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Posts published in “Jones”

How to keep faith

jones

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front of World War One. The cessation of fighting between Germany and America’s allies was commemorated as Armistice Day until 1954, when Congress changed its name to Veterans Day. As we honor our veterans this year, we also observe the hundredth anniversary of the WWI Armistice.

Of the almost 20,000 troops who served in the “Great War” from Idaho, 782 died from combat, accidents or disease. One soldier, Private Thomas Neibaur of Sugar City, earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in France.

Private Niebaur is one of 35 servicemen with strong Idaho connections to have earned this high honor since the establishment of Idaho Territory in 1863. They were from every corner of the State and include African-American Vernon Baker of St. Maries who served in WWII, William Nakamura who enlisted from the Minidoka Internment Camp and died in WWII, Gurdon Barter a Civil War veteran laid to rest in Latah County, David Bleak from Shelly who served in the Korean War, Bernie Fisher of Kuna who served in the Vietnam War and Frank Reasoner of Kellogg who died in the Vietnam War.

Not every Idahoan who bravely served our State and country has received the Medal of Honor. I think of Raymond Finley of St. Maries, a Native American who died in Vietnam in 1965, and Octavio Herrera of Caldwell who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013, and Carrie French of Caldwell who died in Iraq in 2005. They did not get the Medal, but they are on the honor roll of Idahoans who deserve a place in our hearts.

We are deeply indebted to these and all the other men and women who have stepped forward to serve this great country. Their service and sacrifice have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that we sometimes take for granted in America. Few nations around the world afford their citizens the same protections and privileges--freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law, the right to choose our leaders, and so much more.

We owe our veterans an obligation to defend the system that they sacrificed to preserve for us. If we don’t work hard to protect our system of government on the home front, as they did on the battlefield, we will have let them down.

What can we learn from them? They came from different backgrounds, different religions, different racial or ethnic groups. On the field of battle, they were one. All of them were Americans. They had a mission to carry out for their country--to protect each other and to preserve our way of life. They believed in and practiced service over self. During my service in Vietnam, I often heard the war being questioned but that did not in any way affect anyone’s dedicated service to their country.

We can honor their service and their sacrifice by pulling together, by working together for the common good, by treating each other with respect and dignity, by recognizing that each of us is entitled to his or her own opinion so long as it is not destructive of the basic principles of this great country. Let’s pull together and get along to keep faith with our veterans who gave us the opportunity to live in peace and freedom.

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

An inflammatory call

jones

When I was taking over as Idaho’s Attorney General in January of 1983, the Aryan Nations group was on the rise in northern Idaho. The Aryans were attracting dangerous white nationalists to their Hayden Lake compound from around the nation. A number of them were ex-convicts. The situation was becoming explosive.

Marilyn Shuler, a real champion of human rights, asked for my help in getting malicious harassment legislation through the Idaho Legislature to counter the hate mongers. NRA objections had stalled the bill. We were able to work out a good bill that is still on the books. Thanks to Marilyn’s encouragement, I became committed to the human rights campaign against the nationalist bigots.

My major concern was not so much that the leaders themselves would commit overt criminal acts but that their overheated rhetoric would spark criminal acts by impressionable followers. I could picture the nationalists sitting around a campfire, raging about minority Americans and boasting of the violent actions they would like to take against those people. Such talk could well provide the spark needed for a weak-minded wingnut to commit a horrendous act.

That may well be what caused three of the Aryans to plant four pipe bombs around the City of Coeur d’Alene the evening of September 16, 1986, including one that blew up at the residence of Father Bill Wassmuth, an Idaho human rights legend. The three would-be murderers were convicted for the bombing spree and their dastardly act helped in no small part to expose the danger of that nationalist group and lead to its demise.

Now, we see an impressionable Floridian, apparently fueled by inflammatory nationalist rhetoric, following the same path to pipe-bomb villainy. More tragically, we have witnessed the horrific slaughter of our fellow Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a hate-filled anti-Semite.

Nobody would contend that Cesar Sayoc, the suspect who is alleged to have sent package bombs to at least 14 targets of the President’s ire, was directed by anyone to do so. Nor that Robert Bowers was told by anyone to murder our Jewish brothers and sisters at their place of worship. He appears to have been motivated in part by animus toward the outstanding refugee settlement program operated by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Just before his heinous act Sayoc raged, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” He appears to actually have swallowed incendiary claims that Americans were under attack by murderous invaders.

Words do matter — they can spark horrible acts by some who are marginalized on the fringes of society, particularly if those words are shouted by a person of great power and authority. Just like the Aryan bombers, weak-minded people without a strong moral compass can hear a call to do horrific things in the heated words of forceful leaders.

The Aryan nationalists wore out their welcome in Idaho after people of good faith from around the State stood up to their hateful, racist message. It took a lot of hard work by citizens from across the political spectrum. Those in leadership positions stood up and let both the Aryans and the general citizenry know that hateful words and actions were not acceptable in our good State.

It is time for those in positions of governmental and moral leadership in our nation to step up and proclaim that divisive, nationalist and racist words are not in keeping with America’s basic values. We are the “United” States, not the divided states. We were tested mightily during the Civil War and those who stood for division and racial injustice lost the fight.

We have become a strong and respected nation by working together, but we will not endure unless we respect and protect one another. As Abraham Lincoln, one of our nation’s greatest political and moral leaders, said (obviously harkening to Mark 3:25), “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

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

Is ticket splitting a mortal sin?

jones

Back in the early 1960s, when I was studying political science at the University of Oregon, I first encountered the term “Yellow Dog Democrat.” These were southern Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog rather than a Republican. Since that time the parties in the south have switched positions, but my point is that the southern Democrats of yore were straight-ticket voters.

Although I voted pretty much along party lines during the seventies and eighties, I often saw candidates from the other party who had much more to offer than those from my own party. George Washington’s warnings against partisan politics started to make sense. I understood why my Mom, Eunice Jones, always said she voted for the person, not the party.

There are good people in both parties. That is certainly the case in the current election cycle. Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, is clearly the best choice for Attorney General, while Cindy Wilson, a Democrat, is absolutely tops for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I voted early for both of them.

Lawrence has done an excellent job as Attorney General. He has given sound advice to the Governor and Legislature, but has withstood a great deal of criticism for not telling his party leaders what they wanted to hear on some legal issues. When his advice was disregarded, he was usually proven right by the courts.

He has stood up to the federal government on nuclear waste issues, insisting on nuclear waste being removed from Idaho as the Feds had promised and agreed in 1995. Without his steadfast leadership, the Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement would likely have been set aside. Lawrence has exhibited courage and common sense in protecting the interests of our State and has merited another term of office.

Having grown up in the Republican Party and having carried its banner in five elections from 1978 to 1990, it feels a bit odd to be publicly announcing my vote for Cindy Wilson. But, I know that voting for her was the right thing to do for Idaho kids. She will be an enthusiastic advocate for our children and will make sure to prepare them for success in their future.

I was captivated by Cindy’s life story at a ceremony where she was recognized by Boise’s Concordia Law School as a State Leader in Education. I learned that it was just one of many honors she has received for her dedicated work in improving Idaho schools.

When I accepted Cindy’s invitation to speak to her six government classes at Capital High School, I understood why she is so highly regarded in the education community. The kids were aware of current issues, expressed views from all sides of the spectrum, and were enthused about the prospect of working together to tackle the difficult problems that we have dumped in their laps. It gave me renewed hope for the future.

Cindy is the kind of person we need to reinvigorate our schools and give our children the best chance of succeeding in life. I felt good about giving her my vote, thinking my mother was absolutely right about voting for the best person and not just the party.

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

Gaming initiative all over again

jones

In the immortal words of that baseball great, Yogi Berra, the historical horse-racing initiative, Proposition One, is “deja vu all over again” for me.

In 1986, Idaho voters approved an initiative in the general election to establish a state lottery. As Idaho Attorney General, I had warned earlier in the year that a state lottery might violate Idaho’s constitutional prohibition against gambling.

A lawsuit was commenced by anti-gaming forces to invalidate the voter-approved lottery. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the Idaho Constitution’s strong prohibition against gambling did, indeed, prohibit a lottery and that legislation initiated by the voters could not amend the Constitution. So, the lottery failed.

However, lottery supporters were able to convince the Legislature to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the 1988 general election ballot to permit a state-run lottery. That amendment passed and resulted in the establishment of our present state lottery.

However, the strict prohibition against most other games of chance remains in the Constitution to this day. The Constitution “strictly” prohibits casino gambling, specifically including slot machines and “any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.”

This year, voters will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition One, which would approve a form of gaming on “historical horse race terminals.” Proponents contend that this is merely “pari-mutuel betting” which is permitted by the Constitution. Opponents say that the terminals are prohibited slot machines because no real horses are involved and there are no other attributes of traditional horse racing.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reviewed the initiative and pointed out that the Wyoming Supreme Court struck down a similar horse-racing scheme in 2006. In doing so, that Court said, “we are dealing with a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering. Although it may be a good try, we are not so easily beguiled.” The Wyoming Legislature passed legislation in 2013 permitting this kind of gaming, provided that the “outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone,” and it is currently being conducted there. That does not necessarily detract from the reasoning in the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision.

In his review, Attorney General Wasden did not render a hard-and-fast opinion as to the constitutionality of Proposition One under Idaho law. He did indicate that it would likely face a legal challenge if approved by the voters. Opponents of the initiative have vowed a court challenge if it is approved, just as the lottery opponents did in 1986.

Although I have absolutely no inside information as to how our present Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the historical horse-racing plan, I think the smart money would be on a holding similar to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Idaho courts have generally taken a strict approach toward gaming activities.

Where the action is confined to a machine and there are no horses, no turf, no jockeys, no betting pool for each race and none of the other things that make a horse race exciting, it is likely that the plan will fade in the stretch just like those nags I occasionally bet upon in the distant past. An unfavorable court ruling would put everyone back on square one.

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at ww.JJCommonTater.com.

An unbearable hothouse

jones

Earth’s future generations will undoubtedly spend a good deal of their time cursing us for condemning them to an unbearably hot planet. They will be confounded by our utter disregard of the present scientific consensus that Earth is headed for a global warming disaster. They will wonder how we could have been so selfish that we would not have taken reasonable action to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just issued an urgent warning that the world has a window of just 10 years to reduce carbon emissions enough to avert widespread environmental damages long into the future. We have already seen warning signs all around us--historically destructive wildfires, repeated record storm surges and downpours of rain that have been fueled by warming ocean waters, record-breaking global temperatures, and northward-creeping warm-climate plants, animals and diseases. And, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If we wait to take action until much of Florida and many east and west coast cities have disappeared under ocean waves, it will be too late. Pentagon planners project that by then there will be chronic droughts and crop failures over wide areas of the world. That will result in large population movements and desperate struggles over resources, leading to unprecedented armed conflict and unfathomable numbers of deaths.

This may all sound alarmist but it is time for people to get alarmed and activated. The Trump administration is well aware that human activity, such as burning of fossil fuels in smokestacks and cars, is largely responsible for the crisis. A recent administration report projects a disastrous 7 degree increase in global temperature by the end of the century.

Despite the fact that such an increase would make some areas of the world uninhabitable, the administration proposes to let more greenhouse gases belch into the air. Those gases not only cause the Earth to get hotter, but they kill an estimated 80,000 Americans each year from respiratory illness.

The administration has been cutting back numerous programs to reduce dangerous emissions. We should be taking dramatic action in the other direction to protect the very lives of our children and grandchildren.

Can greenhouse gases hurt humankind? Climate scientists believe that massive greenhouse emissions, somewhat comparable to the almost 40 billion tons we presently spew into the air each year, resulted in a number of mass extinction events in Earth’s past. Those were the result of unimaginably huge volcanic activity.

Geologic and fossil evidence indicates that volcanoes erupting over a wide area of what is now Siberia threw gigantic amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The overheated air killed over 90 percent of life in the oceans and 75 percent on land in what is called the “Great Dying” at the end of Earth’s Permian period about 250 million years ago. Additional extinction events are suspected to have resulted from natural greenhouse concentrations in years since.

We can’t control natural greenhouse gas emissions but we have the knowhow to control and reduce human-caused emissions. We just need the brains and resolve to keep our planet safe for human habitation. If we refuse to do so, there is a possible bright spot. The fossil record suggests that if we allow another extinction event to occur, the Earth will return to a habitable state in about 5-10 million years afterward.

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.
 

Require the release

jones

The public is entitled to see the federal income tax returns of U.S. presidents, as well as all party nominees for that high office.

Disclosure is especially important where a president or presidential nominee has business ventures that may do business with federal governmental entities or where they may reap substantial benefits from governmental policy measures they support, such as tax legislation.

Every president since Gerald Ford has released his tax returns for public inspection, except our current president. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump promised he would release his tax returns, but he has refused to honor that promise. Disclosure is important so that taxpayers can see for themselves whether a president or nominee is conducting his or her financial affairs in an honest and legal manner.

The New York Times has just issued a detailed report on financial transactions between Trump and his father that raises serious concerns of impropriety. The report concludes that the two engaged in fraudulent activities to avoid paying federal taxes owing on a massive amount of wealth transferred to Trump from his father.

If Trump participated in a scheme to evade millions of dollars in taxes, we are entitled to know. The President claims the report is inaccurate. Public release of the tax returns would disclose who is telling the truth.

On another tax issue, the President strongly supported last year’s tax cut legislation. He proclaimed that he would be paying more taxes under the bill, but tax experts and common sense indicate otherwise. The only pertinent question is how much he benefited from various provisions of the tax bill. It is a classic conflict of interest situation and the public is entitled to have access to his tax returns to see what he got out of his tax legislation. Previous presidents have laid their financial cards on the table and he should keep his promise to do likewise.

Another concern that could be alleviated by the release of the presidential tax returns relates to ongoing payments the Trump organization has been receiving from the federal government. These payments come from taxpayers’ pockets. The President’s business entities--his Washington hotel, Trump Tower in New York City and various resort properties, among others - have been getting paid for the use of his properties. They have also been receiving money from lobbyists and others seeking favor with the government.

Taxpayers are left in the dark as to monies funneling into the Trump coffers from the ongoing business activities of the Trump businesses. This is an unprecedented intertwining of politics and business that demands full disclosure to the public. If there is nothing improper, the tax returns will support the President’s denials of misconduct.

Congress has the power to require disclosure of the presidential tax returns and should get up the gumption to do it. If our Senators and Congressmen are unwilling to exercise their oversight responsibilities, perhaps they deserve to be retired at the ballot box.
 

The good, the perplexing, the ugly

jones

Ever since serving as state Attorney General in the 1980s, I have been pleased with the way Idaho’s Sheriffs run their offices.

Sure, they run on partisan tickets, but law enforcement should be free of politics and that is the way our Sheriffs generally conduct themselves. I was impressed when the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association recently came out in favor of the Medicaid expansion initiative, Proposition 2 on the November ballot.

Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz, the government affairs chair, explained, “The vote for this was not even close. Sheriffs voted overwhelmingly to support Proposition 2 to save taxpayers money, to keep people out of jails, and to keep people out of the emergency room. By expanding coverage to low-income people with health issues or mental health issues, they’re more likely to contribute to society and less likely to end up back in the system.” Thanks to the Sheriffs for bringing common sense to the debate.

County sheriffs’ offices and city police departments are critical agencies in providing safe school campuses and protecting our kids. It is perplexing why Sherri Ybarra, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, did not call on their help in developing her almost $20 million school safety program. Other important stakeholders— associations of teachers, school boards, and school administrators—have indicated they were not invited into the process.

The manager of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security said, “We didn’t even know she was looking at doing any kind of safety initiative until she announced it to the general public.” You would think this office, which the Legislature established in 2016 “to enhance the safety and security of students and educators,” would have been a primary participant in the program. Ybarra’s go-it-alone approach is symptomatic of the way she has handled her office.

Members of the Legislature have urged that she work more closely with them to advance education programs. Her attendance record at Land Board and Board of Education meetings is less than stellar. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Murphy, told me you can’t get much done if you have too many absences.

The ugly part of this column is the President’s lowball refugee cap for the next fiscal year. Our great country, which has been a leader in giving refuge to people fleeing persecution, will admit less than 25,000 endangered people next year. That is a record low in the 40-year history of the refugee resettlement program. The current year’s cap is 45,000 and we will probably admit only half of that number. It is likely that actual admissions next year will be just a fraction of the 25,000 cap.

The historical average of refugees being taken in by the U.S. is 80,000. That should be the very floor for the coming year. This country has been responsible for creating more refugees than almost any other country in the world since the turn of the century. Our involvement in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen has created an historic global refugee crisis and we are shirking our moral responsibility by turning our back on the victims. If we don’t at least triple our intake of refugees next year, it will be stain on the honor of our country long into the future.
 

Another endangered species

jones

Informed Potomac observers report that the population of Republican deficit hawks on Capitol Hill has suffered a catastrophic drop since January of 2017. It is not entirely clear what has caused the sudden decline, although some attribute it to incumbency fever, which can be brought on by dread of losing elective office.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are ballyhooing a pre-election tax cut bill that would contribute about $3.5 trillion to federal deficits over the next two decades. According to the Tax Policy Center, the bill would reduce federal revenues by $631 billion in the next ten years and by around $3.2 trillion in the following decade. Seems like a costly measure to save a few seats in Congress, but I’m sure they are worthy seats.

This proposed tax cut is in addition to the budget-busting tax cut bill passed last December, which will result in a $1.5 trillion revenue shortfall over the next decade. It is not entirely clear why either tax cut was fiscally sound, given the fact that our economy has been continuously expanding since the time my dear old GOP almost wrecked it ten years ago.

Mitt Romney recently said, “With a booming economy, full employment, a soaring stock market, and record asset values, we should be shrinking the deficit, not growing it.” His statement echoes the Republican fiscal values I learned from GOP leaders back in the 1960s and 70s. My boss and mentor, former Senator Len Jordan, told me that Republicans were fiscally responsible, believed in balanced budgets, and knew they should raise sufficient revenue each year to cover federal spending.

I recall hearing lip service to such principles from Republicans in Congress up until the end of 2016, but those voices have largely gone silent since then. Prior to that time the mantra was that there would be no additional spending, even for such necessities as relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, without a commensurate cut in other programs. Now the mantra is cut taxes and increase spending. It is fiscally irresponsible and hypocritical of those who profess to be concerned about debt and deficits to fail or refuse to raise sufficient revenue to cover outlays.

The deficit for the current year is approaching $1 trillion or, in scary fiscal digits, $1,000,000,000,000. Three years ago, it was just $430 billion. Yet, there is hardly any GOP hand-wringing anymore about the travesty of saddling future generations with massive public indebtedness. Perhaps the thought is that unchecked climate change will do us in before the debt bomb can, so why worry.

Federal debt held by the public is currently $16 trillion (the total gross U.S. debt is now over $21 trillion). According to JPMorgan, the federal debt held by the public at the end of 2018 “will exceed all debt that U.S. households have for mortgages, credit cards, cars, student loans and other personal loans for the first time in modern history.” The public debt will top $127,000 per household by the end of this year, while personal household debt averages about $126,000.

Douglas Durst, the son of the billionaire who placed the debt clock near Times Square in New York City, opines that “America has more of a revenue problem than a spending problem.” He suggests that wealthy people like him should pay more in taxes. That might be a better answer to the budget problem than an additional tax cut, which would send the debt clock (which displays the total gross U.S. debt) into hyperdrive.

We need to take drastic action to restore the depleted population of deficit hawks. Voters can help by eliminating their natural enemy—the revenue-loathing turkeys.
 

Does Kavanaugh have the right stuff?

jones

Because of the carnival atmosphere of Supreme Court confirmation proceedings in recent years, it has been increasingly difficult to evaluate a nominee’s qualifications for a lifetime job on the Court. The Senators on either side like to grandstand with questions they know the nominee either will not or should not answer. The highly-coached nominee gives scripted non-answers to the occasional pertinent question that is highly relevant and should in good conscience be answered.

However, a person can get a sense of the candidate and there are a number of troubling things about Judge Brett Kavanaugh. There are allegations that he was not candid in answering questions under oath during his previous confirmation proceeding for the judgeship he now holds. Rather than rushing this proceeding, there is good reason for the Senate to explore his truthfulness in greater detail.

The Judge is short on moral courage or perhaps has just set it aside in order to get the job. When asked if he agreed with Justice Neil Gorsuch that the President’s criticism of judges and courts was “disheartening” and “demoralizing” to the judiciary, he dodged. Perhaps, he had read the reports that Gorsuch’s comments had almost caused the President to withdraw the Gorsuch nomination.

It is a clear that the continual Write House attacks on judges and the justice system are eroding the rule of law that is the very foundation of this country. Any judge worth his salt should stand up for the system. Gorsuch did and declined to retract his comments.

More concerning, though, is Kavanaugh’s refusal to say he would recuse himself from ruling in a case arising from the on-going investigation of the President. If the person who appointed you is currently under investigation in a case that may well end up before you for decision, there is a serious conflict of interest and recusal should be a no-brainer.

A judge should not sit on a case where his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned. During my tenure on the Idaho Supreme Court, I did not recuse myself on a case unless there was a real or perceived conflict. Kavanaugh has a real conflict in this situation and should unequivocally commit to recusal.

The Judge has expressed expansive views on the powers of the president and narrow views regarding investigation of a president. His name was only added to the list of potential candidates after the Mueller investigation was launched. And, he has likely witnessed the grief that Attorney General Sessions has suffered for correctly having recused himself in that investigation and heard the President’s comments that he would not have appointed Sessions if he’d known the AG was going to recuse. Kavanaugh’s stance does not pass the smell test for moral courage.

Speaking of moral courage, what happened to what we used to think of as the “greatest deliberative body in the world?” That is what they called the U.S. Senate when I worked there for former Senator Len Jordan in the early 1970s. Senators actually considered the pros and cons of Supreme Court nominees in those days, rather than just voting the old party line.

Senator Jordan, a man of unquestionable integrity, voted against two of his party’s nominees--Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell--because, after carefully studying their records, he determined they were not of Supreme Court caliber. Jordan was joined by 16 Republicans in defeating Haynsworth and by 12 Republicans in turning down Carswell. It did not make President Nixon happy, but Jordan had a good conscience. Wish there were some like him in the Senate today.