Writings and observations

joneslogo1

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFRB) issued a rule earlier this month that prohibits financial companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to bar group actions for redress against those companies. The rule will allow consumers to band together to sue financial firms for improper charges on bank accounts and credit cards. Presently, forced arbitration provisions in hundreds of millions of consumer finance contracts prevent group lawsuits.

In announcing the rule, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that “when Wells Fargo opened millions of deposit and credit card accounts without the knowledge or consent of customers, arbitration clauses in existing account contracts blocked their customers from bringing group lawsuits for the unauthorized account openings.”

While it is not feasible for an individual customer to sue for recovery of a few hundred dollars for improper activity, when thousands of them can band together to recover for the same wrongdoing it is a different story. The new rule will make it feasible for customers to recover damages for improper conduct, while also forcing the financial companies to comply with the law in future business activity.

Mandatory arbitration in the financial sector is just the tip of the arbitration iceberg. Since the 1990s, forced arbitration clauses have been added to a wide array of consumer contracts that are presented to unsuspecting customers on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Families have been surprised when a mandatory arbitration clause prevents them from going to court when a loved one is abused in a nursing home. Such clauses are also common in contracts written by employers, medical providers, internet providers, cable companies, home builders and cruise ship operators, just to name a few.

Injured parties are deprived of the right to seek redress in impartial courts of law, to have a jury trial, and to appeal an unfair decision. Instead, they are often placed in the hands of an arbitrator who may be influenced by the prospect of getting repeat business from the defending party. This amounts to a privatization of the civil justice system and may be one of the factors that has caused a decline in civil case filings in the federal and state court systems around the country in recent years.

It should be said that arbitration is an important and efficient problem-solving mechanism where the parties stand on relatively equal ground and have knowingly agreed to arbitrate disputes rather than going to court. In past years, arbitration has primarily been resorted to in commercial disputes and works well there. The more recent and massive shift to arbitration in the consumer setting is troubling, however. Very few consumers are aware of mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print of lengthy contracts or that by signing such contracts they are giving up the right to seek redress in court.

Congress has recognized the inequity of forced arbitration in some settings. In the Military Lending Act of 2007, mandatory arbitration was prohibited in certain loans made to service members. The Dodd-Frank bill 3 years later did away with forced arbitration in most residential mortgages. However, the new CFPB rule has been met with threats of rejection by a number of members of Congress. On the administrative side, a rule proposed last fall that would have prohibited federally-funded nursing homes from forcing arbitration on patients and their families was derailed this year.

People should not be unwittingly deprived of their right to receive justice from the court system. Voters should demand that their elected representatives oppose mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts and, instead, support amendment of the Federal Arbitration Act to do away with forced arbitration in the consumer setting.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney are to be commended for proposing to tighten up campaign finance and ethics laws.

While there has been a great deal of discussion regarding this subject over the years, there has been too little action. I hope that the working group will look at several measures that did not appear in media reports about the working group’s first meeting – disclosure of the identity of owners of business entity campaign contributors; limitation of expenditures by parties making independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate for public office; more frequent reporting of contributions; and establishment of an independent commission to investigate complaints of violation of the Sunshine Act and conduct studies of campaign and ethics issues.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature approved House Concurrent Resolution 27, which established a special committee to study campaign and ethics issues and to recommend reforms, much like the charge of the current working group. The five-member working group included former Chief Justice Charles McDevitt and former Governor Cecil Andrus. I was appointed to the committee by legislative leadership and ended up chairing the committee. The committee met twice to receive testimony and recommendations from the public.

The 1997 committee recommended six specific proposals to the Legislature. No action was taken on any of the proposals. House Bill 546, which provided for the creation of a Political and Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission, was printed and assigned to the State Affairs Committee, but stalled out there. This is still a good idea because, as explained at the time, such a permanent committee could “continuously review the effectiveness” of the ethics statutes and recommend needed changes. The text of House Bill 546 can be found on the Legislature’s website for the 1998 session.

Recent elections have disclosed that some individuals skirt contribution limits by funneling contributions through corporations or other business entities they own. It is not always easy to determine the true identity of such contributors. Rather than prohibiting contributions by such entities, the Legislature should require disclosure of the names of persons who have ownership interests of 25% or more in such business entities.

We have also seen sizable advertising campaigns to support or oppose candidates through independent expenditures. While independent expenditures must be reported to the Secretary of State, there does not appear to be any limitation on the amount that may be spend on such an effort. Persons or entities making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates should be subject to the same limits as are imposed on political contributors.

More frequent reporting of contributions should be required. The 7-day pre-election report does not give the public an adequate opportunity to see who is supporting a candidate. If there is something amiss, the media is often reluctant to report it at that late date for fear of being accused of unfairness. I would suggest adding 30 and 60 pre-election reporting requirements for both primary and general elections.

Candidates should also be required to report expenses as they are incurred, not when payment of the expense is made. There can be a significant gap between the two times and candidates often try to disguise how much they are spending by only reporting an expense when the check finally goes out the door.

This endeavor to bring more transparency and honesty to the election process is a worthy one and I wish Hill, Bedke and Denney success in their efforts.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

Raul Labrador’s refugee bill is ill-advised legislation that needlessly targets some of the most vulnerable people on earth. The legislation, H.R. 2826, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on June 28 on a 15-11 vote. This is a pernicious bill that will leave a stain on the moral standing of the United States.

Rep. Labrador acknowledges that America has “a long tradition of helping refugees who, through no fault of their own, are fleeing war and persecution,” but has authored a bill that is contrary to that tradition. Among other things, H.R. 2826 would limit refugee admissions to 50,000 per year, triple the waiting period for refugees to apply for lawful permanent residency from one to three years, subject refugees to continuous surveillance, give states and localities a veto over resettlement, impose needless new red tape requirements, and provide preference to religious minorities.

All of these requirements are justified by bill sponsors as necessary for national security. However, experience does not support their case. U.S. refugees have not and do not pose a danger to our country. Refugees do not pick the country they want but are referred to a country by the U.N. refugee agency. Those destined for the U.S. are subjected to about two years of rigorous screening.

A terrorist posing as a refugee would have to wait a long time to carry out his plan–spending years in a wretched refugee camp in Turkey or Jordan, hoping to be referred to the U.S. by the U.N. rather than one of the 27 other resettlement countries, and then undergoing another couple of years being vetted by U.S. authorities. He might be tempted to take the quicker and easier way that the 911 hijackers chose–to get a tourist or student visa and jump on a plane to the U.S. Interestingly, none of the countries from which those hijackers came is subject to the President’s current travel ban.

In the past, America has been a shining moral beacon for persecuted immigrants. The world has been inspired by the Statue of Liberty’s call to “send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.” We have opened our door and our hearts to terrorized people from around the globe. Our help is needed more than ever now because the world is facing the largest displacement crisis on record. There are more than 21 million refugees worldwide, more than 5 million of which are registered from Syria alone. In FY 2016 the U.S. took in only 84,994 refugees. To date we have taken in a total of less than 20,000 refugees from Syria. In comparison, Turkey has registered 2.97 million Syrians and another 2 million are registered in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

We have hardly done our part, considering that our invasion of Iraq contributed directly to a refugee crisis in that country and indirectly to the much greater crisis in Syria. The leadership of ISIS is composed largely of participants in the earlier insurgency in Iraq. Colin Powell said that “if you break it, you fix it.” Rather than helping to alleviate the mess that we helped to create, we seem to be turning our backs on a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

The religious preference in the bill is an inappropriate and uninformed religious test. The refugees that are currently most in danger are from Sunni-majority Syria and they are being terrorized by the Alawite-minority government of Bashar al-Assad. Those people with the greatest need would get no preference. Proponents of H.R.2826 focus primarily on refugees from the Middle East but less than half of the refugees taken in by the U.S. last year were from the Near East and South Asia. About an equal number were Christians and Muslims.

As far as the 50,000 refugee limit in Mr. Labrador’s bill, that is simply not enough to fulfill our responsibility as a civilized nation. There are more than 50,000 Iraqis who endangered their lives by helping U.S. forces and who are desperately awaiting resettlement in the U.S. We are honor bound to give safe harbor to those individuals but that would take up the entire measly quota set by this bill.

This country, as great and warm-hearted as it is, has had momentary lapses in the past when it has treated immigrants badly because of anxiety stirred by fear-mongers. Irish people who fled the Potato Famine in 1845-1852 were subjected to great abuse, even as their sons fought valiantly to save the Union in the Civil War. After imported Chinese workers risked life and limb to build the western section of the transcontinental railroad, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 based on unfounded fears. The Immigration Act of 1924 was designed to hinder migrants from Italy, East European Jews, and East Asians and, again, was driven by the politics of fear. Japanese Americans on the West Coast were rounded up and imprisoned during World War II, while their sons fought and died for America in Europe.

As a Vietnam veteran with many South Vietnamese friends, I was personally incensed by the behavior of some of my fellow Americans after the fall of South Vietnam in April of 1975. They claimed that refugees from Vietnam would endanger our country and should be denied entry. The fear-mongers were wrong because we resettled close to a million Vietnamese refugees, who have been great citizens and contributed much to this country.

After each of these unfortunate episodes, we have looked back in shame and regretted giving in to fears stoked by demagogues. Let’s not let it happen again. H.R. 2826 targets refugees, who are not a terrorist risk, while failing to target home-grown, social-media-inspired persons, who do present a risk. The legislation is either ill-founded and uninformed, or it is intended as a vehicle for politicians to ride to political stardom at the expense of powerless and vulnerable refugees.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

A group of Boise attorneys is forming a program to provide free legal help to low-income refugees. Volunteer lawyers will supplement on-going efforts of local law-related organizations to serve the legal needs of the Treasure Valley refugee community. The pro bono lawyers will work closely with the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, Idaho Legal Aid, Intermountain Fair Housing and Concordia Law School to provide hands-on legal services to refugees who meet established income guidelines.

The program will not diminish legal help for non-refugees. Rather, additional lawyers are being recruited to assist refugees with their legal problems.

Additionally, the program will address issues unique to the refugee community. Volunteers will conduct informational presentations for refugees on our legal system and how to acclimate to it. Subjects will include family law, employment issues, consumer rights, immigration issues, and the workings of the criminal justice system. Many refugees come from countries where people avoid the police out of fear of their safety. The Boise Police Department has a good working relationship with the refugee community and the program’s lawyers will assist from the legal standpoint.

The pro bono program will work closely with Jannus, Inc., which operates the Idaho Office for Refugees and a variety of other programs providing social services to the refugee community. Lawyer volunteers will provide a legal component to the outstanding work presently being performed by Jannus.

One other goal of the program is to openly discuss refugee issues and the need support refugee settlement in the community. Idaho has a moral responsibility to welcome refugees into our good-hearted community.

Refugees in Idaho are settled primarily in Boise and Twin Falls. The five-year refugee population in Idaho from FY 2012 to FY 2016 was 4,350, with 3,080 in Boise and 1,270 in Twin Falls. In FY 2016, 1,121 refugees arrived in the State. Of those, 56% came from African countries, 32% were from Near Eastern and South Asian countries (including Bhutan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq), and the remainder came from Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

While the refugees in the community are from many different countries, those coming from Middle Eastern countries have been the subject of discussion in recent months. Concerns being raised about those folks are completely unfounded. If people would take the time to get to know our refugee community, it would become clear that they just want what we all do—to live and raise their families in a safe environment.

There is another reason the U.S. must provide safe harbor for refugees from the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq set off a chain of events that produced the greatest refugee crisis in recent history. Since the United States was a large contributor to the refugee crisis in the Middle East, our country can’t simply turn its back on these unfortunate people. We have an ethical obligation to provide safe harbor for some of the people we helped to misplace. Many of these refugees have been subjected to unspeakable horrors and we should step forward to give them refuge.

The chance of a refugee being a disguised terrorist is virtually nonexistent. If a terrorist wanted to get into this country, he could do it quicker and with much less vetting by getting a tourist or student visa, like the 911 hijackers did. Sitting around a hot and dusty refugee camp in the Middle East for years and hoping to be referred to the U.S. refugee program for additional screening for another couple of years would not make much sense. The U.S. subjects refugees from all countries to very careful screening, which has effectively eliminated any threat to our communities.

The pro bono group is getting organized in the Treasure Valley and will continue to recruit more attorney volunteers for that area. Organizers have been in contact with attorneys in the Magic Valley and plan to set up a similar program in Twin Falls soon.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

Congress should be ashamed of itself for clandestinely drafting a healthcare bill involving hundreds of billions of dollars behind closed doors.

The imperial Congress has shown contempt for citizens on every side of the issue by cutting the public out of the process, while allowing lobbyists to participate in the division of the spoils. This is not exactly government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founding fathers. It more resembles the type of partisanship that George Washington warned against in his Farewell Address.

First, the House rushed through a bill, later described by the President as “mean, mean, mean,” without even knowing the number of people who would lose healthcare coverage. Many Congressmen did not even read it. Only afterwards did we learn that about 23,000,000 Americans would lose coverage, while the favored few would get many billions in tax cuts. The Senate process has been even more unseemly. The Senate bill, which affects about one-sixth of our economy and the health of many millions, did not have the benefit of even one public hearing. The bill was sprung out on June 22 with the intent of ramming it through the following week. Apparently, the Senate majority leader felt that people who depend for their very lives on the existing healthcare system did not have a right to know how the bill might affect them. His caucus meekly followed his lead out of misguided partisanship.

I grew up in a Republican party that respected voters across the spectrum and sought and valued their input. My mentor, the late Senator Len Jordan, would be sickened by the spectacle that has played out in the Congress on this legislation in recent weeks. Don’t we need to allow citizens, as well as the healthcare community, a reasonable opportunity to review and digest this legislation and then attend public hearings to advise legislators of their concerns? Or, have we reached the point where we must just shut up and let our imperial and benevolent “representatives” dictate our fate?

We do know that both bills will make massive cuts to Medicaid that will have significant adverse impacts on health care for children, the elderly, and the poor.

As Close the Gap Idaho recently disclosed, two out of five Idaho children receive federally-subsidized health care. If federal funds are slashed, the costs will fall back on the State and Idaho hospitals or the kids will simply have to go without care. Neither Idaho nor the federal government provides adequate funds for mental health services and drug treatment programs and it looks like this legislation will make a bad situation much worse. Rural hospitals could be severely impacted by the funding cuts.

These are just a few of the areas of concern that should be thoroughly explored in Congressional hearings to prevent significant damage to the healthcare system and those who rely upon it for their very lives. The issue is much too important, with far-ranging consequences for the health of millions, to just rush forward blindly merely to score political points.

Let our Senators and Congressmen know that we expect important public issues to be discussed publicly with adequate opportunity for input from those to whom they are supposed to answer–the voters.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

As Chief of the Idaho Attorney General’s Natural Resources Division for over 32 years, Clive Strong has done more good for the State than practically any other public servant.

I hired Clive as a deputy attorney general in August of 1983 and within 30 days he was up to his ears in the Swan Falls water rights fight between the State and Idaho Power Company. An Idaho Supreme Court decision had given virtual control of the Snake River to Idaho Power and it took several years of struggle between the parties to reach a settlement agreement putting the State back in control of the River. Clive’s hard work played a major role in the State’s success.

The Swan Falls settlement called for a revamping of Idaho water law and an adjudication of water rights in the Snake River Basin. Clive played a lead role in getting legislation passed to modernize Idaho water law and he served as the State’s lead attorney in the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The adjudication, which quantified and prioritized over 158,000 water rights, was the first large-scale adjudication ever brought to completion in the U.S. It has been held up as a model for the country.

For three decades, Clive has counseled the Idaho Land Board regarding its duties and responsibilities under Idaho law, particularly the requirement to get the maximum long-term return from State-owned lands for the benefit of Idaho’s schools. He successfully prosecuted a suit challenging below-market rentals for the State’s cabin site properties.

Since the mid-80s, Clive has played the lead role in litigation to protect and enhance Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs. During my tenure as AG, he became the State’s legal expert on nuclear waste issues, including litigation in 1986 that successfully challenged the U.S. Energy Department’s selection of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as one of three potential repositories for commercially-produced high-level nuclear waste. More recently, he has been Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s point person in holding the U.S. Government to the agreement requiring the removal of nuclear waste from our State.

One of Clive’s greatest legacies is the large number of complex, high-conflict water disputes that he was able to resolve by virtue of his ability to see the big picture and then skillfully show multiple competing parties how their various interests could be compromised. These include resolution of numerous federal reserved water rights, settlement of Native American water right claims, and resolution of priority claims asserted by Hagerman fish farmers against groundwater pumpers located upstream. He negotiated a landmark water rights agreement with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in the late 80s and, later, an agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe. One of his innovative settlements between ground and surface water users resulted in the State’s acquisition of Box Canyon on the Middle Snake and the establishment of Box Canyon State Park.

During his service in the Attorney General’s office, Clive argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a dozen in the Idaho Supreme Court. In recognition of his many accomplishments, Clive received the Environment, Energy, and Resources Government Attorney of the Year Award from the American Bar Association in 2014. He has received the Idaho State Bar’s Professionalism Award, the Marvin Award from the National Association of Attorneys General, and the much-coveted Jim Jones Public Service Award from the Western Conference of Attorneys General.

Throughout his illustrious career, Clive remained a humble, grounded individual, who took pain not to toot his own horn. So, let me toot it for him for outstanding service to the people of Idaho. Best wishes to Clive and his wife and partner, Martha, for a wonderful retirement.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

Ever since World War II, the United States of America has been the champion of democracy and human rights throughout the globe. We have stood up to dictatorial governments and demanded that their citizens be allowed to live free of fear and oppression. Presidents of both parties have pursued that policy. It has been the cornerstone of our national security and has made our country the envy of other nations. Our country has decidedly strayed from that policy in recent months, heartening autocratic nations and causing concern amongst our steadfast allies.

As the world rose from the ashes of World War II, the U.S. embarked on a policy of building alliances with European and Asian nations to counter the Communist countries. We formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization(SEATO) as bulwarks against the totalitarian countries. Although SEATO eventually withered away, we have maintained strong bonds with democracies in Asia, which act as a mainstay of our national defense in that part of the world. In Europe, we have based our security on democracies that are united through NATO and the European Union. The policy has served America well.

We have supported and encouraged democracy throughout the world, believing that democratic nations are less likely to resort to force of arms to resolve disputes. We have believed that autocratic governments which deny their citizens basic human rights can produce violence, either against the people or by the people. In order to promote human rights, the U.S. State Department annually scores nations on their human rights record. We have engrafted advancement of human rights into our foreign policy.

President Trump has taken another direction in dealing with democracies and autocrats. Although Russia gobbled up Crimea, has maintained a thinly veiled proxy war in Ukraine, and launched a serious attack on our election process, he has declined to utter a harsh word about Vladimir Putin. Former FBI Director Comey says Russian hackers have attempted to hack into hundreds of governmental and business networks to find exploitable weaknesses. Our allies around the world have had similar experiences and they must be mystified by the President’s silence. Rather, they have seen the Russian videos of the President yukking it up with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the White House. Then, he publicly criticized our European friends and pointedly refused to recommit to the mutual defense article of the NATO Treaty, something that had to seriously disturb our friends, but greatly please Mr. Putin.

During the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia, He informed the Saudis and other Middle East despots that they need not worry about the U.S. pestering them about providing basic human rights for their subjects. As long as they do business with America and buy our “beautiful weapons,” all will be good. The Saudis will be able to continue indiscriminate bombing in Yemen without our interference, despite the fact that this will fuel even more rage amongst the civilian population there and elsewhere against the U.S.

President Erdogen of Turkey has been warmly received by the President even as Erdogen expands his powers and tramples on the rights of his citizens. Same with President Sisi of Egypt. President Duterte of the Philippines is graciously treated despite his overseeing of 7,000, and counting, extra-judicial killings. These leaders all show up on the rogues gallery of the State Department’s human rights score sheets but we apparently no longer expect nations to treat their populations humanely in order to gain our favor. That encourages the despots and greatly diminishes America’s standing in the world, as well as our nation’s security.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

I’m having a hard time understanding the Republican Party that I joined back in the early 1960s. At that time, our main foreign adversary was the Soviet Union. It was bent on destruction of the American way of life. We engaged in an ugly decades-long struggle with the USSR, fighting proxy wars around the globe. Republicans were in the forefront of the fray, denouncing Russian imperialism while providing the war material to combat Russia’s ambitions. No more.

Many of the current Republican Members of Congress don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Russia meddled in our elections last year, that Russian media regularly spews out fake news blaming the U.S. for practically all of the world’s ills, that Russia has gobbled up Crimea and is threatening our allies in Europe, that Russia is purposely bombing hospitals and U.S. allies in Syria, that Russia is likely providing arms to the Taliban much like it provided arms to the North Vietnamese to kill American troops in the 1960s, and that Russia is doing many other things to weaken and discredit the United States, both at home and abroad.

They don’t appear to be concerned that our President is seemingly infatuated with Vladimir Putin and cannot bring himself to speak ill of this vile person who has pillaged Russia and used deadly force to silence those who dare speak out against him. They seem to have no qualms about the fact that the President fired the FBI chief just as he was planning to ramp up the investigation of Russia’s efforts to disrupt America’s 2016 elections. And, the day after doing so, the President had a chummy meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House–a meeting that Putin had demanded in a recent phone call with the President. It was a nice propaganda coup for Putin that was memorialized by a Russian photographer because American journalists were excluded.

The Republican Party that I remember from years ago would be demanding a full-throated investigation of these activities because they pose a substantial threat to our country. The most some Republicans can muster is a shrug of their shoulders and comments such as, “well its history, let’s just move on.” Has the republican Party turned into such a hyper-partisan entity that it is not willing to get to the bottom of this alarming mess? Seems so.

We can’t rely on the Justice Department to act in an even-handed manner because the AG, after having recused himself from the Russian investigation, took part in getting rid of the FBI Director. It is essential that an independent commission, like the 9-11 Commission, or a special prosecutor be appointed to conduct a thorough investigation into what the Russians did, how they did it, and whether there was any involvement by U.S. citizens.

We must learn all we can about Russia’s cyber capabilities and how to combat them. The Congressional committees do not have the resources or staff to do an adequate job. If we let the Russians get away with their blatant interference with America’s sacred election process, they will do it again. Next time the target may be the Republicans, unless they continue their strange laissez-faire attitude toward Russian aggression.

We need to demand that the Idaho Congressional delegation stand up for America, rather than standing idly by while Putin tries to tear down the American dream.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

The first sign of trouble was not particularly dramatic, but it got my attention.

Last November, when the Supreme Court was hearing cases in Twin Falls, I felt a pain in my left side just as we started hearing our second case. It felt like a heavy pressure was being exerted below my rib cage. I thought it might be a heart problem, which prompted a visit to a doc-in-the-box. The doctor assured me it was not a heart issue but could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. I left with an antibiotic prescription, but the pain went away before I could take one.

In early December, when the Court was hearing cases in Boise, I had a recurrence of the pain. I visited my family doctor, who ordered an MRI to see if it might be an ulcer. When the result came back, it looked like there was some sort of mass on my pancreas, so I went in for a CT scan to further investigate. The scan disclosed a tumor on the pancreas, so I went in for an endoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound probe goes down into the stomach and sidles right up close to the pancreas to get some really good pictures. Biopsy samples disclosed that the tumor was malignant. Since then it has been surgically removed and I am currently on chemotherapy.

All of the medical folks have said it was good the cancer was caught early. We all know that early detection of almost any illness is important to a favorable patient outcome. Luckily, I had good insurance coverage under the State’s plan – the same plan that protects the health of Idaho legislators and executive branch employees. Without the three relatively expensive exploratory scans paid for by the insurance company, I would have been out of luck.

I think of the 78,000 Idahoans in the Medicaid gap and wonder about their fate when they start having suspicious symptoms. I suspect they just have to suck it up and take a pain reliever. No costly tests for them to find the cause of puzzling symptoms.

Most of these folks work hard to take care of their families but make too much to get Medicaid coverage and too little to get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Had Idaho opted to take the many millions of dollars available to expand its Medicaid program, like 31 other states have done, those people could have a chance for a good outcome.

It seems to me that the time has come for Idaho to join the other 31 states and get some of the life sustaining funds that we have previously allowed to go to other states.

It is not clear whether the Affordable Care Act will be amended, repealed or remain in place. But, based on what has occurred in the debate thus far this year, it does not appear that Congress will repeal the Medicaid expansion that was part of the ACA. Idaho should now demand its share of the Medicaid expansion money. Continued refusal to take the money will perpetuate the unattended medical problems suffered by Medicaid gap families.

This is a moral issue, not a political issue. We should not require that people dispose of their assets to qualify for Medicaid or, worse, that they run for public office in order to get good health insurance.

Share on Facebook

Jones

jones

It appears that the rules of engagement in Syria and Iraq have been loosened in the last couple of months. That is, air and artillery strikes can be conducted with less consideration of the possibility of harm to civilians and allied forces.

Military spokesmen have been less than forthcoming as to whether the increasing number of civilian casualties and friendly fire incidents are related to a change in policy but the results indicate there has been a loosening of the rules.

According to Airwars.org, a group that monitors civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, over 1,000 civilian deaths were alleged to have resulted from coalition airstrikes during the month of March, a dramatic increase over previous months. This included over 200 deaths in the City of Mosul during the latter part of the month. Airwars said, “These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria,” where the Russians have deliberately bombed civilian targets. Additionally, 18 Syrian fighters allied with the U.S. were killed by our airstrikes in Syria on April 11, a “friendly fire” incident.

Almost 50 years ago (1968-69), I had experience with both loose and tight engagement rules.

For seven months, I led a four-person team whose job was to clear all U.S. air and artillery strikes in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam. We lived among the South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs) and worked with them around the clock in province headquarters. When U.S. forces wanted to shoot artillery or drop bombs, they called us for permission. The northern part of the province, which bordered Cambodia on the north and west, was largely triple-canopy jungle. It was a “free fire” zone and the rules only required that U.S. firepower not endanger U.S. or ARVN troops. The southern part of the province was largely open farm ground with scattered civilian population. To fire in that area, tighter rules required that we also obtain approval from our ARVN counterparts to protect civilians from harm. The tighter rules in the populated area were appropriate, even though we were not able on occasion to give permission to fire.

A complicating factor in the use of U.S. firepower in Iraq and Syria is that often airstrikes are called in, not by U.S. personnel, but by local forces. According to press reports, that was the case with both the Mosul airstrikes and the Syrian friendly fire incident. Recent experience in the region shows that U.S. firepower can be misdirected by locals against rival religious or tribal targets.

The danger is inherent in the battle for Mosul where most of the civilians at risk are Sunnis. Whether true or not, they may believe that a lack of care for civilians is because of ill will, either by the U.S. or by unfriendly Iraqi forces. This is detrimental to the long-term goals of the U.S. in the region.

We must win the hearts and minds of the local people in order to succeed and won’t be able to do it if civilians believe that we are indiscriminately killing their fellow citizens, much like the Russian and Assad forces do. Further, these conflicts are not being fought in isolation. With present-day communications, the world is watching and many young people on the fence in the region and elsewhere are deciding whether to side with us or our adversaries. If we show them we don’t care about the lives of civilians in those countries, they won’t likely be siding with us.

In order to protect innocent civilians and serve our national interests, we should not loosen up the rules of engagement. And, U.S. personnel should act as a check on decisions by local forces to call in U.S. firepower. If our bombs are being dropped, our personnel should be a part of the approval process.

Share on Facebook

Jones