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Posts published in “Jones”

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.
 

Sinking the partisan ship

jones

In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned the nation of the dangers of partisanship in an elective government like ours. He advised that “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it in the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

Partisanship is tearing this country apart. One of the strong proponents of working across the aisle, the late Senator John McCain, was just laid to rest. This would be a good time to reflect on things we can do in our good state to discourage and restrain partisanship.

Earlier this year, long-time political writer Randy Stapilus observed that most of Idaho’s statewide elective offices were not or should not be partisan in nature. The same could be said of local government administrative offices. Why not remove the party labels from essentially non-political offices and focus on the qualifications of candidates to carry out the laws that govern their work?

The Secretary of State oversees elections and maintains business and commercial records. It is not clear why party affiliation should matter in that position. The same goes for the State Treasurer and State Controller, both of whom are charged with performing administrative duties, not setting state policy.

The Attorney General does have some ability to make or influence policy through rule making and court proceedings, but must also maintain independence from the Governor and Legislature. Based on my eight years of experience in that office, it is not uncommon for officeholders of your own party to expect favoritism--a favorable legal opinion on a policy issue, favorable treatment of a constituent crosswise with the law, or urging that you file a lawsuit of questionable merit.

The Attorney General represents the State and the people, not fellow party members. An AG who remains true to the law will often make fellow party members unhappy.

Running on a non-partisan ticket like judges do might clarify the responsibilities of the office and reduce the pestering an AG gets to carry water for the party.

It should be said that the current Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, has done a good job of advising the Legislature and Governor about the requirements of the law. When his advice has been ignored, he is usually found by the courts to have been correct. Removing that office from partisan influences would be a good step.

One of the most important offices in state government is that of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is an administrative position but has a vitally important advocacy component. Political affiliation won’t result in better-educated children. The way to foster student achievement is to work tirelessly with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies for teaching, learning, and school safety.

The Superintendent position should go to the person who demonstrates a willingness to dig in and improve our school system by hard work and advocacy, regardless of party membership. We should take this office out of the political arena and focus on who will work the hardest and smartest to educate and protect our kids. I believe George Washington would agree.
 

Medicaid expansion: more harm than good?

jones

NNU economics professor Peter Crabb recently opined that expanding Medicaid coverage to approximately 62,000 Idahoans “is likely to do more economic harm than good.” His thesis is that people who get government health coverage are more likely to engage in risky behavior and therefore require more medical care. Where to start?

The people who will be covered by Medicaid expansion are working people who make too much to get Medicaid, but not enough to get subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The prof worries that these people will have little incentive to stay healthy if they get “free lunch” government health care. If you are barely making enough to feed and shelter your family, you have a strong incentive to stay healthy so as not to lose your paycheck.

If the prof is correct, there are already hundreds of thousands of Idahoans doing things that are hazardous to their health because they receive government help. About 240,000 of us are getting Medicare, almost 300,000 are on Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance, and about 125,000 are getting insurance through government jobs. Medicaid expansion would add only about 62,000 people to the list of Idahoans getting government help for medical care, which would probably not greatly increase the risky behavior factor.

Many more Idahoans get insurance through their jobs, and their employers can justifiably deduct it from their taxes. Veterans and retired military deservedly get government health coverage. And let’s not forget the many thousands who get subsidized insurance through the ACA. Why should the government subsidize almost everyone else’s health care and not the people in the coverage gap?

As for cost, Milliman, a highly regarded actuarial firm often used by the state, recently reported that Medicaid expansion could actually save the state up to $15 million per year by eliminating the need for the state’s Catastrophic Health Care Fund and the county indigency programs. The indigency programs are a real drain on the counties because they pay for often routine medical care at emergency room rates.

Perhaps the best way to find out what expansion might do is to see how it has worked in the 33 states that have expanded Medicaid to get the many millions of federal dollars available. When Ohio expanded its program, an additional 700,000 people got Medicaid coverage. Governor Kasich reports that 290,000 of those have since left the program. Most of them told the state that having the insurance helped them find or keep their job. And, one would suppose those people are contributing to Ohio’s economic well-being.

As far as the economic impact of Medicaid expansion, the infusion of federal money will create many additional health care jobs for Idahoans, help keep rural hospitals financially solvent, and keep that money circulating and multiplying through our communities. It will allow people with routine illnesses to get medical care before their conditions turn into expensive medical emergencies that taxpayers will pay for either directly or indirectly.

And, in the final analysis, isn’t it the morally correct thing to do? Why should people who are working hard to take care of their families have to choose between bankruptcy or death when they are confronted with a serious illness? Especially when almost everyone else in the state gets at least some “free lunch” medical help from the government already?

Let’s approve the Medicaid expansion initiative on the November ballot. It is the right thing to do, economically, morally, and equitably.
 

Paula Duncan gets it; why not the president?

jones

Paula Duncan, who says she served on the Paul Manafort jury, told Fox News that all but one juror wanted to convict Manafort on all of the 18 counts against him.

She indicated she was a Trump supporter, but did not believe “politics had any place in that courtroom.”

More importantly, she said, “I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty, but he was, and no one’s above the law.”

No judge or lawyer could have stated America’s dedication to the rule of law more succinctly than Ms. Duncan. The justice system and courts should always remain non-political and should not bend to the wishes of the powerful.

The jury obviously listened to both sides in the trial and found Manafort to be a fraud and tax cheat. It does not appear they found the proceeding to be “a terrible situation” or the case to be a “Rigged Witch Hunt,” as proclaimed by the President. They likely did not see Manafort as the good and “brave” man Trump claims him to be. Thank God that ordinary citizens understand what it means for Americans to live under the rule of law.

The President has repeatedly blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a “disgraced and discredited” person and called Mueller’s team a “National Disgrace.” In keeping with his unimpeachable ethics and professionalism, Mueller has declined to fire back. Rather, this honorable Republican has forged on with his work in keeping with the best traditions of the American legal profession.

As another life-long Republican, William Ruckelshaus, recently put it, “Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job.” In 1973, Ruckelshaus resigned his position as Deputy Attorney General after refusing President Nixon’s order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. Referring to the famed Saturday Night Massacre, he stated, “President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington.”

William Webster, another life-long Republican, was appointed as head of the FBI in 1978 to clean up after the Watergate scandal and later appointed as Director of the CIA to clean up after the Iran-Contra scandal. He has wisely counseled that “We should not run down our own institutions, trivialize the impartial actions of our own grand juries, degrade our own justice system, or bully a free press for doing its job.” Amen!

The rule of law is a fragile thing. It depends on the trust and confidence of the people. When those in positions of authority in the executive and legislative branches of government make unfounded charges against prosecutors and courts, it corrodes the very foundation of our legal system.

Those in positions of power and influence, like our Senators and Congressmen, have a responsibility to step forward and loudly defend our legal system against false claims and charges. Three members of our Congressional delegation are lawyers and should understand that they must not stand idly by when our legal system is under attack.

As William Webster noted, the “Constitution demands” those who take the federal oath of office to defend “values like truth, justice and civility, because the idea of an America united by the rule of law is too important to lose.”
 

Ethnic cleansing

jones

It certainly appears that our great country is embarking on a program to deny entry to immigrants of color and to expel many who are already here, even if they entered legally.

The program has two components - a publicity effort to besmirch refugees and other immigrants, and wide-ranging governmental actions to reduce the immigrant population. It takes on the look of an ethnic cleansing of this wonderful immigrant nation.

The publicity effort falsely claims that immigrants bring crime and violence to our country. Statistics consistently show that the criminal offense rate of immigrants is about half that of home-grown Americans. Similar false and shameful claims against Italians in the early 1920s caused Congress to bar their entry by the Immigration Act of 1924. We later recognized the stupidity of that law and repealed it. The same hysteria is now being raised against people from south of the border and persons of color from so-called “sh__hole countries” in Africa and elsewhere. It may be good politics but it is factually and morally wrong.

At the same time, the federal government is moving against immigrants on a wide front. The President wants to cut legal immigration in half and eliminate the family unification program that allows people to bring their immediate family members to the U.S., just like his wife recently did. He has cut refugee admissions from 110,000 in 2016 to just over 20,000 this year. The cap on admissions was 45,000 this year but the bureaucrats have cut that in half with administrative barriers. A further reduction will soon be announced.

About 325,000 residents admitted to the U.S. over the last couple of decades because of disaster or violence in their home countries will be tossed out in the coming year. Most are from El Salvador and other Central American countries. They have about 273,000 U.S. born kids they will have to either leave behind or take with them.

Of course, we are all familiar with the cruel separation of asylum-seekers from their minor children on the southern border. The “zero-tolerance” program, which has left hundreds of kids still separated from their parents, was designed to scare people away from America. And, the Dreamers are being held as hostages to build an expensive, unnecessary, and ineffective border wall.

The undocumented family members of military veterans and active duty personnel are being threatened with deportation. Some immigrants who volunteered to serve in our military to get citizenship are being told that Uncle Sam is welching out of the deal. Iraqis and Afghans who risked their necks to help and protect American troops are being denied entry to safety in America.

Now, the administration is preparing a new rule to penalize immigrants legally in the country if their family has received a public benefit such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The rule will likely be released before the midterm election and may jeopardize a legal resident’s right to obtain citizenship, even if the recipient of the benefit is a child who is a U.S. citizen. The effect of such a rule would be huge, as it could impact millions of immigrants who came to the country legally.

Ethnic cleansing is not a concept to be invoked lightly, but when a policy looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, about the only conclusion to be drawn is that the country is heading down a dark path.
 

Don’t reduce auto efficiency

jones

The Trump administration wants to substantially reduce the fuel economy standard for new cars. Six years ago, the government and auto makers agreed that cars made in the 2025 model year should get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg). The President plans to reduce the mileage standard to 37 miles per gallon. Lowering the mpg target would hit drivers hard in the pocketbook and cause serious harm to the environment.

The President claims the 54.5 mpg standard is dangerous because the higher standard will make it cheaper for people to drive. So, they will drive more and have more accidents. The President wants to require people to fill up more often, costing them more to drive every mile. So, they won’t drive as much and will have fewer accidents. In essence, we will be safer because it will cost lots more to go anywhere.

First, I think most people are like me - I want to get the best mileage possible and pay as little for gas as possible. As Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s, I worked to keep gas prices down and found that Idahoans strongly supported getting the most mileage for their gasoline dollar.

Second, I don’t need a nanny-state government telling me how I will spend the money I save by getting 17.5 more miles out of each gallon of gas I buy. It might just be that we are smart enough to use the money we save from the higher mpg standard to pay for food, rent, and other necessities, instead of driving more and having more accidents.

If we are going to have all that extra cash in our pockets from the higher mpg standard, maybe the Congress could get up some guts and increase the gas tax. Some of that extra money could then be used to fix our dangerous roads and bridges and save a bunch of lives.

It is also claimed that higher efficiency cars will be lighter and less safe. That is baloney. High strength aluminum has been shown to absorb impact better than heavier and less pliable steel. Lighter cars will be safer. And, think about the Ford F-150, which is still the most popular vehicle around, even after it switched to an aluminum body.

Sticking with the higher standard will substantially reduce greenhouse gas and pollution emissions and save lives. Air pollution kills an estimated 80,000 Americans every year and causes respiratory illnesses in the hundreds of thousands. Auto emissions are a significant cause. More fuel-efficient cars will reduce the pollution spewing into our air and perhaps reduce the wintertime inversions in Idaho.

As the increasingly hot and turbulent global weather demonstrates, we face a bleak future unless we start taking dramatic steps to combat climate change. The earth is like one of those sealed globes that you shake to watch it snow. We are cramming our closed atmosphere full of heat-trapping gases, which will continue to warm our planet to the point that we will not be able to grow enough crops to feed the world population. The Pentagon sees this as an existential threat to our country.

Besides switching to clean energy sources like wind and solar, we should be doing everything possible to reduce emissions of heat-holding gases. A higher fuel efficiency standard for automobiles will result in less greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. That can play a part in keeping the Earth from becoming a barely inhabitable hot house.
 

Idaho needs an accurate census

jones

There appears to be some political chicanery afoot with the upcoming 2020 census. On the surface, it might not seem to be unusual for the census questionnaire to ask respondents if family members in their household are citizens. However, the census form has not had a citizenship question since 1950.

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee, an official government entity, has recommended against including the question. The Committee declared, “We hold the strong opinion that including citizenship in the 2020 census would be a serious mistake which would result in a substantial lowering of the response rate.” The concern is that immigrants, documented and otherwise, might not answer the question for fear of being targeted by the authorities.

Such fears might not be irrational because information from the 1940 census was used to round up Japanese-Americans and send them to concentration camps, like the Minidoka camp in Jerome County. The census information was supposedly confidential but it was nevertheless used to locate and incarcerate these innocent people, over 60% of whom were U.S. citizens. It was a clear violation of their rights.

The census was never intended to count just “citizens” of our country. The U.S. Constitution requires a count every ten years of “Persons” in the country in order to determine apportionment of “Representatives and direct Taxes.” Slaves, who were not considered to be citizens, were to be counted as “other Persons,” with a three-fifths value. That chapter of our history was shameful.

Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, testified to Congress last year that he decided to put the citizen question on the next census form at the request of the Justice Department. However, recently discovered evidence shows that to be a naughty fib. In truth, Ross requested the Justice folks to request the question. It appears he was asked to include the question by political operatives who wanted to depress immigrant participation in the census. States with large immigrant populations, like California, might lose some of their Representatives in the U.S. Congress as a result of a substantial undercount.

How might this affect Idaho? Well, Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the Union. It has a fair number of immigrants, documented and otherwise, and could suffer from an undercount of residents in at least two ways.

First, many federal programs allocate funding to the states based on their census count. The funds are divvied up based on the number of “persons,” not citizens. An undercount would short-change Idaho in many federally-funded programs.

Second, apportionment of the 435 seats in Congress is allocated among the states based on the census of “persons.” Although it is unlikely Idaho would be entitled to an additional seat in Congress based on the 2020 census count, it is not out of the question to think we might grow enough to qualify based on the 2030 count.

There is no good reason to politicize the census by deliberately trying to cause an undercount of any state for any reason. That is why the professionals in the Census Bureau oppose the citizenship question. No valid reason has been shown to support it. Fast-growing Idaho could suffer collateral damage from this political skullduggery.
 

The mess in Yemen

jones

The New York Times reported on July 26 that U.S. allies have killed thousands of civilians in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirati pilots, flying U.S.-supplied planes and dropping U.S.-supplied bombs, have been the major contributor to more than 16,000 civilian casualties in that conflict.

It is an unfortunate fact that war often results in unintended civilian casualties. But, combatants have the responsibility to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Our partners in that war have not done so. Reports out of Yemen repeatedly demonstrate indiscriminate bombing by Saudi and UAE forces, such as the 22 villagers killed at a wedding last April.

Why should we care? The U.S. is aiding and abetting this unnecessary toll of death and destruction. It does not serve our national interest to be a party to the indiscriminate killing of innocent bystanders. It is morally wrong! And, you can’t win the hearts and minds of a population (or of the world in general) when you take part in killing their families and kinfolk. You also uproot survivors, who flee for safety to refugee camps.

There may be some valid reasons for helping the Saudis and Emiratis, although I am skeptical about that. However, we should make it clear to them that we will not permit loose rules of engagement that result in civilian casualties. And, we should not provide weapons like cluster munitions that kill indiscriminately.

I have never liked cluster munitions. In 1969, I was serving as an artillery spotter in Vietnam when a cluster shell was first available for use. It was called a “firecracker” round, a 200 pound shell that held about 100 grenade-type explosive devices. The round would explode several hundred feet above the ground, spreading the grenades over a wide area. I did not use them because they did not have the accuracy or explosive power of a regular high explosive round. Plus, I was told that many of the small explosive devices would not detonate, creating a hazard for anyone who might later be walking around the area. It just didn’t seem like a good idea. Some of those little bomblets still populate the terrain in Vietnam to this day, causing war-related casualties, mostly among curious children. They are indiscriminate killers and we ought to quit using and providing them to others.

I have doubts about our support for this war and would like for the U.S. to opt out of it. At a minimum, we should insist that our allies immediately implement tighter rules of engagement and stop the slaughter of civilians. We also should recognize our complicity in the war and the serious refugee crisis it has caused in Yemen.

And, while we are thinking of refugee crises (plural, in case anyone missed it), we should recognize that the U.S. has caused or contributed to the flood of refugees from any number of countries in that region. We started an unnecessary war in Iraq that created a tremendous refugee crisis in that country. Our Iraq war helped to get the conflict going in Syria, resulting in a catastrophic flood of refugees from that country. Our actions in Libya and Somalia have created a flow of refugees from those countries.

Yet, after having been a primary creator of these massive refugee flows, we have essentially washed our hands of the whole thing and walked away from all responsibility. These countries are all on our travel ban and the refugees are left high, dry and on their own. We have dumped the old rule about “you broke it, you fix it,” not to mention the admonishment in Zechariah 7:9 to “show kindness and mercy to one another.”
 

Russia wins again

jones

Thanks to Russian interference, the United States failed in an effort to strike a blow against mothers’ milk at a United Nations conference this spring.

The New York Times reported on July 8 that the U.S. delegation to a World Health Assembly meeting tried unsuccessfully to water down a resolution supporting breast-feeding.

Our delegation was apparently concerned that if mothers fed their babies breast milk it would cut down on sales of good old-fashioned formula made from the finest chemicals in America. So, our representatives tried to strike resolution language urging governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.” Them were obviously fightin’ words.

Just because a long string of U.S. Presidents has supported U.N. breast-feeding resolutions, does not mean that our country should not re-examine this issue, as we have almost every other health and foreign policy issue in the last few months. We may find that mom’s milk, and even apple pie, are no longer good for America. After all, if we now expect American agriculture to stand by while its industry is devastated by destructive trade wars, can’t we expect our infants to contribute to American superiority by consuming factory-made food?

There was some resistance to our move so we had to get tough. Ecuador was the culprit promoting the resolution in support of the milk of human kindness, so we had to put the kibosh on that little pipsqueak country. According to the Times, we told them that if they did not drop the resolution, the U.S. “would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid.” Hey, if we can kick Canada’s fanny for our favorable trade surplus with that country, we can certainly beat up on a country whose location most Americans don’t even know. Ecuador dropped the resolution like a hot potato.

About a dozen other nations, including some African sh__hole countries, were afraid to step forward to push the resolution for fear of retaliation. That shows we can bully these little dots on the map into submission.

Some of the delegates whined that mothers’ milk provides infants with nutrients essential for their development, as well as hormones and antibodies that protect them from infectious diseases. They pointed to a British study which concluded that universal breast-feeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year around the world. Mixing formula with contaminated water in under-developed countries can kill infants. Our representatives were not swayed. They knew that the $70 billion baby food industry brings in more dollars than any number of mothers, and that our drug makers are more than happy to take care of all those diseases.

When it looked like the resolution was in trouble, the supporters brought in the big gun, the kryptonite to our Superman—Vladimir Putin. The Russians stepped forward to sponsor the resolution, we grudgingly submitted, and it passed with overwhelming support. A Russian delegate was quoted as saying, “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”

Well said, Ivan.

I hope Putin does not give our leader a tongue-lashing over this.