Monday, April 17, 2017

Can Oklahoma smoke, drink & gamble to prosperity?

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Oklahoma State House Appropriations & Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, ( R-Mustang), and Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David, (R-Porter), are running a bill in the legislature to increase the prize amounts for the Oklahoma state lottery.  HB # 1837 passed through the Senate committee last week by a vote of 24-9 and now heads to the Senate floor.  It passed the House earlier by a 70-25 vote.  The bill, if signed into law, is projected to increase the amount the lottery will give education by about one third.
     State lottery officials have been lobbying for increasing the amount of winner payouts for years because they say Oklahomans are not buying lottery tickets because the prizes aren’t large enough.  “We have the lowest payouts in the country and that impacts sales,” Jay Finks with the Oklahoma Lottery says.  Finks claims the lottery has peaked as to what it can give to Oklahoma education and it is now on the decline.  According to Finks, the lottery has given $783 million since it was implemented twelve years ago.  Oklahoma voters approved the lottery in November 2004 and it was implemented in 2005. 
     When the lottery was on the ballot back in 2004, then Governor Brad Henry predicted if the lottery was approved by voters, it would generate $300 million per year for Oklahoma education.  The former Guv missed that estimate by about 80%.  
     First, gambling produces nothing.  No product or service is derived from gambling.   Years ago, the late Andy Rooney said: “The thing that bothers me most about gambling is that people fritter away money so they don't get to spend it on things that someone else has been paid to produce. Gambling produces nothing. There's only so much money in the world and if it's lost at a gambling table, it's money that isn't spent on things America makes.” Gambling does not involve gain by reason of labor or exchange of values.  It adds nothing to the economy.  For government to promote an industry whose only product is false hope is immoral.
     Second, the lottery, in particular, is referred to by gambling insiders as a ‘tax on the stupid.’  The odds of winning the lottery are astronomical and the vast majority of those who play it are poor.  In that sense, it is a regressive tax on poor people.  The economic utility of money spent on lottery tickets is far less and uncertain when compared to the certain value it could make in the everyday life of a poor person.  Senator Marty Quinn, (R-Claremore), voted against the bill in committee, saying, “I don’t think gambling is good for society. There is plenty of evidence of the harm it causes our society. It preys heavily on the less fortunate. They(the poor) have the most to lose.”  Buying lottery tickets is not a good investment, especially for poor people. Although the exact odds depend upon many factors, in a lottery in which you pick 6 numbers from a possible pool of 49 numbers, your chances of winning the jackpot, meaning you correctly choose all 6 numbers drawn) are 1 in 14 million.  Estimates are that 50% of the lottery tickets purchased are by those living below the poverty line.
     Third, does Oklahoma government want us to gamble, smoke and drink or not?  It’s hard to know.  On one hand, the state runs television commercials and print ads encouraging people to quit smoking and then the Governor proposes the state increase the tax on cigarettes to get more tax revenue.  Like most states, Oklahoma state government is a prime example of an addict and a pusher.  They publically said they want a healthier population, but privately wish the citizens would light ‘em up.  Instead of compensating for the shortfall of gambling revenue, they instead encourage citizens to gamble more and in different ways.  Talk about mixed signals.
     Fourth, gambling is a losing proposition.  According to Baylor University Economist Earl Grinol, the social costs of gambling outweigh the benefits by a factor of 5.6 to 1.   Grinol says lost productivity, bankruptcy, suicide, child abuse and stress related illnesses dramatically increase in proportion to the expansion of gambling in a state.  He says 40% of the costs of those social ills are picked up by the taxpayers with the reminder being privately paid.  Grinol says, “Gambling taxes are worse than a conventional tax collecting identical revenue.” 
     If Oklahoma is going to move forward as a state, it can’t be by generating revenue on the backs of poor people by promoting false hope.  The poor among us can’t smoke, drink and gamble enough to get state government out of this budget hole.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trump sent a message to a lot of people- in the US and across the world!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Last week, the US launched a missile attack on Syria after a reported chemical attack on civilians, including children.  President Trump announced that 59 tomahawk missiles were launched targeting a Syrian airbase.  While the action sent a message to Syria there is a new sheriff in town, the base’s airstrip was back up and running in just days, so infrastructure damage was not significant enough to permanently disrupt.  Russia and Iran said they would ‘respond with force’ if the US crossed the ‘red line’ again in Syria.
     Trump’s action immediately drew both praise and criticism.  Senator Bernie Sanders, (I, VT) said that while Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad must go, it should be done unilaterally.  Senator Rand Paul, (R-KY), said that strike wasn’t in the U.S.’s national interest and the president didn’t have the right to order the strikes without approval from Congress.  Paul called the action an ‘inappropriate way to start a war.” Senator Ted Cruz, (R-TX), said the strikes were in the nation’s national interests, but that Trump should make a case of further military action before proceeding. Both of Oklahoma’s US Senators, Lankford and Inhofe, issued statements supporting the President’s actions.  Syria is a sticky wicket and here is why:
     First, President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Syrians dictator, is brutal.  Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father in 2000, is an ophthalmologist who speaks fluent English.  He is married to a British citizen, who is of Syrian origin.  They met when he was studying medicine in Britain.  They have 2 sons and a daughter.  Assad appears to be very westernized, but he is far from it.  He has killed thousands of his own people since the civil war started in 2011.  He is aligned with Iran, North Korea and Russia.  Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people. 
    Second, the civil war in Syria is a proxy battle between Russia and America.  The reason the US is involved in this conflict is because the removal of Assad strengthens the US position in the region.  When the rebel movement developed in 2011, the US was all too happy to support it with money and weapons.  Syria has long been a close Russia ally.  It goes back to the cold war.  Russia funded and built the modern Syrian army.  They have financed Assad’s efforts to defeat the rebels($3-4 million a day). Like a chess match, Syria is a key piece on the board and the US didn’t want to miss the opportunity to move Syria into the western camp.
     Third, the Syrian rebels are a diverse group.  Some rebels are Sunni Muslims who disagree with Assad’s secular government.  They favor a theocracy, not unlike what was in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  It is estimated that up to 25% of those rebels are members of Al-Qaeda.  Some rebels are more moderate and favor free elections, democracy and would accept religious diversity.  But there is no clear cut leader in the rebellion.  Many of the various groups hate each other and in order to get them support, the US has to write checks and deal separately with each group.  It remains very unclear who would come to power if Assad was ousted and if they would be an ally or an enemy of the U.S.  Therein lies the problem- do you ignore the conflict and let Assad kill his enemies and strength his position in the region or do you intervene?  It’s hard to discern who the good guys are in this conflict.
     Fourth, right or wrong, the U.S. is involved in the conflict.  To walk away now would send a signal to Russia and Iran that US foreign policy is no different than it was under Obama.  Trump’s action sent the message that he means what he says.  There is no doubt Putin will pull the trigger on some retaliatory action against the U.S.   He knows if Syria falls into Western hands, Israel is strengthened and Israel is America’s closest ally.  Putin  won’t like that happen without a fight. 
     Finally, getting involved in the civil war in Syria was not Trump’s choice. President Obama made that decision in 2014.  Up until Trump’s action, the U.S. efforts were largely financial,(US taxpayers have spent $11.5 million dollars a day supporting the rebels) and it appears little difference has been made in the civil war.  Assad has consistently beat back the rebels by using chemical weapons and terrorizing his own people because he didn’t fear any nation calling his hand. Trump called his hand.  Trump’s action got more than Assad’s attention.  It sent the message in the US and around the world that Trump is not singularly focused on the economy. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Let the bragging and chest pounding begin!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     In 2018, six of Oklahoma’s statewide elected officials will term out.  The offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor & Inspector, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and one Corporation Commission seat will be up for grabs because Oklahomans approved a two term limit on those offices.  At least three of the six that are termed out in one office will likely seek another office.
     The race for Governor appears to be the one that is drawing the most attention.  Gary Richardson, a Tulsa area attorney, who ran in 2002 as an Independent, played spoiler that year and got enough votes to throw the race to Democrat Brad Henry.  Henry won over Richardson and Steve Largen, the GOP nominee, with less than 50% of the vote.  This time around, Richardson is running as a Republican.  His challenge will be explaining to GOP primary voters how he is now a loyal Republican after helping get Henry elected.  It’s a cinch that Lt. Governor Todd Lamb will run.  Lamb is popular with the Republican base, has raised lots of money, and is more fiscally conservative than the current Governor.  Gary Jones, State Auditor & Inspector, has indicated he has formed an exploratory committee to decide if he will run for Governor.  Jones, the former State GOP Chair, won the Auditor’s job with grassroots support.  In a large field, Jones would be formidable.  His supporters are loyal, understand the political process and can get the vote out.  There are rumors of other candidates looking at the GOP nomination who can self-fund, but at this point, none have declared publically.  It is a little early- filing isn’t for another year.  
     The office of Governor in Oklahoma was created weak when compared to the office in other states.  Part of that is because of there were abuses by Territorial Governors in the state’s history, the writers of the State Constitution tried to restrict and limit the power of the office.   It wasn’t until 1966 that an Oklahoma Governor could immediately succeed themselves.  The reason Oklahoma directly elects so many statewide elected officials as Oklahoma is because the founders’ feared corruption and their fears were well founded.  The Oklahoma legislature impeached two early Governors for corruption.
     Through the years, the office of Oklahoma Governor has gained power, primarily by persuading the legislature to cooperate to circumvent those eleven constitutional offices.  A prime example is the Oklahoma Office of State Finance.  For years its role was to help the Governor develop the annual state budget, which was then presented to the legislature, but the Governor persuaded lawmakers to exponentially expand their role, usurping the roles of constitutionally created offices- in particular the office of State Auditor & Inspector.   The head of the Office of State Finance is appointed by the Governor, accountable to no one but the Governor. 
     Slowly and methodically, Oklahoma’s Governors- Republican and Democrat- have restructured the role of the office of Governor.  With the legislature’s help, they have expanded the Governor’s power.  Most of the largest state agencies are now headed by appointees of the Governor, not by elected officials.  Much of this happened right under the nose of unsuspecting Oklahomans and without a vote of the people. 
      Every candidate for Governor in 2018 should be asked if they will respect the state constitution and not seek to expand the duties of Governor without a vote of the people?  We already have too many ‘appointed’ heads of state agencies.  Will the candidate reduce or expand the footprint of Oklahoma government?  Those are fundamental questions.    
     The majority of voters base their vote on personality-likability, or some complicated scientific formula like how many yard signs they pass on the way to the voting site.  But sometimes the candidate who is not as politically savvy, who is abrasive, candid and insulting wins.  A classic example is Donald Trump. The reason Trump won was because people are fed up with the status quo.  It wasn’t his late night tweets or posts on social media about how great he is that got their vote.  They wanted someone to change things.  That same dynamic is true in Oklahoma. The candidate who has a definite, logical plan to address Oklahoma’s problems and who can execute that plan will get the Republican nomination. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Some people would prefer getting nothing than something!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
     On Friday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, (R-Wisconsin), pulled the Affordable Health Care   ‘repeal and replace’ bill before it came to a vote on the floor.  President Trump said the outcome of the bill was uncertain, but that ‘it was a very very tight margin.”   One of the first actions the President pledged to do was pull the plug on Obamacare, but it appears that will take some more time.
     While most of the media was reporting on the Republican’s inability to hold their coalition together, little was mentioned about no Democrat member of the House pledging support of Ryan’s bill, even though there are 18 members of the conservative Democrat Blue Dog caucus.  To their credit, Democrats in the House  stick together better than Republicans.  But is there not one of the 193 Democrat House member who doesn’t believe the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed and replaced?  Group-think is defined as the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.  The Democrats masterfully practice group-think. 
     The group of members that took the credit for derailing the bill was the House Freedom Caucus.  It’s not clear how many Republican members of the House are part of the caucus because they are secretive.  Led by two term North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, it is estimated the group has 30-35 members, including Tulsa area Congressman Jim Bridenstine (who said he supported Ryan’s bill).  The Freedom caucus demanded Ryan’s bill include repealing more of the ACA’s insurance mandates or they would oppose.  Even after President Trump met with the caucus and told them there would be political consequences if they didn’t support the bill, they stuck to their guns and opposed the president.  Reasonable and rational is rarely descriptive of the Freedom caucus. Three observations: 
     First, why didn’t Republican leadership have the ‘repeal and replace’ ready to go on day one?  The short answer is they didn’t expect Donald Trump to win.  It caught them by surprise.  They knew the repeal bills the House passed and sent to the Senate when Obama was still in the White House were more about political grandstanding than substance.  When Trump won, they scrambled to draft a bill that would truly fix the ACA, but Ryan’s bill was not acceptable to the Freedom caucus.  If Ryan had added their demands, he would have lost the moderate members of the caucus, so he was between a rock and a hard place.   
     Second, most of the Freedom caucus members could care less about political consequences. In fact, most members relish being defiant to authority.  Their political base would barbecue them if they compromised on anything.  They could care less if nothing gets done in government- in fact they prefer it.  The members who manage to serve long term in Congress proudly point out they don’t work with anyone and have a reputation of being difficult.  For someone like Trump, who has spent his entire career finding common ground in business by negotiating, it has to be frustrating when he finds he is dependent on people who will not move.  It’s not surprising Trump moved on.  That is what you do in business.  If a deal can’t get done, then move on and forget it.  The problem is that is not always possible in government- like a bad penny, the problem hangs around.  At some point, a solution has to be hammered out and it requires finding common ground.
     Third, the Affordable Care Act is self-destructing.  Most of the co-ops are gone.  A large portion of the exchanges have only one plan to ‘choose’ from.  The money the government was giving insurance companies is gone and now premiums have increased at astronomical rates.  The ACA caused health care premiums to rise for middle-class Americans who do not quality for subsidies.  If Congress does nothing, the ACA will eventually collapse.  Instead of staking out their political territory, members of both Parties should hammer out a common sense solution before the collapse.
       President Trump is finding being President isn’t like being the CEO of a business.  To be successful, he has to find common ground with members of Congress, no matter what Party.  He should reach across the aisle to conservative Democrats in Congress(Blue Dog caucus).  They are more likely to support his agenda than the members of the Freedom caucus.  Being dependent on people who love to say no is no way to govern.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Believers shouldn't rejoice when someone falls!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     Last week the Oklahoma State Senate unanimously voted to strip Senator Ralph Shortey, (R-OKC), of his privileges as a State Senator.  He can still vote, but he doesn’t have an office, a legislative assistant or a parking place.  Shortey was evidently caught in a motel room with a 17 year old boy and allegedly he wasn’t there to do spiritual counseling with the lad.  The Cleveland County DA charged him with three counts, all involving prostitution.  Social media blew up after the incident was revealed.  Most called for Shortey to resign including the Governor and Lt. Governor.  Others said he should be considered innocent until proven guilty and the Senate’s action was too quick.  Four observations:
     First, those who thump their Bible better be prepared to be thumped harder than those that don’t when they fall.  Shortey claims to be a Christian conservative.  He doesn’t drink and he doesn’t chew and he doesn’t run with girls that do.   His bio says he studied to be a missionary, but abandoned that idea to go into politics.  It seems strange God would lead a man to abandon an eternal calling for a temporal one, but that’s between Shortey and God.  I don’t know Shortey’s spiritual condition before God, but the scripture says there is something known as the ‘fruit of the spirit.’(Gal. 5)  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control flow out of a believer’s heart.   True believers aren’t vindictive, retaliatory, hateful and impatient.  Those actions are the fruit of the flesh.  Sadly, there are more professors than possessors and just because someone says they are regenerated doesn’t mean they are.    
     Second, depravity is universal.  The condemnation of Shortey, by those on both political spectrums reminds me of when the Pharisees brought to Jesus the woman found in adultery.  He told them, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.”  One by one they left until not one of the Pharisees was there to accuse her because their conscience condemned them of their own sin.  The realized they had a sin nature and except for the grace of God, they were just like the adulterous woman.  Bear in mind, the Pharisees were unregenerate. Even the unregenerate know they are not perfect and that they sin. When Adam fell, all mankind fell.  We have an inherent sin nature and those who claim they don’t sin are either dishonest or ignorant of their very nature.  Depravity manifests itself in many ways and alleged Shortey’s transgression is one that seems particularly grievous, but he that is without sin, cast the first stone.  Depravity misses no man. 
     Third, Shortey should have resigned immediately if the accusations are true.  True Christian believers don’t cover up their sin- they repent of it.  They face the music.  They don’t hire a high powered defense attorney, try to find loopholes and pull legal shenanigans to beat the rap.  They do the right thing and repent.   Everyone sins, everyone misbehaves, but how a person handles themselves when they do is what defines them.   Shortey shouldn’t be concerned about a paycheck or future retirement; he should be concerned about doing what is right.  When professing believers sin and then cover it up, dodge responsibility and act like the world, they hurt the cause of the gospel.  If the allegations are true, he is unfit for office, period.  He should immediately apologize and resign. 
     Fourth, political leaders should be like those described in Exodus 18:21.  Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law gives four attributes of true leaders; able, truthful, those that fear God and hate covetousness.  Most modern day leaders exhibit none of these.  They instead campaign one way and then lead another way.  We need leaders who have conviction and are worried more about the next generation than the next election. 
     Shortey’s situation should humble anyone who is involved in politics- no matter their ideology.  We live in a culture that calls good evil and evil good.  Situational ethics rules the day.  No one should rejoice when someone fails if they recognize they have the same feet of clay.  Shortey should face the consequences for his actions, but the sober man shouldn’t take delight in his shortcomings