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.