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Posts published in “Jones”

Two outstanding public servants

jones

This year witnessed the passing of two Idahoans who dedicated their lives to public service. Neither Orval Hansen nor Larry Boyle held public office to enrich themselves or others but, rather, to give of their time on this planet to make it a better place for the rest of us.

I became acquainted with Congressman Orval Hansen when I went to work for former Idaho Senator Len Jordan in January of 1970. Senator Jordan told me they had worked closely on Idaho issues since Orval’s election to the House of Representatives in 1968. Jordan said Orval was one of the best people he knew in Washington. He admired Orval for the way he dug into the issues and was able to work with his House colleagues to get things done for Idaho. That was high praise from a man who did not pass out compliments freely.

During the three years I worked with Orval’s office, I came to appreciate why Jordan held him in such high regard. Most of that work was through Dave Oxford, my counterpart in the Hansen office. Dave described how Orval became knowledgeable on nuclear issues by studying massive amounts of material during nights and weekends. That work paid off in the growth of the nuclear facility near Idaho Falls (the INL), largely through Orval’s efforts. He approached every other issue with the same vigor, gaining a reputation for his ability to get things done. One of his crowning achievements was getting the Sawtooth National Recreation Area legislation through the House.

Although Orval’s hard work served his state and nation well, producing results for constituents does not necessaryily produce votes. While Orval was diligently working nights and weekends in the nation’s capital and not doing a lot of tooting of his own horn, his 1974 opponent was shaking every hand in sight and won the election that year. That did not stop Orval, though, because he continued to serve the public interest in important ways, as documented in his memoir, Climb the Mountains.

Larry Boyle was another product of eastern Idaho. I met Larry in the 1970s when he was practicing law in Idaho Falls. He had a solid reputation amongst the lawyers in the area, but I did not appreciate how solid until he applied for a district judgeship in 1986.

The Idaho Judicial Council was charged with the responsibility of interviewing candidates for the district bench and submitting a list of 2 to 4 candidates to the Governor for appointment. Larry was the only person who applied for the position so the list sent to the Governor had just his name. We were told that when the lawyers heard Larry had applied, they recognized that he was the perfect choice so nobody else put in an application. I was Attorney General at the time and was presented the question of the legality of appointing from a list of one. The statute called for at least two candidates, so would it be appropriate for the Governor to appoint Larry? I said there had to be another name on the list, so it went back to the Judicial Council. Again, Larry was the only person who applied. When presented with the same question a second time, the ruling was that the appointment should proceed.

District Judge Larry Boyle did an outstanding job on the bench and was appointed to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1989. In 1992 he was appointed as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the federal court in Idaho, where he served with distinction for many years. In addition to being a distinguished jurist, Larry was heavily engaged throughout his life in civic and church matters that bettered his community and our state.

Both of these Idahoans were outstanding individuals who acted in the interests of the people of this state. They were both honest and honorable - something we see too little of this day and age in the public arena. They will be missed.
 

Republicans may be reawakening

jones

There are a few encouraging signs that my dear old Republican Party may be returning to its roots.

This is the party I grew up in - a party that was wary of too much government but insisted that vital public needs be adequately funded and competently handled. Members of the old GOP did not vote lockstep on virtually every issue, but studied the issues and exercised independent judgment. I have seen some stirrings lately that indicate a possible return to those days.

My mentor and former boss, Senator Len Jordan, who served our state as Governor (1950-1954) and later as Senator (1962-1972), set the example for me. Although there were some party-line votes while he was in the Senate, he was a rugged individualist who followed his own moral compass in representing Idaho and the nation.

Jordan would never have voted to confirm a nominee for a federal judge position who was not qualified, no matter how politically connected the person was. He bucked his own President on two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court - Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell - finding both to be unqualified for that lofty position after independently studying their records. We have seen very little of that lately from the party Jordan loved.

But, low and behold, Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, recently refused to support two federal judicial candidates that the American Bar Association (ABA) found to be “unqualified” to sit on the federal bench. One of them, Brett Talley of Alabama, was nominated for a lifetime district court position even though he had practiced law for less than three years and never tried a case. His only claims to fame were operating a political blog and being married to a woman who worked for the President’s White House Counsel. Although Talley was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Kennedy jumped ship to oppose Talley when it was discovered that he had failed to disclose his wife’s job and the potential conflict of interest. Senator Johnson said he would vote against Talley “in a heartbeat - twice if I can.” Thanks in large part to his principled stand, Talley’s nomination was withdrawn.

It is important to put individuals with strong experience on the federal bench because those judges handle serious civil and criminal cases. It is not the place for an inexperienced rookie or political hack. The ABA performs a valuable role in evaluating and rating candidates and should not be ignored.

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, provided the other ray of hope when he said he could not vote for Roy Moore for a seat representing his state in the U.S. Senate. Besides being the subject of credible allegations of molesting teenage girls, Moore had been kicked off of the Alabama Supreme Court twice for defying the law of the land. A judge can disagree with the law but he or she takes a solemn oath to uphold it and commits a serious breach of that oath by claiming to be above the law. Senator Shelby’s courageous stand harkens back to the ethics of the party that I remember from years ago.

This is not to say that the other party does not also engage in party-line tactics, but it is not the party in power now and the leaders set the tone. It is time for the GOP to get back to its past ethical standards - the standards set by Abraham Lincoln, the GOP’s founder. I think he would approve of the recent independent thinking of Senators Kennedy and Shelby, but be disheartened by the no-compromise, take-no-prisoners attitude too often exhibited by many of the others.

Time for immigration reform

jones

A September 16 article on the Politico website caught my eye because of its Jerome, Idaho, dateline. It is not often that my home county gets national coverage, so I obviously had to read the article. It was written by Susan Ferriss, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, and titled How Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Threatens to Choke Idaho’s Dairy Industry.

The article points out that Idaho has become one of the nation’s top milk-producing states, with 2012 direct sales by dairy producers and processors in the amount of $10.4 billion. In 2015, Idaho dairies employed about 8,100 workers statewide and their work supported 3,700 dairy-processing jobs, as well as 27,600 jobs in other businesses. Idaho’s producers of cheese and yogurt are reliant on the dairy industry, which in turn relies on a steady supply of labor.

The problem is that dairy jobs are not particularly desirable and dairymen have a hard time finding reliable local labor to keep their operations running. Most home-grown folks won’t do the work. Because of that, the dairy industry has come to rely upon foreign-born workers. Some of them are lawfully in the country, but many are not. It is estimated that 85-90% of Idaho’s dairy workers are foreign-born and about 70% of those are undocumented.

How did we get here, what are the problems, and what should be done to fix them? When I was growing up on the family farm near Eden in the 1950s and 60s, it was just assumed that farm kids and local hired hands would do the hard work. However, beginning in the 70s, farmers had increasing difficulty in finding reliable workers to handle that work. Workers started coming from south of the border to fill the gap, some of them with temporary work permits but many without any documentation. The northward flow of workers increased after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers went out of business because they could not price-compete with U.S farmers. Many headed North to get farm jobs that Americans did not want.

Many of the undocumented workers put down roots in Idaho because of the difficulty of going back and forth each year. They had children in this country who became U.S. citizens. Those who came seasonally had to do a lot of paperwork and there were generally not enough temporary permits to fill the need on Idaho farms. Temporary permits did not allow workers to spend the entire year, which was a necessity for work on the dairies.

With the increased enforcement effort by the current administration, there is concern in the dairy industry that essential workers will be deported. Workers are concerned about losing their jobs and having their families broken apart. Some say the workers could not have expected to be able to stay, but it is more complicated than that. For decades, the government and U.S. employers have known what was going on but little was done to develop a policy of allowing sufficient foreign labor into the country to meet the needs of agricultural employers. If undocumented workers are deported in order to get in line for legal entry, what are the farmers and dairymen to do in the meantime? You can’t just mothball the dairies, cheese plants and yogurt factory, while waiting years for papers to be shuffled and processed for legal entry. Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry depends upon year-round workers.

And, the problem is not confined to Idaho or its farms. There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. About 800,000 of them came as children--the so-called Dreamers. Many of the undocumented people have children who are American citizens, which complicates the situation as to who is subject to deportation. With the low unemployment rate in our country, deportation will injure many employers, as well as the national economy. The American Action Forum estimates that deporting all undocumented immigrants would cost between four and six hundred billion dollars and reduce the country’s gross domestic product by one trillion dollars. And, quite frankly, about everyone knows that such a mass deportation won’t happen.

So, what should we do? Our members of Congress need to develop backbones and deal with the problem. Former President Ronald Reagan inspired Congress to deal with comprehensive immigration reform in 1986 and the current situation cries for similar action now. If members of the House and Senate were more interested in solving difficult national problems, rather than keeping their jobs, the immigration problem could be resolved. That would give employers and workers certainty and also contribute to economic growth in Idaho and the country as a whole.
 

The harm in Muslim-bashing

jones

The President’s statements, tweets and retweets that demean, vilify or ridicule Muslims are harmful to American interests in a number of ways. Whether he is denigrating a Muslim Gold Star family or retweeting anti-Muslim video clips spewed out by a British hate group, it is dangerous for our nation.

Since 9-11, the U.S. has been engaged in an international conflict with radicals who espouse a perverted version of Islam. These people constitute a tiny minority of the world’s Muslims. Islam is the second-largest religion on earth, with about 1.8 billion members. We are allies with many Muslim-majority nations and we count on those countries for assistance in combating terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The U.S. is currently involved in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, all of which are Muslim-majority nations. We have troops in many other Muslim nations in the Middle East and northern Africa. It is essential to the safety of our people in harm’s way that we maintain mutual respect with the people of those countries. When our President is generally characterizing people of the Islamic faith as common terrorists, it is not only a false narrative but it is dangerous for our service personnel on the ground.

Grateful beneficiaries of the President’s anti-Muslim activities are the very terrorist groups we are fighting. They seek to gain followers by claiming America is waging war against Islam. The President has played into that narrative with his words and actions, giving the terrorist groups ammunition to use against us in their propaganda work, not to mention the boost it gives to their recruitment efforts.

Incidentally, the anti-Muslim actions, such as the Muslim travel ban and the recent Twitter activity, are also music to the ears of American neo-nazis. David Duke is loving all of it. In response to the President’s retweet of the British hate-group videos, Duke rejoiced, “Thank God for Trump.” I’m not so sure God would want to claim credit.

The British, our closest allies, were obviously not pleased with the high profile the retweets gave the ultra-nationalist British First group. They could not be faulted for asking why the retweets were necessary--what valid U.S. interest was served by redistributing this harmful garbage.
Of course, the United States has about 3.45 million citizens who are members of the Islamic faith. I have met many here in Idaho and they are wonderful people who love this country, their country. When people in positions of responsibility make broad generalizations casting Muslims in an an unfavorable or menacing light, it is a form of undeserved religious bigotry. There is no place for that in a country that prides itself on religious freedom.

It is no wonder that hate crimes against Muslims increased over 19% from 2015 to 2016. Muslims constitute about 1% of the U.S. population but suffer 4% of the hate crimes. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center disclosed that half of the Muslims polled say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. in recent years.

It is wrong to make a segment of the American religious community fearful for their everyday safety and well-being. It violates one of the bedrock principles upon which this great nation was founded. Let’s stand up and demand that our public officials recognize and support religious freedom for all Americans, regardless of their faith or beliefs.
 

These children have a right to life

jones

In counting my blessings at Thanksgiving, good health was at the top of my list.

In January I learned I had pancreatic cancer, but it is now in remission thanks to the talented doctors at the Mountain States Tumor Institute. Dr. Akshay Gupta diagnosed it, Dr. Joshua Barton skillfully removed the cancerous tissue, and Dr. Dan Zuckerman finished off the cancer with the help of the MSTI staff. We are lucky to have such highly skilled medical practitioners in our fair State.

Unfortunately, some of our most vulnerable citizens are not able to share in the blessing of good medical care.

Young children of the Followers of Christ, mostly in Canyon County, are denied necessary medical treatment because of their parents’ religious practices. Idaho law exempts faith-healing parents from two statutes prohibiting neglect or endangerment of their children. Section 18-1501 of the Idaho Code prohibits conduct that is likely to endanger the life or health of a child. Section 18-401 prohibits the denial of necessary medical care to children.

However, there is an exemption in both statutes that has allowed these parents to refuse to provide readily available medical 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 of such child.” This awkward language should be eliminated from both statutes in order to protect the helpless children of faith healers.

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, however, in safeguarding the health and safety of minor children, who cannot decide for themselves. Our laws have numerous protections for children that do not contain religious exemptions - marital age, child labor, ability to contract, and the like. The right to have basic life-saving healthcare trumps all of those protections.

Article I, section 4 of the Idaho Constitution guarantees religious liberty for Idaho citizens. However, it mandates a strict separation of church and state, more so than the U.S. Constitution.

Among other things, it flatly states that no preference shall “be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.” The statutes purporting to exempt faith-healing parents from child-protection laws certainly appear to violate this constitutional provision. The great majority of Idaho citizens who do not advocate or practice faith healing are subject to criminal penalties under Idaho Code sections 18-1501 and 18-401 for endangering the health of their children. Yet, those same statutes provide a specific legal preference for faith-healing parents by giving them the right to deprive their children of medical care.

During the last several decades, the Legislature has passed numerous statutes intended to support the right to life by using the power of the government to require women to carry a fetus to term. None of those measures contained a religious exemption. The question arises as to whether the right to life of some children in Idaho ceases upon birth.

It is time for the Legislature to stand up for our children and to require faith-healing parents to provide basic healthcare to their children. Tell legislators it is morally and legally wrong to allow parents to deprive their children of life-saving medical care.
 

Enough sucking up to Putin

joneslogo1

During the President’s recent encounter with Vladimir Putin in Vietnam, he says he asked Putin whether Russia had meddled in the U.S. elections in 2016. He relates that Putin “is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have president Putin very strongly, vehemently, says he has nothing to do with that.”

The President also told reporters that Putin “said he absolutely did not meddle in our election” and that “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

My Vietnam experience was quite a bit different than the President’s. When I was in Vietnam in 1968-69, I represented defendants in about a dozen courts martial. My real job was coordinating artillery fire, but when the defendants learned I was a bono fide lawyer they often requested me as defense counsel. It did not take long to learn that accused individuals often lie about their guilt of wrongdoing.

And, it is not unusual for a guilty person to “vehemently” deny something. When dealing with an accomplished liar, like Putin, one should exercise great caution in believing anything he says.

Remember, President Putin denied having any involvement in the take-over of Crimea, the insurgency in Ukraine, and the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. All were gigantic whoppers. This former KGB officer is a master of deceit. Anyone who doubts it should read the meticulously documented book by Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy. It is hard to fathom the evil and dishonesty of this man.

It is also unwise to trust the protestations of a man who has been bent on challenging U.S. interests at practically every turn. He has worked very hard to break up a number of important western alliances, including NATO and the European Union. Mitt Romney correctly called Putin’s Russia our “number one geopolitical foe.” During my Vietnam service, I would not have been much inclined to trust the word of the Viet Cong and there is no reason to trust Putin. And, let’s not forget that Russia provided the sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons that shot down John McCain and so many other American pilots.

It is difficult to understand why one would place faith in the word of a known adversary, like Putin, that he did not meddle in our elections when our intelligence people caught him dead to rights. He has also done so in the elections of many of our allies. British Prime Minister Theresa May had the guts to call Putin out for spreading fake news and interfering in that country’s elections. She told Putin that Great Britain would “do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.” I’m hoping she’ll help protect us because it does not appear we are doing much to protect ourselves.

The President says he needs to be nice to Putin to gain his help on various issues. Sucking up with an adversary in hopes of gaining favor is not a winning strategy. It is hard to picture Ronald Reagan meekly telling Gorbachev that, while your Berlin wall is attractive and quite effective in imprisoning millions of East Germans, wouldn’t you please consider some slight alterations? Instead, Reagan forcefully said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan’s strength carried the day and the wall came down. We need that same kind of strength in dealing with Putin. Why ask Putin whether he did something we have proof that he did. Let’s follow the lead of PM May--tell Putin we have the goods on him and that he will rue the day if doesn’t bring it to a screeching halt.

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 Russians caught our attention with the launch of the Sputnik, demonstrating they had the lead in a 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 Russian cyber aggression, not to deny it.
 

Thanks for your service

jones

When I was getting ready in August of 1969 to return home from my tour of duty in Vietnam, I bought some civilian clothes in Saigon. Word was that many people in the U.S. took unkindly to persons in military uniform.

When I mustered out at the Oakland Army Base, I tossed my fatigues and boots into a trash can, put on my civvies, and caught a plane to Twin Falls. Although I don’t recall anyone being hostile because of my Vietnam service, many returning vets did experience hostility. Things have changed.

I’m glad that people appreciate the service of men and women in uniform nowadays. It means a lot when you let them know you are thankful for their service. A couple of years ago, a highly respected judge from out of state who had served as a Marine at Khe Sanh, but rarely talked about it, told me, “Welcome home and thanks for your service.” I was genuinely touched.

But we should do more than just thanking veterans and active duty personnel for serving their country.

While we generally provide good medical treatment for their obvious physical injuries, the country can and should do much more to treat their less obvious injuries, such as PTSD, exposure to toxic substances, and the like. The high rates of suicide, substance abuse, and related problems are clear indicators that we are not living up to our responsibility to provide veterans and active duty personnel the mental health support and treatment they need and deserve. War is, as they say, hell and it takes a real toll on the psychological wellbeing of many of them.

We also owe it to the people who protect our nation to see that they receive proper treatment for ailments caused by exposure to toxic substances. After the Vietnam war, it was maddening to see the government deny treatment to returning veterans who suffered serious illnesses as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans of the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq received similar shabby treatment when they returned with strange symptoms related to exposure to dangerous substances. They deserved better.

The recent deaths of four servicemen in Niger points to another problem. Most Americans had little idea the U.S. had troops in harm’s way there. I believe that is partly because only a tiny minority of the population is exposed to serving this country in dangerous places. It is easy for the rest of us to put it out of our minds. There is not a culture anymore that expects everyone of military age to do some type of service to this great country. It hurts me to hear about service personnel doing 4, 5, and 6 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some may thrive on it, but I’m sure it is a strain on many others, as well as their families.

When discussion started after Vietnam about an all-volunteer military, I had some misgivings. The idea of having greater professionalism and better pay made sense, but it seemed to me that we were going to get away from the idea that all citizens should have some skin in the game - that all young people should have the opportunity to serve their country in a meaningful way. When everyone is exposed to serving the country, I think we pay more attention to what the country is doing overseas. It certainly worked that way in the Vietnam era.

Now, the country comfortably goes about its normal life while a small minority of dedicated citizens regularly faces danger in foreign places, largely unacknowledged by the country until some of them are shipped home in body bags. Instead of just thanking our veterans and service personnel, maybe we, as a country, should start thinking about how we can all help to serve the country.
 

To be proud of

jones

On November 1, the President claimed that the criminal justice system in the United States is “a joke” and “a laughingstock” for the way suspects are prosecuted. He suggested the New York terror suspect could be sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay for quick and strong justice. He is wrong on all counts.

It is not clear who considers our criminal justice system to be a laughingstock. Perhaps Vladimir Putin thinks it is stupid to provide criminal defendants a fair trial. Russian prosecutors know they are required to produce the result Putin wants, if they know what’s good for them. The Russian system does not produce justice.

The U.S. justice system, on the other hand, is the envy of the civilized world. It respects the rights of those charged with crimes, while producing just results. It is not a perfect system, but one of the best and most respected on Earth. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries that had been under the Soviet yoke sought assistance from American lawyers and judges to implement justice systems like ours.

One reason the United States became an economic powerhouse is because we have a court system that is widely recognized as being honest and even-handed. Americans and foreigners alike know they will receive fair treatment in the system, which encourages them to make investments in our economy without fear of confiscation or false criminal charges.

As far as the military commissions at Guantanamo being able to produce quick and strong justice, don’t hold your breath. The commissions are largely dysfunctional, having produced only eight convictions in fifteen years. Three of those convictions were overturned.

General Charles Krulak, a retired Marine Corps Commandant, said the President “should never consider” sending the New York suspect to Guantanamo. Krulak observed that “Federal courts have a track record of fairly and expeditiously dealing with terrorism suspects, having handled more than six hundred cases since 9/11. The criminal justice system has enabled our government to gather timely, actionable intelligence to drive our counterintelligence efforts.”

For sake of comparison, the person who set off bombs in the Chelsea area in New York last year was just convicted of terrorism charges in federal court in October. On the other hand, the person who masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole seventeen years ago has been awaiting trial for ten years by a military commission in Guantanamo. Rather than dispensing justice to the terrorist, the military judge has sentenced the Brigadier General in charge of the Gitmo defense teams to 21 days of confinement. That comes close to the laughingstock category.

It is fair game for members of the executive and legislative branches of our government to criticize individual court decisions or suggest ways to improve the justice system. However, it is wrong to indict the entire system by falsely claiming it to be a joke or laughingstock. That demeans a system that people around the world have long respected and tried to emulate. If the leader of the free world calls his own court system a joke, what are people in other nations to think? Doesn’t it demean our nation as a whole? I’m in agreement with the observation made by Neil Gorsuch, after he was nominated to the Supreme Court but before his confirmation, that such criticism of courts and judges is “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”

A win against their customers

jones

With the help of Idaho’s two Senators, the U.S. Senate voted on October 24 to kill a rule allowing mistreated bank customers to band together to seek redress in court. The vote allows banks to force their customers into often one-sided arbitration of grievances against the banks.

Forced arbitration clauses prevent bank customers from bringing group lawsuits to recover for improper banking practices. And, they deprive bank customers of resort to the judicial system where they can get a fair shake.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule in July that prevented financial institutions from requiring customers to arbitrate disputes with their banks, rather than going to court. Mandatory arbitration clauses are written into the fine print of hundreds of millions of lengthy consumer financial service contracts. The CFPB rule would have allowed consumers to join together to sue banks for their misconduct. It was good public policy and supported by the polling data. An American Future Fund poll showed 67% support for the rule, including 64% of Republicans polled.

In announcing the rule, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that “when Wells Fargo opened millions of deposit and credit card accounts without the knowledge or consent of customers, arbitration clauses in existing account contracts blocked their customers from bringing group lawsuits for the unauthorized account openings.” The rule was designed to protect bank customers from this type of misconduct in the future, and to give them a realistic chance of recovering their damages if it does happen.

It is impractical for an individual to arbitrate a small dollar dispute with his or her bank. If the bank has manipulated the processing of checks on an account to substantially increase the overdraft fees, resulting in an excessive charge of several hundred dollars, the cost and time consumed in arbitration is practically prohibitive. The banks know this and that is why they slip arbitration clauses into their mind-numbing consumer contracts. And, that is why very few people arbitrate their banking disputes.

If mistreated customers can aggregate their claims and join together to sue in court for banker misconduct, they have a substantially greater chance of being made whole for their losses. Going after claims of several hundred dollars for each of thousands of cheated customers makes a joint recovery feasible. Court proceeding are not weighted in favor of an economically powerful party, like arbitration can be, and those cheated can have the benefit of trial by jury.

Arbitration is a good alternative for resolving commercial disputes where large amounts are at issue and the parties stand on relatively equal ground. It is not a reasonable alternative where a weaker party is unwittingly forced into it and only a small dollar amount is involved. The more powerful parties in such disputes know that many of the arbitrators are inclined in their favor in hopes of getting repeat business. The weak party with a single small claim will not provide repeat business.

The banks lobbied hard for their win against consumers on this issue and succeeded in making it difficult to discourage mistreatment of bank customers. The vote to repeal the CFPB rule was 50-50 in the Senate, with the Vice President breaking the tie. The U.S. House of Representatives had already voted for repeal on July 25, hardly allowing the ink to dry on the July 10 rule. Both of our Congressmen voted for repeal. Too bad the bank customers did not have a lobbying arm working for them.

Drug company greed kills

jones

CBS’ 60 Minutes and the Washington Post are to be commended for derailing the President’s appointment of a shill for the drug industry as the nation’s drug czar.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrew his nomination when it was revealed that he had engineered passage of a bill in 2016 that hamstrung the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stop drug sales fueling the opioid epidemic. He had raked in about $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry for his efforts. While a swamp creature bit the dust, there is more to the story of drug company greed.

When I was Idaho Attorney General in the late 1980s, it was known that hydrocodone and oxycodone were effective pain relievers, but highly addictive. At that time, the use of these opioids was generally limited to severe pain cases because of their addictive properties. However, in the 1990s some opioid makers saw gold in them thar hills and started aggressively marketing opioids, such as Purdue Pharma’s Oxycontin, as a general remedy for pain. Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson joined in to peddle their opioids for wide use.

Advertisements in reputable medical journals hyped the use of opioid products as safe and effective pain relievers. Pharmaceutical companies reached into continuing education courses for doctors and medical school curricula to promote the widespread use of opioids. Attractive drug representatives assured doctors there was no need to be concerned that patients would become addicted to opioids. Lobbyists were employed to smooth the way for marketing these addictive painkillers without regulatory interference.

The drug companies obviously knew that these products were addictive and that many people who used them would become hooked, but the bright side was massive profits. The chances of being criminally prosecuted were remote, so they went full steam ahead.

As disclosed in the CBS/Post report, the major drug distributors got in on the act, making massive sales of opioid pills to pill-mill pharmacies that were obviously selling them to drug addicts. The DEA took note and began targeting suspicious drug shipments, which led to passage of the bill neutering the DEA’s enforcement effort. Rep. Marino was also able in the process to get rid of the DEA agent who was trying to stop the distributors’ drug trafficking. This occurred at the height of the opioid crisis when tens of thousands of Americans were dying of opioid overdoses each year (almost 65,000 in 2016). Nevertheless, both houses of Congress passed the Marino bill last year with nary a whimper. Talk about Congress being asleep at the switch. Perhaps some of the slumbers were aided by the millions of dollars of drug industry money pouring into congressional campaign coffers.

It seems to me that companies which sell a product, knowing that it is being abused and that it is killing people, should have to answer under the criminal law.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to prosecute low-level drug dealers and subject them to mandatory minimum sentences. Shouldn’t he focus some enforcement effort against high-level drug company executives whose greed drives them to carelessly pedal addiction and death to the public?

The Idaho congressional delegation can help by working to overturn the 2016 legislation and demanding that the Justice Department go after the corporate drug pushers.