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Crystal ball justice

jones

In 1907, Congress enacted legislation to deny entry into the U.S. of “persons likely to become a public charge.” The idea was to prevent immigration of people who would be drawing upon public assistance.

The “public charge” legislation is still the law of the land and has worked fairly well to conserve public resources. At the same time, America has admitted millions of immigrants who have contributed mightily to building this great country. The Trump administration is now proposing to substantially expand the definition of what constitutes a public charge so as to clamp down on legal immigration into the U.S.

Since 1999, potential immigrants have had to show that they are not likely to need long-term institutional care or become “primarily dependent” on “public cash assistance” programs. In fiscal year 2017, the State Department found 3,237 immigrant visa applicants to be ineligible on public charge grounds--slightly less than one percent of the 332,003 ineligibility findings that year.

Under a new rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, the government would deny green cards and visas, not on whether people have ever used any public benefit but, on whether it is possible that they might at some time in the future. The rule would expand the programs considered to be public benefits to food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and Medicare Part D subsidies.

In the past, the public charge exclusion was applied to those who used the benefits and were not able to support themselves without the benefits. The new rule would deny legal status to persons who might at some time legally apply for a little help to get through a rough spot. The rule does not take into account the extent to which an immigrant family is supporting itself.

It should be noted that those who immigrate to this country are people much like our ancestors - driven by a desire to make good and provide a better life for their children. They are not slackers or welfare bums. Our recently departed president, George H.W. Bush, referred to immigrants from south of the border as, “good people, strong people.” Many of them are more than willing to do the back-breaking work that home-grown Americans refuse to do.

The new public charge rule is intended to deny legal status to many more immigrants - people who could fill some of the many jobs in Idaho and across the country that are currently begging for reliable help.

And, it should not be forgotten that immigrants set up businesses at twice the rate of U.S. citizens. They build America and create jobs, like Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani and Sanjay Mehrotra of Micron.

The new rule essentially amounts to administrative legislating. It is the responsibility of Congress to set the rules for immigration, not unelected bureaucrats. The current understanding of “public charge” has been in effect since 1999 and been observed by Congresses and Presidents of both parties. If there is need for a change, let Congress do it.

The proposed rule will lead to arbitrary classification of those seeking entry into our country. The fate of applicants will be in the hands of bureaucrats who will have to guess whether the people will ever need even a short-term bit of help with food or medical care expenses at some time in the future. If so, they are out of here. To reduce the chances of arbitrary action, it might help if the President would furnish crystal balls to the immigration screeners.

Jim Jones’ previous columns can be found at www.JJCommonTater.com.

Other duties as assigned

rainey

As a Republic, we’re living in dangerous times. Unlike the past, when wars defined the danger, we’re at war with ourselves. And, it seems at moments, much of the rest of the world.

Divisions, tribalism, racism, anti-Semitism, far right and far left hate mongers, sexism, laws based on lies, ignorance and political self-service being enacted in state-after-state. Our federal judiciary is being filled with wholly unqualified but politically expedient nominees, mass media outlets spewing flat out lies and fictitious “stories” passed off as “news.”

These and more demonstrations of outrageous national conduct are threatening our freedoms, our place in world societies, our relationships with other nations and even with each other. Add in the most repeatedly proven self-dealing serial liar and least qualified president in our long history. All of this portends a future - at least a short-term future - of anger, fear, resentment and great difficulty effectively governing with such dangers.

Fearful? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Pleasing to our enemies? Yes. All of that and more.

So, we’ve turned to a federal prosecutor. A Marine veteran with a political and judicial histories that are truly outstanding. We’ve given him the task of sorting out the criminals, crimes, lies, double-dealing, treacheries and illegal conduct that have been the sources of much of these dangers. We’ve assigned him and his team the job of rooting out perpetrators and reporting to our Congress and to us his evidence-based findings.

At about the 18 month point of his work, the investigation seems only about at the mid-point. Starting with some low-level actors and a couple dozen Russians, there have already been subpoenas, evidence of criminal activity, confessions and a few prison sentences. Enough evidence proving the digging must continue.

The most recent “crooks de jure” are Roger Stone and several of his sycophants. These hangers-on in the netherworld of the national Republican Party are really the dregs of the political “barrel.” If you look at their backgrounds - one low-level patronage job after another over the years - it’s not hard to see why they find themselves staring into the face of some jail time.

All of them - “without portfolio” - have accomplished or contributed nothing. But, they’ve made a good living trying to associate themselves with people in power. They’ve bragged about their “importance” and their “access” to political folks in high office. Stone, in particular, became a right-wing media “darling” with claims of being a “mover-and-shaker.” His bragging included Wikileaks connections, his links with Russians and his access to “halls of power” in Congress and the White House.

Now, with little evidence they ever accomplished anything of importance, Stone and company have talked - bragged - themselves into the criminal “stew” in the crucible of the Muller investigation. Their years of touting false claims of exaggerated importance may, finally, put them in little rooms where the sunshine is seen only through the bars.

The longer the Muller investigation goes, it appears we may have asked him to do something else - something even more important than just rooting out political criminal activity. “Other duties as assigned” as it were. We seem to have tasked him to clean up the mess - to “cleanse” the system of liars, cheats, double-dealers, self-servers, crooked politicians and the treachery in the White House.

If Muller’s report is published before January, it’ll likely hit the Speaker’s desk with a loud “thud” followed by silence. But, if it comes after that, there will certainly be impeachment action in that same House. Then, the next step would be in the Senate where a trial is required by law.

Would the Senate, where everything is controlled by Republicans, hold that trial? That’s far from certain. Odds at the moment, probably 50-50. Whether action would follow would most likely hinge on who’s identified by Mueller as guilty of wrongdoing, what that wrongdoing was, what damage has been done, what that damage consists of and whether there are a lot of “co-conspirator #1" citations.

The Roger Stones of the world are just grist left on the mill floor. Their only use in what Muller is doing is to be rungs on the ladder to the next level of proven criminality.

There will be a report. A conclusion. A document of evidence detailing the cancer in our recent political history. It will go to Congress. But, it will also go to us. The affected. We must access it, read it carefully and thoroughly digest the details for ourselves.

Whether Congress will act is still an open question. But, as a society, we must act on the results. We cannot allow that document to be relegated to some musty shelf in the Library of Congress.

We did a little housecleaning in November. Muller’s work could prove a very useful voter’s guide for voters for years to come. And more cleaning.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – December 10

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 10. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Legislature's organizational session last week ended with little change in floor leadership but lots of shifts in committee chairs, even among the legislators who had one last term and are returning. The preceding taxpayers association session included an unusually strong warning of the prospect of a recession coming at some point in the months ahead.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on December 7 approved an agreement to keep most steelhead seasons open, but steelhead fishing in two areas will close effective 11:59 p.m. December 7.

Bipartisan legislation led by Senators Jim Risch and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to protect Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmon and steelhead from extinction has passed the Senate without objection.

The Bonneville Power Administration on December 6 released its initial wholesale power and transmission rates proposal for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The rates proposal includes significant program cost reductions and supports a multi-year grid modernization initiative to maximize the capacity of the federal power and transmission systems and improve grid efficiency.

The Idaho Department of Lands concluded a 21-month review of historic endowment trust land sales to determine whether sales exceeded constitutional provisions limiting how many acres may be sold to one individual, company or corporation.

The next phase of the Lewiston Orchards Water Exchange and Title Transfer project, construction of a second well (pictured), is underway with the purchase of land and city permitting complete. In July, the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District procured land located just east of the first well site as the home for the second well and secured final city permits in October. With land purchase and permitting complete, contractor solicitation and selection can commence leading to construction.

Former Idaho Department of Correction correctional officer Richard McCollough, 37, of Boise, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis said on December 6.

State regulators will hold a telephonic public hearing on December 11 regarding the proposed transfer of eight customers from Rocky Mountain Power to Idaho Falls Power in eastern Idaho.

IMAGE An image of the fish that was the center of passive controversy during the last week. (photo/Bureau of Land Management)
 

Locking out Idaho

johnson

In 2017, nearly 335,000 Idahoans owned a hunting and/or fishing license. The Idaho sportsman’s “caucus,” while hardly ever speaking with one voice on anything, arguably represents the largest special interest group in the state. All those hunters and fisher people should be increasingly up in arms about a trend that portends ill for public access to increasingly large swaths of Idaho and the West.

The brewing controversy has come into sharp relief with gates that have gone up at a long open public road just north of the Bogus Basin ski area and east of Horseshoe Bend in Boise County. The road, apparently built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, has long provided public access for hunting and hiking on property once owned by Boise Cascade Corp., and Potlatch. As the Idaho Statesman reported recently, “The gated stretch of road has been privately owned but publicly accessible for decades. It provides access to neighboring public lands and a network of secondary roads.”

The current owners, the hard-right billionaire Wilks brothers of Cisco, Texas, put up the gates a while back and dug trenches to prevent bypassing the closure. The U.S. Forest Service, which has long maintained the road, has received plenty of complaints. Similar activity took place in Adams County last year and only stopped after the Forest Service pushed back.

The Texans are notoriously tight-lipped about what they’re really up to, but a safe guess would be that they intend to monetize their Western holdings by selling multimillion dollar “ranches” and private hunting compounds. The weekend hunter, the family camping trip and good neighborly Idaho values will be the losers.

The Wilks’ ownership is now close to 200,000 acres in Idaho, much of it in southern Idaho and it’s land with a contentious history. One-time Idaho governor and eventually assassinated martyr Frank Steunenberg controversially bought up some of this same land in the early 1900s to create the Barber Lumber Company, a predecessor of Boise Cascade. Steunenberg received help in that endeavor from a crafty lawyer by the name of William Borah, who was eventually acquitted of charges that he had abetted fraud in the timber acquisition.

When Boise Cascade later acquired the same land, the big timber company managed it well for the most part and, understanding Idaho custom and culture, facilitated public access. Texans apparently have a different ethic.

Idaho law prevents the kind of road closures the Wilks have precipitated in Boise County, but the law offers only a criminal penalty, which means Boise County — a big county with a tiny population where they change prosecuting attorneys like the rest of us change socks — will have to find the resources to challenge the closure. Don’t hold your breath. The county will need specific and aggressive state help.

“Counties are strapped for resources, especially rural counties where these violations are happening,” says Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. Brooks’ group discovered the deed that documents that the Boise Ridge Road should remain open in perpetuity. But his group can’t sue because there is no civil penalty in Idaho law.

“Choosing to derail county budgets to prosecute billionaires over access issues, while burdened with more heinous crimes, is not financially practical,” Brooks says. “It’s time we give citizens legal recourse to enforce public access.”

Or how about this: Soon-to-be Gov. Brad Little, who knows the Boise front like the inside of the Statehouse, could order his Fish and Game Department to aid the county and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden could put some staff on the issue. They would be on the right side of Idaho sportsmen and women, and would send a big message to rich out-of-staters who represent a growing threat to public access across the West.

Since selling their fracking and oil field services company to the government of Singapore in 2011, the Wilks brothers, huge contributors to Republican causes in Texas, have been buying up the West. According to Forbes magazine, the brothers have bought more than 672,000 acres of land in five different states, including Idaho.

The Wilks boys, according to the Dallas Morning News, are big supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and have spent at least $6 million on Texas political races in the past two election cycles. They are also very involved, according to the Texas Tribune, in a host of Tea Party, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights efforts. There is no clear evidence that they’ve been playing financially in Idaho races, but stay tuned.

In Montana, where the brothers own nearly 360,000 acres, they have been trying to engineer a huge land swap with the Bureau of Land Management, have been in protracted fights with longtime ranchers over water rights, have sparked squabbles over hunting access and have spent heavily in support of Republican candidates. Earlier this year, the Wilks brothers were part of a not-very-transparent group that engineered a controversial re-write of Idaho’s trespass law, a sloppy and rushed process that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter complicated when he wimped out and allowed the legislation to become law without his signature.

The Montana situation is politically instructive. The Wilks’ oil leases with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale became an issue in Rosendale’s race this year against Democrat Jon Tester, as did the Republican’s shifting stands on access issues. By contrast, Tester is co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus and has made access to hunting and fishing a cornerstone of his Montana message. Tester won his recent Senate election in a state that President Donald Trump carried by more than 20 points. Montana, like Idaho, is a very conservative state, but also a place where public access to hunt and fish is a very big deal.

The politics of resisting billionaire private landowners shutting off historic public access should be a no-brainer, even for conservative Idaho Republicans. Forcing a couple of high rolling Texans to take down a gate in Boise County would be a good place for Idaho’s political leaders to start to draw their own line.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

Too eager

stapiluslogo1

You can’t read thoughts, but you do have to wonder if someone at Alta Mesa is thinking this:

We didn’t think they’d respond this way, because on the front end they gave us no reason to think they would.

Cast your memory back to early in this millennium and the enthusiastic response from many people in Idaho, and so many state officials, to the prospect of serious oil and gas production in Idaho.

For decades oil and gas development in Idaho was slight, and even now it’s not enormous; modest in size and largely limited to one corner of the state. But it got serious in 2005 when a private firm began leasing mineral rights in the Payette County and the nearby area, and started exploration wells, which showed enough promise to warrant continued research.

The big player has been Alta Mesa Company, a Texas-based organization whose spokesman in 2014 referred to Idaho’s “very friendly climate and environment for doing the work.” That same year Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter called the prospect of more drilling “very exciting.” During a tour of the facilities he also said, “This is a long-term investment that will not only benefit the companies doing it but also the state of Idaho.” (The next year Otter was rated at a perfect 100 percent by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.)

With all that in mind, Idaho’s laws on oil and gas drilling were changed several times in the last decade, and the commission governing oil and gas spun off from its old role as an alter ego of the state land board and into a free-standing commission. The Idaho severance tax rate is especially low, and the royalty rate is the same as oil-friendly Alaska’s. What’s not for an oil or gas company to like?

Moving forward to late 2018, the picture surrounding Idaho gas and oil extraction looks a little different.

In late November, Idaho regulators settled with Alta Mesa, which now has hundreds of oil and gas leases in southwestern Idaho, on a variety of issues.

A few samples show the tenor. In September the state required Alta Mesa to pay overdue royalties and provide other required information. It followed up weeks later with another warning that if the materials weren’t provided by late January, the state “may terminate the leases and begin eviction proceedings.” In October the state sent a violation notice to Alta Mesa for failing to get state approval for working on a well. Also that month, the state subpoenaed the company for other records.

This is the same state government that only a few years earlier went out of its way to encourage the development.

These issues seemed to reach a settlement by the end of November. But the state is far from alone in its concerns about the development.

Back in August a federal district judge held that, as one news story put it, “Idaho officials violated the U.S. Constitution by forcing several landowners to sell their natural gas and oil to a Texas company without giving them a meaningful way to fight the state’s decision.”

And yes, there have been landowner protests which have begun to change the political climate surrounding their activities.

Economic developments no less than political are Newtonian: For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. Sometimes they take awhile to develop, but eventually develop they do.
 

My ex is getting married

schmidt

It was front page news in my town that a family practice clinic was being purchased by the local hospital. Before I reflect on this, you need to know I was once a partner in the clinic but left over 10 years ago. Similarly, I was on staff, on the board and chief of medical staff at the hospital that is purchasing my ex-clinic. So, my reflections could be biased by my prior experience.

The stated reasons for the change in relationship are that both parties will benefit. The clinic has had a hard time recruiting new doctors and they see the new hospital ownership as a way to help this. The hospital sees the move as a way to be bigger: “A deeper bench…We’ll have about 650 employees…” Neither of these reasons hold water, but they reflect the dismal situation we have come to in our health care environment.

First, bigger is not always better for the consumer. Bigger bargaining power may allow the hospital/clinic more leverage to bargain higher payment from insurers. Then our insurance rates go up. Just four years ago the US District Attorney and the Idaho Attorney General sued to unwind a larger hospital purchase of a much larger medical clinic in the Treasure Valley on the grounds it was anti-competitive. The court upheld the suit and the clinic purchase was nullified.

Second, the only way the hospital can help recruit and retain primary care physicians is to shift some revenue to pay primary care doctors more. Think about the high-paid physicians the hospital supports now. Radiologists (who make three times what a family doc does) have hospital-funded scanners and hospital-paid technicians to do the scans. Surgeons (who make 3-4 times what a family doc does) have hospital-paid operating rooms and nurses to help them perform their well-paid surgeries. Is the hospital going to somehow pay the specialists less so the family docs can make more? Or will the nurses earn less? Or will health care costs just go up as they have?

What we pay for in health care is the problem, and maybe this consolidation will address this, though neither executive cited this as a goal. If we don’t start paying for value in health care and move away from paying for procedures, we will just keep having more procedures, more things done, and we will not be healthier. Did you know this is the third year in a row that US life expectancy has decreased, despite ever increasing health care expenditures?

I hope our local hospital shares this vision for adding value to our community instead of promoting more procedures. But here’s the pudding. The hospital dropped two community services, hospice and an adult day health program, because they didn’t “make money”. But they now have a full-time marketing director and development director, as well as bill boards all around town touting their care. They maintain a “critical access” designation while they spend money to drum up business. Does this make our community healthier? I’m sure it bumps their revenue.

So, the clinic purchase may benefit both entities, as any good business deal should. But will it make our community any healthier, make health care more accessible, affordable and appropriate? I hope so.
 

Speed

stapiluslogo1

Every so often, I have need to travel across Oregon, and that's a long way.

The Portland to Ontario stretch of Interstate 84, alone, is about 375 miles. At 65 miles an hour, that's a drive of five and three-quarter hours (at speed limit, non-stop). At 70 miles an hour, you can shave a half-hour off that. Not massive, but it adds enough. It can make a difference.

For decades speed limits on Oregon roads famously were lower than almost anywhere in the west; cross the border into California or Nevada or Idaho or Washington, and you could instantly speed up. That also means plenty of drivers passing through those states probably speed right through Oregon, too.

More recently speeds have risen, not by a lot but somewhat. Beginning in March 2016 most interstate speeds east of the Cascades went from 65 to 70 miles an hour, and some highways in very lightly populated area - much of Highway 97, for example - went from 55 to 65.

The increases were resisted for a long time by safety advocates concerned that higher speeds could lead to more fatalities.

Maybe they have. The Eastern Oregonian at Pendleton reported this week that in the months after the speed increase in 2016, fatalities along the affected roads did increase, noticeably. (The story then went into some of the grisly details, of course.)

However, it also noted that the fatalities dropped in 2017, while inching up again this year.

So what do we draw from this?

First, the numbers of fatalities were still not large, and amounted to a small sample size. They added up to 11 crashes on those hundreds of miles of affected roads, including massive stretches of busy interstates. The numbers were small enough that drawing serious conclusions about the effect of the change in speed limits - just five miles an hour on the freeways - would be problematic.

Second, the decrease in the number of fatalities in the second year suggests that maybe there wasn't much of an effect or, if there was, that people were adjusting to it.

It's something worth continuing to watch. But there's not enough here to draw many conclusions.
 

Dancing with despots

jones

The United States is showing a new face to the world and it isn’t a pretty one. No more Mr. Nice Guy trying to show the manifest benefits of democracy. No more of this nonsense about a free and unfettered press: Vladie Putin has demonstrated how to deal with them. And, selling death-dealing equipment to autocrats takes a much higher priority than calling them out for their vicious butchery.

Just because the Prince of Saudi Arabia sent a hit squad to a foreign country to make hamburger out of a journalist who had been peacefully and lawfully living in the United States is no reason to get all up in arms. It was just one guy and he was making himself a nuisance to the Prince by urging him to treat his subjects decently.

Besides, we can’t say with absolute certainty that the dear Prince ordered the drawing and quartering. Just because the guys in the hit squad knew from the Prince’s track record that they would be in a world of hurt if they did not follow his instructions to the tee, does not mean he gave them explicit instructions to slice and dice the fellow.

The Central Intelligence Agency concluded with a high degree of certainty that the Prince was behind the killing, but what do they know? They also claimed with that same degree of certainty that the Russians attacked our elections and just look where that went.

Everyone in the press is making such a big deal of the fact that the hit squad contained a doctor who routinely cut up bodies for autopsies and that he brought his bone saw to the event. What else would you expect him to take on a pleasure trip. He probably was only following that old motto, “Be prepared.”

Even if the hit was not the proper way to conduct business, we have to think about the economic aspects. The Saudis have agreed to buy about $14.5 billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from U.S. arms makers. That’s a lot of cabbage, especially if you round up the amount to $450 billion. It is just a dollars and cents proposition. You can’t let morality stand in the way of raking in the dough in this dangerous world.

Besides, the Saudis desperately need those weapons to kill people in Yemen. We have been giving them a hand in that enterprise and we can’t very well let them do it on their own. Where else are they going to get their cluster bombs? Most countries, at least 107, have gotten soft-hearted and signed a treaty to quit making or using them. The Saudis might be able to replenish their supply from Russia, China or some of the other autocratic countries, but why should we give up this lucrative business?

It is unfortunate that the war being conducted in Yemen by the Prince has resulted in the starvation of about 85,000 children to date but we have to understand that he is reforming his government. The President’s son-in-law gets along great with the Prince and that counts for something.

Bottom line, the old soft-headed America is out of date for these times. There will be no more preaching to dictators about the need to be nice and not brutalize their people. That gets in the way of making money and from now on it is profit over principle in this country, which was formerly respected for justice, dignity and moral courage.
 

Why

rainey

Here are a couple of questions for you. Name the capitol of Afghanistan. Got it? What’s the answer? Here’s the second. Name two other cities. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Most people can’t name the capitol. Kabul. No one I know can name two other cities. And I’ve asked a few. Herat and Kandahar are a couple. There are many more.

Yet, young Americans have been fighting and dying there for 17 years. Seventeen years! And the vast majority of us couldn’t find the place on a map and know next to nothing about the nation or its people.

We have about 16,000 military there at the moment - down from 100,000 a couple of years ago. Our young people have died there for 17 years. The Pentagon won’t say how many. Thousands and thousands of wounded? Same non-response.

The financial cost to we taxpayers? Well, Randall Shriver is the top guy for the Defense Department in Asia. His numbers? About $5-billion a year for Afghan forces. Another $13-billion every 12 months for the U.S. military. And about $780-million more for “economic aid.” Whatever the hell that is.

When you ring up the total, adding what the military calls “miscellaneous costs,” we shelled out - in just the last year - $45-billion. Give or take a million or two. Put another way, we’ve been spending about $170-million a day!

Why? What are we doing there? To what end? To what goal? What will “peace” look like? The “peace” that seemingly will never come. How many more young Americans will have to die or be permanently scarred before “victory?” How many more trillions of dollars are we willing to throw down that Asian rat hole? This is the longest war our nation has ever fought. Why do we continue?

In recent months, an ambulance bomb killed 95 civilians. Fifty more killed at a wedding. More than 50 clerics have died ina single attack. Hundreds of other terrorist killings. And, at least a dozen American military murdered by Afghans wearing uniforms we gave them, using our rifles we taught them how to shoot. All just this year.

Afghans - who’ve been at war since the first one stood upright many centuries ago - wouldn’t know peace if it suddenly descended on them. They’ve been at war with each other - and one nation or another - since their inception. I can’t think of another country occupied more often by nation-after-invading-nation. And not one - not even one - left the soil of Afghanistan in victory and with honor.
Even our “Commander-In Chief” hasn’t dared venture there in two years in office. Nor, incidentally - to his shame - has he visited any of the other dozens of war zones where our troops are under fire.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley is one politician who complains about our seemingly endless involvement in that far-off sinkhole. He notes every couple of years, one U.S. administration after another claims “a corner is being turned” and “the end is in sight.” Then he lists the corruption, government dysfunction and the repeated failures of the Afghan security forces.

The fact of the matter is, Merkley says, U.S. hopes of using military force to compel the Taliban to reach a political settlement are - and have been for years - unrealistic. He notes the Taliban now controls more territory than it did in 2001.

Sen. Rand Paul, also a vocal critic, says “Tens of billions are being thrown down the hatch in Afghanistan” and he calls it “an impossible situation for which there is no hope.”

Other congressional voices mutter and complain. But, as a body, having war-making and war-ending powers, there’s absolutely no action to put an end to the tragic waste. In a heartbeat, Congress could shut off the money spigot. There’s never been a congressional declaration of war for Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or any other of the dozens of hot spots where we’re spending lives and treasure.

Congress, alone, we’re told, could end all of it by denying spending. Trump could holler, threaten and lie till he chokes, but he doesn’t control spending. The whole sad, tragic and tremendously costly “war” could be stopped. And, as so many other nations have done, we could get the hell out of there.

Imagine what we could have done for our infrastructure, our public education system, needs of our veterans, our real national defense, repairing our urgent environmental problems, health care, homelessness and so much more with the trillions we’ve wasted in undeclared wars.

Again, no voice has described “victory” in Afghanistan. Not one. Because there is none. There never has been. There never will be.

Here’s another question for you. Would you want your son or daughter on some Afghanistan battlefield?

Why can’t we learn? Why?