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Posts published in “Richardson”

Projecting in South Korea

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When President Trump delivered his remarks in South Korea, I was struck by how many times he accused North Korea's Kim Jong Un of traits and conduct that characterize his own administration and its enablers. Psychologists call this projection – the attribution of qualities to others that apply to, but one denies in, oneself.

For instance, he bellowed, "The regime fears the truth above all else . . . ." This is from the man who sent CIA Director Mike Pompeio to meet with a debunked conspiracy theorist and who lies with impunity at every turn. Lest you think I exaggerate, as of Oct. 9, 2017, fact checkers at the Washington Post had tallied more than 1,300 Trump lies and misleading claims – just since the inauguration – or about 5 a day.

Then Trump shouted: "In place of a vibrant society, the people . . . are bombarded by state propaganda practically every waking hour of the day." Again, this is from the man who daily sends out the shameless Sarah Huckabee Sanders to spin her web of deceit and duplicity before the White House press corps. He calls out credible reporters by name as “totally dishonest,” “disgusting,” “corrupt,” and “scum," and the media collectively – other than his fawning sycophants at Fox News – as “the enemy of the American people.”

Next, he claimed that North Korea is little more than a "cult" at whose center "is a deranged belief in the leader’s destiny to rule as parent protector." Remember Trump's brag at the Republican National Convention: "Only I can fix it!" And his recent assertion, "I am the only one that matters." And, of course, there's his chilling and pathetic boast "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." All this sounds pretty cultish to me.

Then Trump complained that the North Korean regime has broken international commitments. We need look no further than Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Trans Pacific Partnership to see that he models the same behavior. And, of course, he has threatened to walk away from NAFTA, if our partners in this hemisphere don't accede to his demands. For a time, it looked like he might even walk away from NATO.

Finally – and perhaps most telling – he slammed the regime for seeking conflict abroad to distract from "total failure that they suffer at home." Yup, we can check that box too. In fact, that's exactly what he was doing in his speech in South Korea.

They say it takes one to know one. I couldn't help but think, as I listened to Trump's list of grievances against Kim Jong Un, that - in so very many respects - he was describing himself as well.
 

No laughing matter

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Last week, President Trump shamed himself by denigrating the U.S. justice system, calling it a "joke" and a "laughing stock." Playing the part of the tin horn dictator, Trump bellowed that our nation needs "quick justice and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now."

This broadside on our nation’s criminal justice system reflects appalling ignorance.

Enamored as he is with so-called "strong men,” Trump seems willing -- if not eager -- to trample over the venerable concept of due process of law. You want "quick and strong" Mr. President? Look no further than the world's tyrants who send their henchmen -- often in the dead of night -- to capture, kidnap and kill "suspects.” They leave no trace of justice.

I've been part of the U.S. criminal justice system, and I've worked day in and day out with federal prosecutors and federal defenders, with federal agents and federal courts, and with the many other dedicated individuals who routinely put in extremely long hours, occasionally risking their lives, to ensure that our system of justice, though far from perfect, remains -- for the most part -- thorough, fair, and just.

I wish every citizen could see, as I have seen, the professionalism and dedication of those individuals. From victim witness coordinators to probation officers to federal mediators and Article III judges, it would be hard to find people more committed to the promise of our pledge of allegiance -- that ours is a nation "with liberty and justice for all." That phrase, well-known to every school child, may be aspirational, but it speaks to a noble aspiration, one deeply embedded in our national DNA.

When I served as U.S. Attorney for Idaho, a delegation of Russian justice officials visited Boise, ostensibly to learn about our criminal justice system. Over lunch, I asked the group leader what protections his country had in place to ensure that people accused of crimes were afforded due process. He gave me a dismissive look and precluded further questions with a summary statement: "You have your system; we have our system. Let's eat."

Yes, they have their system, and it is most assuredly “quick and strong.” But speed and strength do not guarantee justice. The Russian system, often violent and corrupt to the core, is one in which those close to power are free to do as they please and those out of favor are summarily condemned. This is not a system we should want to emulate.

During his tenure as president, Mr. Trump has repeatedly vilified our federal judiciary, undercut the rule of law, disregarded governing norms, undermined the independence of the Department of Justice, and attacked the institutions that give life to the guarantees enshrined in our Constitution. Sadly, we see that it is our president who is the laughing stock. And that is no laughing matter.

Critical but insufficient

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Like many, I am pleased to learn that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has filed initial charges in his investigation. Mueller’s assignment is broad, and it is likely that the indictments announced today are the first of many, though we may not learn of others for some time. Given his long history of exemplary conduct, both as a former U.S. Attorney and past director of the FBI, I have great confidence that Mueller will proceed apace, cutting square corners, and doing his job efficiently and with absolute integrity.

That said I have two notes of caution.

The first pertains to the seemingly complete absorption of the national media and social media with the filing of charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. While these indictments certainly warrant the “Breaking News!” treatment, they should not distract our focus from other major stories - for instance the GOP's insistence on fast-tracking an irresponsible tax plan that would blow up the deficit, balloon the national debt, and shred our fragile safety net. We cannot succumb to the temptation to discuss only the newest, shiniest object in the room.

The second note of caution pertains to what we can – and cannot – hope to achieve through the criminal justice process. Mueller's efforts cannot address all of the problems relating to Russia's interference with our election. While his investigation is absolutely necessary, he is constrained to address only past criminal activity. Our nation must continue to look to Congress to reveal all wrongdoing and to ensure that it never happens again.

The Senate Committees on Judiciary and Intelligence must continue, and complete, their oversight investigations. They cannot use the initial indictments - and the many more that will likely come - to delay or distract them from their own responsibilities.

The House Intelligence Committee has seemed dysfunctional from the outset, but it too has a role to play – if only it can rise to the occasion.

In short, Mueller's investigation is essential, but it is not, in itself, sufficient to the moment. Congress has a great deal more investigative work to do, and we must insist it do it.

Adopt Doug Jones

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Tuesday night, Alabama Republicans chose Roy Moore, an extreme rightwing demagogue, as their nominee for the U.S. Senate in the special election to be held this December.

Some pundits assume - I think incorrectly - that Moore will be a shoe-in in the general election because he has an "R" after his name and Alabama is a very red state.

Here's why I think the shoe-in theory is pretty shaky. Alabama Democrats had the good sense to choose as their nominee an exceptional candidate - former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. I got to know Doug when I was the U.S. Attorney for Idaho, and can attest to the fact that he is smart and tough and principled. And, tempting though it might be, Jones isn’t making the race about Donald Trump. He knows that Trump remains popular in much of Alabama and is focusing on the issues – the economy, jobs, health care, women’s rights and the environment. On each and every issue, Moore is to the right of just about anybody, Genghis Khan included.

The differences between Jones and Moore are stark – especially when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Doug Jones is a civil rights champion. He prosecuted the KKK. He believes in the rule of law. The same cannot be said of Moore, a former state court judge, who refused to follow a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument, which Moore had installed, from the courthouse. The federal court ruled that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. When Moore disobeyed the federal court, a state panel ruled that he had violated the judicial ethics code and removed him from the bench.

A few years later after being returned to the state bench by a narrow margin, Moore again thumbed his nose at the Constitution when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling legalizing gay marriage. Moore ordered state judges to disregard the ruling and instead enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In response, a state court panel suspended Moore for the rest of his term.

And Moore is a conspiracy theorist. Most notably, he perpetuated the false “birtherism” narrative exploited by Donald Trump. Unlike Trump, Moore never conceded that “birtherism” was a lie. He defended it as recently as last December.

Alabama may be a red state, and Roy Moore may have an inherent advantage because he is a member of the dominant political party, but Doug Jones is no pushover, and this race will be aggressively contested. Yet, as I watch the national Democrats dither about whether to jump into the race with both feet, I have a troubling sense of deja-vu.

Time and time again, Democrats in Idaho and other red states have recruited capable challengers to Republican incumbents and been ignored by the "we know better" Beltway Democrats. We can have more than a little empathy for a great Democratic candidate running in a red state. This is especially true when some of us live in states, like Idaho, where we won’t have a chance to replace an incumbent GOP senator until 2020 or 2022.

Another Democrat in the U.S. Senate makes it more likely that the Trump-McConnell agenda, including the appointment of another far right justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, will not succeed. Moreover, this race will be decided in a little over two months. Reminded of the old saw, “Strike while the iron is hot,” I have to think the iron is about as hot as it’s going to get.

The Republicans have nominated a venal individual and, in so doing, have given Democrats an outside shot at winning this race. We can’t count on the national party to rally behind Jones. If Jones is going to garner the resources he needs to win, it will be up to the grassroots to provide them.

The other congressman

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The wrong Republican Congressman is running for governor. Raul Labrador has thrown his hat in the ring, but I wish it were Mike Simpson making the race.

Simpson and Labrador both represent Idaho in Congress, but the quality of their representation varies greatly. While Labrador, a spotlight hungry member of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, has become an anti-government icon, Simpson represents an ever more rare brand of Republican pragmatism.

Make no mistake. I haven't forgotten some of Simpson's more odious votes - like his vote to repeal the ACA. In a great many respects, he is not my perfect cup of gubernatorial tea. But in this ruby red state, Simpson might be the best the Republicans could offer.

To his credit, Simpson has stood apart from his Republican colleagues - Crapo, Risch, and Labrador - in openly distancing himself from the president. Moreover, he has shown a willingness to work with House members on the other side of the political aisle.

Before heading to Congress, both Simpson and Labrador served in the Idaho state House of Representatives. "Served" doesn't quite describe Labrador's tenure. A back bencher with a penchant for making headlines but not passing legislation, Labrador had a brief and unremarkable record. In contrast, Simpson was - by most accounts - a very capable, fair-minded state legislator and one of the most adept speakers of the Idaho House.

Anyone who listened to Simpson eulogize his friend Cece Andrus could hear notes of self-deprecating humor, thoughtful reflection, and real humility in his remarks. He gave Cece a lot of credit for the successful passage of his landmark Boulder-White Clouds legislation. I can't recall Raul giving anyone else, let alone a Democrat, credit for anything.

A few of my friends will be quick to tell me that all Republicans are venal and that Mike Simpson is no exception. I beg to differ. Robert Smylie was a great Republican governor. Phil Batt was too. If he were inclined to run, Simpson would follow in those altogether reasonable footsteps.

Would I prefer a Democrat hold the office? No question about it. And I remain confident that the Democrats will nominate an outstanding candidate. But wouldn't it be great if the Republicans would do so as well?

Remembering Cecil Andrus

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I first met Cecil Andrus in 1966, when I was13. My dad introduced us, and I was impressed. Andrus had kind eyes, took time for everyone, and conveyed real interest in each person he met. Four years later, along with a dozen other Lewiston High School teenagers, I spent a summer knocking on doors working to secure Andrus the Democratic nomination for governor. 18-year-olds had not yet won the right to vote, but we were determined to make a difference.

In those days, state primaries were held in late summer. So it was on a hot August night in a store front headquarters on the low-rent end of Main Street that we celebrated his nomination. Three months later, the “north came in” (which it did back then) and at the ripe age of 39, Cece Andrus was elected governor. When the legislature convened in 1971, I was a page sitting in the House chamber proudly watching our new governor deliver his first state of the state address.

Andrus often quoted from Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” No one listening to that state of the state speech could doubt that Cece Andrus had both insight and foresight. His vision for the state was manifest – excellent public schools, including kindergartens; a healthy and sustainable natural environment, with clean air and clear water; and a vibrant business environment where labor, no less than capital, received its due.

Being well-acquainted with a fair number of politicians, I know that the public persona often differs from the private individual. But Cece Andrus was authentic. Comfortable in his own skin, he was consistent – wise, tough-minded, loyal, and kind.

When our son Jason was just 5 years old, and a year before being elected to his third term as governor, Andrus was the guest of honor at a political event at our home. Jason was thrilled to meet the governor and, afterwards, using his best printing, wrote him a letter: “Dear Governor Andrus, Thank you for coming to our home. I think you are a wonderful governor. Love, Jason – Age 5.”

A few days later, Jason opened our mailbox to find a hand-printed letter addressed to him. It read: “Dear Jason, Thank you for your letter. I think you are a wonderful boy. Love, Cecil – Age 48.”

That kind of personal care and concern was a hallmark of the governor’s interactions with his fellow Idahoans. Many years later, when my dad was in the winter of his life, Cece dropped by the hospital after visiting hours and talked the staff into bending the rules so he could say hello to his “old friend Fred.”

In 1990, in his last run for governor, Cece asked Pete and me to co-chair his re-election effort in Ada County. The governor announced his candidacy at the grade school his granddaughter attended. I was in charge of the logistics and wanted everything to go smoothly. The day was sunny but windy and the podium, flanked by Idaho and American flags, was buffeted by gusts of wind.

As the governor stepped to the podium to speak, the wind picked up and the American flag rapidly unfurled, draping the governor. I was mortified thinking I should have thought to secure it in advance. But Andrus didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve heard of politicians wrapping themselves in the flag,” he said. “But this may be the first time the flag has wrapped itself around a politician!” The crowd roared its approval.

This week, Governor Andrus will again be draped in the American flag. The man may have passed, but his vision endures. I think if he could give us marching orders from the great beyond, it would come in a hand-written note, reading something like this: “Dear friends, Thanks for remembering me. Now get to work and realize our vision. Love, Cecil.”

Spoils of war

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One of the most concerning and vague statements made by the president in his speech on Afghanistan was this: “. . . . We are going to participate in [Afghanistan’s] economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”

This brief comment, coming toward the end of his speech, could be easily overlooked but it bears close scrutiny. Evoking memories of similar statements made during the presidential campaign and after his inauguration, it requires clarification – and the sooner the better.

The repugnant notion that our country should replenish its coffers at the expense of countries in which we are militarily engaged harkened back to a predatory time of conquest and colonization. How can other nations trust our motives when our president has repeatedly lamented, for instance, our failure to take Iraq’s oil?

Almost a year ago, as the freshly minted GOP nominee, Trump argued that the Iraq War was a mistake, but he seemed most frustrated that the U.S. did not take Iraqi oil after invading that country. “The U.S. should have kept the oil. I was saying this constantly and to whomever would listen, ‘keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil!”

Then, the day after taking the oath of office, Trump spoke at CIA Headquarters, complaining that our country erred in not taking Iraq’s oil when we had the chance. He longingly recalled the ancient expression “‘to the victor belong the spoils."

Then, just a month later, in a meeting at the White House with airline executives, Trump again groused that we had not benefitted economically from the Iraq War: “We’ve got nothing. We’ve got nothing. We never even kept a small, even a tiny oil well. Not one little oil well. I said, ‘Keep the oil.’”

With those ill-considered comments still resonant, we find it important to ask: Which of Afghanistan’s resources does he want to acquire? How much tribute would be sufficient to "defray the cost of the war?" How are the Afghanistan people, already so impoverished, to understand the president’s remark? What are the men and women of our armed forces to think about the true purpose of our mission?

Sadly, the president’s statement permits the inference that the U.S. now looks at Afghanistan as a potential source for pecuniary gain. In light of his long-standing obsession over our failure to "take" Iraqi oil, it is not a stretch to think so.

In some respects, this comment would have been less concerning had the president not been reading from a teleprompter. Then we could chalk it up to Trump's penchant to shoot from the hip and make things up on the fly. But this speech was clearly vetted to a fare-thee-well by the generals, on whose advice he was acting. And that may be the most worrisome thing of all.

Talking to our children about nuclear war

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For those of us who recall the duck-and-cover drills of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the president's recent remarks directed at North Korea were a chilling reminder of a time in which nuclear war seemed an ever-present possibility.

I remember when the family who lived across the street began building a fallout shelter in a vacant lot next to their house. I had only the vaguest idea of the purpose of a fallout shelter, but it seemed like a good idea to have one in the neighborhood.

Adults talked in hushed tones about the missiles in Cuba and discussed exactly how long after a nuclear attack it would be safe to emerge into broad daylight. More often than not adults talked over us, not to us, about the headlines on the evening news.

I remember hearing my mom talking on the phone with a friend. She didn't know I was listening. "The neighbors said the girls and I could come to the shelter, but Fred wasn't welcome - because he was born in Denmark. They said he wasn't really an American."

I couldn’t make sense of what I heard. Was mom really saying that someone thought my dad, a naturalized citizen who had served in the U.S. Army and loved his chosen country beyond words, wasn't really an American?

Mom was furious with our neighbors even while wondering aloud if, should it come to that, she should go to the shelter with my sister and me, or stay with my dad in our home. Mom didn't approve of eavesdropping so I never asked her about what I had heard. But I thought about it – a lot.

In time, the threat of nuclear war subsided. Our neighbors never did build a fallout shelter though they went as far as digging a very large, very deep hole in their vacant lot. And, thankfully, Mom never had to make an impossible choice.
All this has come back to me as I watch coverage of the escalating rhetoric between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. I recall the fear I felt as a child when the possibility of mushroom clouds lingered in the national consciousness.

Hearing the president talk, almost casually, about unleashing "fire and fury like the world has never seen," was more than unsettling. After all, the world has seen some pretty devastating "fire and fury" We need only remember Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Of course, in WWII, the U.S. was the only nation to have the A-bomb and President Truman ordered it be used to stop a terrible war, not to start one. Imagine if the world had as many nuclear armed nations then as it does now.

As I reflected on these things, it occurred to me that adults who loved me and wanted to spare me worry in fact created more anxiety by avoiding honest and calming conversations. In the 60s, there were only three news channels and the evening news with its ominous headlines played but once a day. In today's 24-7 news cycle, saturation coverage is the norm.

Whether we know it or not, our children are watching - and listening. And adults need to find age appropriate ways to talk to them, to help them make sense of the news. That's more easily said that done. It is difficult to explain to a child something that is almost impossible to comprehend as adults. But it is important we make the effort.

We need to teach our children the lessons of history in words they can understand. We must encourage them to ask us questions that they may be afraid to ask. And we must model resilience by showing our children that, in a republic, citizens have agency. We have the power to write letters to the editor and to our senators, members of congress, and other elected officials. We can attend rallies, speak our truth, and campaign for candidates who will work to stop the saber-rattling and promote civil discourse. And we can prepare our children to hear false narratives from people who are ill-informed or indifferent to the truth. We can show them where to find reliable sources they can trust.

When I wrote the first draft of this essay, I was focused on tensions with North Korea. Now, the violence and racism on display in Charlottesville weighs heavily on my mind. It seems that each day’s news reminds us of the danger and destruction so easily unleashed in the world. But this is all the more reason to have those difficult, critically important conversations with our children and, not only with our children, but with each other.