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Inside Politics: How Trump's Cuba plan hurts Idaho

The administration’s plan to roll back policy initiatives between the United States and Cuba is a missed opportunity for the country and a substantive blow to potentially lucrative markets here in Idaho.

What you may have missed from the news reporting on this issue is that bipartisan support for improved trade relations with Cuba is alive and well. It is our opinion that together, Idaho Democrats and Republicans can cultivate a healthy economic relationship with Cuba that will prove fruitful to all Idahoans. That’s why we are working to advance this critical issue.

For context, the United States has restricted trade with Cuba dating back to the Eisenhower administration, when an arms embargo was implemented. As a result, Cuba began to purchase arms from Russia. Diplomatic tension and the threat of nuclear war escalated into the Kennedy administration and the embargo was expanded to cover commodities. The sale of agricultural goods for humanitarian efforts highlighted the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, a trade exception that allows for limited exports to Cuba.

The opportunities that exist in Cuba for Idaho businesses are significant. Consider the fact that presently, Cuba imports 60 to 80 percent of its food, a market estimated at $2 billion. That means that farmers and suppliers of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy goods and countless other necessities currently enjoy access to this large and sustainable market. The problem is, virtually none of our American farmers are profiting from that due to the restrictive nature of the current U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

Clearly, if there’s one thing that Idahoans know, it’s agriculture. Imagine the possibilities for our state to expand its global reach and serve as a leader in exports of our high-quality goods to the island. Again, that market figure is $2 billion. To capture just a slice of that pie would produce strong returns for our state and put more people to work.

However, federal government barriers continue to hinder our ability to capitalize on this opportunity. In fact, while Cuban imports have continued to trend upward over the last decade, U.S. exports to Cuba have declined each year since 2009. This is due to several restrictions in the embargo. One requires U.S. businesses to accept only cash when operating in Cuba. Another bars Cuban veterinarians from inspecting meat on our land prior to export, which is a procedure required by their laws.

It’s time the U.S. end its outdated trade policy on Cuba. The embargo was conceived in an era of great fear and international military posturing. Indeed, the U.S. approached the brink of war with Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis, but avoided full-scale conflict. And yet, we’ve managed to normalize to varying degrees the diplomatic and trade relationships with nations like Vietnam and China — former enemies that now contribute billions of dollars to our country’s economy and tens of millions of dollars to Idaho’s bottom line.

We need relations with Cuba, especially in trade, to advance, not regress. We recognize that, and so do many other influential Idaho politicians, businesses, religious groups, universities and others who comprise the Idaho State Council of Engage Cuba. This group is a coalition chaired by Gov. Butch Otter that is actively lobbying Congress to lift the trade embargo. Regardless of affiliation, profession or background, we all share the same interest in serving Idahoans as best we can. In this case, we wholeheartedly believe that working with Cuba, rather than shutting them out, is the right thing to do.

Agriculture isn’t the only arena in which Idahoans can benefit. The technology and communications sector is able to invest in Cuba today thanks to a policy exception called “Support for the Cuban People.” This exception allows companies to provide Cubans with phones and tablets, as well as internet access, infrastructure and other related services critical to business and communication needs. Imagine the opportunities for Idaho’s blossoming tech sector, led by Micron and HP and startups such as Cradlepoint, Kount, or Because International and others. Helping to construct a communications grid in a developing nation is no easy task, but Idaho tech companies and professionals possess the knowledge, experience and solutions to get the job done.

Doing what’s right for each other is what Idahoans do, and doing what’s right for Idaho is what we and the coalition aim to do. Together, we can continue to position our state as a leader in the evolving global economy.

Other View: North Korea's outrageous mistreatment of a US student must not go unpunished

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post:

Otto Warmbier was a 21-year-old University of Virginia economics major with a bright future when he signed on for a short tourist trip to North Korea in December 2015. Not until Tuesday washe finally flown home to Cincinnati, gravely ill and reportedly in a coma.

He was arrested, tried on spurious charges and evidently subjected to horrendous mistreatment by North Korean authorities. This was outrageous behavior even by the standards of one of the world’s most vicious and isolated regimes. It should not go unpunished.

By his account, delivered at a scripted “news conference” weeks after his arrest, Warmbier attempted a foolish but harmless prank: trying (unsucessfully) to pilfer a propaganda poster from the hotel where he was staying. For this he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor on a charge of “hostile acts against the state” following a one-hour trial in March 2016. He had not been seen in public since then, and Swedish diplomats representing the United States in Pyongyang were denied access to him.

Now it appears that Warmbier may have been gravely ill for much or all of that time. His parents told The Washington Post that North Korean representatives suddenly informed U.S. officials last week that the student was in a coma. He was said to have lost consciousness after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill—an account that strains credulity.

To its credit, the Trump administration arranged for Warmbier’s evacuation. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to provide details, though one official told The Post that the release had nothing to do with the latest bizarre excursion to Pyongyang by former NBA player (and Trump reality-show contestant) Dennis Rodman. Not until he can be examined by medical specialists in the United States will it be clear what condition Warmbier is in and whether it can be remedied. As it is, his family has “had to endure more than any family should have to bear,” as Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, put it.

The harm done to an innocent student is the result of North Korea’s odious practice of seizing Americans to use as political pawns. Three other U.S. citizens are being held by the regime, including two who were teaching at a private school and one who worked in a special economic zone. President Trump should make their release a priority.

The United States should also move quickly to step up sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong Un, which has been racing to develop missiles that can reach the United States with a nuclear warhead. A new report by the research group C4ADS shows that by cracking down on a relatively small number of interlinked Chinese companies and individuals, the pressure on Pyongyang could be greatly increased. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration has asked China to act against some 10 entities; if Beijing does not respond promptly, the United States should act unilaterally.

Other View: Trump's plan for financial reform is half-right

The following editorial appears on Bloomberg View:

The Trump administration’s latest plan to reform financial regulation starts in a very good place: It attacks the ridiculous complexity of the current system. But it fails to follow through with new rules that promote safety as well as simplicity. Put into practice, it could be a big step backward.

The Treasury Department’s new report is right to complain that the U.S. regulatory structure is far too unwieldy. The system consists of more than a dozen agencies with huge blind spots and overlapping duties that often border on the absurd. A single community bank, for example, might answer to four different supervisors.

Getting Congress to simplify the system would be a great achievement, provided it’s done right. But a simpler system also needs more effective rules — rules that, in effect, trade financial strength for regulatory relief.

Ample loss-absorbing equity capital, together with well-crafted constraints on potentially volatile short-term financing, could obviate the need for most Dodd-Frank requirements, including such labor-intensive exercises as stress tests and living wills. These are necessary mainly because banks still have too little capital to protect the economy from their mistakes.

This is where the Treasury’s plan falls short. It includes some good proposals, such as easing lending rules for community banks and focusing special supervision only on the big banks that really need it. For the most part, though, it would weaken existing regulations — for example, by making stress tests less stressful — without offering a more effective alternative. Meanwhile, it would complicate regulators’ simplest measure of capital, known as the leverage ratio, with a list of exceptions. Following these rules, banks would almost certainly end up with even less equity than now.

It’s especially troubling that the most questionable parts of the reform would be the easiest to implement. Regulators can ease capital and liquidity requirements on their own. Changes such as consolidating agencies or altering their mandates would require action from a gridlocked Congress. So the likely result of moving forward with this plan would be a financial system that’s more fragile without being any less burdened with complexity.

The exact balance of safety and simplicity will depend on how the plan is executed, and it remains to be seen which parts the administration will choose to prioritize. But this looks like a missed opportunity. The Treasury’s diagnosis is largely correct, but its prescription is dangerously flawed.

Letter: Gooding hospital has latest cancer technology

I would like to urge the women of Magic Valley to take that short drive that could change your life.

I recently found out I was in the high-risk category for breast cancer. My mother had it and so did my uncle. And just last month my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Fortunately she lives in San Francisco, where they have state-of-the-art facilities and the latest technology, so she is getting the latest treatment for this terrible disease.

It made me much more determined to seek out the latest treatment locally.

Three years ago, I heard about 3-D imaging. So last month I called our local hospital (St. Luke’s) to see if they were offering it. I was told they did not have the latest technology. So I called around to other hospitals and found out that just a few minutes away, at the North Canyon Medical Center in Gooding, they had this latest superior imaging in 3-D mammography.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this new, big facility just 35 minutes away.

They offer the latest technology in 3-D imaging. It is 41 percent more accurate because the breast is evaluated layer by layer and a lot less false-positive call backs.

You do not have to have a doctor referral; just make an appointment and they will forward the results to your doctor. So invite your mother, sister and friends and take this short drive that might save your life. I did!

Bonita Hepworth

Twin Falls