Monday, June 24, 2013

Liberty before Security!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is an independent agency established by Congress to advise the President on concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties.  The board was established after the 9/11 Commission recommended it to insure that government wasn’t ‘overreaching’ in citizens lives.  It consists of five members appointed by the President.  The Board is authorized to have access to all relevant information necessary to fulfill its role, including classified information consistent with applicable law. The Board is required to report to Congress not less than twice annually.

On Friday afternoon, President Obama met with the board as his administration sought to dispel fear that the US Government had overreached with its surveillance programs of private citizens in favor of national security.  After the meeting, Obama said the board had some “fierce civil libertarians” on the board.  Right!  The board is composed of four former bureaucrats and a Chicago lawyer; all appointed by the President, so it’s not likely they will do anything but what the President wants them to do. 
All of this started when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA.  Snowden said the NSA had obtained millions of American’s phone records and web communications.  The revelation (while not new) created a media firestorm and the Obama administration has been scrambling to respond. 

Here are my observations:

First, this is not the first time the NSA has been accused of spying on private citizens.  Several former NSA top officials as far back as 2005 have been saying basically the same thing Snowden revealed- the NSA has been gathering lots of information on private citizens for nearly a decade.  The reason the government has been able to expand their reach into our lives is because average taxpaying citizens haven’t paid attention to what is happening in their government.  They can blame the politicians and bureaucrats, but they need only look in the mirror to see who to really blame. 

Second, Snowden broke federal law.  Whistle-blowing on any national security agency is prohibited unless you spill to a committee of Congress “upon lawful demand.” Not that they are likely to demand it.  Snowden has been alternately called a traitor and a patriot for his actions.  Like a pancake, every story has two sides.  Perhaps Snowden tried to do it right and tell Congress and was stonewalled.  Perhaps he works for China, as some allege.  There are a lot of questions with Edward Snowden that must be answered, but it is an established fact the NSA was gathering the data and his revelation may have awakened the American public on the privacy issue.

Third, the government can not guarantee our personal security.  Any security program is only as good as the human being that designed it and we are all flawed.  After 9/11 there has been a fury of laws passed under the guises of ‘protecting the public.’   We should take reasonable precautions to protect the general public, but understand when government feels it must protect ourselves from ourselves, the line has been crossed.

Fourth, the fourth amendment of the US Constitution guarantees citizens the right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment was has three components. First, it establishes that we have a right to privacy when it states we are able to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects." Second, it protects our privacy by prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.   Third, it states that no warrant may be issued to a law enforcement officer unless that warrant describes in detail "the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  

Some misguided elected officials believe the NSA did nothing wrong, but fellow citizens when we allow the government to monitor our private phone calls, email communication and who knows what else, we have allowed them to violate the fundamental attribute of America- LIBERTY!  Ben Franklin had it right when he said any society who gives up liberty to gain security will have neither!  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty before security!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tort Reform Ruling was Wrong!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

The Oklahoma State Constitution requires that legislative bills deal with only a single subject (other than the general appropriations bill to fund state government).  That is to prevent state lawmakers from throwing a completely unrelated issue on a bill and getting it passed by coercing their fellow lawmakers to support it in exchange for their vote on a bill important to the other legislator.

Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the sweeping tort reform laws passed in the 2009 legislative session and authored by Senator Anthony Sykes, R- Moore, were unconstitutional because they violated the ‘single subject’ rule in the Constitution.  The high court did not say the policy was bad, but that the legislature needed to make sure they only dealt with a single subject. 
In the dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice James Winchester said, “The majority opinion gives little guidance to the Legislature regarding why the law found in HB 1603 is unconstitutional.”  Winchester cited a 1922 state Supreme Court ruling which declared the term “subject” to be given a broad and extended meaning so legislators could include in one act all matters having a logical or natural connection.  The apparent contradiction doesn't provide a tidy template or clear direction for lawmakers to use when drafting legislation.

Four observations about the court’s ruling:

First, the spirit of the state constitution’s single subject provision wasn’t violated in the tort reform legislation.  There was no ‘logrolling’ or slipping of unrelated issues into the tort reform bill.  The bill dealt with multiple aspects of ‘tort reform.’  It appears now the legislation will have to pass twenty five (25) different bills to satisfy the Supreme Court.  That was not the intent of the writers of the constitution’s single subject rule.

Second, the high court’s ruling will give the powerful trial lobby a do-over in Oklahoma.  It has taken years for Oklahoma to pass meaningful tort reform.  The trial lobby, which primarily backs Democrat candidates, spent big money fighting it originally and you can bet they will now spend a bunch fighting it in the upcoming session.  With new legislators coming into the body, the trial lobby will work to convince them to not support the original bill.

Third, throwing out tort reform sends a negative message of Oklahoma to prospective business.  After the legislation passes good legislation and the Supreme Court strikes it down, it sends the message to business we are a state is not to be trusted.  It has taken years for Oklahoma to overcome the negative image we earned after reneging on General Motors back in 1979 on an agreement to exempt their plant from ad valorem taxes, but then declared it unconstitutional and made them pony up millions.    

Fourth, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court is legislating from the bench.  Of the nine members of the Supreme Court, eight were appointed by Democrat Governors.  They did not support meaningful tort reform and they misapplied the intent of the writers of the constitution to prevent its implementation.  Currently Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed and then face voters on a retention ballot ever four years.  Since Oklahoma went to a retention ballot, we have never removed a judge from office. Never!  It’s time for term limits on judges.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We Naturally Crave Liberty!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

On May 25th, my wife and I marked our 40th wedding anniversary.  To celebrate we took a Mediterranean cruise.  One of the ports of call was Kusadsi, Turkey, a resort community in the south of Turkey.  Kusadasi is near the biblical town of Ephesus and a huge tourist destination.  Because of the recent demonstrations in cities across Turkey, in particular by young people in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, tension was high as we left the ship.  We encountered no protests or witnessed any unrest, but the western influence in Kusadsi was evident.  The food, dress, and mannerisms of the Turks were very western and much different than other Arab countries.

Mark Lowen of the BBC reports that Turkey is becoming even more polarized.  Lowen says, “The divisions here are deepening, which could lead Turkey into paralysis and dangerous waters. The prime minister has lost control of Turkey.”  

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, has decried the demonstrations.  “These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end as of now,” Erdogan said to a large crowd of supporters outside a terminal at Istanbul’s airport Friday.  Erdogan also blamed the escalation of the widespread public protests on "terror groups" which he lumped in with leftist parties and members of his political opposition.

But political observers believe Erdoganjust doesn’t get the reason for the protests.
Bahar Leventoglu, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Duke and a native of Turkey says, “A lot of people now see Erdo─čan’s policies as a ‘cultural war’ against their lifestyles, and see the government’s so-called ‘Taksim project’ as an extension of this cultural war.  Erdogan also has no tolerance for criticism. He believes that he knows what is good and what is bad for citizens of Turkey, and so we have to obey him as if we are teenagers being disciplined by dad. I’m sure he was taken by surprise by the protests against the government, as Turkey does not have a long history of this. But times are changing, and Erdogan is behind the times in this one.”

In a strange twist of events, on Monday Turkey's president defended the right of citizens to protest, in strong contrast to the dismissive stance of the prime minister.  Meanwhile police used tear gas for a fourth day in an attempt to disperse demonstrations that grew out of a sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at Istanbul's main square.  He likely sees an opportunity to be the next Prime Minister if the protestors are successful in their achieving their demands. 

On Monday, Erdogan again dismissed the street protests as being organized by extremists, described them as a temporary blip and angrily rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring uprisings.
Turkey is different from other Islamic countries.  Even though most of the population is Islam, their constitution provides for freedom of religion, but less than 2% of the population of Turkey is Christian.  

Turkey borders Iraq and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that his government was worried about the security implications of the situation in Turkey, saying the country was "an essential part of the stability of the region."  "We believe that resorting to violence will widen the circle (of violence) ... in the region, and we call for restraint," he said.

Turkey has been trying to join the European Union since 2005, but because of widespread accusations of human right violations have not been admitted.  While western in many ways in their culture and government, their leaders still cling to an authoritarian, totalitarian style of government.   It is highly unlikely the Turkish government will be able to stop the liberty movement in their country.  It’s a part of human nature to crave liberty and to be self governed.