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Nixon’s revenge

If you enjoy a little irony to compliment your summer this has been a week for you.

Irony one: on the day the United States Supreme Court dramatically realigned our historic understanding that “no man is above the law,” granting every former president “absolute immunity” for acts committed in their official capacity, former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon reported to jail for refusing to provide information to Congress about the failed Trump coup attempt on January 6, 2021.

Bannon, whose reason to be centers on dismantling the “administrative state,” is a world-class grifter who stands to enlarge his toxic influence in a second Trump administration. Bannon has no more cause to be near the presidency than does the man he worked for, but while he is paying a (small) price – four months in a minimum security prison – the instigator of the coup, thanks to the Supreme Court, will likely never face any consequence for one of the most heinous acts in the long history of the Republic.

If Trump makes it back to the presidency – an increasingly likely outcome – he will never face a jury for trying to overturn an election or any of his other crimes, while the flabby mouthpiece of white nationalism and a proponent of the January 6 insurrection goes to jail, not for cheerleading the riot but for refusing to talk to Congress about cheerleading the riot.

Another irony: While Americans celebrate the nation’s independence this week, a movement initiated 248 years ago against a mentally unstable English king, the Supreme Court has effectively put the once and future crimes of an American president out of reach of the vaunted “rule of law.”

A certifiably crazy former president is now set to be a certifiably crazy king.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent against the Court’s gobsmackingly outrageous decision – “immune, immune, immune, immune.”

“We are the United State of Amnesia,” the novelist Gore Vidal once wrote, “we learn nothing because we remember nothing.”

Remembering nothing, for instance, like Richard Nixon. Fifty years after Nixon resigned the presidency under a cloud of crimes associated with the Watergate caper that the Supreme Court has now decided that was no big deal. Nixon acted as president when he authorized the CIA to concoct a cover story for the break in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in 1972. He was acting in his official capacity when he ordered the break in of the doctor’s office where the medical records of the leaker of the Pentagon Papers were housed. Nixon was acting officially when he order hush money payments to keep witnesses quiet.

“As I looked at it, I realized Richard Nixon would have had a pass,” said no less an authority than John Dean, the White House counsel who helped reveal the extent of Nixon’s crimes.

“Virtually all of his Watergate-related conduct,” Dean said and, “virtually all that evidence falls in what could easily be described as ‘official conduct.’”

And here’s law professor Jeffrey Toobin writing in the Washington Post: “The strongest evidence that Nixon obstructed justice in the Watergate investigation was the so-called smoking gun tape of June 23, 1972. In that conversation, Nixon told H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, to instruct the CIA to tell the FBI to curtail its investigation of the Watergate break-in on spurious national security grounds. Nixon told Haldeman: ‘When you get … these people in, say, ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing. … That will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further.

“Under Trump v. United States, Nixon’s statement would not amount to obstruction of justice because it related to his ‘official’ duties — that is, supervising the FBI and CIA. ‘Investigative and prosecutorial decision-making is ‘the special province of the Executive Branch,’ Roberts wrote, ‘and the Constitution vests the entirety of the executive power in the President.’ Accordingly, ‘the President cannot be prosecuted for conduct within his exclusive constitutional authority.'”

Nixon, of course, accepted a pardon from President Gerald Ford for the simple reason that he knew he faced prosecution for the crimes he committed and abetted. Now, the Supreme Court says forget it. Turns out Nixon was right when, after his resignation, he infamously told interviewer David Frost, “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

Toobin argues that the evidence of Nixon’s obstruction, the “smoking gun” audio recording, could not, under Roberts anti-constitutional reading be used as evidence. That’s right. Read it again.

“What the prosecutor may not do, however,” Roberts wrote based on nothing more than his own ideology and aiming for his desired outcome, “is admit testimony or private records of the President or his advisers probing the official act itself. Allowing that sort of evidence would invite the jury to inspect the President’s motivations for his official actions and to second-guess their propriety.”

The ultimate Trump card delivered by not a conservative Supreme Court, but a radical and reactionary court with a majority more activist than judicial, more driven by its desire for a political outcome than by fidelity to the Constitution.

But it that this American way? Do we really want to encourage an already overly powerful president to have the ability to commit crimes in his official capacity and be held immune for his actions? Is this the way our 248 year experiment in checked and balanced government ends?

To see where this is going read the dissents to Chief Justice John Roberts’ outrageous opinion for the court, an entirely ahistorical document that would almost certainly make even the old Watergate defendant squirm.

“Never in the history of our Republic has a President had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Moving forward, however, all former Presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office misuses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop.”

Sotomayor ended with this: “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

Roberts dismissed such concerns with the high handed authoritarian impulse he has now effectively amended the Constitution to permit. He argues that a president, shielded now with immunity granted by six unelected judges, has the power to be “bold.”

Was Nixon being “bold” when he initiated the coverup of his crimes, all done, by the way, to further his own political prospects and to punish his political enemies?

Unlike Roberts, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has read history. In her dissent Jackson quotes the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and in the process demolishes the claim that the Constitution encourages an all-powerful executive.

The Constitution’s “separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787,” Brandeis wrote in 1926, “not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was, not to avoid friction, but . . . to save the people from autocracy.”

Final irony: a former president with autocratic ambitions – Trump took to social media this week to assert, that is to lie, that former Congresswoman Liz Cheney had committed “treason” for investigating his coup activities – has had those ambitions supercharged by the authority of the nation’s highest court.

In short, the Supreme Court majority – three of them appointed by Trump – has vastly increased the likelihood that should he gain office again Trump will rule like the “dictator” he has pledged to become.

Joe Biden had an awful debate last week. He’s too old to be president. He should stand down. Trump’s court has emboldened his desire for absolute power and his lust for revenge against his opponents. What a choice.

We can have a dime store Nixon with a third the mental capacity of that corrupt former president and ten times the venality, or we can have a diminished man whose entire career supports the American ideals the Supreme Court has now kicked in the ditch.

With fear for our democracy, I despair.

 

Instant majority

At the end of a long road to ballot qualification, Idaoans will get to decide whether all the voters, or only a tiny sliver of them, will pick the leaders of its government going forward.

That’s the core of what’s really a simple proposition. There is no lack of efforts to confuse and distract, of course, from what the open primaries initiative actually would do; confusion and distraction are just about the best tools the opposition has.

For example, this from an op-ed by Morgan McGill of the Idaho Family Policy Center (a pro-Republican group): “Through open primaries, Democrats will slowly take greater control over Gem State politics as they build a coalition with more moderate or ‘squishy’ Republican candidates that can flip seats historically held by more conservative Republican candidates.”

The sense of that falls apart when you recognize that the initiative would not change the people of Idaho or their candidates either. It simply would bring more people into the process of selecting their leaders. The only rational reason for opposing the initiative is if you think that’s a bad idea, as a good many people in current state Republican leadership clearly do.

So how does it work?

There are two steps, one at the primary election, one at the general.

At the primary, instead of a convoluted system of trying to figure out which Idaho voters can vote for what, the answer would be this: Everyone (who is a qualified voter) gets to vote for everything. For instance: If there are five people - say, three Republicans, one Democrat and an independent - running for the state Senate seat where you live, you vote for whichever one you prefer. When the votes are tallied, the four candidates who get the most votes go on to November.

In November, once again you get to vote for whichever of the four you prefer - but you also can make another choice, if you want to: You can indicate the candidate who is your second choice (if your first choice doesn’t win), and your third choice (if neither of the top two come out on top). This is the “ranked choice” system, the terminology of which has tangled a lot of understanding about what’s really a pretty simple process.

The idea is that a candidate should have to get more than half of the vote to be elected. (Many of Idaho’s cities operate on this principle in their elections,and mayoral runoffs are not rare.)

This would mean that the people who are supposed to be in charge in this state - the voters, all who choose to participate - would get a voice in selecting their leaders. As it is now, because of the convoluted system governing party elections, only a small fraction do.

That’s it. Nothing terribly hard to understand about it.

What would be the effect? State Republican Chair Dorothy Moon wrote July 3, “In a winner-take-all election, the candidate with the most votes wins—the candidate that the most voters want. However, in an RCV election, the winner is the candidate a majority can tolerate. This shifts the focus, incentivizing candidates to avoid taking strong stands on issues.”

That’s one way of putting it: A move toward leadership by the broadly acceptable rather than bitter extremes. Here’s another: Wins under the open primary system would go to whoever has the most support among the most voters - as opposed to (in the current setup) whoever gets the backing of a small in-group, often a tiny fraction of the voters. Or: Do you want leadership representative of most of us, or of just a few of us?

Of course, looking ahead, all this depends too on the Idaho Legislature. Initiatives pass laws just as the legislature does, but just as no legislature can bind a later one, the legislature can change - or repeal completely - any initiative passed by the voters. Given how little regard the Idaho Legislature has had in recent years for the voters, the open primary law - if voters do pass it - may have a shaky future.

In the meantime, Idaho voters have a decision to make, about whether they want to be respected as vital participants in a system of self-governance. Or not.

 

Where’s your mouth?

Maybe not where your money is.

It seems the Idaho Legislature loves children. Especially the unborn or foster children that have been removed from their negligent parents’ custody.

Shame, shame.

Why do these people who do such things deserve our dear tax dollars?

There’s no way a young single mother of three who is facing another pregnancy can imagine state support if she would consider terminating that child. No, if she would bring up that consideration to a medical practitioner and she received advice to go beyond our borders, our Attorney General would consider such advice criminal.

She would not get a dime from us Idaho Taxpayers in her situation. And any health care provider talking to her has to contemplate loss of licensure and jail time. That is where the Idaho Legislature has put their mouth.

And their laws. Our laws.

But the focus of the Idaho Legislature recently has been on how the Department of Health and Welfare has been caring for foster children.

Foster children are those remanded from parental custody for some significant reason. These kids get put into state custody for something pretty bad. It’s not like the parents were giving them cold cereal every morning.

Parents going to prison. Parents addicted. Parents who have harmed their children. And it’s not just a swat on the butt we are talking about. And there is no close relative that can step up. These kids are the least supported you can think of.

Our family took in a niece when she was looking at jail time. She graduated. It was hard.

I have heard many others tell the same story. When available, Idahoans step up. But sometimes, there is no family resource. And that’s when we revert to state custody. And here, the Idaho legislature is all mouth and no money.

Put your money where your mouth is.

That’s what you say to a braggart who challenges you. Show me you really believe in what you are spewing. Or are you just show?

Sometimes the money comes out. Often the braggart slinks off.

Our Idaho Legislature has continued to spew its dissatisfaction with foster children care. But no one has made them put up the money. Not our governor. Not themselves, in their own self-respect. And worst, not us voters. That’s our job, to hold their feet to the ballot box fire. Instead, we keep reelecting them. As long as they are Republican, they have our vote.

If you cared about the placement, the support of a foster child, what would you do?

Would you do your best for them?

I would. Our niece was not fostered with us, just placed for her senior year. It took a lot from our family to care for her. Maybe that’s what all you Idahoans expect that we should all just take care of each other.

I wish such were the case.

I have told you; some kids have no resources. Then it is just the state: the last resort.

So which state person should care for this foster child? Most of these situations are very complex and often contentious. It’s not like ordering your Big Mac.

But we pay these state workers about what MacDonalds pays.

The new hire at the IDHW who will work with foster children is paid $16 an hour. This is according to the Idaho Legislature’s budget mouth. They have put their money there. They are not just spewing. They have ponied up.

It’s like the guy says he can beat me at eight ball and put’s up a quarter.

I’ll beat him anyway, and he can keep his quarter.

And our legislators, whom you have elected have approved these budgets, though reluctantly.

I posit they don’t really care about children.

 

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Let’s talk numbers

O.K.

We've had this debate.

What was said during those 90-minutes has been drowned out by the cacophony of talking heads so suddenly concerned about the President's age.  And, supposed infirmities.

Yes, the man is 81.  Yes, he appeared somewhat feeble of voice and motion during the debate.  And, yes, it's fair to ask questions about his ability to fully carry out the duties of the Office.

But, it's NOT fair to suggest - as some have - that Joe Biden isn't up to the job based on this one hour-and-a-half.  It's NOT fair to base some sort of threats to his continuance in office based on what he said - or how he said it - during that short window.  Ninety-minutes.

We have a nationwide election coming up in about 120 days.  Biden's name will be on the ballot.  So, too, will that of convicted felon Donald Trump seeking the same office.  If you seriously believe Joe Biden isn't up to the job - that the other guy can better represent your interests - you've got your chance to make a change.  Your decision.  Your vote.

I'm seven years older than the President.  Haven't had the chance for a good public debate recently.  But, I've held my own in interactions with other folks.  I can still drive a vehicle with confidence.  And, my reflexes - both physical and mental - continue to be acceptable in mixed company.

Age is just a number.  It really is.

Spend some time in a doctor's office waiting room.  Look around.  You'll see 50-year-olds - even younger - who have all sorts of physical and mental restrictions.

Go over to the nearest YMCA or country club.  You'll find seniors of all ages being active in a number of physical settings.  Check the tennis or handball courts.  May not still have the speed or accuracy of their younger years.  But, they're out there - challenging - trying hard - keeping themselves "young" by staying active and engaged.

Same for Biden.  He's still active and engaged.  In his job, he's active and engaged 24-hours a day.  He's surrounded by competent staff and advisors.  He's absorbing mountains of daily information.  He's getting advice on situation-after-situation around the clock.  He's involved in decision-after-decision every waking hour.

If he falters.  If he waivers.  If he appears unable to handle the job, there are plenty of advisors to give support and direction.  He's never alone.  He's never without support.

And, you can bet that support will advise others if they see a problem working with the President.  There are plenty of guardrails.

Yes, Biden gave a poor performance at the "debate."  About eight years ago, so did that other guy - Barack something.  Not good.  May have flubbed one appearance.  Was still a pretty damned good President, though.

There was that other guy.  Reagan.  Spent a few years in the Oval office.  Dealt with some memory lapses in front of the cameras, too.  On many occasions.

Whatever you think of his politics or physical/mental stamina, Biden has only about 180 days left in his current term.  Watch him closely.  Listen when he speaks.  Judge for yourself - on a continuing basis - to see if the man has serious problems.  Make your own decision.

But, it's totally unfair to judge him - or anyone else- on one difficult appearance.  On one high pressure moment in time.

Give the guy a mulligan on this one.  There's another debate coming up in September.  And, there'll be many public appearances between now and November fifth.  Judge for yourself.

 

10 Commandments may be coming

Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry recently signed a bill into law requiring the Ten Commandments to be hung in every public school classroom in his state. He knew the bill violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but did it anyway. Landry is a Christian nationalist who wants to infuse his version of Christianity into practically every aspect of public life in America.

Landry acknowledged that the bill would provoke a legal challenge, but welcomed the prospect. He obviously wants to bring the case before the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in hopes of getting the Court to overturn previous rulings prohibiting the intrusion of religion into public schools. He knows he will have favorable federal judges in Louisiana to get the case before SCOTUS, and who knows what may happen there?

But, what does this have to do with Idaho? The fact is that copycat legislation will surface in Idaho in the near future. Idaho has grappled with any number of culture war issues having strong religious overtones in the last several years, including the criminalization of abortion, terrorizing librarians, LGBTQ discrimination, school vouchers and in vitro fertilization. The extremists understand the power of demagoguing culture war issues and won’t be able to resist trying to scare up votes with this one.

The far-right faction that now controls the Idaho Republican Party has a platform plank calling for school prayer, discussion of religion in the classroom and religious displays in schools, all of which are strictly prohibited by Idaho’s Constitution. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which has dished up any number of culture war issues to help like-minded individuals win and retain public offices, is all in for religious teaching.

There is another powerful group with a strong interest in infusing religion into practically every aspect of governmental policy that will play a strong role in pushing the Ten Commandments into Idaho public schools. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a powerful, dark-money-funded Christian nationalist group that provides free legal help to like-minded state attorneys general will be there to help with the indoctrination effort.

Before taking office as Louisiana Governor earlier this year, Landry served eight years as attorney general of that state and worked closely with ADF on litigation to advance the cause of Christian nationalism. This year, ADF supported his successful effort to enact a universal school voucher program. ADF also wants school vouchers in Idaho.

There is an important public office in Idaho where the policy interests of Christian nationalists, the Moon branch of the GOP, the IFF and the ADF intersect on a variety of culture war issues, including religion and education. Idaho’s Attorney General is that point of intersection. Labrador has worked closely with Moon and the IFF on a variety of culural issues since taking over as AG. He has used the “free” legal services of the ADF on a number of cases, mostly related to enforcement of Idaho’s total abortion ban.

The most interesting point of connection is Labrador’s devoted friendship with Governor Landry. They were both members of the far-right Freedom Caucus in the US House of Representatives in 2011-2013. It may be recalled that Labrador breached Statehouse tradition by skipping Governor Little’s State of the State Address in January to attend Landry’s swearing-in ceremony in Louisiana. The two have partnered up in a number of cases dealing with religion and education. Last year, Landry joined Labrador's challenge to a California law prohibiting use of public funds for religious education. They have both strenuously opposed emergency medical care for women with dangerous pregnancies.

Considering all of these factors, it is almost inevitable that Idaho will soon be engaged in a fight over the Ten Commandments. The thing that mystifies me is why folks who claim to be followers of Christ and want a Christian nationalist government, don’t follow or even give fleeting reference to the teachings of Christ. You would think that they would take to heart and share Christ’s message of love, compassion and social justice in the New Testament, Christ’s Testament, rather than seeking political power through Old Testament laws. Jesus does not rate even a bit part in their play for religious power.

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A MAGA tilt but not a lockdown

Conservative southern Oregon, often an afterthought for many other Oregonians, may be the most politically dynamic large area in Oregon.

Few other areas show as much potential for political change.

Consider a couple of large Medford-area events just a few miles apart and on the same day, June 22.

The Jackson County Fairgrounds was dominated by the Republican political rally called MOGA 2024, the acronym standing for “Make Oregon Great Again.” Its headliners included national figures, including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and advocate for Donald Trump. This may be the only really large-scale Oregon event on this year’s Republican calendar, presented as “Come help us take back southern Oregon.” It was heavily promoted by the local Republican organization, by other groups around the region, and around the dial on area radio stations.

From a pro-Trump perspective, you might wonder if there’s much to take back in the southern Oregon area. Most of this large sector of the state already votes Republican.

But it may not be as locked-down some may think. The Jackson-Josephine counties seem to be on the cusp of something subtle that events like MOGA could be critical in influencing: Deciding if the area becomes MAGA-dominated enough that other points of view are swamped, which hasn’t happened yet.

One piece of evidence in that argument is the second event held only a few miles from the MOGA event, over in Pear Blossom Park in Medford, where organizers were holding the well-attended 3rd annual Medford Pride event. One participant said, “It gives a space for young people to be free to express themselves however they want. And an opportunity in an area that’s not always the most accepting to really give an opportunity for our community to be queer.”

These two events may fit into the larger picture of conservative southern Oregon as pieces of a puzzle shifting and developing.

The two big counties in the area are Jackson (where Medford is the county seat) and Josephine (Grants Pass).

Jackson leans Republican, but not by a great deal. In the last two decades, it has voted Democratic for president just once, in 2008, but no one has won its presidential vote by as much as 51% since 2004. Its legislative delegation has included mostly Republicans, and Republicans hold county government, but Democrats as well, including state Sen.Jeff Golden and state Rep. Pam Marsh, who represent a large share of the county’s voters. There are some indicators it has been moving gently away from hard right positions. It is one of 11 counties in Oregon to legalize therapeutic psilocybin. Hard-line positions on property taxes seem to have eased a little in recent years. Jackson shows no signs of becoming a blue county, but its tint seems to be shading gradually purple.

Josephine County is more solidly Republican. No Democrat has won its vote for the presidency since 1936, the longest such run of any Oregon county, and Trump just cleared 60% in both of his runs. Its state and local officials are Republicans, and there are no indications that will change in the near future.

Still, there are indicators of attitude shifts. Josephine has been one of the most rigorous anti-tax counties in Oregon, along with neighbors such as Curry and Douglas. Having experienced some deep austerity in local services, however, voters seem to have recentered on the subject.

Libraries are a good example. All libraries in the county were closed in May 2007 for lack of county funding, but since then libraries have been reopened, and a library funding measure was passed in 2017 with 53% of the vote. Law enforcement is another useful case study. Severely crunched funding during several years for the sheriff’s office was addressed in this decade with creation of a law enforcement taxing district, also approved by voters.

Both counties seem to have developed stronger tourism, recreation and wine industry sectors, which over time usually lead to a moderation in politics, and some of that seems to be playing out. That’s especially true in the well-known cultural and tourism centers at Ashland and Jacksonville, both growing and prospering, but also to a degree in both Medford and Grants Pass and several smaller communities.

Most of the more rural areas remain hard-right conservative, and the traditional “Don’t Tread on Me” and other similar signage is not hard to find outside the cities. These areas are a MAGA redoubt, and few people outside their tribe make themselves visible. That absence of a contrary culture allows for more sweeping adoption of the MAGA message.

But increasingly, alternative messages are becoming visible in some of the cities. They are not near changing the partisan lean of the area. But they may be enough to slow an overwhelming adoption in the region of support for Trump and his allies. Much depends on whether people are exposed more to one message or the other.

The margins are close. That is why events like the MOGA event and the Medford Pride activity, in their different ways, may have some real rippling effects.

 

John Peavey

I got to know John Peavey as a state senator, a job he held in two runs, for three terms in the 70s as a Republican and later in the 80s and 90s as a Democrat, 10 terms in all. He was a capable and active senator, and often in some kind of leadership position - formal or informal - while he was there.

Peavey, who died on June 16, may also have been one of those unusual people whose personal efforts actually helped transform the politics of a local area. Blaine County, which he represented and ran for office for so many years, probably moved away from a Republican tilt toward the Democratic side in considerable part because of the highly visible role Peavey played.

And yet Peavey, who was also an important figure in Idaho’s sheep industry and ran a livestock ranch all his adult life, might be as well remembered for demonstrating the impact a person can have even outside of elective office. He was a personal inflection point in Idaho history in at least three ways that had nothing to do with the Idaho Senate, or directly with his occupation either.

Peavey was in office in the early 70s when he tried pressing for passage of a campaign finance and lobbying disclosure law, and found that the legislature (notably members of his own party) weren’t very interested. So he went to work on it outside the Statehouse. In 1974 he was a key figure in promoting an initiative (the 1977 Idaho Almanac has a great photo of him carrying boxes of petitions up the statehouse steps) to set those open government requirements in Idaho law. With some adjustments over time, that law is still in force. Peavey is part of the reason we know as much as we do about who is behind changes in Idaho politics.

Some of Peavey’s compatriots also were less than thrilled when he helped lead opposition to the Pioneer Power Plant proposed by Idaho Power Company. That effort helped derail his legislative career for a time, when he lost his Republican primary in 1976. The Pioneer campaign he helped lead prevailed, however, and may have had a critical effect on Idaho development. With hindsight, Pioneer, then thought to be needed as a source power, likely would have become an expensive white elephant, and Idaho Power rates which for many years have been low might have ratcheted much higher. Idaho’s economic development in the last half-century is likely in part a piece of Peavey’s legacy.

By the time Peavey returned to the Senate (as a Democrat) in 1980, he was also a central figure in the debate and eventual lawsuit over water rights at the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River. That lawsuit, one of the most consequential in the state’s history, resulted in the Snake River Basin Adjudication and many other developments.

Wendy Wilson, former leader of the Snake River Alliance, said of Peavey’s efforts that, “As a result, Idaho now has one of the most progressive water management systems in the West. When someday this system prevents the Snake River from being pumped completely dry – it will be in no small part because of John’s vision.”

There was much more too, notably on the environmental front, and watchdogging the Idaho National Laboratory (his Flat Top ranch is not far from its boundary line). The Trailing of the Sheep event at the Wood River Valley that he co-founded has become a local institution.

He did most of these things not from a position of special power, but from the office of citizen. There’s a lesson in that.

John Peavey had an instinct for grasping what was important and how to push to make a difference at the key moments when change could be had. He can continue to have an influence by showing us through example how much power we each can have.

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Those election claims

So, you still think that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and that former President Trump should have been in the White House all along. Perhaps you believe Trump when he continues to insist that he won the election by a wide margin.

Obviously, Trump has not spent time with Ken Block – who the Trump campaign hired to find voter fraud in the wake of the 2020 election. Block isn’t about to get into a shouting match with Trump, but he has written a book (“Disproven”) that knocks down every claim that Trump and his supporters made. And Trump’s campaign attorney, Alex Cannon, has provided testimony to the validity of Block’s findings.

“It simply was not there,” Block told me in a telephone conversation. “There was fraud, but not enough to change any of the results in any of the swing states. That’s different from the campaign rhetoric saying that the election was stolen. None of the rhetoric comes with any kind of defensible data.”

Even Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, couldn’t dispute Block’s findings. “So, there’s no there there,” he said in a talk with Cannon.

Block had all the motivation for finding election fraud, and the expertise to do the job. He’s a technology entrepreneur from Rhode Island with expertise in analyzing voter data. He sifted through mounds of claims and theories, from the “plausible” to the “outrageous,” during his time with the Trump campaign. Basically, he was looking for fraud with the gusto of a prospector panning for gold.

“Attorneys were not going to court with false claims of fraud. They wanted me to, if I could, determine if the fraud cases were true. Or if they were false, they asked me to prove that they were false,” Block said. “Every one was determined to be false. So, when people hear there was massive voter fraud, they need to think critically about what the claim is, because the only claims that matter from a legal sense are the ones that can be defended in court.”

Block had a short time frame for his work, but he said time was not a factor and he had sufficient resources. “If there was massive voter fraud, heck yeah, I wanted to be the guy to find it, because our democracy would truly be at risk if there was demonstrable provable voter fraud. I knew we had the ability to find it if it was there.”

Block’s decision to write a book came during publicity surrounding the Jan. 6 Committee. As he explains, “I didn’t want somebody else telling the story, or providing a framework that was not mine. I’m essentially talking about all of this at the risk of perjuring myself. If you are trying to figure out if I’m full of it, there’s no way I would risk my freedom to make up stuff like this.”

Although Block found no evidence to help with Trump’s case, he found plenty of quirks in the election process. In New Jersey, for instance, there are 25,000 registered voters with a birth date of 1800.

“Before anyone views that as a smoking gun gun for voter fraud, it’s not,” Block says. “New Jersey has a bad computer system and election officials are negligent in cleaning up something that’s missing, which is an actual date of birth.”

One glaring weakness in elections overall is the lack of systemic uniformity, he said. “It’s hard to track voters who move from state to state, because states are not sharing their data. What we don’t have is a federal data base to ensure that voters have just one registration. So our elections are by no means perfect. That being said, I haven’t seen in more than a decade of doing this any claims of fraud that survives scrutiny.”

Over time, we’ll see if Block’s work survives scrutiny from the MAGA crowd. The book may not read like a compelling John Grisham page-turner, but it provides interesting fodder for those who want to know once and for all if the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

 

Digging through numbers

Though statistics more often than not make dull reading, once-in-a-while some come along that need our attention.

The U.S. Census Bureau folk postulate about 336,639,585 of us are living border-to-border and coast-to-coast in our nation.  While that's an increase

of a few million since the last official census in 2010, it works out to be only about four-percent more for the period.

One of those "got-my-attention" numbers from the Bureau was this.  As a nation, we're experiencing a birth about every eight seconds and a death about every 12.  Net migration is adding one person to our population total every 33 seconds.  So, the combination of births, deaths and migration adds a new face to feed and house every 16 seconds or just over four a minute.

Another set of interesting numbers.  If asked to name the four most populous states in order, could you?  Well, there's a surprise there.  Of course, California is the largest at about 38.8 million souls.  And Texas is second at about 27 million.  But the attention-getter is Florida which passed New York as it grew to 19.9 million - adding about 803 residents a day.  Poor old New York slipped to fourth at 19.7 million.  All of the ten fastest growing states are in the South or West.

 

Now that you know about how many of us there are and where most of us live, "How are we doing financially," you ask?  Well, those numbers are both a bit surprising and a bit grim.

Major credit card and credit rating companies did a new survey of 4,000 Americans and found more than 18 percent expect to be in debt the rest of their lives!  Those 65 and older totaled 31% believing such.  Younger respondents were more positive.  But, also less experienced.

Another sampling of citizens nationwide, done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, showed numbers that have become one of our national shames.  Student loan debt rose from an aggregate of $390 billion at the end of 2005 to $966 billion at the end of 2012.  Just seven years!  No surprise that student admissions applications are tapering off substantially.

Next, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says many Americans are drowning in uncollected medical debt.  Some 43 million are carrying heavy medical red ink and - complicating their problem - a difficult maze of systems to collect that debt makes it almost impossible for consumers to come out with a clean credit report.

The CFPB's examination showed the process for medical care can be confusing and the system for reporting overdue medical bills is haphazard at best.  That could explain why half of all overdue debt shown on credit reports is for medical bills.  One-in-five personal reports now carries a black mark for overdue medical expenses.

The Federal Reserve concludes the Great Recession has not ended for millions of us despite improvements in major portions of our economy.  Fact is, 25% of respondents said they were "just getting by financially" and 13% believed they were "losing ground."  Looking back five years, 34% said financial conditions are worse now.

The University of Arizona has been polling students and graduates on financial matters each year since 2007.  One of the most disturbing findings: only 49% of participants have full-time jobs two years after graduation!  Less than half!

There are more numbers out there.  Billions of 'em.  But you get the idea.  As I said, sometimes statistics need our attention.  These are some I've come across recently that certainly do.

The sum of all these surveys seems to be: there are more of us - we're leaving the traditionally larger Eastern states for the West and South - previous and continuing medical costs are overburdening too many of us - we're paying too much for a college education that, too often, results in employment not justifying the expense - the middle and lower levels of income in our national economy are not sharing in any real "recovery."

New news?  Probably not.  Will the folks in our Congress do anything to make the numbers - and conditions -  better?  Probably not. They could, you know.  But statistics are just not that interesting to most of 'em.  Except the ones tied to their own personal employment. Those numbers always get their attention.