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Posts published in “Jones”

A disheartening frenzy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s debate, not demonize


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who needs friends when you got Vlad?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why punish and traumatize?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some like it hot


While the news outlets were fixated on important topics like Stormy Daniels, Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee, a boring government agency observed an Earth milepost last month. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April was our dear old planet’s 400th straight warmer-than-normal month. That is, every one of the 400 months since February of 1985 has been warmer than Earth’s normal temperature.

That was not a real surprise. NASA has reported that 17 out of 18 of our world’s warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Records of global surface temperature have been kept for 136 years.

The temperature rise has coincided with a dramatic rise in the carbon dioxide level in Earth’s atmosphere--from 316 parts per million in 1951 to 410 ppm last year. That is not surprising, either, because humans release billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year from fossil fuels and industry, including about 37 billion tons last year. The carbon dioxide is trapped in our confined atmosphere where it is warmed by the sun, making our planet slightly toastier every year.

Observable signs of warming are all around us, if we care to see them. The vast amounts of carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels have caused the oceans to become more acidic, endangering aquatic life and fish populations. Forest fires have increased in intensity. Violent weather with massive downpours is becoming commonplace--Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Ellicott City, Maryland, just suffered its second 1000-year flood in two years. The ice shelves on the poles and Greenland are melting at an alarming rate. Tropical plants, animals and diseases are creeping northward around the globe. Military planners worry that wide-spread droughts brought about by climate change will result in the mass migration of people, starvation, fights over resources and a consequent national security threat to the U.S.

The sun and wind are inexhaustible sources of cheap and clean power. We have the technology to harness both to fulfill our energy needs. Solar and wind power do not pose an existential threat to our children and grandchildren, as do fossil fuels. They have become cheaper than coal and they provide many more jobs.

Our country’s official response to a warming climate has been to double down on fossil fuels, despite their dangerous side effects. Rather than moving toward a safe energy future, our national effort is being conducted in the rear-view mirror. It is proposed that taxpayer money be spent on subsidizing tired old coal-fired plants so they can keep wheezing out emissions that pollute the country’s land and water. Climate scientists have been silenced and references to climate change have been scrubbed from government websites. We have buried our governmental head in the sand and will come to regret it.

Were it not for the fact that climate change somehow got identified as a wedge issue, Americans would have tackled this clear and present danger years ago. It is not too late to do the rational thing and embrace a change to new technologies to power the country into the future. Let’s not make our descendants bemoan the fact that we consigned them to a struggle for existence on a scorched earth.

Must the president be a role model?


Washington teacher Mandy Manning was recognized by the President as 2018 National Teacher of the Year at a White House ceremony on May 2. Manning teaches refugee and immigrant children at the Newcomer Center of Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane.

During the ceremony, Manning handed the President a packet of 45 letters from her students. One letter was written by a female student from Rwanda, who said Trump serves as “a role model.” She expressed hope he would “take care” with his words because they “have a lot of weight.”

Is it fair to ask our President to set a high standard of behavior for our children and grandchildren? Should he have to act with honesty and decency as a role model? George Washington and Abraham Lincoln certainly did and have been revered over the years for having done so. They inspired young and old to greatness by setting the example.

You don’t have to be a president, or even a governor, to be an inspiring role model for youngsters. My father, Henry Jones, operated a large cattle-feeding operation near Eden for many years. He bought and sold millions of dollars’ worth of cattle and feed strictly on his word--no need for written contracts. He gained a reputation for truth and honesty. He certainly helped to orient my moral compass, as well as many other young people in the Magic Valley.

Role models are critically important in high office and there is no higher office in this country than President. They set the tone for decency, truth, and honor for both kids and the general citizenry. I believe our President is sorely lacking as a role model and our children will suffer as a result.

When you rail against the “horrible” forced separation of young children from their amnesty-seeking parents and then blame your own policy on others, it is both cruel and dishonest. When you rail against trading with Iran and North Korea, but then excuse a Chinese company (ZTE Corp.) for doing just that, in addition to posing a national security threat against America, you are a hypocrite. When your relationship to the truth is tenuous, at best, you are not a good role model for American kids.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney said, “I would not point to the President as a role model for my grandkids.” James Lankford, a GOP Senator from Oklahoma, echoed that sentiment on May 27. He said of the President, “I don’t want my kids to speak the way he speaks.” And, Senator John McCain, who is a genuine role model, has also expressed concern about the President’s crude behavior.

Regardless of how they come down on political issues, we have a right to expect governmental officials, and particularly the President, to speak the truth and to conduct themselves with honor and dignity. And, we should expect the lower rank of officials, like Romney, Lankford and McCain, to call out those in their own party who refuse to behave themselves. Bad conduct has a trickle-down effect on our youth.

Foreign policy by Larry, Curly and Moe


It was never certain that Kim Jong-un was going to make any meaningful concessions in the ill-fated nuclear negotiations. What was clear to any reasonably-informed observer was that Kim was not going to give up his nuclear weapons. He would have been an absolute fool to do so. Kim may be a lot of loathsome things but he does not appear to be a fool.

People may recall that President George W. Bush labeled North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil in January of 2002, along with Iran and Iraq. The following year, Iraq was invaded and Saddam Hussein was deposed on the pretext that he had a nuclear weapons program. He had no such program, but his demise seems to have spurred the other two members of the evil trio to shift their nuclear programs into high gear. One could not fault them for thinking they might be safe from regime change if they actually possessed a working atomic bomb. Saddam’s fate had to be a stark warning to Kim’s daddy.

If one studies the Kim family you learn that they are tyrannical cut-throats. More importantly, they rarely keep their word. Over the years, American Presidents have negotiated deals with them that the Kims had no intention of keeping. Even with that history, our current President characterized young Kim as a good person who could be trusted, giving him credibility and stature on the world stage.

When Kim suggested a summit to talk about resolving the nuclear issue, our President jumped at the bait without giving it a second thought. Going head-to-head at a summit with the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth was a long-cherished dream of the Kim family. They had finally made the big time and got it without having to give a thing in return.

With the President’s head filled with visions of a Nobel Peace Prize, Kim knew he had him where he wanted him. The President openly displayed how much he wanted a deal, prompting Kim to suggest that denuclearization did not actually mean he would give up his beloved weapons.

Enter John Bolton who knew that the U.S. would have to pry Kim’s nukes out of his cold, dead hands. Wanting either to scotch the deal for his own reasons or to get the President off of the limb he had climbed onto, Bolton publicly suggested the deal with Kim would be based on the “Libya model,” which ended badly for the tyrant. Bolton was fully aware this would launch Kim into orbit, which it did. Kim suggested the summit might be called off. The President’s scuttling of the Iran deal, even though Iran was complying with it, may have added to Kim’s discomfort.

Seeing the Nobel Prize fading into the distance, the President implored Kim to stay at the table, claiming any deal would make him “very, very happy.” Bolton may then have convinced the President that he was way over his skis and had gotten painted into a corner that would require him to take any deal, just to have something to show for his wheeling and dealing.

So, it was decided to send out faithful Mike Pence to put a bullet in the head of the summit. The VP reiterated the Libya model, knowing full well that it would relaunch the Rocket Man and likely kill the deal. It certainly got a reaction but not quite enough to fully sink the deal. The President was able to seize on Kim’s fulmination, however, to strangle the life out of the summit and save his personal bacon.

If we try another adventure of this critical magnitude, could it be suggested that someone do some basic homework, make careful preparations and for heck sakes not negotiate by the seat of our pants. This deal was not at all artful and made our dear country somewhat of a laughingstock around the globe.

Primary’s over: What a relief


It is sooo good to close the door on this year’s primary election. The advertising in the Republican gubernatorial race was wretched. Tommy Ahlquist started early with negative ads and it did not take too long for the contest to degenerate into a mud-slinging match. I don’t recall primary elections being as ugly as this one when Idaho had the open primary system.

The ads did contain some statements of the candidates’ shared visions for Idaho’s future--each candidate claimed he would be more supportive of the President than the others, that he would cut more taxes, that he would cut more spending, that he would provide Idahoans better medical care, and that he would better educate our children.

I’m wondering whether the closed primary on the Republican side may have contributed to the bare-knuckles campaign. When candidates do not have to appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, they tend to tout similar stands on the issues that resonate with their limited slice of the voters. The way to stand out from the others is to go hammer and tongs for the opponents’ jugulars, or to try to sound more extreme than the others.

The popular wisdom among Republican office-holders has been that you might risk a challenge from the right in the closed primary if you don’t follow the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s dictates. The fear of being “primaried” has tended to shift the Legislature further to the right in recent years.

I don’t know that open primaries were ever detrimental to the interests of the Republican Party. There was always some cross-over vote but it was never a massive amount. In fact, when I ran against George Hansen for Congress in the Republican primary in 1978 and 1980, I will admit having courted Democrat votes but they did not cross over in droves.

Independent voters obviously have an interest in who gets a party’s nomination for an important public office but they are excluded from participating in the primary of the Republican Party, whose candidates have a decided edge in the general election. Independents, or Idaho Democrats, can change their registration before the primary comes around but it is an imposition to make them declare for a party they do not wish to voluntarily join. Idahoans are independent-minded folks and should not be forced into any party in order to participate in selecting our leaders.

The closed primary is a particular problem for Idaho judges. Under Idaho law they are supposed to be non-partisan. Judicial ethics restrain them from partisanship. Yet, judges are interested in public affairs and want to be involved in selecting elected officials in the other two branches of government. When Idaho had the open primary system, judges could simply ask for the ballot of their choice on election day without violating the restraints on political involvement. Now, if they wish to participate in the party primary where the ultimate selection is often made, they must risk violating their ethical restraints by registering themselves as Republicans.

I say, let’s go back to the good old tried and true open primary system where all Idahoans of good faith could participate in selecting our leaders. That would be one way to help make Idaho great again.

Why not to Gitmo?


Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to file criminal charges against every person illegally crossing the border. In order to carry out the order he is sending 35 prosecutors and 18 immigration judges to the border states.

As part of this crackdown, Sessions says that kids will be separated from their parents and held in different detention facilities. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.” That is certainly an enlightened, family-friendly policy.

Actually, John Kelly first floated the idea of separating kids from their parents last year when he was Homeland Security Secretary. His thought was that such a punitive measure might discourage others from seeking asylum in the U.S. I suppose another effective means of discouraging people from fleeing violence in their home countries would be to send their kids to the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. That type of punishment would certainly discourage people.

It is hard to fathoms the depths to which our dear country has stooped in the immigration debate. We do need to have secure borders, but we have usually given people seeking asylum a reasonable chance to make their case before lowering the boom on them. Many of the border crossers have suffered great violence at home and would risk death if they were sent back.

Separating young kids from their parents and holding them apart from their parents is beyond the pale. Many of these kids have been traumatized in their homeland and on the arduous journey to our border. They don’t need the added trauma of being incarcerated separate and apart from their parents.

Although Sessions just announced the program on May 7, the Office of Refugee Resettlement reported last month that over 700 children, including 100 under the age of 4, have been separated at the border since last October. There does not appear to be any real policy for reuniting parents with their children.

Adding to the problem is the shortage of immigration judges. It is not like there are dozens of them sitting around with nothing to do. The immigration courts are jammed to the gills, resulting in long waits in detention for both parents and children. Currently, there are about a quarter million asylum cases pending in those courts.

Neither is there a large surplus of federal prosecutors. Those we do have would be much better employed going after drug dealers, terrorists, organized crime figures, white collar swindlers and other serious threats to the country’s health, safety, and economy. Diverting skilled prosecutors from important public business to go after low-level border crossers is a waste of valuable resources. But, then, Sessions is the guy who also wants to use this pool of crime fighters to stuff our prisons with low-risk drug offenders.

We can protect our borders without resorting to cruel measures that demean our country and traumatize innocent kids. America is better than that.