Monday, April 24, 2017

So far, so good!!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     Buyer’s remorse is defined as the sense of regret after having made a purchase.  It may stem from fear of making the wrong choice, guilt over extravagance, or a suspicion of having been overly influenced by the seller.  Buyer’s remorse often results because of psychological distress called ‘paradox of choice.  Consumers often question their judgment after a purchase because it is easier to imagine a different choice was better than the one selected. 
     Pew Research Center has released a poll showing that only 7% of Trump supporters have ‘buyer’s remorse’ as compared to 15% of Clinton voters.  A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that if the election were held today, Trump would win the electoral vote  and would win the popular vote by 3-4%.  Overall Trump voters are pleased with the president’s performance.  According to the poll 80% are more pleased and only 4% said they were disappointed with what he has accomplished.  62% said Trump was doing better than they expected.
     Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore believes eventually Americans who voted for Trump will change their minds.  “Do not give up on your fellow Americans.  Many of them who voted for Trump will end up doing the right thing.  There will be buyer’s remorse,” Moore said.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  Moore predicted a Trump win last summer and that is probably the first time he has been right about any prediction.
     Much is made of the first 100 days of a new administration.  The term was coined in a 1933 radio address by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was referring to the 100-day session of the 73rd United States Congress, rather than the first 100 days of his administration. The press begin to judge the effectiveness of a new president on how he did in the first 100 days.  Not surprisingly, reviews are partisan.   “This is the worst, least successful, first 100 days since it became a concept in 1933,” Jonathan Alter, an MSNBC analyst said.  Sean Hannity on Fox News said Trump has been the most effective president in his first 100 days than any president in the past century. So which is it?  Has Trump been the worst or the best?  Fact is, he has done better than most.
     First, he delivered on his promise to appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court.  Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate, but not before the Senate Republicans invoked the nuclear option.  Only three Democrats joined the Republicans in a 54-45 vote.  Senate tradition has required a 60 vote margin for confirmation, but occasionally the rules are suspended and a simple majority is needed to confirm.  Getting Gorsuch on the court was no small task.  Many Trump voters pulled the lever because they wanted a conservative on the court to replace Scalia and they knew Clinton would appoint a liberal.  Trump delivered on that promise.
      Second, he delivered on his promise to start construction on a southern border wall.  I realize that Congress is still haggling on whether they will fund it, but President Trump has taken a firm stand on building the wall.  He has repeatedly said that Mexico will eventually pay for it.  The fact is America needs secure borders.  It’s a matter of national security.  The problem with illegal immigration is that it is illegal.  If someone wants to come to America, let them do it the proper and legal way.
     Third, Trump took a stand in Syria.  When he bombed a Syrian airbase after chemical attacks by Syrian dictator Assad on civilians, he sent a message to the world that Obama’s Laissez-faire foreign policy was a thing of the past.  When Trump draws a red line, rest assured there will be consequences if you cross it.  You can disagree with the US involvement in Syria-and there are good people on both sides of this issue- but you can’t disagree that this president has far more intestinal fortitude than the last one.  
     Fourth, he has signed several significant Executive orders that you haven’t heard a lot about(blame Fake News).  He froze all federal hiring (with exception of military), he told agencies they had to cut two regulations for every new one they implemented, he killed the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, and approved the Keystone pipeline.
     Certainly he has experienced setbacks, most notably the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, but Trump’s accomplishments have been significant.  When you compare what he has done in his first 100 days with President Clintons, Trump comes out far ahead of the game.   Perhaps his biggest accomplishment is the calling out of the media.  His crusade against ‘fake news’ has journalists pulling down their college ethics books to see how they can better do their job.  Trump voters don’t have buyer’s remorse because they knew what they were getting and so far, so good. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Can Oklahoma smoke, drink & gamble to prosperity?

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Oklahoma State House Appropriations & Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, ( R-Mustang), and Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David, (R-Porter), are running a bill in the legislature to increase the prize amounts for the Oklahoma state lottery.  HB # 1837 passed through the Senate committee last week by a vote of 24-9 and now heads to the Senate floor.  It passed the House earlier by a 70-25 vote.  The bill, if signed into law, is projected to increase the amount the lottery will give education by about one third.
     State lottery officials have been lobbying for increasing the amount of winner payouts for years because they say Oklahomans are not buying lottery tickets because the prizes aren’t large enough.  “We have the lowest payouts in the country and that impacts sales,” Jay Finks with the Oklahoma Lottery says.  Finks claims the lottery has peaked as to what it can give to Oklahoma education and it is now on the decline.  According to Finks, the lottery has given $783 million since it was implemented twelve years ago.  Oklahoma voters approved the lottery in November 2004 and it was implemented in 2005. 
     When the lottery was on the ballot back in 2004, then Governor Brad Henry predicted if the lottery was approved by voters, it would generate $300 million per year for Oklahoma education.  The former Guv missed that estimate by about 80%.  
     First, gambling produces nothing.  No product or service is derived from gambling.   Years ago, the late Andy Rooney said: “The thing that bothers me most about gambling is that people fritter away money so they don't get to spend it on things that someone else has been paid to produce. Gambling produces nothing. There's only so much money in the world and if it's lost at a gambling table, it's money that isn't spent on things America makes.” Gambling does not involve gain by reason of labor or exchange of values.  It adds nothing to the economy.  For government to promote an industry whose only product is false hope is immoral.
     Second, the lottery, in particular, is referred to by gambling insiders as a ‘tax on the stupid.’  The odds of winning the lottery are astronomical and the vast majority of those who play it are poor.  In that sense, it is a regressive tax on poor people.  The economic utility of money spent on lottery tickets is far less and uncertain when compared to the certain value it could make in the everyday life of a poor person.  Senator Marty Quinn, (R-Claremore), voted against the bill in committee, saying, “I don’t think gambling is good for society. There is plenty of evidence of the harm it causes our society. It preys heavily on the less fortunate. They(the poor) have the most to lose.”  Buying lottery tickets is not a good investment, especially for poor people. Although the exact odds depend upon many factors, in a lottery in which you pick 6 numbers from a possible pool of 49 numbers, your chances of winning the jackpot, meaning you correctly choose all 6 numbers drawn) are 1 in 14 million.  Estimates are that 50% of the lottery tickets purchased are by those living below the poverty line.
     Third, does Oklahoma government want us to gamble, smoke and drink or not?  It’s hard to know.  On one hand, the state runs television commercials and print ads encouraging people to quit smoking and then the Governor proposes the state increase the tax on cigarettes to get more tax revenue.  Like most states, Oklahoma state government is a prime example of an addict and a pusher.  They publically said they want a healthier population, but privately wish the citizens would light ‘em up.  Instead of compensating for the shortfall of gambling revenue, they instead encourage citizens to gamble more and in different ways.  Talk about mixed signals.
     Fourth, gambling is a losing proposition.  According to Baylor University Economist Earl Grinol, the social costs of gambling outweigh the benefits by a factor of 5.6 to 1.   Grinol says lost productivity, bankruptcy, suicide, child abuse and stress related illnesses dramatically increase in proportion to the expansion of gambling in a state.  He says 40% of the costs of those social ills are picked up by the taxpayers with the reminder being privately paid.  Grinol says, “Gambling taxes are worse than a conventional tax collecting identical revenue.” 
     If Oklahoma is going to move forward as a state, it can’t be by generating revenue on the backs of poor people by promoting false hope.  The poor among us can’t smoke, drink and gamble enough to get state government out of this budget hole.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trump sent a message to a lot of people- in the US and across the world!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Last week, the US launched a missile attack on Syria after a reported chemical attack on civilians, including children.  President Trump announced that 59 tomahawk missiles were launched targeting a Syrian airbase.  While the action sent a message to Syria there is a new sheriff in town, the base’s airstrip was back up and running in just days, so infrastructure damage was not significant enough to permanently disrupt.  Russia and Iran said they would ‘respond with force’ if the US crossed the ‘red line’ again in Syria.
     Trump’s action immediately drew both praise and criticism.  Senator Bernie Sanders, (I, VT) said that while Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad must go, it should be done unilaterally.  Senator Rand Paul, (R-KY), said that strike wasn’t in the U.S.’s national interest and the president didn’t have the right to order the strikes without approval from Congress.  Paul called the action an ‘inappropriate way to start a war.” Senator Ted Cruz, (R-TX), said the strikes were in the nation’s national interests, but that Trump should make a case of further military action before proceeding. Both of Oklahoma’s US Senators, Lankford and Inhofe, issued statements supporting the President’s actions.  Syria is a sticky wicket and here is why:
     First, President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Syrians dictator, is brutal.  Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father in 2000, is an ophthalmologist who speaks fluent English.  He is married to a British citizen, who is of Syrian origin.  They met when he was studying medicine in Britain.  They have 2 sons and a daughter.  Assad appears to be very westernized, but he is far from it.  He has killed thousands of his own people since the civil war started in 2011.  He is aligned with Iran, North Korea and Russia.  Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people. 
    Second, the civil war in Syria is a proxy battle between Russia and America.  The reason the US is involved in this conflict is because the removal of Assad strengthens the US position in the region.  When the rebel movement developed in 2011, the US was all too happy to support it with money and weapons.  Syria has long been a close Russia ally.  It goes back to the cold war.  Russia funded and built the modern Syrian army.  They have financed Assad’s efforts to defeat the rebels($3-4 million a day). Like a chess match, Syria is a key piece on the board and the US didn’t want to miss the opportunity to move Syria into the western camp.
     Third, the Syrian rebels are a diverse group.  Some rebels are Sunni Muslims who disagree with Assad’s secular government.  They favor a theocracy, not unlike what was in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  It is estimated that up to 25% of those rebels are members of Al-Qaeda.  Some rebels are more moderate and favor free elections, democracy and would accept religious diversity.  But there is no clear cut leader in the rebellion.  Many of the various groups hate each other and in order to get them support, the US has to write checks and deal separately with each group.  It remains very unclear who would come to power if Assad was ousted and if they would be an ally or an enemy of the U.S.  Therein lies the problem- do you ignore the conflict and let Assad kill his enemies and strength his position in the region or do you intervene?  It’s hard to discern who the good guys are in this conflict.
     Fourth, right or wrong, the U.S. is involved in the conflict.  To walk away now would send a signal to Russia and Iran that US foreign policy is no different than it was under Obama.  Trump’s action sent the message that he means what he says.  There is no doubt Putin will pull the trigger on some retaliatory action against the U.S.   He knows if Syria falls into Western hands, Israel is strengthened and Israel is America’s closest ally.  Putin  won’t like that happen without a fight. 
     Finally, getting involved in the civil war in Syria was not Trump’s choice. President Obama made that decision in 2014.  Up until Trump’s action, the U.S. efforts were largely financial,(US taxpayers have spent $11.5 million dollars a day supporting the rebels) and it appears little difference has been made in the civil war.  Assad has consistently beat back the rebels by using chemical weapons and terrorizing his own people because he didn’t fear any nation calling his hand. Trump called his hand.  Trump’s action got more than Assad’s attention.  It sent the message in the US and around the world that Trump is not singularly focused on the economy. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Let the bragging and chest pounding begin!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     In 2018, six of Oklahoma’s statewide elected officials will term out.  The offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor & Inspector, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and one Corporation Commission seat will be up for grabs because Oklahomans approved a two term limit on those offices.  At least three of the six that are termed out in one office will likely seek another office.
     The race for Governor appears to be the one that is drawing the most attention.  Gary Richardson, a Tulsa area attorney, who ran in 2002 as an Independent, played spoiler that year and got enough votes to throw the race to Democrat Brad Henry.  Henry won over Richardson and Steve Largen, the GOP nominee, with less than 50% of the vote.  This time around, Richardson is running as a Republican.  His challenge will be explaining to GOP primary voters how he is now a loyal Republican after helping get Henry elected.  It’s a cinch that Lt. Governor Todd Lamb will run.  Lamb is popular with the Republican base, has raised lots of money, and is more fiscally conservative than the current Governor.  Gary Jones, State Auditor & Inspector, has indicated he has formed an exploratory committee to decide if he will run for Governor.  Jones, the former State GOP Chair, won the Auditor’s job with grassroots support.  In a large field, Jones would be formidable.  His supporters are loyal, understand the political process and can get the vote out.  There are rumors of other candidates looking at the GOP nomination who can self-fund, but at this point, none have declared publically.  It is a little early- filing isn’t for another year.  
     The office of Governor in Oklahoma was created weak when compared to the office in other states.  Part of that is because of there were abuses by Territorial Governors in the state’s history, the writers of the State Constitution tried to restrict and limit the power of the office.   It wasn’t until 1966 that an Oklahoma Governor could immediately succeed themselves.  The reason Oklahoma directly elects so many statewide elected officials as Oklahoma is because the founders’ feared corruption and their fears were well founded.  The Oklahoma legislature impeached two early Governors for corruption.
     Through the years, the office of Oklahoma Governor has gained power, primarily by persuading the legislature to cooperate to circumvent those eleven constitutional offices.  A prime example is the Oklahoma Office of State Finance.  For years its role was to help the Governor develop the annual state budget, which was then presented to the legislature, but the Governor persuaded lawmakers to exponentially expand their role, usurping the roles of constitutionally created offices- in particular the office of State Auditor & Inspector.   The head of the Office of State Finance is appointed by the Governor, accountable to no one but the Governor. 
     Slowly and methodically, Oklahoma’s Governors- Republican and Democrat- have restructured the role of the office of Governor.  With the legislature’s help, they have expanded the Governor’s power.  Most of the largest state agencies are now headed by appointees of the Governor, not by elected officials.  Much of this happened right under the nose of unsuspecting Oklahomans and without a vote of the people. 
      Every candidate for Governor in 2018 should be asked if they will respect the state constitution and not seek to expand the duties of Governor without a vote of the people?  We already have too many ‘appointed’ heads of state agencies.  Will the candidate reduce or expand the footprint of Oklahoma government?  Those are fundamental questions.    
     The majority of voters base their vote on personality-likability, or some complicated scientific formula like how many yard signs they pass on the way to the voting site.  But sometimes the candidate who is not as politically savvy, who is abrasive, candid and insulting wins.  A classic example is Donald Trump. The reason Trump won was because people are fed up with the status quo.  It wasn’t his late night tweets or posts on social media about how great he is that got their vote.  They wanted someone to change things.  That same dynamic is true in Oklahoma. The candidate who has a definite, logical plan to address Oklahoma’s problems and who can execute that plan will get the Republican nomination.