Monday, December 30, 2013

INCONSISTENCY!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
      On December 17th, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously agreed that HB #2032, a state law that cut income tax and also created a fund for repairing the state Capitol building was unconstitutional.    The court’s opinion, written by Justice James Winchester, stated, “We hold the statute unconstitutional as it violates the single subject rule mandated by the Oklahoma Constitution.” What is the ‘single subject’ rule?
     Article V Sec. 57 of the Oklahoma Constitution states: Every act of the Legislature shall embrace but one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title, except general appropriation bills, general revenue bills, and bills adopting a code, digest, or revision of statutes.  The motive of the writers of the constitution was to attempt to stop the practice of ensuring the passage of a bill by which a legislator is forced to vote for an unfavorable provision in a bill to secure passage of a favorable one. The bill was authored by Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, (R-Lawton) and was a priority of Governor Mary Fallin.  
       I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to unravel a plan that would have provided tax relief to Oklahoma families as well as a way of restoring our crumbling Capitol building,” Fallin said.
     Speaker Shannon said. “I'm deeply disappointed the Supreme Court has once again ruled against the interests of those families. The good news is, help is on the way. I am prepared to act quickly with legislative leaders and the governor to restore what the Supreme Court has undone.”
Three observations concerning this ruling:
     First, the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling on ‘single subject’ has been terribly inconsistent.  In June, the court ruled the tort reform laws passed in 2009 were unconstitutional because they violated the ‘single subject’ rule.  Then on December 16th, the Supreme Court ruled the new workers comp reform laws WERE constitutional and did not violate the ‘single subject’ rule.  Bear in mind, both tort reform and workers comp were written and presented much the same way.  If one law violated the ‘single subject’ provision, then it stood to reason that both did.  And what about the behemoth HB #1017 passed by Oklahoma voters in 1990?  If tort reform violated single subject, then the education bill was certainly a violation.  Where was the high court then?    Oklahoma citizens should reasonably expect courts to rule with consistency and not legislate from the bench. 
     Second, Oklahomans must demand judicial reform.  Oklahoma has three appellate courts- The Oklahoma Supreme Court, made up of nine(9) justices, the court of Civil Appeals, twelve(12) justices, and the court of Criminal Appeals, five(5) justices.  All are appointed by the governor.  Of the twenty six (26) justices currently on the three courts, nineteen (19) were appointed by Democrat governors.  All of these judges face Oklahoma voters, on a rotating basis, every six (6) years on a ‘retention’ ballot.  Voters can either vote to keep them or replace them.  Since Oklahoma went to a retention ballot, NO justice has been replaced.  It is next to impossible to find out anything about the judges on the ballot.  Many voters just leave it blank or vote to retain.  This system is not working.  Justices should either be term limited or they should run on a partisan ballot like they do in Texas.  
     Third, the single subject provision needs to go away.  Anti-logrolling provisions in state constitutions were very common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  While the rule does force the legislature to only deal with one subject at a time, the rule has resulted in overly narrow interruption by the high court.  Single subject requires the legislature to pass more bills to accomplish the same thing and is an ineffective mechanism for stopping corruption.  It is now being used to circumvent the will of the people by an activist judiciary.  It’s time we consider removing it from our state constitution.
     This is not the official position of the Oklahoma Republican Party.  I am not speaking in an official capacity as National Committeeman.  This is only my opinion as John Q. Citizen.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

MERRY CHRISTMAS!
by Steve Fair

     On Wednesday, we celebrate the birth of Christ.  I think the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are the most important events in human history. It is proper we mark and celebrate these events.  I recognize that December 25th was probably not the day Jesus Christ was born, but it is the season when the world is more aware of the incarnation of God as man.   The scriptures do not command us to celebrate the birth of Christ, but I believe it presents an amazing opportunity for Christians to present the gospel.  Allow me to deviate from my normal political commentary to give you three thoughts on Christmas.
     First, Christmas is under attack.  For the last several years, Bill O’Reilly has documented a number of circumstances where the celebration of the birth of Christ is under attack in the United States.  In Denver, they have banned religious floats in their Christmas parade.  Nativity scenes are being removed all over the country because of protests.  The greeting, “Merry Christmas,” has been deemed insensitive and replaced with, “Happy Holidays.”  As America becomes more secular, any reference to Christ became offensive.  That shouldn’t surprise believers because Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:18-25 that Christ was a stumbling block to the world.  Americans are not as spiritual as they were just twenty years ago.  Church attendance is down.  According to a New York Daily Post poll, only 54% of believers who had attended Christmas worship services as a child will attend this year.  Why is that?  The reason is many mainstream churches have abandoned truth for relevance.  While that may result in filling the pews, it doesn’t change hearts.  These attacks on the birth of Christ are the fruit of many years of believers not sowing the Word of God.  Christians have no one to blame for this deterioration of our society but themselves. 
     Second, Christmas is too commercial.  For years, people have spent more on gifts at Christmas than they could afford.  According to a study performed by the American Research Group, Inc., Americans will spend an average of $854 in gifts for friends and loved ones this year.  The average gift cost per child is now over $300.  One in ten parents will spend over $500 per child.  Many of those purchases will go on a credit card and paid out over the year, with interest.  The winners are banks, lending institutions and retailers.  Everyone agrees that Christmas is too commercial, but they are unwilling to stop buying expensive gifts because they feel pressure from a secular society.  Of the 2,000 people polled in the Post poll, only half said they viewed Christmas as a religious holiday, so it is not a surprise when we see Christmas becoming more commercialized.    
      Third and most importantly, Christ is not still the babe in the manager.  The message of the birth of Christ is not just his birth, but his death and resurrection.  Many people embrace the picture of a baby Jesus with an angelic halo above his head, who appears to be small and helpless.  But scripture says that Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God the Father making intercession for believers.  Why does He need to make that intercession; because we are dead in trespasses and sin.  Not sick, dead.  That babe was and is the only hope we have.  He is the omniscient and sovereign God who rules in the affairs of men. 
     The hope of America and for each individual American is not in electing more Republicans or getting more conservatives in office.  It’s not in getting the economy going.  It’s not in making sure everyone has affordable health care .  The hope of America is Jesus Christ.  He is the hope of all mankind.  Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bill of Rights came from God!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
BILL OF RIGHTS CAME FROM GOD!
by Steve Fair
     Sunday December 15th was the 222nd anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights is the name give to the first ten(10) amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  In 1789, twelve amendments were introduced by then Congressman James Madison to the 1st US Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by Congress in September of 1789 and eventually ten(10) were ratified by three fourths of the states in 1791. 
     The Bill of Rights enumerates freedoms not explicitly stated in the main body of the Constitution, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, and free assembly; the right to keep and bear arms; freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, security in personal effects, and freedom from warrants issued without probable cause. 
    When Madison, who was a Federalist, proposed the Bill of Rights, it was a controversial idea because a majority of the founding fathers had already entertained and rejected the idea of including a Bill of Rights in the original 1787 Constitution. Some of the Federalists(those who wanted a strong national government) also believed the concept bore too much similarity to England’s monarchy.  The Magna Carta, written in 1215, was a concession by King John to grant certain rights to his English subjects.  The Federalist founders wanted our founding document to present the concept of self-rule.  They said the reason was because ‘rights’ were given to man by God. 
     They also believed the Constitution was the only document that was necessary and called Madison’s amendments, ‘parchment barriers.’  Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper #84: “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”  Today, it seems almost inconceivable to not have a Bill of Rights, but in the early founding days of our nation, they were a source of controversy.   
     Why should Americans care about the Bill of Rights? 
     First, because they enumerate the basic freedoms we have as Americans; rights government can’t take away.  The Bill of Rights are like rules to a game.  You need to know what the rules are for being a citizen in America.  They educate citizens.  They serve to help keep government in check.  While they are not followed as closely by government as they should be, they do provide an effective deterrent to government expansion into our lives.   
     Secondly, the Bill of Rights are important today because they define what the founders meant when they said "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  A key phase in the Constitution is ‘unalienable rights.’  The founders were stating our rights, which cannot be taken away by government, originated with God.  But if our rights originated with God, as the founders stated, shouldn’t we find out what He said about government?  Romans 13:1 says Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
  That simply means President Obama didn’t win two presidential elections by accident- he was placed into office by God.  Hard to grasp for conservatives, but in fact if we believe that God puts leaders in power, we must understand He also controls and governs them.  The most effective lobbying effort a Christian has is not writing and calling his elected officials (which should be done), but when he lobbies God on his knees. 
     If God puts leaders into power, then we can logically conclude He also ordained the adoption of the Bill of Rights.  We should be grateful and thankful for His provision of these ten amendments.  They came from the hand of an omniscient, sovereign God who knows what we need better than we do.

Monday, December 9, 2013

BRENDA RENEAU'S LEGACY!

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

Reneau’s Legacy!

 by Steve Fair

     Last week former Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau passed away.  Brenda served as Labor Commissioner from 1995-2007.  I met Brenda Reneau in early 1994 when she started campaigning for office.  We immediately hit it off.  She was smart, candid and didn’t take herself too seriously.  When I ran for State Senate in 2000, Brenda was a trusted advisor to my campaign and a close confidant and friend.  She keynoted two successful fundraisers for my campaign.  I will miss her personally, but Brenda Reneau’s legacy is how she conducted herself in office.  


     What Brenda accomplished during her tenure as Oklahoma Labor Commissioner was significant.  It has saved and continues to save Oklahoma taxpayers millions of dollars.  Reneau successfully fought the ‘prevailing wage’ fraud schemes of organized labor in the state. ‘Prevailing wage’  aka the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 was a US Federal law that required public works projects pay the local prevailing wages to laborers and mechanics.  Many states, including Oklahoma, mirrored the Davis-Bacon Act and passed local ‘prevailing wage’ laws for their state funded projects.  The problem was that organized labor was fraudulently setting the ‘prevailing wage.’  Before Reneau was elected, previous Oklahoma Labor Commissioners just rubber stamped the higher rate and Oklahoma taxpayers paid the bill.

     Reneau brought suit on behalf of Oklahoma taxpayers challenging prevailing wage.  She fought it to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and in October of 1995, the court agreed with her and declared the state’s little Davis-Bacon Act unconstitutional.  The ruling reverberated across the country.  Other states begin to look at their prevailing wage laws.  

     In his 2005 book, Freedom in the Workplace, Samuel Cook, called Reneau, ‘one brave and honest government official who exhibited uncommon courage.’  The Wall Street Journal published this editorial in 1996:

     “Economists have shown that Davis-Bacon freezes out many lower skilled workers, primarily black or Hispanic, from jobs on these projects.  What hasn't been known until now is that many Davis-Bacon prevailing wages appears to have been calculated using fictitious projects, ghost workers and companies set up to pay artificially high wages. Taxpayers may be paying top dollar for construction projects but getting fewer schools prisons and bridges built than they should.
     Brenda Reneau, Oklahoma Secretary of Labor, found that many of the wage survey form submitted to the US Department of Labor to calculate federal wage rates in her state were simply wrong.  In one instance, records show that an underground storage tank was built using 20 plumbers and pipefitters making $21.05 per hour, however no such project was ever built. In another case several asphalt machine operators were reported to have constructed a parking lot at an IRS building and they had been paid $15 an hour, when in reality no asphalt operators were used to build the concrete lot. 
     Ms. Reneau said she was thwarted for months in efforts to learn whether union officials or contractors submitted the bogus forms.  She notes that federal labor officials completely stonewalled her by claiming much of the information fell into the same category as ‘trade secrets.’ "They publicly denied the fraud and resisted our investigation," she maintains.  Back home she's been threatened with physical harm for troubles "I've been told my life is worth about $1000 and my legs could be broken for $500," she says. 
      
     Sadly, the editorial in the WSJ went unnoticed to many in Oklahoma, but those who were paying attention understood the significance of Reneau’s courage.  Reneau was taking on powerful forces and standing in the gap for taxpayers.  Brenda called the Davis-Bacon Act “a welfare program that allowed unions to lie to federal officials and to steal from taxpayers.”
     
     All Oklahomans owe Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau a true debt of gratitude.  She had the courage to not only expose fraud, but she had the tenacity and strength to do something about it.  She was a rare person.  May her legacy be one that is never forgotten by Oklahoma.  She was one of a kind.  We need more elected officials like Brenda Reneau.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

RULING IS IN THE HAND OF GOD!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
RULING IS IN THE HAND OF GOD!
by Steve Fair
     Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby, the landmark lawsuit addressing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of business owners to operate their company without violating their religious convictions.  No date has been set for the case to be heard, but it is expected to be decided by June.
     Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, claims that Hobby Lobby is trying to ‘seize a controlling interest’ in women’s health care because they oppose providing insurance coverage to their employees for the abortion pill.
     “Today, there are people trying to take this right away from women, by letting private, for-profit corporations and employers make medical decisions for their employees, based on their personal beliefs,” she wrote. “A group of for-profit companies are currently suing to gain the right to deny employees access to coverage for birth control and contraceptive care, which are used by the overwhelming majority of American women in their lifetimes,” Jarrett writes on her blog.
     David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby is optimistic the SCOTUS will side with the rights of religious business owners when they hear the case. “My family and I are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide our case. This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” Green said. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”
     Three observations concerning this landmark case:
     First, it is the federal government working to ‘seize controlling interest’ in women’s health.  The Affordable Care Act(ACA) mandates certain procedures, medications, and medical practices be made available to all women, whether they want those procedures or not.  Women who work at Hobby Lobby have the choice to find another job if they don’t like the medical coverage provided by the company.  Government doesn’t allow women that option.  Jarrett’s comments are arrogant and disingenuous.
     Second, the ACA pushes Christian business owners to violate their convictions.  The issue for the Green family is the ACA mandates their insurance cover the ‘morning after’ abortion pill for their employees.  The Greens rightly believe life begins at conception and the ‘morning after’ pill is actually abortion.  Whether you agree with that or not is not the issue.  The issue is does an employer have to provide a benefit to their employee even if it violates their religious conviction?  The ACA contains a general "religious conscience" section which sets forth guidelines under which religious groups who have established conscientious objections to certain forms of insurance may seek exemption from its health insurance requirements, but it doesn’t include private businesses.
     Third and most importantly, Christians should pray the SCOTUS rule righteously in this case.  If they rule according to the Constitution, then Hobby Lobby should win, but the founding document is not always followed by the court.  While the court may think they are making this decision, this case is really in the hands of a holy, sovereign eternal God, not the SCOTUS.  He controls everything and has His way in the whirlwind.  Pray He have mercy on America and touch the hearts and minds of the justices.  An unfavorable ruling will accelerate the United State’s moral decline. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ethics are in the Head before they are in the Hand!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
ETHICS ARE IN THE HEAD
BEFORE
THEY ARE IN THE HAND!
by Steve Fair

     The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant said, “In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others.  In ethics, he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.”
     The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is a five(5) member board of commissioners appointed by various elected officials.  The commissioners serve with no compensation- it’s a volunteer position.  Currently there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission.  The Ethics commission was created in 1990 by the passage of a State Question by Oklahoma voters.  The stated purpose of the Ethics Commission is to “promulgate rules of ethical conduct for state officers and employees, campaigns for elective state office and campaigns for state ballot initiatives.”    In other words, they are the political contribution police.  The Ethics Commission requires candidates, political organizations and lobbyists to report who contributes to their cause and how they are spending those contributions.  They provide some transparency into the political process.
     Last week at their regular monthly meeting, the Ethics Commission proposed some changes to how lobbyists register and report.  They proposed increasing the amount a lobbyist can spend on a meal with a state legislator from $100 to $500.  They also proposed that state colleges and universities in Oklahoma be allowed to give legislators two tickets to every sporting event, lecture, or seminar at their school.  That is potentially two tickets to every softball, baseball, football, basketball game from every state institution in Oklahoma for all 149 Oklahoma legislators.  Wow!
      State Representative Mike Reynolds, (R-OKC), says, These proposed rule changes have the potential of increasing lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Instead of limiting influence on lawmakers, the Ethics Commission seems to be declaring open season for lobbyists on elected officials.” Reynolds plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming 2014 legislative session to disapprove the proposed rule changes by the commission.  Four thoughts:
     First, lobbyists represent people.  I realize that lobbyists have a bad reputation, but understand most lobbyists are people representing groups of people.  Lobbyists are often representing people who are working and can’t personally lobby their elected officials. Not all lobbyists are bad- just like not all jelly salesmen are bad.  Most lobbyists provide valuable information and educate a legislator on an issue.  The key is the legislator must understand that when the lobbyist is presenting their side of the story they are only presenting ONE side.  They must remember that every issue, like a pancake, has two sides. 
     Second, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  When a lobbyist buys a legislator a meal, he ultimately expects to get a return on his investment.  Any state legislator that doesn’t recognize that isn’t smart enough to represent the people of Oklahoma.  No lobbyist can stay in business buying lunch and not delivering the votes to his clients.  When a lobbyist says he doesn’t expect anything from entertaining, he is either na├»ve or lying. 
     Third, taxpayer funded lobbyists must go away.  Currently large state agencies, colleges and universities in Oklahoma use taxpayers dollars to contract outside lobbyists to convince legislators to give them more of our tax dollars.  Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) introduced legislation several years ago to eliminate taxpayer funded lobbyists.  The bill never got out of committee.  It is time for the taxpayers of Oklahoma to demand a proposed constitutional amendment (a state question) on the ballot that would eliminate this incestuous practice.
     Fourth, it is good we have an Ethics Commission in Oklahoma.  Some believe the Ethics Commission violates their constitutional rights and they favor a no holds barred free for all in campaign finance.  They favor no reporting or contribution limits, but the public has a right to know where a candidate is getting the money to fund a campaign.  The public has a right to know what clients a lobbying fund represents and how much money the lobbyist spent ‘educating’ legislators.  
     The most disturbing proposed rule change by the commission is one that would stop ethics violation investigations in the last days of a campaign.  As any experienced politico knows, most ethics violations occur in the final reporting periods.  If the commission ceases to investigate those, then they will have become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM!
by Steve Fair
     Tuesday is the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.  This speech of only 273 words and delivered in less than three minutes stirred a nation.  Its eloquence and language has an almost gem-like perfection.  Lincoln, who was a student of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, delivered what many consider to be the greatest political speech in history.  Ironically, Lincoln was not the keynote speaker that day.  An orator named Edward Everett gave a two hour speech before the President.  Everett famously sent Lincoln a note later in which he said, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." Speakers, take note, brevity is a most appreciated trait.
     The year was 1863 and Lincoln was asked to travel to Gettysburg to dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery.  It was at the beginning of the civil war and Lincoln was there to commemorate the battle of Gettysburg because it was a huge battle and thousands of union solider lives were lost in that battle.  The President traveled by train from Washington D.C. and remarked to his staff during the trip he didn’t feel well.  Two days after delivering the speech, Lincoln was treated for smallpox.  Another lesson for speakers- deliver the message and worry less about style.
     Some believe that Lincoln used Pericles’ Funeral Oration as an outline for the Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln was a fan of Shakespeare and may have studied the Greek classics, but whether or not he used Pericles’ speech as an outline does not diminish the impact his speech had on America.
     Another legend is the speech was written on the train to Gettysburg.  Records show that Lincoln wrote an early draft of the speech while he was still in Washington and revised it the night he arrived in Gettysburg.  He revised it yet again the next morning after he had toured a portion of the battlefield. Lincoln also added the words "under God" to the line "that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom" after touring the battlefield.
     What is the message of the Gettysburg Address?
     First, Lincoln made the speech about preserving self-government.  Instead of bringing up divisive issues or narrowly defining his speech by the battle, he talked in very broad terms. Instead of delivering an angry attack against the Confederacy, Lincoln emphasized healing America and working toward the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence by our founders.  Lincoln points out the founding principles of the republic are under attack.
     Second, the final two sentences of the speech/address have a call to action- a resolve to complete the unfinished work of a free people.  Lincoln says,It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth-.that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln reminded America that we are self-governed and that with God’s help, we would stay that way.
     Our nation’s sixteenth President loved God’s Word and declared the Bible "the best gift God has given man."  As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address, may our nation experience a new birth of freedom from the hand of a sovereign God by turning to His principles and precepts, both individually and collectively.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Price doesn't always reflect Value!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
PRICE DOESN’T ALWAYS REFLECT VALUE!
by Steve Fair

     Last week, Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, (R-Lawton) conducted an interim study on Oklahoma higher education.  One of the topics discussed was the affordability of a college education in Oklahoma.  In July, the Oklahoma State Regents approved a five percent increase to tuition and fees for college students attending state colleges and universities.  They cited record enrollment as an example that Oklahoma still has one of the best deals going when it comes to getting a college education. 
     Despite the increase, tuition at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities still remains among the lowest in the United States. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma ranks seventh in affordable college tuition and eighth in student loan debt nationally.  While it’s true that a college education is affordable in Oklahoma, an issue that should be discussed is the state’s poor graduation rate.  Once a person starts college, do they finish?  According to College Completion, Oklahoma ranks a dismal 41st in the US in graduation rates.  Only 45.4% of Oklahoma college students will graduate in six years.  OU has the highest graduation rate- 64%, OSU- 59%, Cameron, my alma mater, has the lowest graduation rate among state colleges-19%.

Three observations:

     First, college is not for everyone.  Students who do well in high school and on college entrance exams are much more likely to graduate college, but when more than half of the students starting never finish, it’s apparent that college could be a waste of time and in fact cost a student time and money.   While college students sometimes still gain marketable skills from partial attendance, others end up taking jobs that are often given to high school graduates, making little more money but having college debts and some lost earnings accrued while unsuccessfully pursing a degree. 
     Second, a college degree doesn’t always guarantee higher earnings.  The number of new college graduates far exceeds the growth in the number of technical, managerial, and professional jobs where graduates traditionally have gravitated. Now as a consequence, we have a new phenomenon in America: underemployed college graduates doing jobs historically performed by those with less education. We have, for example, more than 100,000 janitors with college degrees, and 16,000 degree-holding parking lot attendants.  Just because we go to college doesn’t always guarantee a high paying job.
     Third, higher education has become a business.  State colleges and universities should be run like a business, but these institutes of higher learning are more interested in selling more credit hours than training students.  According to Complete College America, more than 40% of incoming college freshman are taking remedial courses in college.  That means they are taking high school courses in college because they are not ready for college level classes.  If little Johnny can’t pass Algebra I in high school, then he is probably not a good candidate for college, but if a college can convince him he can take Algebra I again- at taxpayer expense- then it’s good for business. 
     More high school students in Oklahoma are going to college than ever before, probably because of Oklahoma’s Promise, the scholarship program that allows high school students from families whose annual income is $50,000 or less to earn free college tuition.  The program received $57 million of taxpayer money this year.  Over 20,000 students have benefited from Oklahoma’s Promise.  Because of the added students, higher education needs more professors, more buildings and more of your hard earned tax dollars.  Make no mistake about it; Higher ed is big business in the Sooner state.
     According to recent statistics, the value of the college earnings premium (the amount a college grad earns more than a high school grad- around $1 million) seemingly far outdistances college costs, yielding a high rate of return.
     The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”  I’m not sure Oklahoma students and taxpayers are getting value from our state’s higher education system.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Don't Lie!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

DON’T LIE! 
by Steve Fair
  

     It’s called a ‘little white lie,’ sales talk, exaggeration, overstating, and funning.  Most people have been guilty of it in their life, especially if they fish or play golf.  Most of those falsehoods do little harm and are easily forgiven.  After all, everyone at one time or another, has attempted to paint a story in a more positive manner. 
     President Obama has been taking a lot of heat recently on the Affordable Health Care Act.  First because the federal run health care exchange website is not operating and people can’t navigate the site once they are on it.  Second, because the President told the American public the new health care law would save them money on their insurance premiums and it’s not and third because he said Americans would be able to keep their current insurance plans and they can’t. 
     First, why is the federal health care exchange web site not working?  The federal government had plenty of time to develop and test a web site, yet it appears that wasn’t done.  Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, apologized to the nation for the botched launch of the Affordable Care Act in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week.  “In these early weeks, access to the health care website has been a miserably frustrating experience,” the former Kansas governor said.  She was grilled by the panel on why the site wasn’t working and she couldn’t really provide a definite explanation other than it was an integrated system that wasn’t properly tested before the launch.  Experts in the field say the site will not be ready until March of 2014 at the earliest.  Someone must be held accountable for this debacle and Sebelius is the logical choice.  She should resign.
     Second, why are Americans paying more for insurance coverage with the implementation of the ACA?  A computer model by the Society of Actuaries at Forbes.com predicts ACA-driven changes could drive up underlying costs by an average of 32% nationally by 2017.  Moreover the projections showed double-digit increases in 42 of 50 states over the next four years.  Last week in Boston, the President admitted that a ‘fraction’ of Americans will pay more for insurance than they currently pay.  He wasn’t saying that thirteen months ago on the campaign trial.  In fact, he was saying the opposite.  
     Third, why are Americans losing their current insurance because of the ACA?  Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people – about half of its individual business in the state. Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.  When campaigning for re-election last year, President Obama said, “If you already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.” NBC and the Washington Post, not exactly conservative news outlets, have said the President knew it was a lie when he said it.
     The debate on whether the President is a Christian or a Muslim has been raging since he was elected.  Personally I believe he is a SECULARIST, but with the tactics he used to sell ObamaCare, perhaps those who contend he is Muslim may be right.  Did you know that it is acceptable to lie in the Islamic religion?  It is know as al-Taqiyya, which is the Islamic word for concealing or disguising one’s beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies.  According Dr. Don Boys,  Muslims lie when it is in their interest to do so and “Allah” will not hold them accountable for lying when it is beneficial to the cause of Islam. They can lie without any guilt or fear of accountability or retribution. A lie in the defense of Islam is approved even applauded in their “holy” books.  Check out this website for more information: http://www.muslimfact.com/bm/terror-in-the-name-of-islam/islam-permits-lying-to-deceive-unbelievers-and-bri~print.shtml. 
     The bottom line is the President practices situational ethics.  He believes the end justifies the means.  In his world, it’s acceptable to lie if the cause is just.  That’s frightening and means the public can trust nothing he says.  No matter if you support the ACA or not, lying to the public to promote its passage and acceptance was/is wrong. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Retirement Lottery!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
RETIREMENT LOTTERY!
by Steve Fair
Wouldn’t it be great if you could retire with a pension that paid you more than you made when you worked?  That’s doesn’t often happen in the private sector, but according to Gary Jones, Oklahoma’s State Auditor and Inspector, over 500 retired Oklahoma elected officials are drawing more taxpayer money in retirement than they did when they were in office.  How is that possible?  

In 1988, the Democrat controlled legislature passed a bill that allowed an Oklahoman who toiled for years as a state or county employee to hit the retirement lottery if they managed to be elected to public office.  Governor Henry Bellmon, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but the Democrat legislature overrode the veto.  The bill provided that when an elected official retired, their higher pension rate as an elected official was applied not only to their elected years, but also to the years they were a non-elected employee.   
For example, former Oklahoma State Auditor Clifton Scott who worked 20 years in state government before being elected Auditor and served 20 years as Auditor.  Scott now draws 160% of the average of his final three years salary- around $147,000 annually.  He is just one example.  Jones said this loophole has cost Oklahoma taxpayers over a billion dollars.  The legislature closed the ‘loophole’ in 2008, but these overpayments continue to those who were ‘grandfathered.’ into the old formula.
Past Oklahoma legislatures didn’t just ‘feather their own nests.’  They promised teachers and state employees pension benefits and then didn’t fund their pension plans.  Their irresponsible behavior created a shortfall of over $11 billion dollars in the seven pension plans managed by the state.  Since Republicans took over the legislature in 2006, they have made progress in the Oklahoma pension fund crisis, but they the pension plan are still only about two thirds funded.

Three observations:

First, elected officials are public servants.  They deserve to be paid for their work and are entitled to a competitive wage and benefits, but having a retirement pension that is more than double what they made as an elected official is ridiculous.  Most contributed little to their retirement fund.  What’s unfair about stopping the overpayment to retired elected officials the portion of their pension they didn’t earn?   There would be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, but all good things must come to an end. 

Second, this crisis was created by ethical lapses by past legislatures.  Pension benefits were promised, but funds were not appropriated to fund the benefits.  The vast majority of the participants in the seven state pension plans are average folks (teachers, firefighters, state employees) who have contributed to and earned their retirement.  It’s important for the plans to be solvent.  Participants need to remember the current legislators are part of the solution, not the problem.    

Third, the solution will require time.  These pension funds didn’t get into this mess overnight and the solution to fix them will take time.  There are proposals to have new hires in state government in a ‘matching fund’ pension plan similar to a 401K.  Some want to consolidate the funds, but consolidation will not save near enough money to fix the issue.  Raising taxes to fund the plans has also been proposed. 

A recent poll by Wells Fargo published in Forbes magazine found an alarming 37% of middle class Americans believe they’ll work until they’re too sick or until they die.  Another 34% believes retirement will come at the ripe age of 80.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than one in five private sector workers qualify for a pension.  It’s a grim look at the state of retirement which seems to be getting worse for middle class Americans.  The gap between pension plans in the private and public sector continues to widen.    
 
What would make it worse would be for hardworking Oklahoma taxpayers to be saddled with a tax increase to pay pension benefits for retired elected officials who didn’t earn them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

FIRST VOTE!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
PARTY AFFILIATION IS 
YOUR FIRST VOTE!

by Steve Fair

 People often ask me the difference between the Republican Party and the Democrat Party.  “All political parties are alike,” they will often say, but is that true?  Not really.  I want to point three distinct differences between the two major political parties:

     First, the Republican Party is a party of limited government, Democrats believe in an expanded government.  Republicans believe in empowering individuals and businesses.  They believe that government should have just enough revenue to provide basic core services, aka roads, infrastructure, law enforcement.  Republicans believe in providing those in real need with a hand up, but not a long term hand-out.  The Democrat Party believes government has a moral obligation to provide for citizens.  In addition to core services, they believe the government should provide food, shelter and health care for every citizen.  The money to provide those programs are collected from the general public in the form of taxes and then redistributed to those in need.

     Second, the Republican Party believes that life begins at conception; Democrats believe it begins at birth.  According to Prolifephysicians.org, there is a universal consensus in the scientific community as to when life begins.  They state, According to most elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte. From that moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species).  Non-living things do not do these things.  Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her.”  U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida), chair of the Democratic National Committee, says defining that human life begins at conception is “an extreme and radical step.”  The Democrat Party national platform statement on abortion says; The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.  

     Third, the Republican Party believes in the right to keep and bear arms, Democrats believe in restricting personal gun ownership.  Democrats favor more gun control laws e.g. oppose the right to carry concealed weapons in public places. Republicans oppose gun control laws and are strong supporters of the Second Amendment as well as the right to carry concealed weapons for self defense. 

     In general Democrats tend to favor an active role for government in society and believe that such involvement – be it environmental regulations against polluting or anti-discrimination laws – can improve the quality of people’s lives and help achieve the larger goal of opportunity and equality. On the other hand, Republicans tend to favor a limited role for government in society and believe that such reliance on the private sector (businesses and individuals) – be it avoiding unnecessary environmental regulations or anti-discrimination laws – can improve economic productivity and help achieve the larger goals of freedom and self-reliance.
       Remember your party affiliation is your first vote!  Are you aligned with your values?
     For more information on the difference in the two major parties, go to http://www.diffen.com/difference/Democrat_vs_Republican.
  

Monday, October 14, 2013

CONSEQUENCES!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
CONSEQUENCES!
by Steve Fair

     In July, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Governor of Kansas, said the government was ‘on target’ to handle the anticipated volume to the federal health care exchange site.  Last month, Gary Cohen, the federal official in charge of health insurance exchanges, promised federal legislators that, “on October 1st ‘consumers will be able to go online, they’ll be able to get a determination of what tax subsidies they are eligible for, they’ll be able to see the premium net of subsidy,’ and they will be able to sign up.”  Right.
     Now even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to ‘spread the risk’ and keep prices low.   
     Despite repeated warnings the system was faulty, the Obama administration went ahead with the federal health care exchange. Back in April, ObamaCare architect and U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), said “I just see a huge train wreck coming down if we don’t get some of the glitches fixed.”
     Even the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s online insurance marketplace had his doubts about the system.  In March, Henry Chao told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. ‘Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,’ he told them. 
     Welcome to the third world. 
      A week after the federal Web site opened, technical problems continue to plague the system. Officials said they are working 24 hours a day to improve the system and that they were confident it would soon be able to meet the demand. They added that there was ample time to correct the site to allow consumers to get insured by January 1st.  Some estimate it will take months for the federal government to get the system up and functioning as it should.
     Four observations:
     First, the Obama administration had ample time to get this right.  They knew that states were opting out of creating their own exchanges and that would increase traffic to the federal site.  This was not a big surprise.  They were just unprepared.  They failed because they failed to plan.  They should have delayed implementation until they were sure the system could handle the volume.
     Second, simply delaying the implementation would have been reasonable and logical.  The reason they forged ahead is because they rightly fear they will lose control of Congress in the mid term elections.  They believe it is a likely possibility the Affordable Care Act will be repealed and if they delay they will miss the opportunity to move America to a federal government controlled health care system.
     Third, this online digital system has cost taxpayers $400 million and counting!  That is just for the computer system to sign up consumers! That doesn’t include the cost to taxpayers for the government subsidies the Affordable Care Act provides those who sign up online.  This program simply costs too much and we don’t have the money to provide health care to every American. 
     Fourth, many Americans are finding their out of pocket costs of the ACA are higher than advertised.  In many cases across the country, consumers are finding that out of pocket deductibles and monthly premiums are more than they anticipated.         
     Elections have consequences and implementation of poor policy also has consequences.  The reaping of those consequences may be seen in the 2014 midterm elections next November.