Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial


by Steve Fair

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters will be casting their ballot on a State Question authored by State Senator Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. The State Question, if passed, will amend the State Constitution to require that Oklahoma state government conduct business in the English language. According to a poll by Bill Shapard of Soonerpoll, 86% of Oklahomans support making English the official language of states government. The joint resolution passed the State House by a vote of 89-8 and the Senate by a vote of 44-2 back in May during the later part of the 2009 legislative session.

“Making English the official language of state government is not only the humane thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. Right now, Oklahoma taxpayers can be forced to pay for government materials to be printed in up to 300 different languages or even pay for individual translators in every language. We are already seeing large sums spent on Spanish-language driver’s manuals no one uses while facing a shortage of English manuals. It’s time to eliminate that waste and be efficient with taxpayer funds.” I’m certain that the people of the state of Oklahoma will support the resolution as drafted and it will be part of our constitution,” Sykes said confidently.

The actual ballot language for the SQ is: “This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Article 30. This amendment states that English is the common and unifying language of the state. All official actions of the state would be in English, except as required by federal law. No one would have a cause of action against an agency or subdivision of the state for failure to provide actions in any other language. The amendment could not be construed to diminish or impair uses of Native American languages. The Legislature would be able to enact related laws.”

Note that Sykes and the House authors made a provision for Oklahoma rich Native American language heritage, which had been a controversial issue in the 2008 legislative session.
Already thirty other states and more than fifty nations have adopted official English laws. Sykes has worked long and hard on this issue. He campaigned on the issue when he ran in 2006. But getting it to a vote of the people did not come without difficulty.

In a letter dated April 14, 2009(in the middle of the "English" debate in the legislature) from Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, the DOJ letter states, “As you know, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with various civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.” The letter continues, “State agencies and other entities in Oklahoma that receive federal financial assistance thus would be precluded by federal law from abiding by an English-only requirement where it conflicts with their obligations under Title VI.”

The not so veiled threat from the feds that Oklahoma would lose federal money if voters chose to make English the official language of state government raised the hackles of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation. Senators Coburn, Inhofe, and U.S. Reps Lucus, Cole, Fallin, Sullivan, and Boren fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pointing out that several other states have passed similar legislation and asked if they too have been “accused by the Department of Justice to be in violation with Title VI, or formally threatened with funding termination?” The delegation letter asked for an explanation for what prompted the DOJ to write the state of Oklahoma on this issue and seeks explanation for what funds would be eliminated should Oklahomans pass the English only amendment.

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. said, “Attorney General Holder owes the residents of Oklahoma an explanation as to why this thinly veiled threat was issued to Oklahoma on a state matter. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a bureaucrat in Washington dictating more of what we can and cannot do. Officials at the Department of Justice should focus on more pressing matters under their jurisdiction before issuing statements about a state issue that has yet to become law.”

On October 9th, the Congressional delegation received a response from the DOJ. The explanation stated the Department learned of the Oklahoma Constitutional amendment through media reports and said, “Please be assured that voter approval next year of Oklahoma’s official English amendment would not affect the state’s eligibility for federal financial assistance from the Department.” U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe said, “I am pleased that the Justice Department has backed off its threat over Oklahoma’s proposed English-only constitutional amendment.”

Voters should vote to approve the State Question next November and the reasons are clear. First, by making English our official language we encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "We have one language here, and that is the English language, and we intend to see that the [assimilation] crucible turns our people out as Americans." Secondly, Official English would also reinforce America's historic message to new immigrants - that we expect them to learn English as the first step in that assimilation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair

In June, Oklahoma State House Speaker Chris Benge- R, Tulsa, authorized one hundred and twenty “interim” studies to study issues. One of the studies was requested by State Representatives Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, and Danny Morgan, D-Prague to study cell phone and texting use while driving. Tibbs chairs the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, in which Morgan is a member.

Morgan, who is the House minority leader, has filed bills to ban cell phone use in cars the past two legislative sessions, but it hasn’t gotten anywhere. Morgan remains undeterred in his attempts to emphasize the risks of distracted driving. "Erratic driving due to cell phone use is only getting worse as drivers continue to overestimate their own ability to juggle phone use while behind the wheel," Morgan claims.

Currently six states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington) as well as Washington DC ban handheld cell phone for all drivers. With the exception of Washington State, these laws are all primary enforcement—an officer may ticket a driver for using a handheld cell phone while driving without any other traffic offense-taking place.
No state completely bans all types of cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for all drivers, but many prohibit cell phone use by certain segments of the population.

For example, twenty-one state and DC ban all cell phone use by novice drivers (under 21). Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers and nine states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

At last week’s interim study at the State Capital, an emotional Jennifer Smith told the story of how her mother was killed in a car accident last September by a driver distracted on a cell phone who ran a red light. The emotional and passionate Smith advocates banning all cell phone use in moving vehicles.

Scott Watkins, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, also spoke at the meeting and said there is no evidence to show that talking on a cell phone is more of a distraction than other distractions. Watkins said that in 2008 only 2.3% of car wrecks were due to driver distracted with cell phones.

That number may be higher because currently cell-phone use is self-reported at the time of an accident. That means drivers can admit or deny they were on their cell phone or texting. Current Oklahoma law requires that a subpoena or court order be issued to get cell phone records to find out if a driver was using their phone using the phone/texting. Law enforcement would like to be able to get that information without getting a court order or subpoena.

In 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 34,017 fatalities in 2008 from auto accidents. According to the NHTSA, thirty one percent of fatal crashes in 2008 were alcohol related. Mark Edwards, Director of Traffic Safety at the American Automobile Association, believes driver distraction is a close second. Edward says, "The research tells us that somewhere between 25-50 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in this country really have driver distraction as their root cause." Distractions include rubbernecking, driver fatigue, kids/passengers, reading maps or other documents and grooming. The AAA study said that talking on your mobile while driving will increase crash risks fourfold.

In a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, people who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash (or what they call a near-crash event) than nondistracted drivers. Prevention magazine says that at least eighty five percent of cell phone users talk on their phone while driving.

Technology has advanced at such a rate that lawmakers believe it essential they deal with it. Not only is the Oklahoma state legislature taking up the issue of cell phone use while driving, but so are state cities and municipalities. The Duncan City Council already has the issue on their radar screen.

The problem of people not excercising common sense and using electronics of all types while driving is certainly a problem. I drive over 50K miles each year and have seen about every “distraction” you can imagine by passing drivers. It’s also true that modern communication technology has made it almost seemingly impossible for some people to be “off the grid” for even an hour while driving, but with the amount of traffic laws on the books, I’m not sure adding another is the answer.

It seems rather discriminating for us to single out just one cause of distraction for possible ticketing. Shouldn’t we make it illegal for people to “groom” while driving? How often have you seen a woman putting on make-up or a guy shaving while passing you at 75? How about making it illegal for people to “look back” (rubberneck) while driving?

These proposed “cell phone” laws take away individual personal liberty in the name of personal safety. Individual personal security can’t be legislated and these laws are intrusive and unnecessary.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
Last week, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Established in 1901 by the inventor of dynamite, a Swede named Alfred Nobel, the prize comes with a 1.4 million dollar cash prize- which is close to what Obama will make in salary as President for his entire four year term. The President makes $400,000 annually. It’s unclear what the President plans to do with the prize money.

Obama is the twenty first American to be awarded the prize. Other Presidents that have received the award were Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. Other notable Americans to be awarded the prize include former Vice President Al Gore; civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Obama’s selection as this year’s recipient came as a shock, evidently even to the President. Obama said, “I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear, I do not view it as recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. “
Congressman Tom Cole- R, Oklahoma, said that Obama winning the Nobel was like awarding a player the MVP award without playing the game. Fellow blogger Nancy Millers said, “Informed sources tell me that on hearing the good news about her husband, Michelle Obama exclaimed: “Until now, I was never proud of the Nobel Peace Prize.” With the Heisman race so close this year, don’t be surprised if the Downtown NY club awards the stiff arm trophy to the prez. The jokes are piling up about the award, but just how does one win the Nobel?

The selection process starts with the Norwegian Nobel Committee inviting “qualified” people to submit nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. The statutes of the Nobel Foundation specify categories of certain elitist, government intellectual types who can nominate someone for the prize. Past recipients can nominate, so perhaps Al Gore or Jimmy Carter submitted Obama’s name, but thus far neither have claimed responsibility, which you would expect.

This year 205 people were nominated for the Nobel. When you consider the deadline for this year’s nominations (February 1st) was just twelve days after President Obama was sworn into office, you have to wonder who submitted his name, but the nomination and selection process is so secretive that the files are not opened for fifty years, so we’ll have to wait for that information.
The five member committee then meets and narrows down the nominations to finalists using Alfred Nobel’s criterion as their guide. In his will, Nobel said the peace prize was to be awarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". The committee attempts to reach a unanimous decision but that is not always possible. The Chairman of the Committee then awards the Nobel Peace Prize in the presence of the King of Norway on December 10(the anniversary of Nobel's death) at the Oslo City Hall. A huge concert follows the next day.
So how did Barrack Hussein Obama II go from Illinois State Senator to Nobel Peace Prize winner in five years? It seems like a huge leap and Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said as much in an interview with the AP. "Some people say, and I understand it, isn't it premature? Too early?" "Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond -- all of us." Jagland said.

The bottom line is the Nobel committee was sending a message to the world that they love this liberal American President and his pacifist foreign policies, but they acted prematurely and inappropriately. To award someone for good intentions is not following Nobel’s criterion for the prize outlined in his will. In 1901, Henry Dunant, a Swiss was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 at the age of 73. The Geneva-based International Red Cross was founded by the devout Calvinist, Dunant, who also helped establish the Geneva Convention, was a humanitarian whose life work was substantive. He was not a classic pacifist who advocated world peace, but recognized the nature of man would always produce conflict. Dunant sought a way to be “humane” even in times of war. We still use the principles set forth by Dunant. Obama’s award was pretentious and exaggerated and takes away from the prestige of the once noble Nobel.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
General Stanley McChrystal has requested President Obama approve the deployment of 30-40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. Currently the U.S. has 68,000 plus troops in the country. McChrystal told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan". In a speech made in London, the General said the delay in getting troops into the country is a mistake. "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support." He told Newsweek he was firmly against half measures in Afghanistan: "You can't hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn."

It’s very rare for a commanding General to speak out so bluntly in public, but he is frustrated by the complete lack of a “sense of urgency” on the part of the administration. Why did a disciplined, service academy graduate, highly decorated General speak out so bluntly?
First, McChrystal believes in action and not indecisiveness. He delivered his formal report on Afghanistan more than a month ago, yet the debate in the Obama White House continues. Only two meetings have been held to discuss the issue. Second, since McChrystal’s appointment as the commander in Afghanistan, President Obama has only met with McChrystal twice and once was last week in Copenhagen on Air Force One. After the General made his speech, in London, he was summoned to a face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago's unsuccessful Olympic bid.

When asked about the commander's public lobbying for more troops, General Jim Jones, national security adviser, said: “Ideally, it's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.” When Jones was asked if Obama asked McChrystal to stop speaking publicly about the issue, Jones said, "I wasn't there so I can't answer that question. But it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I am sure they exchanged direct views."
Some liberals believe the General's London comments as verging on insubordination.

Bruce Ackerman, an expert on constitutional law at Yale University, said in the Washington Post: "As commanding general, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements. It is highly unusual for a senior military officer to "pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy". New York Times columnist Frank Rich has accused the general of an attempt to "try to lock him (Obama) in" on Afghanistan.

And McChrystal is not alone, more and more senior military officials are now openly criticizing the White House for not tackling the issue quickly and decisively. They have made no secret of their view that without the vast ground force recommended by Gen McChrystal, the Afghan mission could end in failure and a return to power of the Taliban. Top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen and the head of the regional Central Command, General David Petraeus, have publicly endorsed the manpower-intensive strategy set out in a report by McChrystal.
The military leaders are “hedging their bets.” As Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense said, "They want to make sure people know what they asked for if things go wrong."

It would appear the President is more interested in trying to play “pitch man” for the United States than “commander in chief.” After his very public failed attempt to bring to Olympics to Chicago, perhaps Obama should get back to the job the people elected him to do- lead the country. Whether you liked his policies or his decisions, no one could fault George W on the speed in which he made a decision.

In the movie, Top Gun, Lt. Pete Mitchell tells Charlie, “when you’re up there, things are happening so fast, you don’t have time to think- instinct takes over.” Our leaders must have good instincts. They must have the education, temperament and background to make quick decisions. Its obvious Obama is no Maverick- he's more like Goose.