Sunday, June 25, 2023

Putin is the 'devil' you know!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     A failed coup in Russia is dominating the news.  Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman, who founded a paramilitary organization called the Wagner Group, the rebellion failed, but his soldiers were not defeated.  They simply stood down and stopped marching toward Moscow to ‘avoid bloodshed’.  For his part in the uprising, Prigozhin was exiled to Belarus by the Kremlin.  He has yet to turn up there and speculation is he has never left Russia.  Prigozhin is a long-time ally of Vladimir Putin(his caterer), but recently has been critical of Russia military leaders, accusing them of incompetence after several of his Wagner mercenaries were killed in the war against Ukraine.  Three observations:

     First, be careful what you wish for.  While Putin is far from reasonable, he is the devil you know.  Who comes to power after Putin could be- and probably will be- far more radical.  Many believe, including some in Russia, the Wagner Group has been used by Russia for ‘plausible deniability’ to obscure the true casualties and costs of Russian foreign wars.  Millions of rubles have made their way into Prigozhin’s pockets with Putin’s blessing, but just who is Wagner?

      The Wagner Group has 50,000 soldiers, many of which are former convicts.  Think Dirty Dozen times 4,000!  Think Blackstone, but with no ethics/values.  The group derives their name from Richard Wagner, a German said to be Hitler’s favorite composer.  Many in the group espouse Neo-Nazi ideology and foreign analysist believe Wagner is more dangerous and radical than the Kremlin.  Wagner used Russia military bases, is transported by Russian military aircraft and uses Russian health care services, so they clearly had the support of Russian leadership.  Wagner is very popular with the Russian public.  The group is patriotic to the motherland and Prigozhin is treated like a rock star by the Russian public.  The danger is the distinct possibility a radical, who wouldn’t hesitate to hit the nuke button, comes to power in Russia. 

     Second, isolation/insulation is hard to accomplish in today’s world.  Technology has made the world smaller.  The Internet has made it possible for people across the world to interact with each other in real time.  The web has given people access to news (fake and real), information, and resources they didn’t have access to before.  Russia has attempted to keep their citizens isolated and shielded, but 86% have access to the web.  In America, it is 93%- China 75%.  Prigozhin, who posts numerous times a day on social media, used technology in his coup attempt.  Access to information makes despotism difficult.  Russia and China citizens have observed how other governments work and gotten a taste of liberty.  It’s next to impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.   

     Third, expect Russia to be a major topic in the 2024 election.  If Putin is overthrown, President Biden will take credit- and so will former President Trump.  If Prigozhin comes to power and Russia becomes a radical state, inculpation by both will transpire.  If Ukraine wins the war, both will take credit for the victory.  No matter what takes place, the American public has not heard the end of Russia. 

     Relations between America and Russia has not been good for over a century.  Some say it is because the U.S. won the Cold War.  A 2018 poll found that 85% of Russians had a negative opinion of America.  Bois Kagarlitsky, a Russian intellectual, says this bitterness by Russians is ironic.  “We want to be like America.  We are angry that America is allowed to invade minor nations and we are not,” Kararlitsky says.   The key issue is motive.  The United States’ stated purpose for war is to defend or to liberate- Russia invaded Ukraine to conquer.  Therein lies the contrast. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Catholic School to get Oklahoma tax dollars!

Weekly Opinion Editorial 


by Steve Fair

         On June 5, Oklahoma became the first state in the country to approve a religious charter school.  The 3-2 vote will allow St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School’s application to receive Oklahoma tax dollars.  Immediately after the vote, Dr. Robert Franklin, the board chairman resigned.  Franklin said those who voted to approve did so in direct violation of the state constitution.

     Governor Kevin Stitt applauded the approval, calling it a win for religious and education freedom.  Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the move was unconstitutional and a blow at the heart of religious liberty.  Drummon vowed to challenge the school board’s decision in court.  So did Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal think tank. Ryan Walters, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, says he urged the board to approve and believes their action gives parents more choices in their child’s education.  Three observations:

     First, government money always comes with strings.  While St. Isidore may get tax dollars, with those funds comes the long arm of government.  Many religious private schools understand that and do not/will not accept government money because they don’t want government poking its unwanted nose into their business.  With tax money comes rules and regulations.  Taking tax dollars invites scrutiny and submission to an overreaching government.   

      Second, tax dollars are already being used to teach a religion-Secular Humanism.  John Dewey, often cited as the most prominent American intellectual in the first half of the 20th century, is considered be the father of modern public education.  Dewey believed humans can be ethical and moral without a belief in religion or God, aka secular humanism.  Dewey was responsible for transferring some of his radical, secular ideas to the classroom and shaped today’s public education.  Public school textbooks are screened to exclude any reference to religion or God.  They must be secular or non-religious. 

     In 1961, the no-religion/no God ‘secular humanism’ and ‘atheism’ were acknowledged to be a religion in a Supreme Court case.  In Torcaso vs. Watkins, Justice Hugo Black wrote: “The state, nor the federal government, can constitutionally force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.”  Among the non-religions cited by Black were Secular Humanism.  Black was far from a conservative, but he recognized unbelief was actually a belief system.  Much like when the apostle Paul declared the ‘unknown God’ to the Greeks, Black’s ruling recognized cynicism was confidence.  It takes more faith to believe no one created the world than to believe someone did.

     Third, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has already ruled regarding use of tax dollars by religious schools.  In a 6-3 vote in June 2022, the SCOTUS ruled faith-based schools CAN get public money.  Chief Justice John Roberts  wrote the majority opinion saying Maine’s exclusion of religious schools not being able to get public funding violates the First Amendment. 

     After the SCOTUS ruling, AG Drummond’s predecessor John O’Connor, issued an AG opinion consistent with the SCOTUS ruling.  Drummond defeated O’Connor in the GOP primary and when he was sworn into office, he rescinded O’Connor’s opinion.  In the reversal, Drummond (a lawyer) contended the SCOTUS ruling was narrow and did not carte blanche open the door to religious schools getting tax dollars.  Clearly, Stitt and Walters (not lawyers) disagree. 

     Drummond’s position has angered many conservatives and school choice advocates in GOP ranks.  Some believe Drummond plans to run for governor in 2026.  If that is the case, angering conservatives by taking a stand against religion isn’t the way to the Republican nomination.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Indictment isn’t about documents- it is about 2024 election!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     Former President Donald Trump made history when he was indicted last week by Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Counsel Jack Smith on 37 counts of mishandling sensitive government secrets.  Trump becomes the first president to be indicted for federal crimes in our nation’s history and if convicted faces decades in jail.  Trump’s personal aide, Walt Nauta, was hit as well with 6 felony charges of obstruction of justice for moving boxes (allegedly at Trump’s direction) of supposedly classified documents.  Trump will be arraigned in Miami on Tuesday in front of federal district judge Aileen Cannon.  Cannon, chosen at random, was appointed to the federal bench by Trump in 2020.   She is reportedly not recusing himself.

      Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr has been critical of his former boss.  Barr says the DOJ gave the former president ample opportunity to turn over the documents.  Barr says Trump would not have been indicted had he simply turned over the documents.  Barr says the government acted responsibly and Trump acted irresponsibly in the attempt to retrieve what Barr describes were government documents.   Fox News legal analysist, Andy McCarty said that if just half of what is alleged in the indictment is true that Trump is ‘toast.’  Four observations:

     First, indictments are one side of a story.  Every story/yarn- like a pancake- has two sides.  Indictments are allegations- not always factual claims.  Just because the DOJ says a law has been broken doesn’t mean it has.  It still has to be proven beyond a shadow doubt in front of a jury.  The most damning piece of evidence appears to be a voice recording of Trump telling a book publisher and others he was showing them classified documents, which is against the law.  Is it possible Trump was trying to ‘fan the flames’ by recording the meeting and hopes to use the indictment to his political advantage? 

     Second, Trump has been unequally treated.  Former U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton was not indicted by the DOJ for the same thing Trump is being indicted for.  That is selective enforcement/prosecution.  Hunter Biden’s secret payments from the Ukraine government and President Biden’s involvement in that has been largely ignored by the DOJ.  Americans are losing respect for the DOJ because the rule of law is not equally enforced.  

     Third, Trump should dial down the hyperbole.  Speaking to GOP activists at state conventions on Saturday, the former president called Smith ‘deranged,’ and said Smith’s wife ‘hates’ him.  Smith may have a political agenda, but he is far from insane.  Trump should focus on addressing the charges and not the prosecutor’s mental state.      

     Fourth, the goal is to derail Trump’s 2024 bid for president.  If he would agree to not run, the DOJ would no doubt drop all charges posthaste.  They want Trump to drop out.  Not likely to happen.  Plan B would be for Trump to win the GOP nomination and lose the general election.  More likely to happen.  Trump did not get the conservative Democrat vote in 2020 like he did in 2016.  Polls show the indictment could hurt Trump with those swing voters in the general.  Rest assured, this isn’t about documents- it is about an election.

     In the coming days/weeks/months, Americans should remember four things: (1) a guilty person can be framed.  (2) blind loyalty can create a false sense of security and can breed corruption.  (3) excusing punishment for misconduct because someone else is misbehaving is not an acceptable excuse to misbehave. (4) every American has a constitutional right to their day in court and burden of proof falls on the government. 

      The irony is that if the trial goes past the 2024 election and Trump is the newly elected POTUS, he could simply pardon himself on his first day in office.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Until citizens answer the CLARION CALL, expect more of the same!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Senate Bill #1503, which banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat, and House Bill#4327, which banned abortion except in the case of rape or incest, were unconstitutional.  Both bills were passed in 2022 overwhelmingly in both legislative chambers and signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt.  The vote to overturn was 6-3.  Justices Kauger, Winchester, Edmondson, Combs, Gurich and Darby voted to overturn.  Remember those names.  Justices Kane, Rowe and Kuehn voted to not overturn.   The ruling marked the second revoking of pro-life legislation by the state’s high court.

     In this week’s ruling, the majority opinion said the two bills were unconstitutional because they required a ‘medical emergency.’ before a doctor could perform an abortion.  A Tulsa abortion provider sued the state over the laws.  New York based Center for Reproductive Rights provided legal representation for the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.  Attorney General Gentner Drummond said that despite the ruling, it is still illegal to get an abortion in Oklahoma.  Oklahoma’s ‘1910 law’(Title 21-Chapter 32, Section 861) makes it a felony punishable up to five years in prison for performing an abortion unless it is to save the life of the mother.

     “This court has once more over-involved itself in the state’s democratic process, and has interceded to undo legislation created by the will of the people,” Governor Kevin Stitt said.  Justice Dustin Rowe in his dissent stated: “The issues presented in this matter are political, better resolved by the citizens via our democratic process.”  Three observations:

     First, Oklahoma needs judicial reform.  The current process of how justices are appointed to the high court is not working.  Defenders of the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC) vetting process the state uses to select members of the high court should rethink their position.  In theory, the evaluation/scrutinization exercise seems effectual, but the proof is in the pudding.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court has consistently been inconsistent.  Their ‘logrolling’ (more than one issue in a bill) decisions have been conflicting and unpredictable.  But one area they have been consistent in- without fail- has been their rulings against the unborn.  Couple that with the cockeyed, implausible judicial retention ballot Oklahoma uses and the result is a high court that is unbalanced and unreliable.

     Second, the ruling was political.  A lot of the rulings the court will decide have a political element to them, but rulings should be based on the law and not an individual justice’s political leanings.  Of the six(6) justices who voted to overturn, five(5) were appointed by Democratic governors.  Their personal position on abortion, if consistent with their Party platform, is pro-choice.  Conversely, the justices who voted to not overturn were appointed by a Republican and are highly likely pro-life.  Oklahomans are overwhelming pro-life, yet the Oklahoma Supreme Court is pro-choice.    

     Third, accountability is key.  Griping, whining, and grumbling accomplishes little.  Consistent involvement in the dirty, nasty, nefarious political arena will make a difference.  If sufficient Oklahoma citizens committed to pay attention to what their government was doing, justices like the six who ruled to kill babies in the womb wouldn’t have made it on the Oklahoma high court.  Citizens need to start attending GOP meetings, learning about the issues, talking with their representatives and asking them ‘hard questions.’  It is time to heed a clarion call!

     In the Middle Ages, a trumpet called a clarion was sounded when action was required by a group.  The trumpet could play a melody in clear, shrill tones, so it could be heard far and wide.  Oklahoma needs a clarion call for citizens to pay attention and press accountability.  Until that happens, expect more of the same.