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Posts published in “Jones”

Has Congress no shame?

jones

Congress should be ashamed of itself for clandestinely drafting a healthcare bill involving hundreds of billions of dollars behind closed doors.

The imperial Congress has shown contempt for citizens on every side of the issue by cutting the public out of the process, while allowing lobbyists to participate in the division of the spoils. This is not exactly government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founding fathers. It more resembles the type of partisanship that George Washington warned against in his Farewell Address.

First, the House rushed through a bill, later described by the President as “mean, mean, mean,” without even knowing the number of people who would lose healthcare coverage. Many Congressmen did not even read it. Only afterwards did we learn that about 23,000,000 Americans would lose coverage, while the favored few would get many billions in tax cuts. The Senate process has been even more unseemly. The Senate bill, which affects about one-sixth of our economy and the health of many millions, did not have the benefit of even one public hearing. The bill was sprung out on June 22 with the intent of ramming it through the following week. Apparently, the Senate majority leader felt that people who depend for their very lives on the existing healthcare system did not have a right to know how the bill might affect them. His caucus meekly followed his lead out of misguided partisanship.

I grew up in a Republican party that respected voters across the spectrum and sought and valued their input. My mentor, the late Senator Len Jordan, would be sickened by the spectacle that has played out in the Congress on this legislation in recent weeks. Don’t we need to allow citizens, as well as the healthcare community, a reasonable opportunity to review and digest this legislation and then attend public hearings to advise legislators of their concerns? Or, have we reached the point where we must just shut up and let our imperial and benevolent “representatives” dictate our fate?

We do know that both bills will make massive cuts to Medicaid that will have significant adverse impacts on health care for children, the elderly, and the poor.

As Close the Gap Idaho recently disclosed, two out of five Idaho children receive federally-subsidized health care. If federal funds are slashed, the costs will fall back on the State and Idaho hospitals or the kids will simply have to go without care. Neither Idaho nor the federal government provides adequate funds for mental health services and drug treatment programs and it looks like this legislation will make a bad situation much worse. Rural hospitals could be severely impacted by the funding cuts.

These are just a few of the areas of concern that should be thoroughly explored in Congressional hearings to prevent significant damage to the healthcare system and those who rely upon it for their very lives. The issue is much too important, with far-ranging consequences for the health of millions, to just rush forward blindly merely to score political points.

Let our Senators and Congressmen know that we expect important public issues to be discussed publicly with adequate opportunity for input from those to whom they are supposed to answer--the voters.

The long run

jones

As Chief of the Idaho Attorney General’s Natural Resources Division for over 32 years, Clive Strong has done more good for the State than practically any other public servant.

I hired Clive as a deputy attorney general in August of 1983 and within 30 days he was up to his ears in the Swan Falls water rights fight between the State and Idaho Power Company. An Idaho Supreme Court decision had given virtual control of the Snake River to Idaho Power and it took several years of struggle between the parties to reach a settlement agreement putting the State back in control of the River. Clive’s hard work played a major role in the State’s success.

The Swan Falls settlement called for a revamping of Idaho water law and an adjudication of water rights in the Snake River Basin. Clive played a lead role in getting legislation passed to modernize Idaho water law and he served as the State’s lead attorney in the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The adjudication, which quantified and prioritized over 158,000 water rights, was the first large-scale adjudication ever brought to completion in the U.S. It has been held up as a model for the country.

For three decades, Clive has counseled the Idaho Land Board regarding its duties and responsibilities under Idaho law, particularly the requirement to get the maximum long-term return from State-owned lands for the benefit of Idaho’s schools. He successfully prosecuted a suit challenging below-market rentals for the State’s cabin site properties.

Since the mid-80s, Clive has played the lead role in litigation to protect and enhance Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs. During my tenure as AG, he became the State’s legal expert on nuclear waste issues, including litigation in 1986 that successfully challenged the U.S. Energy Department’s selection of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as one of three potential repositories for commercially-produced high-level nuclear waste. More recently, he has been Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s point person in holding the U.S. Government to the agreement requiring the removal of nuclear waste from our State.

One of Clive’s greatest legacies is the large number of complex, high-conflict water disputes that he was able to resolve by virtue of his ability to see the big picture and then skillfully show multiple competing parties how their various interests could be compromised. These include resolution of numerous federal reserved water rights, settlement of Native American water right claims, and resolution of priority claims asserted by Hagerman fish farmers against groundwater pumpers located upstream. He negotiated a landmark water rights agreement with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in the late 80s and, later, an agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe. One of his innovative settlements between ground and surface water users resulted in the State’s acquisition of Box Canyon on the Middle Snake and the establishment of Box Canyon State Park.

During his service in the Attorney General’s office, Clive argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a dozen in the Idaho Supreme Court. In recognition of his many accomplishments, Clive received the Environment, Energy, and Resources Government Attorney of the Year Award from the American Bar Association in 2014. He has received the Idaho State Bar’s Professionalism Award, the Marvin Award from the National Association of Attorneys General, and the much-coveted Jim Jones Public Service Award from the Western Conference of Attorneys General.

Throughout his illustrious career, Clive remained a humble, grounded individual, who took pain not to toot his own horn. So, let me toot it for him for outstanding service to the people of Idaho. Best wishes to Clive and his wife and partner, Martha, for a wonderful retirement.

A moral leader no more?

jones

Ever since World War II, the United States of America has been the champion of democracy and human rights throughout the globe. We have stood up to dictatorial governments and demanded that their citizens be allowed to live free of fear and oppression. Presidents of both parties have pursued that policy. It has been the cornerstone of our national security and has made our country the envy of other nations. Our country has decidedly strayed from that policy in recent months, heartening autocratic nations and causing concern amongst our steadfast allies.

As the world rose from the ashes of World War II, the U.S. embarked on a policy of building alliances with European and Asian nations to counter the Communist countries. We formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization(SEATO) as bulwarks against the totalitarian countries. Although SEATO eventually withered away, we have maintained strong bonds with democracies in Asia, which act as a mainstay of our national defense in that part of the world. In Europe, we have based our security on democracies that are united through NATO and the European Union. The policy has served America well.

We have supported and encouraged democracy throughout the world, believing that democratic nations are less likely to resort to force of arms to resolve disputes. We have believed that autocratic governments which deny their citizens basic human rights can produce violence, either against the people or by the people. In order to promote human rights, the U.S. State Department annually scores nations on their human rights record. We have engrafted advancement of human rights into our foreign policy.

President Trump has taken another direction in dealing with democracies and autocrats. Although Russia gobbled up Crimea, has maintained a thinly veiled proxy war in Ukraine, and launched a serious attack on our election process, he has declined to utter a harsh word about Vladimir Putin. Former FBI Director Comey says Russian hackers have attempted to hack into hundreds of governmental and business networks to find exploitable weaknesses. Our allies around the world have had similar experiences and they must be mystified by the President’s silence. Rather, they have seen the Russian videos of the President yukking it up with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the White House. Then, he publicly criticized our European friends and pointedly refused to recommit to the mutual defense article of the NATO Treaty, something that had to seriously disturb our friends, but greatly please Mr. Putin.

During the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia, He informed the Saudis and other Middle East despots that they need not worry about the U.S. pestering them about providing basic human rights for their subjects. As long as they do business with America and buy our “beautiful weapons,” all will be good. The Saudis will be able to continue indiscriminate bombing in Yemen without our interference, despite the fact that this will fuel even more rage amongst the civilian population there and elsewhere against the U.S.

President Erdogen of Turkey has been warmly received by the President even as Erdogen expands his powers and tramples on the rights of his citizens. Same with President Sisi of Egypt. President Duterte of the Philippines is graciously treated despite his overseeing of 7,000, and counting, extra-judicial killings. These leaders all show up on the rogues gallery of the State Department’s human rights score sheets but we apparently no longer expect nations to treat their populations humanely in order to gain our favor. That encourages the despots and greatly diminishes America’s standing in the world, as well as our nation’s security.

From Russia with malice

jones

I’m having a hard time understanding the Republican Party that I joined back in the early 1960s. At that time, our main foreign adversary was the Soviet Union. It was bent on destruction of the American way of life. We engaged in an ugly decades-long struggle with the USSR, fighting proxy wars around the globe. Republicans were in the forefront of the fray, denouncing Russian imperialism while providing the war material to combat Russia’s ambitions. No more.

Many of the current Republican Members of Congress don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Russia meddled in our elections last year, that Russian media regularly spews out fake news blaming the U.S. for practically all of the world’s ills, that Russia has gobbled up Crimea and is threatening our allies in Europe, that Russia is purposely bombing hospitals and U.S. allies in Syria, that Russia is likely providing arms to the Taliban much like it provided arms to the North Vietnamese to kill American troops in the 1960s, and that Russia is doing many other things to weaken and discredit the United States, both at home and abroad.

They don’t appear to be concerned that our President is seemingly infatuated with Vladimir Putin and cannot bring himself to speak ill of this vile person who has pillaged Russia and used deadly force to silence those who dare speak out against him. They seem to have no qualms about the fact that the President fired the FBI chief just as he was planning to ramp up the investigation of Russia’s efforts to disrupt America’s 2016 elections. And, the day after doing so, the President had a chummy meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House--a meeting that Putin had demanded in a recent phone call with the President. It was a nice propaganda coup for Putin that was memorialized by a Russian photographer because American journalists were excluded.

The Republican Party that I remember from years ago would be demanding a full-throated investigation of these activities because they pose a substantial threat to our country. The most some Republicans can muster is a shrug of their shoulders and comments such as, “well its history, let’s just move on.” Has the republican Party turned into such a hyper-partisan entity that it is not willing to get to the bottom of this alarming mess? Seems so.

We can’t rely on the Justice Department to act in an even-handed manner because the AG, after having recused himself from the Russian investigation, took part in getting rid of the FBI Director. It is essential that an independent commission, like the 9-11 Commission, or a special prosecutor be appointed to conduct a thorough investigation into what the Russians did, how they did it, and whether there was any involvement by U.S. citizens.

We must learn all we can about Russia’s cyber capabilities and how to combat them. The Congressional committees do not have the resources or staff to do an adequate job. If we let the Russians get away with their blatant interference with America’s sacred election process, they will do it again. Next time the target may be the Republicans, unless they continue their strange laissez-faire attitude toward Russian aggression.

We need to demand that the Idaho Congressional delegation stand up for America, rather than standing idly by while Putin tries to tear down the American dream.

Time to close the gap?

jones

The first sign of trouble was not particularly dramatic, but it got my attention.

Last November, when the Supreme Court was hearing cases in Twin Falls, I felt a pain in my left side just as we started hearing our second case. It felt like a heavy pressure was being exerted below my rib cage. I thought it might be a heart problem, which prompted a visit to a doc-in-the-box. The doctor assured me it was not a heart issue but could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. I left with an antibiotic prescription, but the pain went away before I could take one.

In early December, when the Court was hearing cases in Boise, I had a recurrence of the pain. I visited my family doctor, who ordered an MRI to see if it might be an ulcer. When the result came back, it looked like there was some sort of mass on my pancreas, so I went in for a CT scan to further investigate. The scan disclosed a tumor on the pancreas, so I went in for an endoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound probe goes down into the stomach and sidles right up close to the pancreas to get some really good pictures. Biopsy samples disclosed that the tumor was malignant. Since then it has been surgically removed and I am currently on chemotherapy.

All of the medical folks have said it was good the cancer was caught early. We all know that early detection of almost any illness is important to a favorable patient outcome. Luckily, I had good insurance coverage under the State’s plan - the same plan that protects the health of Idaho legislators and executive branch employees. Without the three relatively expensive exploratory scans paid for by the insurance company, I would have been out of luck.

I think of the 78,000 Idahoans in the Medicaid gap and wonder about their fate when they start having suspicious symptoms. I suspect they just have to suck it up and take a pain reliever. No costly tests for them to find the cause of puzzling symptoms.

Most of these folks work hard to take care of their families but make too much to get Medicaid coverage and too little to get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Had Idaho opted to take the many millions of dollars available to expand its Medicaid program, like 31 other states have done, those people could have a chance for a good outcome.

It seems to me that the time has come for Idaho to join the other 31 states and get some of the life sustaining funds that we have previously allowed to go to other states.

It is not clear whether the Affordable Care Act will be amended, repealed or remain in place. But, based on what has occurred in the debate thus far this year, it does not appear that Congress will repeal the Medicaid expansion that was part of the ACA. Idaho should now demand its share of the Medicaid expansion money. Continued refusal to take the money will perpetuate the unattended medical problems suffered by Medicaid gap families.

This is a moral issue, not a political issue. We should not require that people dispose of their assets to qualify for Medicaid or, worse, that they run for public office in order to get good health insurance.

Loose rules of engagement

jones

It appears that the rules of engagement in Syria and Iraq have been loosened in the last couple of months. That is, air and artillery strikes can be conducted with less consideration of the possibility of harm to civilians and allied forces.

Military spokesmen have been less than forthcoming as to whether the increasing number of civilian casualties and friendly fire incidents are related to a change in policy but the results indicate there has been a loosening of the rules.

According to Airwars.org, a group that monitors civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, over 1,000 civilian deaths were alleged to have resulted from coalition airstrikes during the month of March, a dramatic increase over previous months. This included over 200 deaths in the City of Mosul during the latter part of the month. Airwars said, “These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria,” where the Russians have deliberately bombed civilian targets. Additionally, 18 Syrian fighters allied with the U.S. were killed by our airstrikes in Syria on April 11, a “friendly fire” incident.

Almost 50 years ago (1968-69), I had experience with both loose and tight engagement rules.

For seven months, I led a four-person team whose job was to clear all U.S. air and artillery strikes in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam. We lived among the South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs) and worked with them around the clock in province headquarters. When U.S. forces wanted to shoot artillery or drop bombs, they called us for permission. The northern part of the province, which bordered Cambodia on the north and west, was largely triple-canopy jungle. It was a “free fire” zone and the rules only required that U.S. firepower not endanger U.S. or ARVN troops. The southern part of the province was largely open farm ground with scattered civilian population. To fire in that area, tighter rules required that we also obtain approval from our ARVN counterparts to protect civilians from harm. The tighter rules in the populated area were appropriate, even though we were not able on occasion to give permission to fire.

A complicating factor in the use of U.S. firepower in Iraq and Syria is that often airstrikes are called in, not by U.S. personnel, but by local forces. According to press reports, that was the case with both the Mosul airstrikes and the Syrian friendly fire incident. Recent experience in the region shows that U.S. firepower can be misdirected by locals against rival religious or tribal targets.

The danger is inherent in the battle for Mosul where most of the civilians at risk are Sunnis. Whether true or not, they may believe that a lack of care for civilians is because of ill will, either by the U.S. or by unfriendly Iraqi forces. This is detrimental to the long-term goals of the U.S. in the region.

We must win the hearts and minds of the local people in order to succeed and won’t be able to do it if civilians believe that we are indiscriminately killing their fellow citizens, much like the Russian and Assad forces do. Further, these conflicts are not being fought in isolation. With present-day communications, the world is watching and many young people on the fence in the region and elsewhere are deciding whether to side with us or our adversaries. If we show them we don’t care about the lives of civilians in those countries, they won’t likely be siding with us.

In order to protect innocent civilians and serve our national interests, we should not loosen up the rules of engagement. And, U.S. personnel should act as a check on decisions by local forces to call in U.S. firepower. If our bombs are being dropped, our personnel should be a part of the approval process.

Climate change, non-scientifically

jones

There has been so much heated public discussion about climate change that it is hard for a person without scientific training to make heads or tails of the issue. Sure, some of the science is not subject to dispute. It is certain that burning fossil fuels, like coal, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A simple lab test will show that increasing the amount of a greenhouse gas in an air sample will increase the heat holding capacity of the sample. And, we know that 2016 was the Earth’s hottest year on record, eclipsing the 2015 record, which beat the 2014 record. So, our planet is getting warmer, but is human activity contributing to the warm-up? That is the real question.

Those who believe that human activity is warming the atmosphere point out that ninety-seven percent (97%) of climate scientists say human-caused climate change is happening. However, the skeptics point out that the other three percent (3%) disagree. The believers say that virtually all of the world leaders support their position. The skeptics counter that two important world leaders, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, agree with them. It makes it hard for a person to decide which side is right.

The skeptics argue that global warming is the result of natural causes like volcanoes and forest fires. The scientific community says that natural causes do produce some greenhouse gasses but that the dramatic increase in carbon dioxide releases from human industry in recent decades has driven the warming trend. They say that billions of tons of carbon dioxide are released into Earth’s atmosphere each year from fossil fuels and industry, including about 35 billion tons in 2015.

The 97% of scientists say the oceans are warming, which results in more violent weather; that the oceans are becoming more acidic, which endangers fish habitat and seafood production; that polar ice and glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, which will result in rising ocean levels, which will endanger coastal cities; that changing weather patterns will cause widespread drought and consequent mass starvation and population migration in underdeveloped regions of the world; that military planners consider climate change as a serious threat to national security and global order because of conflict over scarcer water and foodstuffs; that forested areas will suffer more destructive fires; that these climate change effects are increasing and irreversible; and that immediate action is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep things from getting even worse. The 3% of scientists say this would all happen anyway so just learn to adjust.

So, what does a reasonable person do? Like any other problem, it seems best to rely on the people who are knowledgeable about the issue. I would not ask a financial advisor to diagnose an illness or take my car to an ice cream shop for repairs.

And, I would put more faith in a consensus opinion of experts, rather than a minority position. If I had a serious illness and 97% of the specialists said I would surely die without undergoing a certain treatment, while 3% dissented, I think any reasonable person would go with the majority. Even if I discounted the opinions of half or two-thirds of the 97%, I would not go with the 3% because the stakes are too high. If 97% of the fire officials in the state said my house would burn down if I stored flammable liquids under the stove, although 3% said it was not a problem, I’d be inclined to remove the liquids. While this is not a particularly scientific approach it seems to make common sense. If the skeptics are wrong, the result is catastrophic. Can we afford to take that chance?

Foster changes

jones

The Idaho Legislature’s efforts to improve our foster care system may be a bright spot of the 2017 legislative session. I say “may be” because a great deal of effective follow-up by the Legislature and Department of Health and Welfare will be necessary to get the job done right.

For years the foster care system has suffered from underfunding, understaffing, too much bureaucracy, not enough coordination with stakeholders, and too little attention to how the system is working and what can be done to improve outcomes for foster children.

One judge told me that there are dedicated workers on the front lines, but they are often prevented from trying new approaches by bureaucratic red tape from above - the old refrain that we have always done it this way, so let’s keep doing it this way - even if there is no evidence to show that the old way is the best way.

Following the 2016 legislative session, the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations began a comprehensive review of the foster care system to determine problems and possible remedies. Its report issued this February disclosed, among other things, a worsening shortage of foster parents, insufficient support and services being provided to foster parents, insufficient staff to perform the needed services, strained relationships with stakeholders, and no system-level accountability for child welfare outcomes.

The Office made a number of recommendations to address these deficiencies. It was essential to better compensate foster parents and to give them more say in order to be able to provide the best outcome for their foster kids. More staff was needed to support and serve foster parents and children.

The Legislature provided a substantial boost in funding this session for the foster care program--funding for eight additional staff and a twenty percent increase in compensation for foster parents. Senator Abby Lee of Fruitland played a significant part in getting this funding increase through a committee vote.

In addition, the Legislature approved House Concurrent Resolution 19, which authorizes an interim legislative committee “to undertake and complete a study of the foster care system in Idaho.” The committee will be co-chaired by Senator Lee and Representative Chrisy Perry of Nampa. Both have worked hard on the foster care issue.

While increased funding will certainly help, the findings and recommendations of the interim committee will be critical in determining the future effectiveness of Idaho’s foster care system.

It must be outcome oriented so that foster children are able to thrive. Foster parents must be listened to and properly supported. Social workers and other staff must have manageable workloads and given some flexibility in carrying out their work. More attention needs to be given as to what can be done for older children who have been in and out of the system numerous times, rather than simply warehousing them. The hard work is just beginning and it is incumbent on anyone interested in a better foster care system to keep informed on the interim committee’s work and to provide their input to the committee. This is Idaho’s chance to get it right.

Will Congress stand up?

jones

George Washington warned in his Farewell Address of the dangers posed to our country by political partisanship. He feared that parties would promote their own fortunes over those of the country. As he put it, they might “put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of the party.”

We may well be witnessing that very danger today.

The United States was the target of cyber aggression at the hands of Russia’s Putin regime last year. Russian hackers attacked the very heart of our democracy, trying to disrupt and influence our electoral process. Whether they were successful is beside the point. All Americans should be outraged by this intrusion into our domestic affairs.

We should demand a thorough investigation into everything the Russians did, how they did it, what we can do to protect against further cyber attacks, and what additional punitive measures should be taken against the Putin regime.

Congressional investigations might ordinarily suffice to explore these issues, but this is not an ordinary situation because partisanship has become entwined in the imbroglio. Intelligence officials have found there were numbers of contacts between the Russians and past and present members of the Trump entities. This has resulted in somewhat of a circle-the-wagons attitude on the part of some in Congress, particularly those in positions to oversee such a vitally important undertaking.

A partisan inquiry simply won’t suffice to get all of the facts on the table and its conclusions would likely not be accepted by a majority of Americans. It is essential that we find out who was involved on the Russian side, whether they had help of any nature from Americans, and the channels through which information was passed. The Russian Government under Putin is the major global threat to our country.

The Russians cannot match our military capabilities but they have substantial cyber capabilities and the capacity to wreak great havoc on our technology-dependent nation. We can’t let that happen again.

In order to do a credible investigation of the Russian attack on America, it is essential to place the responsibility in the hands of an independent, bipartisan group of respected Americans. We have many people of this stripe in our country. A half-hearted inquiry conducted by many who have a partisan dog in the fight won’t produce honest answers to the critical questions facing us, nor will it give the American public confidence in the findings.

We must demand that our Congressional representatives stand up for America and support a thorough and independent investigation into Russia’s attack on the U.S. political system. Tell them in no uncertain terms that the interests of their country always take priority over the narrow interests of any political party.

Repeal the exemption

jones

It is time for the Legislature to repeal the faith-healing exemption to Idaho’s statute prohibiting the injury of children.

Section 18-1501 of the Idaho Code penalizes conduct by “any person” that is likely to endanger the person or health of a child. This applies to parents but the statute has qualifying language that limits violations to rather egregious conduct. It was carefully crafted to limit governmental intrusion into the family setting.

However, the statute includes an exemption that has allowed some parents to refuse to provide readily available health care to their children, resulting in needless suffering and death. The exemption says that the “practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.” This language should be eliminated in order to protect some our most helpless and vulnerable citizens.

Adults can decide for themselves on healthcare matters. If they decide to forego medical intervention for themselves for religious reasons, that is their prerogative. The state has an interest in safeguarding the health and safety of minors who cannot speak for themselves. Our laws have numerous protections for children without religious exemptions - marital age, child labor, ability to contract, and the like. In my estimation, the right to have basic life-saving healthcare trumps those protections.

A courageous young woman, Linda Martin, recently spoke out in a Statesman ad to urge the repeal of the faith-healing exemption. As a former member of a group that denies basic medical care to its youngest members, she spoke with eloquence and authority about the injury inflicted on sick children in the group. She closed with this statement: “This is not a freedom of religion issue: this is a right to live issue.” Amen.

Since at least the 1980s, when I served as Idaho Attorney General, the Legislature has passed numerous laws intended to support the right to life by using the power of the government to require women to carry a fetus to term. To my knowledge, none of those measures contained a religious exemption.

The question arises as to whether the right to life of some children in our great state ceases upon birth. It is time for the Legislature to stand up for our children and to require that faith-healing parents provide basic healthcare to their children.