Sunday, November 26, 2017

If candidates were green beans, campaigns would be more honest!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
Caveat Suffragator
by Steve Fair

     In a free market capitalist economic system, supply and demand rules.  Individuals or companies develop and price products to appeal to a market.  If the demand is high, the price increases.  If demand is low, the price decreases.  The political system is much the same way- candidates create an image that will appeal to their market- the voters.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be reality based.  Pragmatic candidates view values and convictions secondary to getting votes and winning.  Making false claims about themselves or their opponent is acceptable, but that wouldn’t work if a political candidate were a can of green beans.
     The Federal Trade Commission requires that all advertisements must be truthful, fair and free of misleading representation. All claims in advertising must be substantiated with solid proof.  The Federal Trade Commission has a Deception Policy Statement that describes an advertisement as deceptive if a misleading feature of the ad sways a consumer into purchasing or using the product or service. This definition also applies to information that is deliberately omitted or withheld from the consumer that affects purchase decisions. To determine if an ad is deceptive, the FTC considers both direct and implied claims in the context of the ad.   That is why you don’t see as many ‘comparison claims’ on consumer products that you saw in decades past.  Exaggerating the features of your product while downplaying the competition’s features became next to impossible to prove, so most consumer product companies abandoned the old ‘we’re better than brand x’ strategy.  But the strategy is alive and well in politics.
      In a study conducted by the Washington Examiner they found that 90% of the political ads in the 2016 presidential general election were attacking the opponent, not extolling the virtues of the candidate.  Their study found that both Trump and Clinton ads were of the attack variety.   Both campaigns were equally guilty.  They spent most of their time and money trying to convince voters their opponent was bad and therefore by default they were good.  Sadly, those same tactics have wormed their way down to local politics.  Candidates for state legislature and county offices often succumb to ‘comparison’ campaigning pieces, attacking or downright lying about their opponent’s positions.  They often include in the same piece, a family picture and a resume of their sainthood.  It’s hypocritical and should be illegal.  If the FTC were in charge of campaign claims, a large percentage of politicos would be paying fines for misleading advertising. 
     Caveat emptor is a Latin term that means ‘let the buyer beware.” It means that goods are sold ‘as is’ and the buyer assumes the product may fail to meet expectations or have defects.  In politics it should be Caveat suffragator, Latin for ‘let the voter beware.”  When elected officials lie to win, is it no wonder, voters are often disappointed when they fail to meet expectations?   The election claims of candidates should at least be as truthful as the claims of ramen noodles.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Legislative Pay Cut Was For Optics, Not Savings!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

Legislative Pay is not the Problem!
by Steve Fair

     The Oklahoma legislative compensation board is a nine member panel that meets the third Tuesday of each odd numbered year to review state legislative compensation.  The Governor appoints five of the nine members, the Speaker of the House two members and the President pro tempore of the Senate two members.  There are specific qualifications for the members to insure a cross section of Oklahomans.  The Director of State Finance and the Chairman of the Oklahoma Tax Commission serve as non-voting members of the board.  For the past sixteen years, the board hasn’t adjusted-up or down- the salaries of the 149 legislators, but this year the board narrowly voted 4-3 to reduce the base salary of a state legislator from $38,400 to $35,021 annually, an 8.8% cut. It will be effective November 15, 2018.     
   Of the five states bordering Oklahoma, Arkansas pays their lawmakers the most- $39,400 a year, Texas the least- $7,200 a year.  Oklahoma legislators, like 40 other states are part time.  They meet in regular session 60-70 days per year from February to May.  Three observations:
    First, the board’s action was more about optics than substance.  The savings to state taxpayers will be $503,471 annually, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but that is just a tiny percentage of the nearly seven billion the legislature appropriates annually.  The board took the action to send a message, but it wasn’t the right one.   Wes Milbourn, the board president, said, “Oklahomans right now today are frustrated with Oklahoma’s Legislature.”  So using that logic, legislative salaries should be based on legislative likeability?  When Oklahomans like them, they should get more money and less when we don’t like them? 
     Second, reducing the salary for a legislator could result in fewer options at the ballot box.  Some potential lawmakers may not be able to afford to serve, meaning only the elite and wealthy would have the personal resources to serve.   That could result in fewer average Oklahomans in the legislature.
     Third, a workman is worthy of his hire.  Oklahoma lawmakers earn their money.  While they may meet only 66 days a year, they are always on the clock.  The last action the board took on legislative pay was twenty years ago when they raised legislative pay from $32,000 to $38,400. That action was met with anger by many Oklahomans because at that time it was twice what per capita income of the average Oklahoman.  If the board had kept up with inflation, that $38,400 would be $58,500 in 2017. 
     The state legislature represents the people and trying to starve them out or send half them home(unicameral) is a not a strategy that will move the state forward. Lawmakers should be paid a competitive wage for doing a difficult job.  If they aren’t representing the people, they should be defeated at the ballot box, not by withholding compensation. The board’s action appears to be retaliatory for the budget fiasco and that is not their constitutional function.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blind Loyalty leads to Situational Ethics!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
     Blind loyalty involves being loyal to a person or cause even when they misbehave or do something dishonest.  Those who engage in blind loyalty believe allegiance is more important than objectivity.  They believe keeping a positive image of the person or cause is more important than the truth. There are dozens of examples of people who are blindly loyal, but think of a battered woman who protects her husband when police arrive in answer to a domestic violence call. Think of people who defend bad behavior by political leaders knowing it is bad behavior.  Loyalty is only an outstanding virtue if the person or cause is just and good. 
     Being blindly loyal will lead a person to practice situational ethics. Situational Ethics is when a person dumps absolute moral standards to justify bad behavior for the ‘greater good.’   Those who practice situational ethics believe the end justifies the means.  It is acceptable to lie, cheat, and steal for the greater good.  When people start being blindly loyal and practicing situational ethics, their behavior becomes very predictable.   And political scientists and sellers of goods and services love predictable people.
    Economists rely on predictable human behavior.  Marketers develop products and then position and price them based on predictable human behavior.  They bank on people reacting as they expect.   Politicos bank on people reacting to an issue in a predictable manner.  According to a recent study by, human behavior is 93% predictable across all demographics.  The fact is we aren’t as spontaneous as we like to think.    
     If you want an example of predictable human behavior, write about politics on Facebook.  The comments will be predictable.  Liberals and conservatives- establishment and non-conformists- will see the post differently and their reactions will be either to agree with your post or to attack- all not unexpected.  There will seldom be a comment that surprises you.  In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said this about predictable behavior:  “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” 
  In recent years, politics has become a blood sport with the so called ‘establishment’ on one side and the ‘non-establishment’ on the other.  Press releases from elected officials and comments from their supporters are so predictable that you could write them yourself.  They ‘spin’ any event or issue to fit their worldview.  Both sides backbite and make personal attacks on those who disagree with their view.  The intentionally misrepresent the other faction’s position on issues.   Elected officials and citizens should work toward respecting differing opinions and restore civility to the process.  The first step is to recognize that blind loyalty is wrong, and that we shouldn’t be so predictable.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a gun!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     On Sunday morning Devin Patrick Kelley walked into a small church and shot it up, killing 26 and wounding 24 in what is the worst mass shooting in Texas history.  Kelley, an Air Force veteran, had been dishonorably discharged after being convicted of domestic abuse.  Apparently he was targeting the small church because his ex-wife’s parents worshipped there.  They were not at the church, but his ex-grandmother-in-law was one of the victims.  The smell of gun powder was still in the air when the gun control debate began.   U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, (D-Connecticut) asked his fellow lawmakers, “Can you sleep tonight colleagues, when the price of gun lobby goodwill is this- blood soaked church and school floors, city streets?”  Murphy said mass shooting are ‘uniquely and tragically American,’ and Congress must ‘shed its cowardly cover,’ and enact gun control.  A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health last year found of 171 countries, America had the highest rate of mass shootings. 
     There is just one problem with Murphy’s argument.  In Sunday’s case, a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a gun.  Kelley was confronted by Stephen Willeford, a barefoot former National Rifle Association instructor, who shot Kelley twice, forcing him to flee the scene.  According to law enforcement, Willeford’s action clearly saved lives.  Three observations:    
     First, according to the FBI, roughly 16,459 murders were committed in the United States during 2016. Of these, about 11,961 or 73% were committed with firearms.  At the 2016 homicide rate, roughly one in every 235 Americans will be murdered in the course of their lives.  The world is becoming increasingly more dangerous.  The second amendment guarantees every American the right to defend themselves.  
     Second, people who commit these heinous acts don’t obey the law.  Those willing to kill innocent bystanders are not above buying a gun in a back alley or building a bomb out of household chemicals and a pressure cooker to kill.  There is already a law against murder, but that doesn’t prevent it from happening.   More laws are not the answer. 
     Third, restriction of gun ownership doesn’t work.  Chicago has one of the highest crime rates in the U.S., yet guns were outlawed in the city from 1982 to 2010.  According to the Chicago Police Department during that period, 59% of all murders committed in Chicago were committed with handguns.  Banning handguns didn’t stop killing- it allowed only the criminals to have guns. 
    So is the answer for every able bodied citizen to strap on a hog leg and draw down on any suspicious looking character?  No, but the answer is for law abiding citizens to have the right to own a weapon to defend themselves, their family and their neighbors.  The National Institutes of Health study cited by Murphy found the underlying issue behind mass shootings wasn’t gun ownership- it was mental illness and emotional instability.  If Murphy and Congress want to work on something constructive, they should be focusing on the mental health crisis in America, not gun ownership.