such access receive coverage. A.J. wants all Idahoans to have the certainty of knowing they will not face dire straits – even bankruptcy – if they are sick or injured.

A.J. grew up in a middle class family and knows first-hand the importance of hard work. He has built strong, successful businesses, created jobs, and developed economic opportunities for hundreds of Idahoans. He is an entrepreneur who will use the skills he honed in private life to keep businesses in Idaho and attract new industry to our state, all to the benefit of Idaho families. In his many years of public service, A.J. Balukoff has generously shared the bounty he has earned with countless others in support of the greater good.

A.J. strongly supports equal access to justice and will work to ensure that all Idahoans are treated equally under the law. He believes that women should receive equal pay for equal work, that Idaho should “add the words” to ensure that legal discrimination against LGBT individuals is a thing of the past, and that the government should not interfere in health care decisions made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

Finally, A.J. is an outdoorsman who knows the importance of keeping our public lands in public hands. As a life-long member of what Governor Andrus used to call the “hook and bullet club,” A.J. will fight to ensure that Idaho’s public lands are not sold to the highest bidder, that our children and grandchildren are not locked out of our unique legacy of hunting, fishing and recreation in Idaho’s great outdoors.

The three frontrunners for the Republican gubernatorial nomination all present a poor choice for Idaho. Probably the most concerning candidate is first district Congressman Raul Labrador, a Tea Party darling whose ideological extremism and ineptitude is exceeded only by his grandstanding. I believe that A.J. Balukoff has the best chance of defeating Labrador, should he be the Republican nominee, in the general election.

A.J.’s exceptional work ethic, remarkable record of accomplishment, and clear vision for Idaho’s future make him my choice in the Democratic primary. I hope Idaho Democrats will nominate A.J. Balukoff on May 15th. His proven record of leadership in the private and public sectors make him the strongest candidate in the general election and the best prepared to serve in our state’s highest office.
 

It would be a lie

richardson

I understand why some Idahoans who philosophically align with the Democratic Party have changed their registration to vote in the Idaho Republican primary election.

They are convinced that the governor's race will be decided in the primary and, in their utter disgust with Labrador, have decided to opt for Brad Little, who many see as the most moderate of the GOP contenders.

If one scratches beneath the surface, there is not much daylight on the issues among Labrador, Ahlquist and Little. Some, wistfully I think, hope Brad would shift to the center if elected, but his performance in the primary has been telling. He has embraced the hard right to fend off Labrador and Ahlquist and we can expect that, having benefitted from pandering, he would keep it up in the hope that a re-election bid would offer smooth sailing.

But I am not among those who registered as a Republican. If I were to do so, it would be a lie.

I am not ready to throw in the towel and concede that, because Idaho is currently one of the reddest states in the country, it is destined to remain red for all time and eternity. When the great Cecil D. Andrus was first elected governor in 1970, it had been 25 years since a Democrat had won the top job in the Idaho Statehouse. This drought, too, will come to an end, but not if we abandon the course.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that treats people of color as "less than," that worships the golden calf and enables corporate gluttons to defile our environment, that denies equal rights to our LGBT brothers and sisters, that refuses to support equal pay for equal work and affordable health care for all, and to take basic, constitutionally permissible steps to reduce rampant gun violence.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that shelters and protects a venal president who is systematically destroying the democratic norms of our great nation and who has shown every intention of undermining our republic and becoming a dictator.

The GOP is no longer the party of Honest Abe Lincoln, but the party of the liar-in-chief and his enablers.

The Democratic Party - at the state and national levels -- is far from perfect. But I believe that, unlike today's GOP, it strives to remain true to the rule of law and the aspirational goal that all Americans are equal under the law, that it values and adheres to our nation's motto: "E Pluribus Unum" – out of many, one.

And it is in that party's primary I will be voting my hopes, not my fears.
 

It’s up to us

richardson

Some years ago, I was flying home to Boise from Washington, D.C. I was on the Chicago to Boise leg of the trip; the night sky was clear, and I was looking forward to seeing my family and getting to sleep in my own bed.

As we drew closer to Boise, I became aware of a higher level of activity than usual by our flight attendants. Then the captain’s voice came over the intercom. He told us he could not confirm that the third landing gear had come down. We would have to make an emergency landing at the airport.

The plane grew very, very quiet very, very quickly. Everyone gave the captain their rapt and total attention.

He told us that the flight attendants would be instructing us on emergency landing procedures and urged us to listen carefully. He didn’t need to ask.

People had begun praying quietly, reaching for the hand of their seatmate — whether a traveling companion or a stranger — and totally focusing on the situation at hand.

There was a baby on the flight and people began passing pillows to her mother to help cushion her, if needed. The flight attendant started to talk, to instruct us in the ways in which we could brace ourselves for landing. The urgency and anxiety in her voice, more than anything she said, conveyed the potential seriousness of our situation.

Then we circled and circled and circled. In retrospect, I understand that the pilot was draining the plane of fuel. The circling seemed endless. Looking out the window, I could see a fleet of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, waiting for the plane’s descent – smooth or otherwise.

My mind was focused on one thing: my family. I wanted them to know that I loved them, that I had been thinking of them, that they meant everything to me. Then, after what seemed like an endless descent, the flight attendant screamed: “Get down!”

All the passengers reacted at once, in unison. It seemed as if we collectively held our breaths. Amazingly, our landing was feather light. The third landing gear had worked. When the captain said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Boise,” the plane erupted in cheers.

Today – all of us – every man, woman and child in this country – are passengers on a plane. The name of the plane is the U.S. Republic. It is a big, sturdy somewhat cumbersome plane, but it has flown through often turbulent skies for more than 200 years.

Some who have piloted this plane were less than proficient in the cockpit; however, the second officer, flight traffic control and the ground crew seemed to compensate for any deficiencies. But now we have a captain who hasn’t read a flight manual; he isn’t looking at the instrument panel; and he doesn’t know how to use the intercom. Totally self-absorbed, he's looking in the mirror. And he’s tweeting.

As the plane careens through the skies, we passengers are left to hang on for an increasingly bumpy ride. The GOP Senate in the traffic control tower and the GOP House on the ground seem unconcerned that the plane is in trouble. The second in command is enthralled by the captain who invited him along for the ride. He gazes fondly at the captain and does nothing to steady our flight.

As we are jostled about, the plane bobbing and weaving, few of us are confident that our pilot will land the plane safely. In fact, many of us know he cannot.

It is up to us, the passengers, to find a way. And to do this, we must work together. We must pay attention like never before. We must listen carefully to one another, take care of the most vulnerable, and replace the flight attendants and ground crew the first chance we get. We must act in unison as if our lives depend on it.

The 2018 midterms provide that opportunity and we must seize it. We can’t risk bouncing aimlessly in the skies for three more years, or worse, learning too late that the landing gear never came down.
 

No right is absolute

richardson

The president's hucksterism was on full display last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he shilled for the NRA just one day after meeting with survivors and victims of mass shootings.

Repeatedly calling his political opponents "crazed," he pumped up the crowd with threats that Democrats would "take away your Second Amendment." Sowing baseless fear has long been an effective NRA tactic. The not so subtle ploy is to scare the people so they'll buy more guns and the NRA can buy more politicians.

This kind of bellicose blather cannot go unchallenged. The Second Amendment is not the property of the NRA and its members. Like every other amendment, it is part of the Constitution and belongs to all of us.

The only way that any amendment "can be taken away" is for the Constitution to be amended yet again. For instance, the Eighteenth Amendment establishing prohibition was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.

Article V of the Constitution prescribes how an amendment can become a part of the Constitution. While there are two ways, only one has ever been used. All 27 Amendments have been ratified after two-thirds of the House and Senate approve of the proposal and send it to the states for a vote. Then, three-fourths of the states must affirm the proposed Amendment.

The other method of passing an amendment requires a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States. That Convention can propose as many amendments as it deems necessary. Those amendments must be approved by three-fourths of the states.

This daunting process to amend the Constitution has always presented a very high hurdle, but in this age of deeply polarized and fiercely tribal politics, the consensus needed to garner the required votes is almost surely elusive.

The Second Amendment is here to stay. And the president, the NRA and its CPAC sycophants know it. But as even one of its greatest judicial defenders the late Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged in the landmark case of District of Columbia v Heller, the Second Amendment is not without limits.

It is the idea of limits - reasonable, common sense, constitutionally permissible limits - that the president and the NRA cannot abide. They conveniently forget that no right is absolute.

In a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on the First Amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

Thus, just as there are limits on the first amendment - and every other amendment - the second amendment should not be read to allow Americans unfettered access to modern, highly lethal weapons of war.

The CPAC crowd may respond to presidential fear-mongering, but I sense the rest of the nation is reaching a tipping point where they fear the NRA’s utter indifference to the gun violence epidemic and its rigid absolutism most of all. The NRA’s continued and virulent resistance to even the most anemic gun safety measures may be its undoing. Change is coming – maybe not today or tomorrow – but soon.
 

Russian reciprocity

richardson

Our national intelligence agencies unanimously agree on three critical things:
(1) Russia used cyber warfare to have an impact on our 2016 elections and perceives those efforts as successful;

(2) Russia is presently using cyber warfare to influence public opinion in our country; and

(3) Russia will continue to use cyber warfare including propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence our 2018 mid-term elections.

Despite the unanimity of agreement among our intelligence agencies on all of these points, our president - seemingly alone - refuses to acknowledge the past harm, the ongoing damage, and the future threat.

I can think of only one reason he so adamantly looks the other way. It is because he sees Russia's past and present interference as not harmful, but beneficial - beneficial to Trump. And, I believe, he welcomes Russia’s interference going forward because he sees that, too, as helpful to himself.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Trump was not in cahoots with Russia in 2016, it would seem he is now. Trump can have little doubt that Russia is in his corner. Russia is his ally, his protector, his defender. It champions his presidency and those who support him. Consider that just a few weeks ago Russian “bots” – automated accounts – heavily promoted the dubious Nunes memo on social media.

The president likes to use the word "reciprocity." Well, he has been most reciprocal with Russia. Why else would he refuse to implement sanctions on Russia, sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress? Why punish Russia when it did its job so well?

Time and time again we have seen that the president is only interested in his own political and financial well-being. Russia’s continued interference will help ensure that well-being, or at least his survival.

If the president can keep his majorities in the House and Senate in the 2018 midterms, he can prevent impeachment; he can stymie any serious congressional investigations; and he can systematically dismantle the institutional norms of the Department of Justice and FBI, possibly curtailing the special counsel’s investigation.

The Republicans in Congress, with precious few exceptions, have been completely unwilling to conduct credible, serious investigations into Russia’s meddling in 2016. To the contrary, GOP leadership and the likes of Devin Nunes have run defense for the White House, acting as Trump’s agents and not as members of a coequal and independent branch of government.

Incredibly, the president has not instructed our intelligence agencies to aggressively address this real and present Russian threat. He is not only “asleep at the wheel,” he's given Russia the keys to the car.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) explained that the president is making it more difficult to confront the issue of Russia's election meddling. He said that that many of his constituents tell him they think the whole thing is a witch hunt and a hoax because that’s what the president has been saying.

King did not mince words: "We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists."

Russia has every incentive to keep this president in power, to see to it that he maintains impeachment proof majorities in Congress; and this president has every incentive to see to it that Russia succeeds.

All Trump needs to do is continue to look the other way and refuse to take concrete steps to prevent future meddling. Apparently, that's his idea of reciprocity.
 

Disappointed but not surprised

richardson

For the umpteenth time, I find myself deeply disappointed in, but not at all surprised by, the president's actions. Trump’s decision not to declassify and release the Democratic rebuttal to the Republican memo (the Nunes memo) made public last Friday is but his latest self-serving and hypocritical outrage.

Trump decided to declassify and release the Nunes memo condemning the contents of a FISA application over the strong objections of the Justice Department and the FBI before even having read it. But he blithely holds Democrats to a different, much higher standard, requiring them to jump through arbitrary hoops to merit comparable treatment.

The concepts of fundamental fairness and equal justice under the law have no meaning to this narcissist, whose goal is not transparency but self-preservation.

FISA is the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which was established by Congress in 1978. The Court entertains applications made by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.

In their memo, the Republicans argued that the FISA warrant obtained for Trump’s campaign adviser (and suspected foreign agent) Carter Page was improperly obtained. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have publicly denounced the Nunes memo noting that it was incomplete and misleading. For instance, it wrongly suggests that the only basis for the FISA warrant was the Steele Dossier and that the application failed to disclose that the dossier was from a political source.

If the president had any intention of putting the nation’s interests before his own, he would not have released the Nunes memo. Of course, that would require him to be a patriot, not a partisan, and – as we’ve repeatedly seen this past year – that’s not in his DNA. But having decided to release the Nunes memo, he should have released the Democratic rebuttal memo as well – and at the same time.

Dishonest Don is playing fast and loose with our national security to seek cover from the eventual findings of the Special Counsel’s investigation. This is the stuff of third world dictators, and the Republicans in Congress haven’t lifted a finger to stop him. Instead, they have been his enablers.
The ball is in our court. We must flip the Congress and replace this president. We cannot allow our beloved nation to become nothing more than a Banana Republic.

Propaganda 101: Trump’s gibberish gets worse by the day.

But as tempting as it is to dismiss his nonsensical rants as mere twaddle, it is important to recognize them for what they are: propaganda. And, sadly, it’s propaganda that resonates with far too many of our fellow citizens.

Consider, for instance, Trump’s tendency to talk in glittering generalities. This propaganda technique was recently on display when Trump, relying on an incomplete, inaccurate and misleading GOP memo, blasted p...rocedures used to obtain a FISA warrant for surveillance of his campaign advisor, Carter Page.
He did so without offering a scintilla of substance.

“I think it’s terrible what’s going on in this country,” Trump raged. He gave no context, no specifics, just a sweeping, unsubstantiated assertion that something “was going on” and that it was “terrible.”

Then he said, "What's going on in this country, I think it is a disgrace." Again, “what’s going on” was completely undefined and why “what’s going on” qualified as “a disgrace,” was equally unclear.

Finally, he said "When you look at that, and you see that, and so many other things what's going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that."

Holy Toledo! When you “look” at what? When you “see” what? And what are the “many other things” going on? And who should be “ashamed of themselves”? And for what should they be ashamed? And what is much worse than what?

See what I mean? He gets away with this rubbish all the time. Reporters must start demanding specifics.

I know he’s slippery, and he filibusters, and he changes the subject and he says something even more bizarre to distract from his original blather. But it would be refreshing to hear someone say, “Mr. President, what you said just now didn’t make any sense. You strung a lot of pejorative words together but you didn’t say anything. Could you be specific? What exactly are you talking about?”

And when he resorts to the same non-responsive gobbledygook, the next journalist needs to follow up with the same question. And so does the next one, and the next.

He’s so adept at babbling using loaded words to create an impression but actually saying nothing. Reporters – individually and collectively – need to pick up their games and start consistently calling him out on his mumbo jumbo propaganda.
 

A half truth is a whole lie

richardson

Our republic is in uncharted territory. Last Friday, the GOP majority on the House Intelligence Committee, with the approval of the White House, released a memo based on classified information.

Tim Weiner, former national security correspondent for the New York Times called the memo “a weapon of political warfare,” and a “cruel cudgel created to attack everyone who’s been in charge of the federal investigation of Team Trump.” The release of such a memo is unprecedented and unwarranted, and it shamelessly undermines federal law enforcement.

Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee strongly objected to the memo’s release, calling it inaccurate and misleading. The FBI concurred, publicly stating its “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

That their memo is, at best, a half-truth seems of little concern to House Republicans. But, as Mark Twain rightly observed, “A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.”

There is a reason that witnesses are required to tell not just the truth, but the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. It is the same reason that judges instruct jurors to refrain from forming an opinion on the merits of a case until the ENTIRE case has been submitted for determination. Incomplete testimony and a partially presented case are unlikely to reveal the truth.

And just as jurors are also told that arguments and statements by lawyers are not evidence, the public should know that the GOP memo is not evidence. It is nothing more than a partisan argument, a set of bald, conclusory and very much disputed assertions.

The Republicans insist that their memo has been thoroughly vetted, but that claim is patently false. The memo was produced only two weeks ago and the committee has conducted no depositions or interviews nor has it held any hearings. Incredibly, no member of the committee, including Chairman Devin Nunes, has read the source documents that served as the basis for the memo. Moreover, the FBI was given only a very limited opportunity to review the memo and, when the FBI asked to meet with the committee to explain its concerns, Committee Chair Devin Nunes summarily denied that request.

It is also significant that the committee never referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) which is much better equipped than the House Committee to assess whether there had been any actual wrongdoing. The sole mission of the OIG is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in Department of Justice programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in Department operations.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, the OIG has the staff – special agents, auditors, inspectors, attorneys and support staff – to thoroughly and objectively make findings of fact and conclusions of law. But the GOP, intent on shaping – and shading – the narrative, didn’t want to delay its rush to judgment.

Republicans argue that the public has the right to know the information contained in their memo and some even purport to support the release of the Democrats’ memo rebutting their own. However, they would delay the release of the Democratic memo until theirs has been in circulation for some time. The Democrats, understandably, have a problem with this approach knowing full well that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots.”
Finally, the president – who has told friends how delighted he is that the memo might undermine the special counsel investigation – is unlikely to approve the release of the Democratic memo. That would leave us with public access to only one version – the Republican version – of the truth, and that is very much contested.

Committee Chairman Nunes was discredited some time ago when he made a big production of delivering certain documents to the White House, documents which he received from the White House in the first instance. After this public charade came to light, Nunes ostensibly recused himself from the House investigation.

But now that Nunes has released the GOP memo his recusal seems illusory and transitory. It would appear that Nunes and the other GOP members are not exercising an oversight role so much as acting as defensive linemen for the president.

As you consider the merits of the GOP memo, remember the age-old adage: “Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.”

 

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.
 

Character matters

richardson

My senior year of high school, I served as a page for the Idaho House of Representatives. I was also a member of the Lewiston High School chapter of the National Honor Society. The NHS recognizes scholarship, service, leadership, and character, and four graduating seniors were tapped to address these topics at the year’s end initiation ceremony. I was assigned to speak on character.

In preparing my remarks, I took advantage of my access to key legislators in Boise and interviewed several leaders from both parties to elicit their views on the importance of character in the legislative process.

The interview I most remember is the one I had with Sen. Richard (Dick) High who represented a district in Twin Falls and later served with distinction on the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Sen. High, a Republican, was universally respected by his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

“What role does character play in legislative success?” I asked the senator.

“Character makes all the difference,” he replied. “A man’s word is his bond. If you give your word and break your word, you are finished here.”

Sen. High went on to explain why trust, once broken, is so very hard to regain. He acknowledged that legislators will occasionally have good reason to change their minds but, when they do, they should give their reasons and inform those to whom they earlier made a commitment. He emphasized that anything less would be dishonorable.

I incorporated Sen. High’s comments, with attribution of course, into my speech on character, noting that the cornerstone of character is honesty, fair dealing, and keeping one’s word.

Last weekend as negotiations to keep the government open spiraled downward, I was again reminded of the importance of trust among players in the legislative process and the age-old truth that the ability to rely on one’s word is critical, that trust, once broken, is very hard to regain.

President Trump promised to sign DACA legislation that had garnered bipartisan support. He promised to “take the heat.” He promised not to second guess the senators. He promised not to require changes. And, then – in the blink of any eye – he broke each and every promise.

When Senators Graham and Durbin, a Republican and Democrat, met with the president to present their agreed upon proposal, Trump flipped and he flopped – and he broke his word.

In the aftermath of Trump’s abrupt reversal, Mitch McConnell tried mightily to pin the blame for the ensuing government shutdown on the Democrats, but try as he might, his words rang hollow.

Senator Schumer, observing that negotiating with the president was like negotiating with Jello, directly called-out the elephant in the room. Schumer said, in no uncertain terms, that the president had reneged on his promise. Schumer made clear his view, based on experience, that the occupant of the Oval Office could not be trusted.

While Schumer spoke, McConnell maintained his game face, keeping up the pretense that the president was blameless. But McConnell knew better. Just the previous day, McConnell himself had publicly complained that he felt paralyzed in moving forward not knowing what legislation the president would accept. McConnell knew that his GOP caucus, no less than Schumer’s Democrats, could not rely on the president to keep his word.

It seems that Trump has stiffed employees, contractors and others his entire adult life. His businesses have seen repeated bankruptcies. American banks so devalued his credit that he couldn’t get a loan, so he turned to Russian banks to bail him out.

Always, it seems, he moved on.

But he is beginning to find out that, as president, there is no moving on. There is no other Congress to which he can turn. Neither party trusts him, though the Republicans will pretend they do. But at the end of the day, his credit is worthless.

Dick High was right. And character still matters.