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Posts published in “Jones”

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.
 

The Trump-Putin Affair

jones

President Ronald Reagan would have been repulsed by the spectacle of an American president kowtowing to a murderous dictator like Vladimir Putin. If Russia had attacked our democracy, Reagan would not have meekly stood by for months denying it. He would have taken swift and effective action to punish the attacker, rather than appeasing and praising the tyrant.

Reagan understood the need to value and nurture our relationships with our European allies, as well as those in the Pacific. He understood that our allies benefit from the U.S. protective umbrella but he knew we are the greatest beneficiary of those alliances. We are able to maintain forward operating bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea to project American power around the world and keep our citizens safe from our enemies.

President Trump has done tremendous damage to NATO, which was conceived by the U.S. as an essential component of our national defense. NATO helped us defeat the Soviet Union and has had our back in the war in Afghanistan. A recent poll shows that 42 percent of Germans now want American troops out of their country. American influence and security there and around the world will suffer if we make ourselves unwelcome where we need to maintain bases close to the borders of our enemies, specifically Russia, China, and North Korea.

It would have been inconceivable to someone like Reagan, a real champion of America, for the U.S. president to bash our allies over their collective heads in public, especially in the presence of Putin, the greatest threat to our national security. Or, to call the European Union a “foe,” which is decidedly wrong and harmful to our peace and safety. Or, to side with Putin over the U.S. intelligence agencies, which have unanimously confirmed the Russian aggression against the United States.

Reagan would not have meekly acquiesced to Putin’s earlier “suggestion” to call off war games in South Korea, just to appease another cutthroat dictator, Kim Jong-un. Nor, would he have praised Kim as a wonderful person, even as Kim was speeding up his nuclear program and brutalizing hundreds of thousands of his people.

I could see Reagan telling Putin, upon learning of the Russian attack, “Look, you little pipsqueak, if you ever do anything remotely like that again, your country will be cut off from the international banking system.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May have stood up to Putin, why can’t our leader?

Instead, our president practically swooned at Putin’s outrageous idea of having Russian spies help Robert Mueller with the investigation of Russia’s attack on America--the old fox-in-the-hen-house ploy. Good thing Putin did not offer the Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Just as bad as Trump submitting to Putin, most Republicans in Congress have meekly submitted to the ally-bashing and Putin-loving. Where is the GOP outrage about these words and deeds that clearly jeopardize our national interests? We have heard just a few timid statements of support for NATO and against trade war from current members of that party, which once billed itself as the bulwark against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now, it only emits tiny whimpers that the President is helping the wrong team on the world stage.

My suggestion to the Idaho Congressional delegation--get some backbone and speak out forcefully in defense of America. Force the President to impose all of the Russian sanctions Congress approved months ago. Demand cyber counter-measures. Find out what happened in the secret Putin-Trump meeting. Your country needs your action and voices, Senators Risch and Crapo.
 

A disheartening frenzy

jones

It is sad that every vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court sets off a political feeding frenzy in Washington and throughout the country. It is as if a new appointee is intended to be a super legislator, rather than an impartial arbiter of disputes between and among citizens and the government. The whole process is infused with political overtones. Nowadays, it happens regardless of which party is in power. It does not have to be that way.

In 1967, the State of Idaho enacted legislation to insulate judicial appointments from politics and cronyism. It has worked well and resulted in a corps of professional judges, who decide all sorts of legal disputes, both civil and criminal, in an even-handed manner. When there is a district or appellate court opening, a seven-member Judicial Council gathers information on judicial candidates, publicly interviews the candidates, considers input from the legal community and public, and then sends a slate of 2-4 candidates to the Governor for appointment. Magistrate judges are impartially selected by local magistrate commissions.

I believe a similar process could be implemented on the federal level without transgressing provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Article 2, section 2 of the Constitution gives the President the power “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” to appoint Judges of the Supreme Court. It seems like the Senate could exercise its advice and consent by setting up a non-partisan process to vet and recommend a slate of highly qualified candidates to the President for appointment.

Almost any system for appointment of Justices to the Supreme Court would be preferable to the usual slugfest that the current process has become. Presidents are tempted to appoint people whose political views align with theirs on specific hot-button issues, disregarding the fact that the Court is expected to deal with a much wider range of issues. The tendency is to appoint younger people, without an identifiable track record, who can serve into their dotage, disregarding the fact that this excludes a large number of older experienced lawyers with exemplary legal careers.

And speaking of dotage, there ought to be some limit on the length of service of Supreme Court and other federal judges. Article 3, section 2 of the Constitution says that federal judges “shall hold their Offices during good Behavior,” which is assumed to be for life. However, I think the constitutional framers would be surprised to see so many old folks hanging on to judicial offices.

I have never been a big fan of age limitations on public office but I am starting to think they may have some merit. I served 12 years on the Idaho Supreme Court and figured it was time to hang it up and let someone else have a crack at it. About 9 years ago, a group of distinguished legal scholars proposed that a President should be able to make one Supreme Court pick after each federal election. The longest-serving Justice on the Court would automatically go on senior status and only sit on cases where there were less than 9 Justices participating. The idea has some merit. The longer a Justice sits in the ivory tower of the Court, the greater the likelihood of losing touch with the real world.

There are a number of things that could be done to insulate the court system from our present corrosive political climate. The public increasingly views the Supreme Court as a mere extension of our dysfunctional political system and that is dangerous to our democracy. It is time for Congress to take a comprehensive look at ways to reestablish the impartiality and standing of our high court.
 

Let’s debate, not demonize

jones

As our nation celebrates its 242nd birthday, all of us living in this great country should remember that we are part of the United States. The brave people who signed the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July in 1776, would likely be appalled by the lack of decorum in public discourse these many years later. After all, their goal was to unite the people of the thirteen colonies for the greater good and not to divide them into warring camps.

The Founding Fathers certainly debated the issues addressed in the Declaration and those that went into the other documents giving birth to this country, sometimes heatedly. But, with the purpose of forging a nation dedicated to unity, they shied away from demonizing or delegitimizing those with whom they disagreed.

There are strong disagreements on important public policy issues today, but personally attacking an opponent does nothing to resolve those issues. Rather than demonizing the other side, it is more effective to point out the merits of our position, as well as any flaws in the opponent’s position. If you start out by proclaiming that the opponent is an ass or crook, you obscure your own argument on the merits. That not only inflames the debate, but often results in the opponent just digging in harder.

I think the President’s policy of separating asylum seekers from their children was and is extremely ill advised for a number of reasons. The argument should focus on the reasons for opposing the policy, not by comparing the policy to Nazi concentration camps. Some of the President’s supporters might be inclined to agree on the policy issue, if the argument is confined to the merits.

The President did not invent course and destructive public commentary but he has certainly perfected the technique. That does not mean that the rest of us should follow the example. Let’s remember that we were given the precious legacy in the Preamble to the Constitution of forming “a more perfect union.”

Public discourse is not well served by statements that demean those with whom we disagree. Congressman Labrador’s recent contribution to the family separation debate is a prime example. On June 21, he is reported to have said that Democrats “don’t really care about the families. They want to have no enforcement of immigration law.” He knows this is not the truth. His statement misrepresents the different approaches to immigration that other members of Congress are promoting.

Instead of vilifying those with whom we disagree, perhaps we might consider an approach that caught my attention in Bible study over sixty years ago. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, in part: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat...for you will heap coals of fire on his head.” At the time, I could picture dumping a bunch of burning embers on somebody’s head. But, I think it means that if somebody is being a butt, treat them kindly and they may relent under the embarrassment. It is a variation on the you-can- draw-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar theme.

The Fourth of July is a perfect time to think of how lucky we are to live in a country where we have unprecedented freedom and opportunity. Why spoil it with hateful acts and words against our fellow Americans. We can disagree on important issues without being disagreeable. Let’s all have a happy and reflective Fourth.
 

Who needs friends when you got Vlad?

jones

Those effete “G-6” people got what was coming to them for questioning our President’s demands and then dissing Vladimir Putin. When that Canadian guy protested and said he was going to stand up for his country, what could a strong guy do but torpedo the joint statement everyone had already agreed upon? The nerve of Trudeau for reciprocating with a nationalistic statement. But, perhaps we should look at the other side of the issue.

The G-7 was set up by the major industrialized democracies four decades ago to forge closer economic ties as a counter to the Soviet threat. After G-7 members and other allied nations helped us run the Soviet Union out of business, the G-7 placed its focus on promoting democratic values. America has greatly benefited from its friendship and treaties with these countries, economically, politically, and militarily.

When America called upon these friends for support in the First Gulf War, they willingly pitched in. When the U.S. was attacked on September 11, G-7 countries and our other allies were at our side. This is a tough world and it helps to have friends when you need them. Just like on the school yard, if you are facing a bully you may need backup. If you are the bully, you may get comeuppance when the others have had enough and gang up on you.

It is sometimes easy to overlook what you may be getting out of a relationship if you focus on just one part of it. There are kinks in the trade arena that need to be worked out, but it goes both ways. That can be done in a quiet, thoughtful way. Shouting rarely produces good results.

On the other hand, we benefit from having forward operating bases in some of the G-7 countries that help project American power around the world. And, we have power because these important countries recognize and support U.S. currency as the coin of the world’s realm. We set up the system, it has been to our substantial benefit, and we have a strong national interest in maintaining it.

Now, let’s turn to Putin and possible reasons for not re-admitting his country to the democracy conclave (Russia gained membership when there was hope it would take a democratic turn, but got kicked out when all such hope was lost). It seems to me that present-day Russia may have become ineligible for membership by not being a democracy, by grabbing Crimea, by setting up an insurgency in Ukraine, by giving its thugs the equipment to shoot down a commercial airliner, and by clamping down on its press and killing reporters. Add to that the interference in American elections (and those of other G-7 countries), the unabated kleptocracy being carried on in Russia by Putin and his cronies, aiding and abetting horrendous atrocities in Syria, fixing Russian elections, and a host of other unsavory acts. Those could explain the reluctance of other G-7 members to allow Putin to join the democracy bandwagon. He should at least be banned until he washes the blood off his hands.

It all boils down to the fact that America has soared to greatness with the help of our allies and particularly our G-7 friends. Let’s not insult them out of our circle of friends. On the other hand, why allow an autocrat to join with the democracies? What has Putin ever done for America and all but a tiny number of Americans?
 

Why punish and traumatize?

jones

One of my earliest memories in life was an event where I was separated from my parents for a short time. I was about four years old and being babysat at my parents’ home just west of Eden. The babysitter, who was the daughter of a hired hand, decided to go to her parents’ home several miles away. I had never been separated from home like that and became fearful that I might not get back to my Mom and Dad.

By the time we got to the babysitter’s family home, I was scared and crying. I remember asking several times to be taken home. It turned out to be a fairly minor event but it left an impression on my memory. It came back to mind 70 years later when the Trump administration started separating kids from their parents at the Mexican border.

It is hard to imagine the very real fear and trauma suffered by the children of migrants fleeing for their lives from violence in Central American countries. Even though they may have been subjected to traumatic events at home, or on the long trek to the U.S. border, at least the kids had the comfort of being with their parents. Think of the added fear and trauma of being taken from their parents when they got to our border to ask for asylum. Everything in their detention is unfamiliar—the language, the people, the customs, the food, and the living conditions.

It wss disgraceful for our great country to take kids from their parents and send them to old Walmarts, or tent cities that have just sprung up in the desert, to spend weeks or months not knowing where their parents are or whether they will ever see them again. How low can we go? Isn’t this the country that professes to support fair play and family values?

The detention facility personnel are prohibited from touching the children so they can’t give comfort when the children are crying in distress. Some kids could end up like those children who were locked away in state orphanages during the Soviet era, deprived of human warmth and contact. Those kids ended up later in life being unable to relate to society. At least the boys in the converted Walmart are let out of confinement for two hours a day so they can see the outside world, just like inmates in our prisons.

If the parents were charged with felonies, like drug trafficking or aggravated battery, there would be grounds to incarcerate the parents and put the kids in foster care. But, most of the parents are only being charged with misdemeanors. Nevertheless, their kids were being ripped away and trundled off to who knows where. It would be like the State of Idaho taking away the kids of people charged with misdemeanor traffic offenses.

It is not a policy that the administration was forced by law to adopt. It was an optional policy specifically designed to discourage and punish asylum seekers. Targeting the children of people who are running for their lives to protect those kids from gang violence at home must have seemed like a master strategy. Hit them where it really hurts. Show them how ruthless the U.S. can be. No wonder 20,000 asylum seekers fled to Canada from our country last year. Whoever thought we would see so many people trying to escape from America?

The President has been shamed into making us believe that he has backtracked on his policy. But the executive order has lots of holes. The administration policy going forward deserves close scrutiny.