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Posts published in “Jones”

Let’s not abandon Syria


Russian President Vladimir Putin must have broken out in a happy dance when President Trump announced over the Easter weekend that the U.S. was going to abandon its Kurdish allies in Syria.

After all, Russia has been doing everything it can to dislodge the American-advised Kurds from the territory we helped them take from ISIS in the last couple of years.

Russian mercenaries even attacked U.S. and Kurdish forces at a joint base in Syria on February 7, suffering heavy casualties from American firepower. For the time being, that thwarted Russian aims to take over the Kurdish enclave and its oil resources in eastern Syria. The President’s announcement must have been music to Putin’s ears.

On the other hand, the Kurds saw the announcement as a betrayal of the first order. They had been encouraged into our fight against the Islamic State terrorists with promises by the Obama administration of military support and help to establish a safe enclave for the Kurds in eastern Syria. President Trump doubled down on those commitments when he came into office. The Kurdish forces worked in good faith to largely destroy the ISIS forces in Syria, suffering many casualties in the process.

It is not clear what prompted the withdrawal announcement. We do know that the President called Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on his election victory and invite him to the White House. It is certainly possible that Putin raised the issue of withdrawing American forces from Syria, but we may never know. What we do know is that the following week, the President froze spending of $200 million that had been intended to stabilize territory the Kurds seized from the terrorists. Then came the withdrawal notice.

Both military and civilian advisers urged that we continue our partnership with the Kurds until the last of the ISIS fighters were eliminated and a political settlement was reached that protected our Kurdish friends. They argued withdrawal would leave a void that Russia and Iran would gladly fill. The President ignored the advice to keep our commitments to these steadfast allies. It may have been a Fox and Friends episode on April 3, cautioning against precipitous withdrawal, that caused Trump to reconsider. Or, perhaps the President took advice from candidate Trump, who railed against telegraphing military moves to adversaries. In any event, it does not appear now as if American abandonment of the Kurds will happen overnight but it is coming soon.

Putin will have to wait a bit longer for what he, President Assad and the Iranians are hoping for--a withdrawal of American advisers and firepower so that they can go about finishing off our Kurdish friends. That would not only be a damnable betrayal of valiant people who stuck out their necks to help rid Syria of a deadly threat to America, but a signal to the rest of the world that America cannot be trusted. The message to other countries is that the U.S. will use you for its purposes, whatever the cost in blood you suffer, and then discard you like a dirty rag.

I developed a strong antipathy to betraying 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. And, we failed to make a concerted effort to evacuate our South Vietnamese friends and allies when collapse of their country was imminent. Many of my friends likely ended up being killed or persecuted for siding with us. Let’s not let it happen again.

Bolton as security advisor?


John Bolton has been appointed as national security adviser to the President. My advice to investors is to put all of your money in companies that produce weapons of war. Bolton never saw a foreign policy problem that could not be solved with a good war.

Mr. Bolton was a major cheerleader for the war against Iraq, which ended up being a colossal disaster for the United States. Many of Bolton’s fellow neo-cons have recognized it as such, but he clings to his mistaken belief that it turned out just fine. This, despite the fact that it needlessly cost the lives of about 4,500 brave American service personnel to date, killed and injured hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, created continuing strife in Iraq, cost trillions of dollars in direct and indirect expenditures, made Iran the preeminent power in the region, turned the Middle East upside down with the resulting chaos that is still playing out in the region today, and seriously degraded our country’s military readiness, among other things.

All of this was predictable, but Bolton was too focused on attacking Iraq to bother considering the actual facts or the consequences of war. After all, he had never felt the heat of battle. He admits having signed up with a guard unit to avoid having to serve his country in Vietnam. Many of us stepped forward as Bolton stepped back.

Bolton was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control during the run-up to war and certainly had access to information showing Saddam posed no threat to the U.S. The CIA admitted as much to Congress in mid-2002, before it was muzzled. The U.N. weapons inspectors flatly stated that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. The Guardian newspaper in London reported that British intelligence believed Colin Powell’s purported mobile germ warfare labs were only weather stations, which is what they actually were.

Anyone with common sense who kept reasonably well informed through reputable news outlets could have concluded that attacking Iraq was totally unnecessary, a gigantic blunder and against our national interest. To illustrate that a person did not have to be an arms control “expert” to understand the danger, I sent a proposed guest opinion to the Idaho Statesman in August of 2002, making those very points.

In addition to the needless cost of American blood and treasure, the op-ed said: “While we will undoubtedly eliminate Saddam, we’ll also have to take responsibility for a chaotic aftermath. It will take many thousands of American troops and a number of years to feed and rebuild the country, to keep the Kurds and Shiites from taking revenge against the Sunnis, to keep the Turks and Iranians out, and to keep instability from spreading to the surrounding countries. And, I don’t expect we will be regarded as benevolent conquerors.” And, that all assumed that we would not make such a disastrous mess of trying to reconstruct the Iraqi state. After Powell telegraphed that the administration was hell-bent for war, I dropped the op-ed as futile.

The folly of the Iraq war should have been readily apparent to someone in Bolton’s position, especially if a guy who grew up on a potato farm in Idaho could figure it out. But, to see what is clear-cut in front of him, a person must open his eyes as well as his mind. John Bolton is not that kind of person. He is a chicken hawk who sees war as a foreign policy tool of first resort.

Bolton has advocated war with both Iran and North Korea. Either or both would produce calamitous consequences. He learned nothing from the Iraq experience and would send additional American troops to their needless deaths just to prove his brilliance. The President should drop him like a hot potato.

Toys r Us and immigration


Toys R Us, which once was America’s largest toy store, has gone out of business for a number of reasons. Competition from online retailers and massive company debt certainly played a large part. However, the company’s last annual report also attributed its financial troubles to a declining customer base. The company noted that most of its end customers were children and that declining birth rates “could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.” That rings true.

America’s birth rate is declining and our population is aging. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the U.S. birth rate declined from 30 live births per 1,000 residents in 1909 to 12.2 in 2016, which was the lowest rate on record. On the other hand, the Census Bureau projects that by 2035 “older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.”

Our aging population bodes ill for the Medicare and Social Security programs. The trustees of those programs estimate that Medicare will run out of money in 2029 and Social Security will become insolvent in 2034. The Labor Department says there were five workers for every Social Security recipient in 1960, but there will only be two workers for each recipient in 2035.

So, what can we do to avert disaster with these essential programs? Everyone knows it is necessary to make adjustments to funding mechanisms to shore up both programs and perhaps Congress will get the courage to do that one of these days. But, there is one thing we can do in the near term to make the situation better or keep it from getting worse. Namely, we can and should maintain our proud place in the world as a nation of immigrants.

The United States admits around one million immigrants into the country each year. In fiscal year 2016 the number was slightly less than 1.2 million. The President has indicated a desire to cut that number in half. Congressman Raul Labrador has signed onto legislation that would cut it by over a fourth. Reducing the admissions would be a big mistake. Immigration brings a much-needed injection of younger people into this country.

Those who come here now as immigrants share much with our immigrant ancestors--an entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to educate their children, and a dedication to the American dream. They start businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. These are people who add to the fabric of America, people like Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, and Sanjay Mehrotra, the CEO of Micron. They bring fresh blood, ambition and innovation to our country. We need these folks to move our country forward.

We need, also, to keep those undocumented workers who contribute to the country by being the backbone of our agricultural, construction, and hospitality industries. Comprehensive immigration reform should be passed to give them legal status. For instance, Idaho’s dairy industry, which produces about $10 billion in annual direct sales, relies primarily on immigrant laborers, the majority of whom are undocumented. Other industries have come to heavily rely on those without documentation. Workers who are raising children, living peacefully, and contributing to society should not have to worry about having their families ripped apart. And, the Social Security Administration estimates that undocumented immigrants pay 13 times more into the Social Security trust than they receive from it.

Immigrants starting coming to North America about 17,000 years ago, they have made this country great and they will help to keep it great if we don’t turn them away.

What the president must do


A gentleman recently asked what kind of action I thought the President should take to punish Vladimir Putin for his hostile acts against the United States. The question was in response to my insistence that our top intelligence officials and Congress speak out and demand presidential action to counter Russian aggression against this country.

In addition to clearly acknowledging Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections, the President must personally and publicly call out Putin, punish him and his cronies for their aggressive acts, and warn them that severe countermeasures will be taken if it ever happens again. An American President’s forcefully-spoken word carries great weight around the world.

When President Kennedy warned Premier Khrushchev that Soviet nuclear missiles had to be removed from Cuba, or else, the Russians got the message and the missiles were gone. When President Reagan issued his famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Berlin Wall came down shortly thereafter. Neither of them left it to their underlings to make these important statements. This is an important responsibility of our elected leader.

When this country is attacked, when our election process is subverted, when Russia carries out numerous hostile acts against the interests of the U.S. and our allies, silence and appeasement do not work. Strong words and actions by our Commander in Chief are absolutely essential. This is not a job to be delegated to subordinates. We have not yet had the kind of words directly from our President that are necessary to protect the vital interests of the United States.

The President could take a page from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s playbook. In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a Putin enemy in her country, PM May promptly and forcefully called out the Russians for their criminal act, expelled 23 Russian officials, and promised other punitive actions. She appears to be a tough, stand-up lady. I hope our President can be at least as tough. And, while he’s at it, he should personally and publicly condemn and punish Russia for deploying a deadly chemical weapon on the soil of Great Britain, our closest ally. The joint statement issued with our allies is nice but does not carry the weight of forceful words from our President’s mouth.

Next, the President could and should impose all of the sanctions Congress authorized by a veto-proof vote last year in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is now Public Law 115-44. Those include an array of punishing sanctions against Putin and the cronies who have helped him plunder his countries assets. The Administration has just tiptoed into imposing some of those sanctions, but much more needs to be done. Congress also authorized a $250 million fund to counter nefarious Russian activities, but nothing has yet been done with those funds. The Russians must be shown that we will not roll over when they carry out activities that strike at the very heart of our democracy.

The President should also direct his Attorney General, the Treasury Department and the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute Russian oligarchs who have clandestinely transferred billions of dollars out of Russia and laundered them through phony deals involving real estate and other assets in the U.S. They and those who have assisted them must be dealt with harshly.

Those are just a few of the things we should do to punish Putin and prevent future aggression. If the President acts publicly and decisively, the message will get through. Vladimir Putin understands strength, but attacks when he senses weakness.

Russian aggression, American response


The President’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said it is “incontrovertible” that the Russians intervened in America’s 2016 elections. The President rebuked McMaster for the statement. Daniel Coats, appointed by the President last year as Director of National Intelligence, joined other top American intelligence officials in warning that the Russians will continue interfering in our elections.

More recently, the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, testified that Russia would continue its hostile actions against the United States because it has paid little price for its past aggression. Our top intelligence and security officials say they have received no directives from the President to protect America.

For reasons apparently known only to him, the President has taken no punitive action against Putin’s Russia, nor has he even acknowledged that they committed acts of aggression against the United States. This, even though the U.S. Congress, by an overwhelming vote, passed legislation urging and authorizing the President to punish Putin and his cronies for violating American sovereignty. What gives?

It is possible that the substantial Russian election interference documented in the Mueller indictment changed the outcome of the election, but that is beside the point. No matter what, the election will stand. There is absolutely no reason for the President to continue to deny Russia’s hostile acts against America. And, absolutely no reason to hold off on taking action to counter further Russian cyber aggression.

I grew up in a Republican Party that took the Russian threat to America very seriously. By countering Soviet aggression wherever it rose its ugly head, we were able to prevail against the USSR. Had we meekly rolled over and allowed it to continue its dirty work unchallenged, the outcome would likely have been very different. Back in my Republican days, anyone who denied clear-cut aggressive Russian action against American interests would have been branded an out-and-out traitor.

Now, Putin is trying to reconstitute what President Reagan called the “Evil Empire.” He has developed new cyber weapons to use against us and also renewed the old Soviet nuclear threat against our country. But, our President absolutely refuses to protect this great country from those threats. That is not likely to make America great.

Rather than disputing the indisputable, the U.S. should be vigorously building its cyber defenses and developing a tough offensive capability. We are at a juncture in the electronic era much like we found ourselves in during the infancy of the rocket age. The Soviet Union caught our attention with the launch of its Sputnik satellite, demonstrating it had the lead in a new technology with military applications. We had to up our game in that arena. Now, the Russians have shown their expertise in the offensive use of cyber systems and it is incumbent on this country to take steps to counter that threat, not to deny it.

The time has come for top administration officials to clearly speak out about the danger of failing to counter Russian aggression. The words and deeds of McMaster, Coats, Rogers, and others demonstrate that they understand the seriousness of the new Russian threat and want decisive American action to punish past actions and prevent future aggression. If behind-the-scenes entreaties will not work, those officials must publicly step forward to protect America’s vital interests.

Furthermore, members of both parties need to stand up and demand decisive action to counter Russia’s hostile actions against the United States. Congress must demand that the President carry out the punitive measures it enacted into law last year. It is time for our Congressional delegation to take action to protect the security of our country. It should not be a difficult decision to stand up for America.

Idaho Day


On March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill establishing the Idaho Territory. At that time, the Territory included large portions of Montana and Wyoming. By 1868, the Territory had been whittled down to its present somewhat awkward shape.

On March 4, 2014, just 151 years later, Governor Otter signed a bill proposed by former Rep. Linden Bateman, designating March 4 (or the 5th, if the 4th is a Sunday) as Idaho Day. The day was intended for Idahoans to “celebrate the rich history, cultural diversity, unique beauty and boundless resources of the State of Idaho and thereby gain a renewed sense of courage and confidence for the future.” We need that more than ever now.

What are those boundless resources that tie us together as Idahoans? Some are fairly obvious. Ever since territorial days, our economy has been primarily fueled by our natural resources. The greatest of those is the Snake River, which enters the State through Palisades Reservoir, runs the entire width of Idaho, meanders north along our boundary with Oregon and flows into Washington at Lewiston. That river ties us together in many ways - economically, politically and socially.

But, there is an even more important resource that binds us together--the people of this State. Despite our differences, Idahoans have always come together when the chips are down. Our citizens have always stepped to the front when their country needs them.

The theme of Idaho Day this year, “Idaho Remembers,” commemorates the 1918 armistice ending the First World War. An Idaho serviceman, Thomas Neibaur of Sugar City, earned a Congressional Medal of Honor in that war for his heroism in France. He has lots of distinguished company.

Since the establishment of Idaho Territory, 35 servicemen with strong connections to Idaho have received that high honor, starting with four from the Civil War. They were from every corner of the State and include Bernie Fisher of Kuna (Vietnam), Vernon Baker of St. Maries (WWII), Gurdon Barter of Moscow/Viola (Civil War), David Bleak from Shelly (Korea), and William Nakamura from the Minidoka internment camp (WWII).

Every time the country has called, Idaho men and women have stepped forward to serve. They have been supported by their families, friends and neighbors. Those who returned were treated with respect and appreciation. Those who did not have been treated with honor and dignity. All of them have been a most valuable resource of this great State.

Idahoans should use Idaho Day as a time to reflect on how we can appreciate our fellow citizens and gain confidence to meet the future. We have gotten overly contentious and need to be respectful of those whose opinions differ from ours. Issues should be discussed on their merits, not on the perceived failings of their proponent. Leaders should lead, rather than going along to get along. People should not regard reasonable compromise as dirty business because it is what has made our state and country successful over the many years.

One of my favorite political sayings is attributed to President Lyndon Johnson - ”Don’t spit in the soup, we all gotta eat.” We Idahoans are all in this life together and need to work together for the common good. Let’s rely on our strengths as one people and overcome our weaknesses. Have a wonderful and productive Idaho Day!

Invest early, cut crime later


Having served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1990) and 12 years as a member of the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2016), I have gained a good perspective on crime prevention. Idaho has a fairly effective system for detecting crime and prosecuting criminals. However, if crime can be prevented in the first place, both the cost to taxpayers and the toll on society are much, much lower. Crime prevention pays big time.

When children get a bad start in life, it is certainly bad for them but it is also bad for all of us. One proven way to prevent crime is to give children a good-quality education, starting before kindergarten. Scientific studies show that children who get high quality education early in life are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and live healthier, more productive lives.

Having done extensive work on the benefits of early childhood education, economist James Heckman, who won a Nobel Prize for his work, found the benefits to be substantial. Heckman told a group of midwestern lawmakers last year that “every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces $7 to $10 return, per child, per year through better education, health, social and economic outcomes and the reduced need for social spending.”

Focusing specifically on the crime prevention benefit of early education, a 2007 study found that high-quality pre-K for just the poorest 25% of 3- and 4-year-olds would result in $77 billion in annual decreased crime and child abuse by 2050. And, a 15-year Chicago study found that kids who did not participate in early childhood education were 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Idaho judges dealing with both juvenile and adult offenders report similar results. Offenders who have the least education tend to have the greatest involvement in criminal activity. Once a person is in the criminal justice system, the costs of prosecution and incarceration substantially outweigh what it would have cost to give the person a good start in life by an early education program.

Idaho is one of only 6 states that does not offer state-funded preschool. It is time to correct that problem. A coalition of Idahoans, including Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and Idaho Voices for Children, has been working to gain state funding for pre-K education. Patrons in two school systems in Idaho—the Basin Preschool Program in Boise County and the Caldwell School District--already have pre-K programs and have had good success with them. It is time for all Idaho kids to have the benefits of such a program.

The coalition is supporting legislation that provides state investment in voluntary pre-K options for Idaho families. People can contact their legislators to urge support for this concept. Legislators should be told that children who have access to quality, affordable preschool programs are far less likely to engage in criminal activity and therefore much less likely to be a burden on the criminal justice system later in life.

Idaho Legal Aid deserves help


Idaho Legal Aid Services provides a legal lifeline to low income Idahoans with serious legal problems, including domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, and elder abuse. It is Idaho’s largest non-profit law firm, with offices located around the State. The dedicated work of Legal Aid is strongly supported by Idaho’s lawyers and judges.

Last year, the Idaho legal and judicial community commended Legal Aid for providing almost 20,000 hours of free legal services to thousands of Idahoans. Even though this is an impressive amount of legal help, it barely scratches the surface of the need that exists in our good State.

Many people go into court without a lawyer, simply because they can’t afford it. The courts have been helpful in trying to accommodate the needs of these self-represented people, but often the result is impairment of their legal rights and a slowing down of court processes. Legal Aid protects the rights of litigants and helps to move cases along. There just are not enough Legal Aid lawyers to fill the need and that comes down to the issue of funding.

Much of the financial support for Legal Aid comes from the federal Legal Services Corporation, but that support has been declining in recent years. The federal budget for next fiscal year calls for cutting all of this funding. Legal Aid works hard to get grant funding, including funds from the legal community, but that simply does not do the job.

Idaho is one of only three states that does not provide some form of state funding for low income civil legal services. We can and must do better. It is important to ensure the protection of the legal rights of indigent and vulnerable Idahoans and to keep the legal system from getting bogged down by bewildered unrepresented persons unfamiliar with what they need to do.

Legal Aid is proposing legislation to set up a state account that will allow it to supplement its funding. The Children and Families Legal Services Fund, provided for in House Bill 532, would allow Legal Aid to collect funds from private grants, legislative appropriations, and donations. The funds would be used to help low income families with “domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abused and neglected children and senior abuse and exploitation.”
Money in the account could not be used for class action lawsuits, criminal cases, reproductive issues, undocumented persons, or suits against the State. The legislation does not appropriate State money. That would have to be done in separate legislation.

It is time for the State of Idaho to step forward to help low income people with serious legal problems that affect all of us. House Bill 532 lays the groundwork for doing what 47 other states are already doing for their people. Upon passage of the bill, an appropriation of State funds should be made to provide the stability Legal Aid needs to carry on its important work.

Not your grandpa’s Vietnam


It is hard to believe how much Vietnam has changed in the last 50 years. Tay Ninh Province, where I served, is hardly recognizable. Located northwest of Saigon, the province borders Cambodia on the north, the west and much of the south. The province was a main terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Fifty years ago, the northern part of the province was uninhabited jungle and dangerous territory. That area is now developed with residences, shops, restaurants, and farms, as well as a national park. Tay Ninh City, a former backwater, has turned into a real city.

Saigon (even though it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, many locals still call it Saigon) has grown into a real metropolis, boasting a population of about 12 million people and 8 million motorbikes. While Hanoi has about 5 relatively tall buildings, Saigon has dozens and more are under construction or in the planning stage. Wages are rising and people are optimistic about the future. Although the government is still reluctant to allow political freedom and dwells on the past with anti-U.S. propaganda at historic sites, the people everywhere in the country are welcoming and friendly to Americans. The country is up and coming.

One of my trip objectives was to find some of the kids from the orphanage I had worked with in 1968-1969. It was run by the Cao Dai Church, a universalist religion headquartered in Tay Ninh City. When my wife, Kelly, and I arrived at our hotel in Tay Ninh, the interpreter I’d hired told us the orphanage had been closed by the Communists when they took over in 1975. However, she said her grandmother had worked in the orphanage and remembered me.

We met with grandma, Do Thi Cung, a delightful 78-year-old, on February 2. She remembered me because I’d brought umbrellas for the orphanage staff during one of my visits. She told us she had lost touch with the kids but she knew that some of them had ended up in America. After the orphanage closed, she continued working for the church in another capacity. Meeting with her was a real highlight of the trip.

The Cao Dai Great Divine Temple and Holy See were about the only things that remained as I remembered them. The ornate temple is one of the two attractions that bring tourists to Tay Ninh and it is well worth a visit. The church was established in 1925 and claims upwards of 5 million members around the world. The other attraction is Nui Ba Dinh, or Black Virgin Mountain, an extinct volcano that towers over the rather flat province. Fifty years ago, it was dangerous territory but now it has a gondola that takes visitors about halfway to the top. I remember directing artillery fire against parts of the mountain back in the day.

With our history of ugly conflict with the Communists, who ultimately prevailed, it felt a bit odd to be well received by almost everyone we met. I’m pleased we are able to get along now and I hope our two countries can strengthen our bonds, as each has strategic interests in doing so. But, one can’t help but wonder whether the resort to war those many years ago was really necessary.