Thursday, May 30, 2013


Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

Dark days are looming for the Obama administration.  US Attorney General Eric Holder is at odds with his sworn testimony on the Fox News reporter scandal.  The Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation of James Rosen, a Fox reporter, since 2010, but Holder said he knew nothing about it.  But the AG evidently signed search warrant requests in the case, which puts him in conflict with his testimony before Congress.  Opps, forgot about that warrant.

Add Holder’s harassment of the press issue to the Benghazi attack and the IRS scandal and you have a trifecta. Interesting enough Obama’s approval ratings improved the last two weeks according to Gallup.  50% of Americans approve of the job he is doing and 43% disapprove.  But rest assured those numbers will change as Congress conducts more extensive hearings on the three aforementioned scandals.

Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wisconsin) Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on Fox last week that it will take ‘months’ to find out the truth of what happened in the IRS scandal.  Ryan said it is already known the IRS targeted not only Tea Party groups, but religious groups that were conservative in nature.  They also targeted GOP donors as well.  When asked about whether Congress would give Lois Lerner, the IRS official in charge of Tax Exempt Division, immunity to testify, Ryan said that decision had not yet been made.  Lerner pled the Fifth Amendment before Congress during her testimony, which could mean she knows more.  If the tentacles of this scandal reach the White House, you could certainly be talking impeachment. 

In the shadow of the IRS and Holder scandals are the Benghazi attacks.  It shouldn’t be.  American ambassador Chris Stevens was killed along with three other Americans.  The embassy had repeatedly requested additional security.  The question is; did the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ignore those repeated requests for additional security from diplomats on the ground?  The email evidence appears to prove she did.  Did the President know about the requests?  It is certain the Obama administration attempted to downplay the attack as a mere random act of violence instead of the work of terrorists.  Rest assured, when the white light is thrown on Hillary, she will not fall on the sword for Obama. This scandal has career diplomats incensed and they appear to be willing to break from their long standing tradition of staying out of politics to protect their people on the ground.

So what does the President do during these tough times?  He becomes what some have called the Consoler-in Chief.  He traveled to Moore to participate in a memorial service for the victims of the tornado.  He traveled to New Jersey to walk along the boardwalk with Governor Christie to view the progress being made on rebuilding after the hurricane. 

Critics say Obama was exploiting these tragedies in order to distract from the scandals in his administration and that may well be the case.  But it was proper for the President to come to Oklahoma.  It was the right thing to do.  I commend him for his conduct during his time here.  After all, he is the President of this great country.  Bear in mind, it takes some political will to travel to the reddest of the red states if you are Democrat president.  Oklahoma has not voted for a Democrat presidential candidate since 1960 and in the last three presidential elections, all 77 counties voted for the Republican nominee.  We are the only state to have done so.  Yet the President came to Oklahoma.  I don’t know his motivation, but he deserves the respect of Oklahomans for making the effort. 

But whatever his motivation, the trifecta of scandals is not going away.  As Rep. Ryan said, it will be months before the hearings will be complete.  It will be interesting to see if any or all of the scandals reach the White 
House.  It will only take one and the odds are not in the President’s favor.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Legislature gets a 'B'

Weekly Opinion Editorial
Legislature gets a “B”
by Steve Fair

The Oklahoma legislature adjourned sine die(Latin for ‘without day’) on Friday, one week earlier than required.  According to the Constitution, the legislature must adjourn by the last Friday in May.  The Senate finished around noon Friday and, the House at 7:30pm.  It is estimated the legislature saved Oklahoma taxpayers about $140,000 by adjourning early. 

In the final week of session, the legislature passed SB 249 which directed $45 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the Office of Emergency Management for immediate tornado relief in the Sooner state.  These funds will match a portion of the federal funds that have been allocated to local governments. 

Here are some of the major achievements of the Oklahoma 2013 legislature?

First and foremost the legislature passed meaningful worker compensation reform.  SB #1062 changes Oklahoma’s current court-based system to an administrative structure, a move that supporters say will reduce workers’ comp costs for businesses and improve the amount of money an injured workers gets in a settlement. 

Second, lawmakers didn’t borrow money.  The legislature was under unbelievable pressure to issue bonds to fix the State Capitol.  Anyone who has visited the Capitol know the building needs to be repaired, but we shouldn’t borrow money to do it.  We should pay as we go and the legislature did that by taking some of the income tax money coming in the next two years to fix the Capitol.

Third, they cut our state income tax rate from 5.25% to 5% effective January 1, 2015,   While that is not the biggest tax cut in the world, it is a step in the right direction.  The proposal to eliminate the state income tax all together needs to include substantial cuts to Oklahoma government and thus far the legislature hasn’t shown the will to do that.

Fourth, lawmakers passed legislation to reduce the unfunded liability of Oklahoma's pension system for firefighters. The bill requires new firefighters to be at least 50 years old and have worked for 22 years, instead of the current 20 years, to be eligible for benefits. New firefighters also would not become vested until they had worked for 11 years, instead of the current 10 years. The bill also increases the amount that firefighters, municipalities and the state pay into the system each year.

Now some of the ‘jury’s still out’ achievements of the 2013 session:

Lawmakers passed a measure that converts the nonprofit CompSource Oklahoma into an independent mutual company that will be known as CompSource Mutual Insurance Company. The agency writes about one-third of Oklahoma's workers' compensation policies and is a safety net for a lot of Oklahoma based businesses for workers comp coverage.  Critics contend privatizing CompSource was a political move by the legislature and will not help Oklahoma business and in the long run will drive rates up.  We shall see.

The legislature adopted a $7.1 billion dollar budget to fund state government that was $268 million more than the year before.  That is certainly not streamlining Oklahoma government or making it more efficient.  Oklahoma Republicans better remember the lesson from the national GOP who lost the majority in Congress after spending more money than the Democrats. 

The biggest failure of the 2013 session was the legislature not overturning Governor Fallin’s veto of Senate Bill 907 which would have created a Joint Legislature Committee on Accountability.  The Committee would have been given the authority to ask the State Auditor to do performance audits on state agencies.  If Republicans are serious about finding waste in government, we must have a mechanism in place to find the waste.

All in all, I give the Oklahoma legislative session a B, based on the importance of the workers comp reform bill.  But they could have done better.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tea Party & the IRS

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

In May 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted that it had targeted certain conservative political groups for closer scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status.  The IRS code allows certain non-profit organizations to be exempted from having to pay federal tax.  The IRA admitted that beginning in March 2010, they begin to more closely scrutinize certain organizations applying for tax-exempt status with certain words in their names.  For example if a group or organization’s name had the words, Tea Party,  Patriot, or 9/12 Project in it, your application was flagged and the IRS would go over it with a fine tooth comb.
President Obama claims he knew nothing about the targeting and said "This is pretty straightforward. If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party. But I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
Four observations:
First, it’s highly unlikely President Obama was completely unaware of the targeting.  That doesn’t mean the president ordered it, but he likely knew about it.  On Friday the Treasury department’s inspector general testified before Congress that he told his boss at Treasury in June 2012 that the IRS was engaging in blatantly unfair treatment of conservatives. One of those he told at Treasury was Tim Geithner’s top deputy, Neal Wolin.  It’s highly unlikely that Wolin didn’t tell Tim Geithner, the former Secretary of Treasury and its unlikely Geithner didn’t tell the President.  And if he wasn’t told, doesn’t that reflect on the president’s leadership ability?
Second, the IRS slow play on tax exempt applications for conservative groups benefited President Obama and libels.  Non-Profit organizations which can provide a receipt for tax deductable donations get far more contributions than those who can’t provide one.  The groups the IRS targeted were politically conservative ‘grassroots’ organizations whose change in status would have financially benefited conservative candidates and their cause.
Third, what hasn’t gotten a lot of press, but should have is the use of the IRS to enforce the defunct “Fairness Doctrine” on broadcasters.  According to National Religious Broadcasters CEO, Dr. Frank Wright the IRS had Dr. James Dobson submit samples of his radio broadcasts to the IRS before they would consider granting him tax exempt status.  According to Dobson, an IRS agent indicated that his criticism of President Obama would prevent his ministry from getting a certain form of non-profit status. In other words, Dobson’s views were singled out by the IRS because they were conservative, Christian, and critical of President Obama. 
Fourth, this is not the first time the IRS has been misused.  President Nixon famously had an ‘enemies’ list and one of the tools in his tool chest was the IRS.  You crossed Nixon- the IRS would audit you.  During a Rose Garden news conference last week, President Obama was asked about comparisons between himself and Richard Nixon.

“I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons,” Obama said in reference to the president who resigned in disgrace in 1974. “You can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions.”
“This is an agency with an enemies list,” commentator Lou Dobbs said on Fox News This is Nixonian. This is a president whose inner Nixon is being revealed.”
If President Obama is innocent as he claims, he should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate this scandal.  After all, Nixon said he was ‘innocent’ and he appointed one to investigate Watergate. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

History repeats itself!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

The American diplomatic embassy at Benghazi Libya was attacked on September 11, 2012 by a heavily armed group of Islamic terrorists. The attack began during the night at a compound that is meant to protect the consulate building. A second assault in the early morning the next day targeted a nearby CIA annex in a different diplomatic compound. Four people were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Ten others were injured. The terrorists who attacked the mission have not been captured.  Initially, the Obama administration said the attack was nothing but a violent protest and not the work of terrorists.

According to CNN, an e-mail discussion about ‘talking points’ the Obama administration used to describe the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, show the White House and State Department were more involved than they first said in the decision to remove an initial CIA assessment that a group with ties to al Qaeda was involved.

On Monday, President Obama said the Benghazi debate a “sideshow,” saying he called the attack a terrorist attack from the very beginning.  Obama said that proves there was no cover-up or any effort to downplay terrorism.  But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called Obama’s account "revisionist history." John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called it "flatly untrue."   "This definitely is a creative rewriting of history," Bolton told Fox News.  It is true Obama referred to ‘acts of terror’ the day after the attack, but one week later he was saying it wasn’t clear the attack was the work of terrorists.  

Rep. James Lankford, R- OKC is a member of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, which held a hearing last week on the Benghazi attack.   The witnesses at the hearing were State Department whistleblowers with direct knowledge of the circumstances of the attack.  These four career diplomats have served America in both Democrat and Republican administrations and are probably as close to apolitical as you can get.  All the witnesses were critical of the Obama administration and their unwillingness to provide proper security in not only Benghazi, but also at the official US Libyan embassy in Tripoli.

According to Lankford, the Department of State was actively trying to “normalize” the mission in Libya by drawing down uniformed security forces. State denied several requests by security personnel for increased security. Diplomats on the ground reported active terrorism in the area even as the State Department in Washington withdrew security forces. The hearings also revealed the facility was inadequate for even the most modest attack and there was a lack of preparation or warning systems at the facility. 

It is said that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

Back in 1998, Islamic terrorist attacked American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with truck bombs.  The two attacks killed 223 people and injured thousands.  The mastermind behind the attacks was Osama bin Laden.  In both the Tanzania and Kenya attacks, The State Department had ignored diplomats on the ground requests for increased security. 

Interestingly even the liberal news media is now asking questions about the Benghazi attacks, particularly the roll of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Back in January at a Senate hearing, Clinton yelled at Senator Ron Johnson after he asked if the attack was a terrorist attack or just a protest; “What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton yelled at Johnson.  It makes a lot of difference.  If the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, there is significant documentation between the diplomatic team on the ground and top leaders in The State Department asking for more security and warming of a possible terrorist attack.  Those requests and warnings were ignored and Americans lost their lives.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Budget could be better!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
Governor Fallin and legislative leaders have agreed on a budget for Fiscal Year 2014.  The proposed budget includes a $91 million dollar increase for common education, a $33 million dollar increase for Higher Ed and a $3 million dollar increase for Career Tech.  It also gives the Oklahoma Health Care Authority a $40 million increase, the Department of Mental Health an additional $17 million and the Department of Human Services an increase of $44 million.  Overall the budget will increase $267 million over this year’s budget. 

This is the third year in a row the Republican led legislature has spent more money than the previous year, which prompted Michael Carnuccio of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), the state’s leading free market think tank, to tell CapitolBeatOK, “For the third budget cycle in a row, Republican control of state government has produced increased government spending, no immediate tax cuts for families, and continued earmarks for pet projects.”

OCPA has been pushing the legislature to work toward total elimination of the state income tax.  While no one wants to pay any more tax than they should, it should be noted OCPA’s income tax elimination plan did not include equal cuts to the spending side of the ledger.  A better well thought plan on the elimination of the income tax must be fleshed out before it is implemented and that plan must include cuts to government.

A couple of observations on the proposed budget:

First, Oklahoma continues to pour money down the education rat hole without getting substantive returns.  We are spending three times more on common education in the Sooner state than we were just 25 years ago.  No other state agency has experienced an increase of such magnitude during that period.  It’s a lead pipe cinch the average Oklahoman’s income has not tripled in the past 25 years.  Our leaders continue to dodge the real issue in Oklahoma- WE HAVE TOO MANY SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND ADMINISTRATORS!  There are 527 school districts in Oklahoma, each with a superintendent and district staff.  294 of those schools have less than 500 students. The simple economies-of-scale rule should warn us that we’re spending a lot of money that never gets near a classroom where it really would make a difference. 
As of 2011, Oklahoma had over 3400 school administrators, earning an average of $74,858, or about one administrator for every 12 teachers. That's an increase of about 15% in the number of administrators in the past 15 years— even though the total number of school districts in the state has declined slightly.   

Oklahoma spends over 50% of the money allocated for common education on non-classroom related expenditures.  With all that increase in funding, you would expect our students to have showed significant improvements, but ACT scores have remained at about the same level they were in 1990.  It’s clear that throwing more money at education is not the key to educating children- at least not the way we are doing it.

Second, this budget does nothing to address waste in state government.  It simply continues to fund the status quo.  The one size fits all mentality in budgeting will never reveal the real areas where substantive cuts should be made.  “Across the board” cuts and increases reward the wasteful agency and penalize the prudent ones.  The legislature should consider ‘zero based budgeting,’ where every item in an agencies budget is justified.  It will be a lot more work for agency heads and legislature leaders, but if Oklahoma is serious about making government more efficient and productive, it must be done.

Third, the ‘pay as we go’ plan on fixing the Capitol and other state buildings is the right thing to do.  Mortgaging (issuing bonds) our kids and grandkid’s future is never a good idea and I applaud the Governor and the legislature for finding a more responsible way to fix the crumbling Capital building.

While the budget could have been far better had it addressed wasteful spending, it does address some important issues such as infrastructure and public safety in a responsible way.  I would encourage legislative leaders to require zero based budgeting from all state agencies when they submit next year’s requests and to address education funding in a responsible way.