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Posts published in “Richardson”

Heads I win . . .

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If you're familiar with the expression: "Heads I win; tails you lose," you will understand the glee with which the GOP Congress is taking a "victory" lap, patting themselves on their collective backs for cynically passing a self-enriching tax bill at the expense of the middle class.

With precious few exceptions, Republicans who - for years - have been bleating about the escalating national debt, embraced a bill that will, by all objective accounts, increase the debt by upward of $1.4 trillion.

They smile and shake their heads at those of us silly enough to remind them of their previous stance, blithely "explaining" that the corporate tax incentives will enable today's "corporate citizens" to create more and better jobs, resulting in more taxpayers, higher pay for current taxpayers, and hence more revenue that will pay for the cuts.

This explanation would be charming in its simplicity, if it weren't debunked by almost every credible economist who has studied the legislation. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells us that, at best, the GOP tax scheme represents "wishful thinking.” This is the modern day iteration of “trickle down,” also known as "Voodoo” economics. At worst, it will imperil our nation’s economy.

But, the GOP assures us, we ought not to worry. If their gambit fails and economic growth doesn't pay for the cuts, they "win" anyway. If the yearly deficit explodes, further expanding the national debt, they will be ready with their scissors. They are ever so eager to cut Social Security and Medicare, ready to shred what most consider our social safety net. They call it "slaying the beast."

As the K Street crowd pops champagne corks, it is a matter of time before 13 million Americans lose health care coverage; trust fund babies reap a windfall, and future generations inherit the wind.

So much "winning" we can hardly stand it.
 

Politics is local

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In the aftermath of the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate, national Democrats, along with their stable of strategists, pundits, and pollsters, need to wake up and smell the coffee. Labeling a state as “red” or “blue” – winnable or not – based solely on the results of the last presidential election is a narrow, self-defeating perspective. Alabama is a case in point.

Most pundits, eyes firmly fixed on the rearview mirror and focused on the 2016 election, doubted Doug Jones would win. After all, they explained, Trump won the state in 2016 with 62.9% of the vote.

And, they were quick to opine, “Trump remains very popular in Alabama.” Exit polls gave the lie to that opinion.

Indeed, exit polls showed that Trump’s support in Alabama has eroded considerably in just a little over a year. In fact, he is now ever so slightly under water, with only 47% of Alabama voters approving of Trump’s performance in office; 48% disapprove.

In advance of the election, pundits were also quick to obsess about the partisan leanings of Alabama. No doubt it is a red state and tilts decidedly Republican, but here too the exit polls give us pause. Those voting in the special election actually gave the Republican Party lower ratings than they did the Democratic Party – Republicans 43% favorable, 52% unfavorable; Democrats 47% favorable, 50% unfavorable.

The political odds-makers need to move beyond past assumptions. The political climate is dynamic; the electorate is changing, and predicting the outcome of down ballot races by fixating on past presidential returns is simplistic and unwise.

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." He was right, and Alabama is Exhibit "A."

 

Silver linings

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In the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump threatened not to accept the outcome if he lost. And there is every reason to believe that, had Hillary won, he would have made good on that threat. After all, Russia wanted him to keep stirring the pot.

Undoubtedly, Trump would have continued screaming that the election was “rigged.” He would have escalated his vicious attacks on “corrupt Hillary” and mobilized the “Lock her up!” crowd to dog her every public appearance. His Fox News fanboys and fangirls would have featured his tweets 24-7, and the Breitbart-Hannity echo chamber would have amplified his every utterance – just for starters.

Then, there’s Congress to consider. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Trey Gowdy, and the rest would have had a field day, ginning up new reasons to investigate Hillary and recycling old ones.

And there is no reason to think that McConnell would have approved a Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court. If the incredibly well-qualified Merrick Garland didn’t pass muster, it’s doubtful anyone would. McConnell wasn’t waiting, as he claimed, for the next president to appoint a new justice. He was waiting for a REPUBLICAN to be elected president. And he would have waited as long as it took. Justice, quite literally, could be damned.

As for those Hillary might have nominated to cabinet and other high-level positions, McConnell and his lieutenants would have subjected them to an unprecedented level of obstruction. And with Republicans also holding the majority in the House, Hillary’s legislative initiatives would have been gutted at every turn.

It would have been gridlock on steroids -- not a pretty picture.

But in an effort to find the silver lining, I offer one significant reason to be hopeful: Trump’s election has allowed us to look into Russia’s attack on our republic to an extent that Hillary’s election would have made much more difficult, if not impossible.

Certainly, in a Hillary Clinton Administration, any DOJ investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump Team would be seen by many as political retribution against Hillary’s defeated opponent. It’s probable the country would have had little appetite – or patience – for an in-depth Mueller-style probe.
During the campaign, when Trump bellowed he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary’s “lies” and “deception,” many lawyers and legal scholars shuddered. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told Fortune that “[m]aking threats or vows to use a nation’s criminal justice system against one’s vanquished political opponent is worse than terrible policy: it’s incompatible with the survival of a stable constitutional republic.”

Indeed, precedent for a winning president to seek some sort of criminal action against a recent opponent is not easily found in democracies or republics, but is a defining feature of authoritarian regimes.

Had Hillary won, the GOP Congress and many in the media would have condemned a DOJ investigation into the Trump-Russia connection as a “witch hunt." Never mind that the DOJ would not be acting on Hillary's orders as she adheres to the long-established norm that DOJ must be independent of partisan politics. And never mind that the landscape was scattered with brooms, kettles, and pointy black hats.

But now that Trump sits in the Oval Office, there is every incentive to know whether he and his campaign danced with the devil, whether he – or they – conspired with a foreign foe. We need to find out whether the man who so warmly and inexplicably embraces Putin has, in fact, been compromised.

Russia’s attack on our election was nothing less than an act of war. But our commander in chief has shown no interest whatsoever in learning the truth. Perhaps he already knows the truth; perhaps it incriminates him.

Had Hillary won, we might never know what really happened. But Trump won. And now – God willing – we will.
 

Hypocritical flip flop

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How do you spell “hypocrisy?” I spell it J-i-m-R-i-s-c-h.

For years now, Idaho’s junior U.S. Senator has been preaching that “[t]he overreaching issue is the financial condition of the country.” In a March 12, 2016, column in the Idaho Statesman, Risch lamented that the national debt had risen by about $10 trillion in the preceding ten years.

When our national debt reached $20 trillion, Risch issued a statement bemoaning the fact that “each dollar added to our debt is a dollar lost from critical investments in American roads, bridges, healthcare, schools, and other essential services.”

Of course, it’s not like Risch has a record of supporting investment in critical infrastructure and other essential services, but it’s a nice thought.

Now the Senate is poised to vote on a so-called tax reform plan that most major economists doubt will grow the economy, as its supporters promise. Moreover, the non-partisan Tax Policy center has found that the tax cuts will not pay for themselves through growth. Instead of being revenue neutral, the cuts, once implemented, will likely result in a massive revenue loss.

Pouring salt in the wound, the Senate Finance Committee has announced that its plan will include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that would likely leave 13 million Americans uninsured. And now the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate GOP's tax plan would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

So who will reap the largesse of this slipshod scheme? Why those who need it least – the mega corporations and the ultra-rich, people like Jim Risch who boasts about being one of the wealthiest U.S. Senators. Just how much would this plan boost his bottom line? I’m betting he’ll see quiet a windfall.

Some deficit hawks, like Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have the courage of their convictions and don’t try to sugarcoat things. Flake recently released a statement expressing concern that "the current tax reform proposals will grow the already staggering national debt,” and cautioning that, were it to do so, our economy would be threatened. But unlike Flake, Risch appears ready – if not eager – to abandon his long-touted concerns about the debt in order to help Trump notch a “win.”

The Greek philosopher Diogenes is said to have carried a lamp everywhere in search of “one honest man.” He could have found that honest man in South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham who candidly admitted that the Republican obsession with tax cuts for the uber-rich comes down to keeping the GOP in power by ensuring that the donor spigot keeps flowing. There’s not much in the way of principle in that remark, but at least it’s honest.

Dishonest Jim Risch has for years portrayed himself as some kind of fiscal champion but his concern for the national debt has proven short-lived. Sadly, he has shown himself to be a hypocrite of the first order, and an embarrassment to the state of Idaho.
 

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?