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Posts published in “Jones”

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.

Don’t mess with voter approval


In an Idaho Public TV gubernatorial debate on April 27, Congressman Labrador suggested that, if elected, he might try to overturn the Medicaid expansion initiative if the voters approve it. He later issued a partial walk-back but still said he would treat the initiative “like any other piece of legislation” and consider its “pros and cons” in deciding whether to abide by it.

If the people approve the initiative, it would be an act of arrogance to mess with it. Idaho voters placed the initiative in Idaho’s Constitution in 1912 just so they could address important public issues when the Legislature failed or refused to act.

Idaho’s Constitution says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” Those who would nullify this people power may think the people are not smart enough to run their own affairs. The Congressman often contends that effete public officials should not be able to dictate to the people but overturning a voter initiative is just the kind of action he condemns.

The initiative seeks to expand Medicaid coverage to over 60,000 Idahoans who earn too much now to get Medicaid but too little to get subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The people in this gap would have insurance coverage if Idaho did what 32 other states have done--simply expand Medicaid to cover these gap people and tell the feds to fork over the money. Our Legislature has refused to do so, or even to enact some other means of covering the folks in the gap.

Just a year ago, Mr. Labrador said, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” His comment provoked a good deal of rebuttal from medical professionals who verified that people do die because they can’t pay the cost of detection and treatment of serious illness. A number of people responded that they had lost loved ones for that very reason.

I can speak to the issue because I was billed over $600,000 last year for the diagnosis and treatment of stage 2b pancreatic cancer. Thanks to the great work of Drs. David Hartman, Akshay Gupta, Joshua Barton and Dan Zuckerman, as well as the wonderful people at MSTI, the cancer is gone. Thanks to good insurance from the State (the same coverage state elected officials get) and then Medicare Complete, I ended up paying less than $15,000. A person in the gap would not have gotten a break, not even the nearly 50% contractual reduction insurance carriers usually get on medical provider billings.

A person in the gap would not likely have felt comfortable laying out several thousand dollars for diagnostic tests of vague symptoms, which is what saved my life. It is often very costly just to find out you have a serious health issue. We really do have a moral responsibility to take the funds on offer from the federal government to provide the gap folks life-saving medical coverage.

I am hopeful that the voters will see the wisdom and moral necessity to approve the initiative. If the Medicaid gap is thus filled, I hope any would-be governor would not try to frustrate the will of the people.

Lady liberty is weeping


Ever since the Statue of Liberty raised her torch in New York Harbor, she has welcomed the “homeless, tempest-tossed” masses from foreign shores. Those masses have played a central role in making America the powerful nation it is and the moral beacon it was. America’s government has decided to pull up the welcome mat to foreigners and relinquish its role as moral leader of the world.

With ever-increasing intensity, the Trump administration has been closing America’s door to refugees and asylum seekers; clamping down on immigration; and working to eject non-citizens. The administration’s Muslim ban, which was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on April 25, has drawn a good deal of public attention but it is just the tip of the iceberg. The government is conducting a full court press against foreigners.

With regard to refugees, the administration has capped the number that can be admitted to the country at 45,000, which is less than half of the yearly average taken in by the U.S. since 1980. However, we will likely give refuge to less than half of the cap because the administration is slow-walking the admission process. For example, Idaho received 1,118 refugees in fiscal year (FY) 2016, but only 629 in FY 2017 and we will be lucky to get 300 in FY 2018.

Do we have a responsibility to give safe harbor to refugees? These are people who were brutalized by their governments and had to flee for their very lives. The U.S. has played a major role in creating the massive refugee flow from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen by wars we have started or supported. We certainly have some responsibility to provide refuge to at least a few of the victims of those wars.

With regard to people seeking asylum, particularly those fleeing terrible violence in Central American countries, we have pretty much turned a blind eye. When parents arrive at the border with their minor children to ask for asylum, the kids are often taken and detained separately from the parents--more than 700 since October of 2017. John Kelly had suggested the policy as a deterrent for asylum seekers. On another front, Jeff Sessions wants to eliminate domestic abuse as a ground for obtaining asylum.

Much is happening on the immigration front. The President wants to reduce legal immigration by half and eject many people who are presently here, legally or not.

Many people who were admitted to the country on a temporary basis because of calamities at home are set to be removed from the country. That includes about 200, 000 Salvadorans who came to the U.S. following a couple of 2001 earthquakes. Even though their status was initially expected to be temporary, these folks have established roots in the country and have been contributing. Now they have been notified to leave. The same has happened to Haitians, Liberians, and Hondurans, among others.

The DACA issue has gotten a good deal of coverage and it is not clear what the administration intends to do with these individuals who were brought to the country as minors and are now in jeopardy of being deported. The signals coming from the President continue to be conflicting. What does seem to be clear is that Dreamers are being held hostage as bargaining fodder for funding to build a costly and ineffective border wall and legislation to substantially restrict legal immigration.

Much more has been and is being done to make the United States a hostile environment for foreigners. It is contrary to our very being and will come back to haunt us in future years. Please, Lady Liberty, save us from ourselves.

What happened to law and order?


When I was growing up in the Republican party, I learned the lesson of responsible fiscal policy by heart - government must live within its means. That did not mean government could refuse or neglect to perform services or fund programs that were required by the constitution because Republicans were not law breakers. And, we believed the law required the funding of programs necessary for public safety unless there was a serious financial crisis at hand.

The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor seem to have forgotten that critical government programs can’t be provided if they are not funded. All three of them praise the state tax cut recently enacted into law, while calling for additional tax relief and reduced spending. There is little explanation of how this can be accomplished without ignoring the laws of this good State.

Mr. Labrador has fixated on the number 5, calling for a 5% across-the-board reduction in the budget of every State agency (unless an agency can prove it needs more), along with cutting income and sales taxes to 5%. Dr. Ahlquist pledges to cut government spending by $100 million within 100 days of taking office, while also cutting taxes. Brad Little is calling for tax and spending cuts.

It is not as if the Legislature has been throwing money around like an intoxicated person. Since the 2008 recession, state agency budgets have been cinched tight, squeezing out existing fat. There may be a few wasteful dollars here and there, but not nearly enough to allow massive tax and spending cuts.

As a matter of fact, the State has failed to carry out its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate funding for a number of programs. The most glaring example relates to Article 9, section 1 of the Idaho Constitution, which requires the State to provide a thorough system of public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court has held on several occasions that the State is shirking this constitutional obligation. The Legislature has increased funding for school budgets in recent years, but admits it is still violating the law. Aside from operational funds, the State of Idaho is also obligated to provide substantial funding for school facilities--the bricks and mortar--so that Idaho kids have an atmosphere conducive to learning. That doesn’t happen in dilapidated school buildings.

The State is also constitutionally required to provide an adequate system for the defense of indigent criminal defendants. It is no secret that Idaho is not meeting its responsibility in that regard. Some progress has been made in the last year but the State still has a long way to go to meet its constitutional responsibility.

Many of Idaho’s roads and bridges are dangerous and in serious need of repair. We have committed future revenues to do some of this work through issuance of GARVEE bonds, but that simply is nowhere near enough to do the job. Public safety is at risk.

At some point we need to realize that taxation is not a dirty word. Rather, it is a critical ingredient of constitutional government. State government must provide lawfully-mandated programs and services, which includes raising sufficient revenue to pay for them. Responsible candidates for offices of public trust do not promise to do what they should know is impossible. If candidates contend they can fulfill their lawful responsibilities while continually whacking away at revenues, they should explain exactly how that can be accomplished.

Will young Americans rescue us?


Until I stepped into a few classrooms last October, I had the impression that today’s high school kids were just interested in weird music and various types of social media. After visiting classes of Cindy Wilson at Capital High and Sharon Hanson at Boise High, I came away greatly impressed.

The kids were well informed on current affairs, asked relevant questions, and made thoughtful comments. It gave me hope for our country--that perhaps we could get back to debating without trying to shout over one another, that we might be witnessing a generation willing to exercise leadership and common sense to solve seemingly intractable problems. It was not just how the students handled themselves in the classroom, but also what they said in written comments they submitted to these fine teachers afterwards. I received the comments and they are a real treasure.

I spoke to all of Mrs. Wilson’s government classes, leaving plenty of time for interaction with the kids. Questions and comments from the students dealt with every major issue facing the country, including the cost of college, climate change, refugee policy, guns, national debt, net neutrality, political discourse, public service, war, peace, and you name it. A recurring theme was that these issues should be debated back and forth, without rancor, and then be resolved through thoughtful compromise.

Incidentally, since I spoke to her classes, Mrs. Wilson has thrown her hat in the governmental ring and is running for the office of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction. From what I saw, she would be a good one. I expect she is an inspiration to her students.

I spoke to one of Mrs. Hanson’s classes and had the same experience--smart, well-informed and thoughtful students. She introduced me to the Boise High Humanitarian Club, a large group of socially aware students whose purpose is to make a difference for the good in their community and country. I was so impressed with the Club that I invited its President, Therese Etoka, to help with a speaking engagement I had with a local service club. She was a big hit with the group.

What the experience taught me is that we need to ensure that all schools around the state emphasize the value of civics education so kids can learn how our government works and understand how individuals can and should make a difference. We need to make sure that each school has dedicated teachers like Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Hanson and that they are valued for the important job they do.

It is incumbent upon the state to adequately fund schools across the state, to provide classrooms that are safe and conducive to learning, and to provide a curriculum that looks to the future, not the past. The Idaho Constitution requires us to provide “a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” We can’t do that by continually hovering near last place in the nation in per-student school expenditures. Idaho is in clear violation of its constitutional responsibility.

We have students who are smart, motivated, and willing to work for the betterment of society. The state needs to support and encourage them in every classroom in the state, whether urban or rural, so they can do their part in cleaning up the mess we are leaving them.

Let’s not abandon Syria


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I developed a strong antipathy to betraying an ally in 1975, when the U.S. failed to lift a finger to help the South Vietnamese turn back an invasion from the North, despite President Nixon’s iron-clad promise that our air power would be there to protect them. And, we failed to make a concerted effort to evacuate our South Vietnamese friends and allies when collapse of their country was imminent. Many of my friends likely ended up being killed or persecuted for siding with us. Let’s not let it happen again.

Bolton as security advisor?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toys r Us and immigration


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the president must do


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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