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Zoning Offense: Attacks on Free Speech

Among its proponents, zoning (where government dictates how we can use our property) is credited with accomplishing a multitude of good for the public. However, there is a dark side to governmental control of land use. Throughout its history, zoning has been deployed to categorically discriminate against and exclude whoever might be the chosen pariah of the day. Whether the target was a religious or racial minority or a member of lower economic classes, zoning was a tool to exclude certain individuals from protected neighborhoods. An early American land-use ordinance passed in San Francisco in the late 19th century provides us with a clear example of weaponized land use control. In a subtle attempt to discriminate against Chinese launderers, San Francisco passed an ordinance that seemed neutral on its face. Essentially, it was impermissible to operate a laundry in a wood building. At the time, 75% of laundries were run by Chinese owners, and every single one was located in a wood building. In an act of blatant discrimination, the city denied all applications for a variance submitted by Chinese owners while granting all white-owned operations permission to continue operations. The...

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The High Duty of Elected Officials and Ways They Fall Short

With an election just completed (the alleged voting, anyway), a legislative session coming up, constant talk of spending to offset the impacts of COVID-19, and elected officials trying to mandate our way out of a disease, the duty of elected officials in their official positions is worth considering. The 1889 Institute recently published a booklet for state lawmakers that discusses various issues and possible solutions. Included in that booklet is a short discussion of the central duty of elected officials, which is expanded here. What is the central, over-arching duty of an individual after having been elected to public office? Public oaths of office give a strong hint, and the Oklahoma Constitution is a good place to start. Article XV includes the oath of office, which states that an Oklahoma public official swears to “support, obey, and defend” the constitutions of the nation and the state, that the official will not take bribes, and that the official will discharge duties as best he or she can. The Oklahoma County oath of office adds that the official “will faithfully discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.” The state and county oaths of office do not clash. The...

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Public Unions and Obscure Election Dates Create a Perfect Storm

Wouldn’t it be great to pick your boss? I don’t mean choose between two competing job offers based on which boss you prefer. I mean that you and your coworkers get together and pick a boss based on who is going to be the easiest to work for: someone who won’t interfere with your work, won’t call you out when you’re acting against the interest of your customers, someone who will sing your praises to the public, and let you work for another organization on company time.   Public sector unions everywhere wield undue power over the elected officials charged with overseeing them. In many states unions dominate every aspect of politics. Right to work laws, and the state culture that created them, are meant to shield Oklahoma from this fate. But when public employees are able to band together and withhold essential services, especially those services they have fully monopolized by virtue of the fact that only government provides them, elected officials have little choice but to cave. This is the central theme of 1889’s latest paper, which not only identifies the problem, but also suggests a solution. But there is more to it than our paper reveals. Oklahoma’s ridiculous number of...

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How Biden/Harris and Well-educated Sophisticates Are Wrong in the Age of COVID-19

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris often declared during the campaign that “We believe in science.” And judging by the tendency of the college-educated, especially among the sophisticates living on the coasts, to agree with Harris’s positions on everything from climate change to proper precautions amid COVID-19, belief in “science” seems to many a mark of knowledge and wisdom. But is it? The modern belief in “science” increasingly appears to be a religion wherein the words of certain recognized experts are received with the reverence once reserved for the Pope. A college diploma almost serves as a permission slip to suspend one’s own judgment and reason in favor of taking the word of certain experts to heart, especially if they work in government, certain universities, or gain media credence.  This tendency to turn experts and the media into high priests of all knowledge is nothing new. In 1986, 60 Minutes ran a story about a phenomenon people experienced in cars with automatic transmissions called “unintended acceleration.” This occurred when someone put their car into gear (forward or reverse) and despite pressing the brake pedal with all their might, the car accelerated out of...

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Follow the Science: Eliminate Social Distancing and Focus Resources to Protect the Vulnerable

As the country entered into an election year, COVID-19 reared its head and became an unusual campaign issue. Exposed to extreme politization, facts were buried in an abundance of misinformation perpetuated by the invocation of “science.” With the overly polarized rhetoric of stump speeches mercifully behind us, it is time to return to the rigor and integrity in research that public policy deserves. Now that the polls have closed, let’s move on, dig into the facts, and, indeed, follow the science. Upon the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 illness, little was known about it. Symptomatically, it was even difficult to tell whether or not one had the disease given that the list of symptoms seemed to expand continually. Despite what little information existed, there was no lack of self-proclaimed experts claiming the knowledge necessary to contain the disease. With the state's presumptive authority and dubious expertise, numerous state and local governments began imposing extreme measures to “flatten the curve” and maybe even eradicate COVID-19. Meanwhile, bona fide experts started preparing for the worst while also recognizing that our understanding of...

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Be Careful What You Wish For

The state of Oklahoma has California in its sights. People and businesses seeking greater opportunity are fleeing California, and justifiably so. The most humane thing for Oklahoma to do is open our borders and offer economic asylum to the oppressed refugees of the People’s Republic of California. However, I urge caution. In an age dominated by masked faces and super-sensitivity to the spread of viral conditions, I suggest the California Condition (condition) should be met with great trepidation. What is the condition? It is the virulent spread of tyranny and oppression. Common symptoms include limited freedom and mobility accompanied by exorbitant costs of living, energy, doing business, and pretty much everything else. Those suffering under the condition often experience a diminished capacity for reason. Uncommon symptoms may include fever and fits of rage. The condition is progressive. It tends to worsen as reason diminishes and illogic consumes the mind. Many that experience life under the condition desperately seek refuge in states with a thriving environment. However, be advised that the condition is highly contagious. Absent appropriate measures, the contagion can consume...

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Why We Need to Reject Equality of Outcome

The United States of America was founded on the principle of equality. This principle has guided the country throughout its history. There have been times that we have fallen short of this goal, the most obvious example being slavery. However, lately there appears to be disagreement on what really constitutes equality. For some, equality means guaranteeing a certain outcome for all, regardless of any difference in ability or effort expended. However, this is not what the founders intended when they wrote, "all men are created equal." We should be grateful for their interpretation of what equality means. The Founders were deliberate about including the concept of equality in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” No matter the differences between people, they still all possess the same natural rights. No one, neither the elite nor the majority, is qualified to take away those natural rights. The Constitution and the government it set up are designed to...

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OG&E and the Corporation Commission Aren’t Doing Their Jobs

At the time of this writing, it’s been a full week since there was power at my home. I live within OG&E’s electrical grid, so when it comes to being without power this past week, I’m nothing special. Many of OG&E’s customers had no power for days, and some will have no power for well over a week. By the time power is restored to everyone in their service area, OG&E’s own estimate is that it will have taken ten full days to repair all the damage from Oklahoma’s latest ice storm. Ice storms are bears, no doubt about it. They are very hard on trees, and if the roads ice over, they are very hard on cars. But roads, for the most part, were not an issue during Oklahoma’s “Icemageddon” of 2020. The problem was the extra weight of the ice on trees, wires and poles. And what we discovered was that Oklahoma’s electric power grid, once again, was not up to the challenge. Fact is, Oklahoma’s power grid isn’t up to much of Oklahoma’s weather. Every time the electricity goes out, which is far too often, we hear the same old thing. “The wind was hard;” “that was a lot of ice;” “a lot of rain fell, and there was lightning.” Then there are the familiar deflections: “Our crews are...

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An Immodest Proposal to Improve Term Limits

No person elected to any office in the executive or legislative branch of any state, county, or local government shall be eligible to run for the same office in the election immediately succeeding their elected term of office. In 1990 Oklahomans voted, by a two-to-one margin, to enact term limits for state legislators. Certainly, voters must have believed they needed to be saved from themselves (or each other). After all, every legislature in the country has term limits: they’re called elections. But now, three decades later, the question must be asked: have term limits returned power to the people? In my observation, they have not. Rather than directing power back to the people, term limits have transferred power from the people’s representatives to… just about everywhere else. The courts have taken power for themselves time and time again. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is currently considering whether to uphold the opioid suit’s legislation from the bench. If they do, it will be the biggest power grab since the New Deal, when the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the limits of federal power were almost nonexistent. A strong legislature with experienced leadership would push back...

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Friday Special: The Left’s New Fear of Speech

As we said there in rejecting Virginia's claim that the only way it could enable its citizens to find their self-interest was to deny them information that is neither false nor misleading: "There is… an alternative to this highly paternalistic approach. That alternative is to assume that this information is not in itself harmful, that people will perceive their own best interests if only they are well enough informed, and that the best means to that end is to open the channels of communication rather than to close them. - Thurgood Marshall, Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Township Of Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85 (1977) With 2020 being such a caustic year, many novel innovations will be forgotten. Does anyone remember that the global shutdown was supposed to last three weeks to “flatten the curve?” The phrase probably rings a bell now that you hear it, but I bet you haven’t thought of it lately. We took for granted that something had to be done. We blithely accepted that lockdowns were the only answer. And then we promptly forgot that they were supposed to last less than a month. One innovation that must not be taken for granted, blithely accepted, and finally forgotten, is the way the...

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Lies We Tell in Government, and Our Debts to Truth

HBO’s mini-series, Chernobyl, is a drama depicting the disastrous 1986 explosion, and heroic efforts to control the resulting meltdown, of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union). A flawed man, but true hero, Valery Alexeyvich Legasov, worked tirelessly to ameliorate the disaster’s consequences and chiefly investigated its cause. He was Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, a Soviet elite, who is portrayed at the end of the series making a dramatic speech at a trial about how the nuclear reactor exploded, when such an explosion in that type of reactor should not have been possible. In the course of the series, the audience learns that the reactor had a design flaw that had been covered up by the Soviet State (true). The audience also learns that Legasov knew about the flaw before the explosion (true). The official position before the disaster was that all was well and knowledge of the flaw was kept from reactor operators, not only at Chernobyl, but at other identical reactors across the Soviet Union. And that is where Legasov’s fictional speech that, nonetheless, seems to fairly accurately express his point of view comes...

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Stopping a Judicial Power Grab Before it Upends Oklahoma

A case is pending at the Oklahoma Supreme Court that will have lasting consequences for governance of the state. You wouldn’t know it from the way the case has been reported, but at stake is a principle no less fundamental than whether Oklahomans will continue to be in charge of their government or whether it will be the other way around. That’s the argument of the amicus brief I filed in the case last week (joined by law professor Andy Spiropoulos and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs). According to the Plaintiff (Oklahoma’s Attorney General), State of Oklahoma v. Johnson & Johnson, et al. is about the costs the state has and will incur as a result of the abuse of opioid drugs. He filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of these legal drugs, claiming that they created a “public nuisance” in the state. All the defendants settled except one, and after a bench trial (no jury), a Cleveland County judge levied a $465 million judgment against J&J to “abate” the public nuisance. This case isn’t really about opioids, though. It’s about much more fundamental principles like the separation of powers and self-government. Here’s how. The Attorney General asked for, and the...

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A Plan to Put Teachers in Charge, Give Parents Choices, and Benefit Children

How much confidence would you have in a law firm that was managed and run by legal secretaries and paralegals? Probably not a lot. Legal support staff constitute a vital part of their firms. A good paralegal can free an attorney to focus on the things only she can do. A bad paralegal can be worse than no paralegal at all. But even the best paralegal lacks the training and experience to formulate and execute a litigation strategy. You don’t want a paraprofessional running the show - their proper role is in support of the professional. So why aren’t teachers running our schools? The prevailing education model in this country is puzzling when compared to other industries. But it’s been this way so long it’s difficult to imagine anything else. We group children by age, not by knowledge or ability. We send them to schools based on address, not teaching methodology. Parents, except for the wealthy, have very little say over which school their children can attend. And teachers, the practitioners who are trained to teach, who are in the classroom every day, who are the soul of the education system, are answerable to more and more people who lack the skill and experience to accomplish...

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A Reminder of the Ineffectiveness of Covid-19 Lockdowns

Since the beginning of this pandemic, the 1889 Institute has argued against lockdowns even as “experts” advocated for them. Now, months after the weeks-long lockdowns were supposed to end, there are still states in various levels of lockdown. State and local governments have devastated their economies with shutdowns in the name of public health. Yet some politicians, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, have stated a willingness to lockdown the economy again on a national scale to eliminate COVID-19, in a "virus first, economy later" approach. Even as some lawmakers in Oklahoma urge governor Stitt to take more extreme action, it is essential to remember that lockdowns are not very effective. A group of epidemiologists have released a declaration denoting the harmful effects of lockdowns. These include; lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health. These consequences are more harmful than the virus the lockdown was supposed to prevent in the first place. These experts call for allowing less vulnerable populations resume life as normal while shielding the vulnerable. This will build...

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Dictatorship in the City: The Conceit of the Aesthetic Elite

Throughout modern history, the "enlightened" few have sought to define the ideal city. Whether the brainchild of a visionary architect or a commission of prominent residents, the various means of comprehensive urban planning lead to the same end – the chosen few dictating how you live, where you work, what you see, and how you experience your city.  This dictatorship of the aesthetic elite burdens all within a city's limits with an arbitrary, artistic interpretation of the city. Individuals, neighborhoods, and corporations are forced into a utopian vision of perfection. Ironically, "Utopia" means "no place" – which is precisely where comprehensive city planning leads us: nowhere. The reality is, cities are complex. They are the product of innumerable interactions that shape a community to satisfy its residents' needs and wants. Local governments today are consumed with meeting those needs and wants in the most efficient way possible. The modern approach is one of deliberate design – the art of city. Unfortunately, the artistry of central design is ultimately ineffective.    As a young undergraduate student attending a university design school majoring in architecture, I was ready...

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The Unfairness of Concentrated Wealth is NOTHING Compared to the Unfairness of Redistributing It

Socialist types like to accuse rich corporate types of having “too much” wealth. Simple fairness, they claim, dictates that one person should not have so much when so many have so little. But if we’re going to talk about fairness, let’s really give it fair consideration. That means looking beyond the petty jealousy and thinking about the fairness of seizing wealth from those who earned it and giving it to those who did not.   How did the wealthy get that way? The socialist types claim that the greedy capitalists exploit their workers and their consumers. Is that true? Let’s start with the workers. Jeff Bezos may be greedy. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him. But I did work for him - in fact I hired other people to work for him. So I can say with reasonable certainty that he hasn’t created his enormous wealth by exploiting his workers. They were all there voluntarily.  Before attending law school, I spent several months working for the temp agency that hires seasonal workers for Amazon warehouses. I saw a lot of people thrilled to get a job, but you know what I didn’t see? Anyone being dragged to my office by the Agents of Amazon, bound to a chair, and told they had no choice but...

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Abuse of Office: Cindy Byrd Demonstrates She Doesn’t Understand Charter Schools

A principle I have learned over the years is that when accusations mainly founded in suspicions are made, the accusers are very often guilty of the very perfidy that they allege. Of this, I have no doubt when it comes to the accusations against Epic Charter Schools, a charter school that has quite simply gotten too big and successful for the public school establishment and its enablers to ignore. Unfortunately, State Auditor Cindy Byrd has demonstrated a ready willingness to be a champion enabler, joining in a witch hunt and ignoring the basic philosophy behind charter school laws as well as the purpose of state audits in her recent hit piece masquerading as an audit. Perhaps the single most absurd point made in the State Auditor’s report on Epic Charter Schools was on page 93 in the “Final Thoughts” chapter where there were ruminations about prohibiting any for-profit organization from obtaining a charter and prohibiting charter schools from contracting with for-profit entities for management. This was stated as if “for-profit” is, in and of itself, clearly something evil and automatically subject to corruption. Well, if that’s the case, then the traditional public schools are...

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Time to Liberate Legal Education from the ABA’s Systemic Ideological Corruption

The deans of 150 law schools, including all three in Oklahoma, have written a letter to the American Bar Association (ABA) asking the organization to require “every law school provide training and education around bias, cultural competence, and anti-racism.” These politically loaded terms are left undefined in the letter, but given the terminology, almost surely refer to the newest school of critical race theory, most prominently expounded by professor Ibram X. Kendi in his best-selling manifesto, How to Be an Anti-Racist. Most Americans would find Kendi’s views distinctly at odds with their own definition of racial equality. Most of us consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a society in which people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character as the aspirational ideal. Not critical race theory and “anti-racism.” As articulated by Kendi: Since the 1960s, racist power has commandeered the term “racial discrimination,” transforming the act of discriminating on the basis of race into an inherently racist act. But if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on...

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Robbing the Poor to Give to the Rich: Corporate Welfare in Oklahoma

Imagine that someone forcibly takes your hard-earned money and then simply gives it to a multi-billion dollar corporation such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or Boeing. You receive no benefit from this forcible redistribution of wealth, and the sole beneficiary is the corporation. You would most likely be outraged, and justifiably so. Unfortunately, this forced redistribution of wealth happens in Oklahoma (and the nation as a whole) all the time via a variety of state and local corporate welfare schemes. Policymakers either take your hard-earned money (via taxes), and directly subsidize large corporations or give those corporations tax breaks nobody else can get. All of this is done in the name of jobs and economic development, but these favors bring very little (if any) benefit to you. This is tyranny, plain and simple. In fact, it is not unlike the sort of advantage nobility took of commoners before the American Revolution, only the modern nobility is just very good at lobbying. In the 1889 Institute’s most recent publication, Policymaker’s Guide to Corporate Welfare, we condemn the practice of corporate welfare, offer policymakers a simple guide to evaluate proposed and existing...

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Kids in Tow: Contrasting Educational Choice in Arizona and Oklahoma, a Parent’s Perspective

The 1889 Institute has repeatedly expounded on the merits of educational choice. School choice lies at the heart of providing individual children with a high-quality education, and Oklahoma could use more of it. With the myriad of programs that have proven successful throughout the country, Oklahoma needs to take an all-of-the-above approach to education to empower parents. The necessity of educational choice is particularly evident when you see students as unique individuals with unique talents and needs.  Every child learns at least a little differently from every other child. Thus, it is far more likely that every child will succeed when families can avail themselves of different educational environments. Two children, coming from the same family, living in the same house, with the same economic means and opportunities, still demonstrate different propensities, proficiencies, and instructional preferences. The close parent-child relationship gives parents a unique understanding of their child. This unique knowledge equips them to make the best decisions in their child’s education based on a more holistic experience. Therefore, to better improve educational outcomes, it is...

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