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Posts published in “Jones”

The people have spoken

jones

The Idaho Constitution flatly declares: “All political power is inherent in the people.” Those people established a government of elected representatives to carry out regular public business. However, they wisely reserved the right to initiate and pass laws when their representatives balk at carrying out the public’s wishes.

We witnessed the people properly taking the law into their own hands last November. For years, public polling indicated that the people wanted to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover people who earned too much to qualify for coverage, but too little to get assistance under the Affordable Care Act. About 60,000 working folks fall into that gap.

After the Legislature failed year after year to carry out the will of the people, Idaho voters stepped up in record numbers to pass a people’s initiative expanding Medicaid. It is now the law of our state and deserves to be implemented in the form approved by a substantial majority of voters.

Much to his credit, Governor Brad Little has pledged to honor the decision of Idaho voters to expand the Medicaid program. He had promised to do so in his campaign and has just said he will seek implementation of the law in an “Idaho way.” In this case, an Idaho way would be exactly as set out in the measure approved by a 61% vote of Idahoans who went to the polls.

There are those who mean to sabotage the initiated law. The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has challenged the law in court, trying to frustrate the will of the people. The Attorney General has pointed out the substantial flaws in their case and the challenge is bound to fail (although I have no inside information as to how the Supreme Court might rule).

The IFF will likely turn to the Legislature in hopes of amending the new law to death. Rep. Fred Wood, an M.D. who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, says the law should be implemented just as approved by a landslide vote of the people. After all, the people hold ultimate political power in our fair state. They had a lengthy campaign to hear and consider both sides of the issue and decide how to vote.

There has been talk of adding work reporting requirements to the Medicaid program, even though there does not appear to be a problem with the current recipients, and the people in the gap are obviously working. Medicaid is an efficient medical program that keeps low-income people healthy at a reasonable cost to the public. Why complicate it with bureaucratic regulations?

The work requirements are likely violative of federal law and have been subject to court challenges for that reason in other states. A court challenge in Idaho would probably just result in the state having to shell out attorney fees for another flawed law.

A work requirement has been a headache in Arkansas, resulting in qualified workers being denied benefits because of complicated reporting requirements. The respected Kaiser Family Foundation reported on the merits of the issue in Implications of Work Requirements: What Does the Data Say? For those interested, it can be found at: www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/implications-of-work-requirements-in-medicaid-what-does-the-data-say/.

We should assume that the people of Idaho are smart enough to exercise their ultimate policy-making power with wisdom and compassion. They should not be second-guessed by their elected representatives. Those voters who swarmed to the polls in record numbers voted both for a large Republican majority in the Legislature and a qualification-free Medicaid expansion. Should their decision be challenged on either count? The Legislature’s boss has spoken so it should follow those orders.
 

Wailing for a wall

jones

In July of 1964, I visited East Berlin and learned something about walls. They are ineffective to keep desperate people penned in, or kept out, without the certain use of lethal force against them. Despite strict border security in the late 50s and early 60s, hundreds of thousands of East Germans fled to freedom in West Berlin. The Berlin Wall was built to stop the outward flow of refugees.

A U.S. Army Corporal at Checkpoint Charlie told me the Berlin Wall would not have been effective without shoot-to-kill orders. The thuggish East German guards had such orders, along with numerous guard towers, vicious dogs, barbed wire, snares, machine guns, and a death strip that provided clear fields of fire. Even facing the risk of death, around 5,000 escapees made it over or under the Wall in 28 years, although about 240 were killed in the process. But, the threat of death stopped the great outward migration.

After the invention of ladders and tunnels, walls became relatively ineffective to keep people out, especially those trying to escape violence, starvation and oppressive governments. We currently have people fleeing those scourges from Central American countries, although not nearly as many as in some previous years. I suspect that many of us, facing the same dangers, would opt to flee with our families to a place known for freedom and security.

I suppose one way to discourage those desperate people from seeking safe harbor in the U.S. would be to take a page from the East Germans and use lethal force. I hope nobody in our great country would propose to do anything like that. However, anything short of treating these desperate folks worse than the dangers they are fleeing from probably won’t work.

And, a wall just targets a symptom of the dangers these people face at home. Why not get to the root of the problem and work to eliminate the dangers in their home countries that are causing the migrations? The cost would be substantially less than building an ineffective wall across our southern border and it would be an effective solution.

On May 4 of last year, John Kelly, who was then the Homeland Security Secretary, correctly observed that economic development of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador was “the solution to a lot of things that plague them, that then cause them to leave their country, move north.” That observation was recently echoed by the administration’s border chief, Kevin McAleenan. On December 30, 2018, he said we need to “invest in Central America.” McAleenan praised a State Department December 18 announcement of a substantial increase in economic aid to Central America as “a tremendous step forward” that would “help improve the opportunities to stay home.”

Unfortunately, the administration has not been consistent in pursuing a fix to the problem that would actually work. Several days after Kelly’s May 2017 comments, the administration proposed a 42% cut in economic assistance to the Central American countries. On October 24 of this year and again on December 28, the President threatened to cut off all aid to the three countries. That would only drive more desperate people to our border.

We should double our efforts to support these countries in developing their economies, to help them establish food security through improved agricultural practices, and to encourage judicial reform, job creation and violence protection programs. It can work. Mexico has greatly improved its economy in recent years, which has actually resulted in more Mexican nationals returning to their country than coming to the U.S. Let’s forget the wall and do something that will actually fix the problem.
 

Make America shine again

jones

President Ronald Reagan often characterized America as “the shining city upon a hill.” He explained in his 1989 farewell address, “in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace--a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

From the time our great country was founded, it has been a shining city on a hill--a beacon of hope and freedom to the oppressed around the world. Granted, we suffered the odious sin of slavery and have experienced periodic dark times, but we have always managed to right the ship.

One of America’s greatest accomplishments was to help resurrect the world from the ashes and ruin of the Second World War. We established an America-centered global order that has kept the peace and fostered prosperity in Europe and many other parts of the world. That was made possible by developing and maintaining mutually-beneficial alliances with nations around the world.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said about this remarkable achievement, “While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” He also warned that we must be on the guard against “malign actors and strategic competitors” like Russia and China who mean us harm. In other words, we must work hard to keep America strong and a shining example to the rest of the world.

Recent events show that we have much to do to restore America’s position in the world and to keep other nations from sliding into authoritarianism that will threaten our national security. As just one example, on December 14, the foreign minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, warned top American officials that Russia and China are strongly challenging American leadership in Europe. He urged more U.S. involvement with our European allies to counter the encroachment of these despotic countries. Our friends around the world yearn for constructive engagement and rational leadership from America.
 

Handing over Syria

jones

President Trump made four adversaries and an erstwhile ally extremely happy on Wednesday by announcing a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The governments of Russia, Syria, Iran and Turkey, as well as the Islamic State terrorists, have been hoping, praying and clamoring for just such an American retreat. They have to be very pleased with our Commander-in-Chief.

Turkey wants to go into eastern Syria to annihilate the brave Kurds who have been fighting and dying to help the United States eliminate the ISIS threat to America. Contrary to the President’s claim that the terrorists have been defeated, about 20,000-30,000 of these dangerous cutthroats still exist and they still are intent on doing our country great harm. The President has paved the way for a Kurdish bloodbath, while letting ISIS off the hook.

The announcement is an absolute betrayal of our Kurdish allies. They had been encouraged into our fight against the Islamic State terrorists with promises by America of military support and help to establish a safe enclave for their people in eastern Syria. The Kurdish forces worked in good faith to largely destroy the ISIS forces in Syria, suffering many casualties in the process. They and the rest of the world now see that America cannot be relied upon to keep its promises.

Of course, Russia and its Iranian and Syrian allies, have got to be tickled pink by the American decision to bug out of Syria and place the fate of the Kurds in their bloody hands. It is also a victory for the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, which has strongly supported the murderous Assad regime.

The President’s decision blindsided the Pentagon and State Department. Both had just publicly disclosed plans for continuing the American commitment to the Kurds until ISIS no longer posed a threat to our country and the Kurds were assured of peace and security. It is almost impossible to comprehend such an absolute about-face, apparently made on the spur of the moment.

Congress was also caught totally off guard as indicated by the response from Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker. They and many other members of Congress have expressed surprise and befuddlement by the precipitous decision.

An immediate retreat from Syria will harm the security interests of the United States. It will let ISIS off the hook, result in untold grief for the Kurds, cause our other allies around the world to question the reliability of America, and essentially turn over the fate of the Middle East to our sworn enemies. Betraying the Kurds will come back to haunt the United States.

I was sickened by our unconscionable betrayal of an ally in 1975, when the U.S. failed to lift a finger to help the South Vietnamese turn back an invasion from the North, despite President Nixon’s iron-clad promise that our air power would be there to protect them. Nor did we make a concerted effort to evacuate our South Vietnamese friends and allies when the collapse of their country was imminent. Thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers and officials were killed or persecuted for siding with us, including many Catholic soldiers with whom I served. Let’s not let it happen again to the Kurds. If we do, what nation would want to partner up with America in the future?
 

A contrast in style and substance

jones

With the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, much of the nation has reflected upon his life and accomplishments. It was hard for many of us to not make comparisons between Bush 1 and our present chief executive. The things that pop to mind are deliberative vs impulsive, empathetic vs narcissistic, and truthful vs not so much, to name a few.

I was not a real Bush enthusiast. In 1988, I co-chaired the Bob Dole for President effort in Idaho, along with my dear friend Lydia Justice Edwards, who was then the State Treasurer. When Bush won the nomination, I was certainly behind him.

President Bush made mistakes just like the rest of us (Willie Horton, Clarence Thomas), but all-in-all he conducted himself with honor and dignity. It is impossible for me to envision him cavorting with porn stars, continually uttering falsehoods, stoking unfounded fears, and casting aspersions on our justice system.

A couple of significant differences come to my mind. One of HW’s best performances was his efficient ejection of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the First Gulf War. After Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, Bush set about forming a 35-country coalition to defeat the Iraqis. It took hard work and meticulous planning. Bush worked with our friends and allies around the world, all of whom trusted and respected our President, and the job got done.

Bush knew that the world order set up by the U.S after World War II worked to our country’s great advantage and he fostered and maintained mutually beneficial relations with our allies. He knew America could not go it alone in a dangerous world.

Contrast that deliberative approach to our current President’s preference for a seat-of-the-pants approach to foreign policy--essentially making decisions on the spur of the moment and announcing them on Twitter.

For instance, Trump impetuously cancelled the Trans Pacific Partnership, disheartening our Pacific allies, while handing a great gift to China. That treaty addressed a number of our trade disputes with Canada and Mexico, but was much more—a strategic partnership to strengthen America’s Pacific defenses. The President has also weakened our strategic position in the western hemisphere by continually provoking our NATO partners and European allies, much to the glee of the Russian Federation. It will take coalition efforts to counter China and Russia, but we are creating ill will with our strongest allies.

As a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Bush knew our national security depends upon effective intelligence gathering. He helped the CIA build itself up after troubled times. He would have been appalled by the unrelenting attacks by our current President on that vital agency. The President makes it publicly known that he does not trust the U.S. intelligence establishment on issues related to Saudi Arabia, Russia, and North Korea. Denigration of dedicated agents who routinely place their lives on the line for their country is tremendously harmful to our national security.

When he ran against Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bush correctly labeled the trickle-down economic theory--that tax cuts for the rich and powerful would pay for themselves by increased revenues--as “voodoo economics.” He later backtracked as vice president and then gave his imprudent pledge of no new taxes when he ran for president in 1988. When it turned out during his term that taxes had to be raised, he did the correct, prudent and courageous thing by raising taxes. He was well aware that doing so would possibly doom his reelection chances, but he put the county’s fiscal well-being over his own self-interest.

Last year, my old party and its President readopted the idea of handing a large tax cut to big business and the wealthiest Americans, claiming it would be revenue neutral when they knew it wouldn’t. The result was entirely predictable--no increase in revenues and a deficit for the current fiscal year of over one trillion dollars. President George H.W. Bush correctly called it voodoo.
 

Crystal ball justice

jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing with despots

jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for those in the Great War

jones

The furor has died down over the President’s failure to attend a ceremony at Belleau Wood on November 10 to honor Americans who fought for us in World War One. But we should know about and never forget those brave souls. The President reportedly blamed his staff for failing to tell him that skipping the ceremony would be a public relations disaster. That’s probably because, like most of us, he did not know the significance of the desperate battle at Belleau Wood.

When the Russians surrendered in March of 1918, the Germans shifted almost 50 divisions to the Western Front in hopes of scoring a knock-out blow against allied forces before American troops were fully deployed. On June 1, the Germans attacked in the vicinity of Belleau Wood, which is about 50 miles northeast of Paris, with the objective of breaking through to the French capital city and winning the war.

A brigade of U.S. Marines stood in their way and after 26 days of savage fighting the Marines expelled the German forces from Belleau Wood, stopping their advance. At the start of the engagement, the Marines were repeatedly urged to withdraw. In refusing to pull back, a Marine commander responded, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

The Germans deployed massive artillery and machine gun fire against the Marines, as well as plenty of poison gas. The Marines attacked 6 times and held off a number of counter attacks. When it was over there were 9,777 American casualties, including 1,811 dead. Heroism was on common display throughout the battle.

Lieutenant Orlando Petty, a Navy surgeon, earned the Medal of Honor for continuing to care for the wounded even when his dressing station came under heavy fire. When the station was destroyed, he carried a wounded officer to safety.

Gunnery Sergeant Ernest Janson earned two Medals of Honor--one from the Army and another from the Navy--for single-handedly attacking and dispatching 12 enemy soldiers who were trying to set up machine gun emplacements.

Gunnery Sergeant Fred Stockham earned the Medal of Honor for giving his gas mask to a wounded comrade whose mask had been shot away during a poison gas attack. Sergeant Stockham was fully exposed to the poison gas and died of its horrendous effects several days later.

Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Weedon Osborne, a Navy dentist, earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery early in the fight. He died while trying to rescue a wounded officer.

The Battle of Belleau Wood was a big deal. It helped to stop the German advance and bring about an eventual end to the war. It caused our military to rethink battlefield tactics in the face of modern weaponry. It demonstrated the willingness of America’s service personnel to give their last full measure on behalf of their country.

The heroic actions at Belleau Wood were emblematic of the bravery of American forces across the Western Front. A total of 121 Medals of Honor were awarded during WW1—92 for the Army, 21 for the Navy and 8 for the Marines. And, a total of 116,516 U.S. troops died for their fellow citizens in that ghastly war.

As we gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving to celebrate the wonderful blessings bestowed on us by this remarkable country, let’s think of the American service personnel who have made it possible. Use the opportunity to thank and honor America’s finest, including the 2,289 fallen members of the Army and Marines interred in Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau Wood and the many other WW1 veterans who honorably fought to protect our freedoms.
 

Advance care

jones

The old saying about the certainty of death and taxes is not entirely true anymore. A talented tax lawyer can help some legislatively-favored individuals and businesses to avoid paying taxes.

On the other hand, nobody has yet figured out a way to escape mortal death. But even with that certainty staring them in the face, way too many people do not plan for their own departure from the living.

According to Honoring Choices, an Idaho non-profit dedicated to advanced care planning, 85% of Idaho adults think it is very important to choose their own end-of-life treatment options, but less than half have completed an advance care directive. Unless those choices are documented for health care providers, they may well be disregarded.

As a lawyer and judge, I have witnessed too many family tragedies resulting from people who do not get around to writing a will or designating a trusted friend or relative to carry out their end-of-life decisions regarding medical care. Conflicts among survivors could easily have been averted by writing a simple will or signing an up-to-date directive for medical care.

We each have it in our power to say what medical treatment we want or do not want as we approach death, and to appoint someone to carry out those wishes when we are no longer competent. We just have to quit procrastinating and get it done.

Honoring Choices and a broad coalition of interested parties, including the Idaho Hospital Association and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, want to remedy the problem. The coalition will seek legislative funding to help educate the public about the vital importance of end-of-life planning, assist people in making advanced care medical directives, and set up an up-to-date registry of directives that can be used by doctors and hospitals around the state.

A primary objective of the program is to increase awareness of the need for adults of all ages, not just seniors, to get their wishes documented. And to let them know the unfortunate consequences of failing to do so. A wider range of interested parties--insurers, businesses, veteran groups, to name a few--can be enlisted to spread that message and get people motivated to document their wishes in an advance care directive.

Equally important is establishing an electronic registry where directives can be filed, updated and available when and where they are needed. Having some health problems of my own in 2017, I was asked numerous times at numerous health provider offices for a health care directive. You either took in the one you did several years ago or filled out a new one. Many folks have any number of directives sitting around in provider offices, bearing different dates and often containing conflicting information--a situation ripe for confusion.

A person may currently file a directive with the Secretary of State but few do. The ones that are filed can become outdated and are hard to access. The Secretary of State supports moving the registry to Health and Welfare where it would be continually updated and made accessible by health care providers around the state (with the maker’s consent). That would help to ensure that end-of-life treatment choices are known and honored.

Advance directive forms are available on the websites of the Idaho Secretary of State and Honoring Choices Idaho.

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