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Why I am concerned about the state of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office



The information released about evidence known by the Commonwealth attorney’s office regarding Jennifer McDonald is concerning at best. If that office had information that Ms. McDonald was misusing funds over a year ago then a Special Grand Jury should have been immediately impaneled.

Ms. McDonald should have been immediately indicted and not allowed to walk the streets for over a year. Who knows what evidence has been lost or destroyed in that time? With this information, along with the botched prosecution some months ago of Ms. McDonald, the people have a right to ask if the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is up to the job.

If not, they should step aside so that this investigation and prosecution can be handled properly from here going forward.

John Bell

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Something I learned from a Cowboy



Some time ago I met a cowboy. Not a Hollywood cowboy. Not a guitar-strumming Nashville cowboy. This cowboy sat upon a horse so big, I had to lean out of the window of my ’67 Chevrolet and strain my neck to see him.

The cowboy and I were headed in opposite directions on a greyish, dusty, unpaved road. He was mounted upon the aforementioned animal. I was navigating my Chevy. Aside from our differing modes of transportation, there was one other factor distinguishing the cowboy from me. He knew where he was and where he was going. I didn’t.

In brief, I was in Montana looking for Holter Dam, which according to my wrinkled paper map, ought to be astride the Missouri River somewhere nearby. And, no. Cars did not have GPS navigators in those days.

So, there I was, looking up at a cowboy mounted upon the largest chestnut-brown horse I had ever seen. I quickly learned he was no ordinary cowhand. He owned a Montana wheat ranch half the size of the state of Arizona.

He dismounted and I exited my car and soon we were chatting face-to-face. In no time at all he gave me directions to Holter Dam. Easy for him. He lived there! How’s that for luck?

As we spoke, my car’s engine was still running.

“Have you got any tools in your car?” That wasn’t a question I had expected the cowboy to ask. After all, I was only seeking directions.

“A few,” I replied.

“You’ve got a problem with your engine.”

I felt really proud that I had a wrench or two and a screwdriver. Prouder still that I knew which was which!

The cowboy raised my Chevy’s hood. He listened ever so briefly.

Within a few seconds he was bending over my still-running engine. He used the wrench. Once. Twice. Then he was satisfied.

“You had an air leak back there.” He explained something about a gasket and a rocker cover.

I smiled as if I knew what he was talking about.

This cowboy was a pleasant fellow, dusty boots and all. We chatted. My jaw dropped. This was no ordinary cowboy. He was a Harvard Business School graduate. He needed that, he said, to manage his wheat ranch. He marketed to Russia, China, and beyond.

He was also an engineering graduate. I recall he said Michigan. He told me he needed that, too, “right here at Holter Dam.” But before Holter Dam, this cowboy had another use for that engineering degree. He applied those skills while working for General Motors. I’d guess that’s why from atop his horse he heard a potentially troublesome hissing sound beneath the hood of my Chevy.

Turns out this cowboy was the chief engineer for the dam’s hydro-electric generators. Also turns out he guided us to his home on the Holter Dam property. He gave my two kids a ride on the horse!

I met him again a year or so later. Rescue and recovery mission on the Missouri River. Part of my Air Force duties at Malmstrom Air Force Base just outside Great Falls. But that’s another story. Later maybe.

So, this cowboy was a lesson! Classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” What social science calls stereotyping….

Yesterday, I met a guy at a bar ………

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Abortion, Marijuana, and Slavery



historically speaking

One of the topics I try to avoid in class is abortion. There is a good reason for this avoidance; it is one of the subjects that inspires such passion that it is nearly impossible for any real civil discourse. Historically, abortion has been a key issue of every election since Roe V. Wade. However, it seems, at least to me, in the last couple elections, the abortion question has lost some significance. But, as we move closer to the 2020 election, it is looking as if the abortion issue may once again become a heavyweight question. I am not going to weigh in on the rights and wrongs of the issue, but I think it is worth giving some historical significance.

My first historical observance with abortion is the political shift that occurs. One of the areas we can generalize about regarding the differences between Republicans and Democrats is the role of government. Today, Republicans tend to believe in smaller government, while Democrats believe in larger. This was not always the case, but that is a story for a different time. Yet, when it comes to abortion, the two parties switch positions. Democrats tend to want more regulation, more involvement in people’s lives. But when it comes to abortion, they suddenly back off and say it is completely up to the individual. Democrats tend to try to protect those who need the most help, but then change on this one issue. Republicans follow suit. They tend to push for more personal liberties, a more hands-off approach, yet push for more government regulation with abortion. Where Republicans are portrayed as the more uncaring party when it comes to issues such as separation of children at the border, they take a stronger stance on protecting the unborn. When it comes to debating abortion, they both attack each other on their inconsistencies.
A similar circumstance happens when it comes to legalizing marijuana. Democrats argue it’s a state rights’ issue, while Republicans counter that it is a federal law. And while speaking of marijuana, it seems to me as if these two issues are connected. Marijuana is still against federal law, yet state after state have passed laws allowing for its use. Similarly, abortion is legal in the U.S. according to federal law, but after the marijuana laws began to pass with no reprisal from the federal government, states started to follow suit with abortion laws. Today several states have passed laws limiting the right to abort.

The reason for the switch in position is because morality is involved. In my classes there are two times I discuss abortion. The first is when we discuss Roe v. Wade. The other is when we discuss compromises over slavery. I understand how odd that sounds. There is little the two have in common, yet when it comes to debating slavery and abortion, they are quite similar.

For the first century of American history, our leaders were able to compromise on slavery. When I say compromise, I really mean agree to avoid discussing it. Slavery was always a difficult question, so they agreed to find ways to punt the problems to the next generation. The big compromises such as the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the 1850 Compromise, and the 1854 Kansas Nebraska Compromise were all attempts to remove slavery from the national discussion. All three of these compromises were efforts to answer, once and for all, which states or territories would be slave and which free. Our political leaders understood that slavery was too difficult a conversation for Congress. The closer we got to the Civil War, the more difficult the conversations became.

As the anti-slavery movement grew into the abolitionist cause, more Americans began to see slavery as a moral argument. Once slavery was seen as a sin and slave-holders as sinners, it became impossible to have civil discourse. This is when I bring in abortion as an object lesson. I tell my students it’s like today’s abortion debate. If you are morally against abortion, there is no compromise. There can’t be. If you are pro-choice and see abortion as a fundamental right for women, you too cannot compromise. It’s not like tariffs. Most of us can give a little here or there with tariffs, infrastructure laws, or foreign policy, but once something is seen as a moral argument, compromise is over.

I am not the first to see this connection. In fact, modern pro-life advocates have taken up the word abolitionist to explain their cause. They have borrowed many words, slogans, and images from the 19th century abolition movement to explain and promote their agenda.

I am not sure what this comparison means for modern Americans. Nineteenth-century Americans never figured it out. They were never able to find the magic solution and come to an agreement. It took a war and 700,000 lives to find the answer to slavery. I do not think abortion will lead to war, but history has shown that we may never find common ground to the abortion question. Pro-choice and pro-life will never find a compromise and, like the abolitionists and slaver holders, will continue to see themselves as holding the moral high ground even if the courts side against them.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Congress: Ethics & Standards of Conduct



To my Grandson, to help clarify a few points.

The concepts here are relatively simple, but they are frequently ignored. Even when not ignored, the lines differentiating between what is “right” or “wrong” or “legal” or “illegal” will often be blurred.

Simple concept:

If you are employed by someone, you are obligated to use both time and resources to the benefit of the employer.

Time: The time for which you are “employed” belongs to the employer.

Resources: The property, building, equipment, supplies, money, utilities (electricity, water, heating, cooling) and sometimes vehicles (cars, trucks, aircraft) belong to the employer.

When you use the employer’s time or resources for personal use, you are stealing.


All members of the Federal government, whether elected or appointed, are employees (President, Congress, Senate, judges, and military and civilian staff members of all Federal agencies or departments).

They are employed by the “People of the United States.”

They receive salary and benefits from the “People of the United States.”

They are obligated to use both time and resources to the benefit of the employer, the “People of the United States.”

If they use time and resources for personal gain or personal endeavors, they are violating the law.

There are literally hundreds of laws, directives, and published policies that specify detailed examples of legal or illegal activities.

(Note: These same obligations/laws apply to all levels of government whether individual states, counties, cities, townships, or school districts.)

Examples of Misconduct:

A U.S. President is charged with personal misconduct while in his office. He uses his staff (legal advisors, secretaries, administrative assistants) to prepare documents, statements, press releases, and press conferences on his behalf.
A U.S. Senator flies aboard a military aircraft to Europe to attend a conference. He tasks his staff to get tickets for himself and his wife to attend a Formula One auto race in Italy the weekend after the conference.
A Federal judge uses his staff to do research, uses his office computer word processing software, and uses his office hours, all to write a novel he plans to publish.
An Air Force commander uses a fighter jet and flies to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada, so that he can attend his daughter’s wedding.
A U.S. Senator pushes legislation for a fighter jet the military has not requested and does not want. The aircraft in question is produced in the Senator’s state.
A lobbyist pays (or gives gift, i.e. vacation travel) a Congressman in return for the Congressman’s vote or sponsoring a bill favoring the lobbyist’s business!
Other Examples of Misconduct:

As State Governor: (from: CBS
Blagojevich was trying to get (himself) appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to President Obama’s Senate seat.
Blagojevich was trying to get Obama’s help setting up a non-profit funded with millions of dollars, which Blagojevich could run after leaving office.
Blagojevich was trying to shake down racetrack owner John Johnston for $100,000 in campaign cash in exchange for Blagojevich quickly signing legislation to benefit the racetracks.
Blagojevich was trying to get $1.5 million in campaign cash from supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate.
Blagojevich was trying to shake down Children’s Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon for a $25,000 campaign fundraiser in exchange for approving a state funding for doctors at the hospital.
Another State Governor uses a police helicopter to have himself flown to his child’s soccer game.
A bus-boy in a restaurant conceals himself for five-minutes (not official break time) and uses his own cell phone to call a friend.
An I.T.T. employee uses a company-provided rental car while on business in Colorado; he drives the car to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit his cousin Zeke.
An office worker uses the office computer and printer to print a term paper for a college course.

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Consequences of a Failed Coup



historically speaking

If President Trump pulls off a win in 2020, there is going to be a great deal of soul searching, not to mention wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many will ask how, how could someone so disliked win another term? I am not saying he is going to win. I have no idea. But, if he does, I am suggesting that history can give us a clue as to the event that helped him win.

I recently wrote an article looking at the ideological ancestry of Progressives and one of the men I mentioned was Huey Long. As important as Long was in the 1930s, he is a character largely forgotten to time. Even with the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King’s Men and the subsequent two movies of the same name (1949 and 2006) being loosely based on Long, he is lost to history. Yet for some time, Long was the loudest voice of protest against President Roosevelt, and one of the most influential men in America. His “Share Our Wealth” program hoped to do more to eliminate poverty than anything the New Deal considered. Yet, before Long could become the champion of the people, first he had to endure government attacks and impeachment attempts.

Long grew up poor in rural Louisiana but had well-educated parents for that time and place. He was described as having a photographic memory and excelled in school, but not so much getting along with others, including teachers. After being expelled, he later took some classes from Oklahoma Baptist University, as well as the University of Oklahoma. He did not finish either, but he did end up attending Tulane Law School for one year before passing the bar.

Long worked as a lawyer for a few years, as he worked his way up through Louisiana state politics, until he ran for governor in 1928. He was able to beat a powerful political machine by consolidating the rural poor vote with the minorities and Catholic votes. He ran a Bernie-Sanders-small-donation type of campaign that he called “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.” He promised public works projects, free textbooks, and higher taxes on the wealthy. Once in office, he lived up to his promises; he was the New Deal before there was such a thing.

As Governor, Long ran Louisiana like a dictator. He pushed all his opponents out of offices and replaced them with loyalists. He took on big business, especially Standard Oil, and was able to impose his will over the legislature. Because he had a demagogue-like hold over the people of his state, he also used shady finances and physical force to build his power.

When Long tried to raise the tax rate on oil companies, they fought back. Supported by the oil companies, the conservatives tried to impeach him for everything from blasphemy and corruption to attempted murder. One opposition leader supposedly said that you can impeach for anything. Impeachment is political. These may be the truest words ever said. Long felt as if he was not being fairly treated in the press, who were connected and backed by big government. He did not have Twitter, but in the 1920s, he did the next best thing. To get his own message across to the public, he started his own paper and mounted speakers to a car to deliver his thoughts. Most importantly, he utilized a new technology, 1920s social media, the radio. A medium his future opponent, FDR, would also use to perfection.

In the end, the people rallied to Long’s side and he pulled in enough senators to pledge not to vote for any charges. Long walked away stronger than before; he became the “Kingfish” and ruled his state with an iron fist. He said something along the lines that he used to ask please of the government, but now he used dynamite. Having survived impeachment, he gained complete control over Louisiana, and then turned his sights to the national stage.

As a democratic senator, Long championed the democratic candidate, FDR, in the 1932 election. Long took credit for FDR’s wins in several states and felt he earned an unofficial advisor position to the new president. Roosevelt saw things differently, saying, “He really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.” When Long began to speak for the administration and proposed his plan to limit income, FDR distanced himself from the Kingfish. There is too much to write about here, but the two men quickly came to odds, leading Long to use his significant public influence to attack the New Deal. The administration counterattack was in the form of the Treasury Department launching an investigation into Long’s tax returns (some things never go out of style), as well as a special senate investigation into election fraud in Louisiana. Finally, with a possible weakening of the Kingfish, his Louisiana enemies saw the chance to take back the state and attempted to oust the Long-controlled state government.

When Long was finally brought to a hearing, the evidence against him was flimsy and unimportant. It looked as if prosecutors were working out personal grudges. It did not take long for the hearings to fall apart and the people to lose interest. In the end, those who had attacked Long suffered greater than Long ever did. Once again Long emerged stronger than before. If was after the government attacks that Long proposed the “Share Our Wealth” program to redistribute wealth. He also began to prepare to take on FDR in the next election. Before he could challenge the President, however, he was shot down by an assassin. I am not saying that he could have defeated FDR, but his power and popularity had grown even more since being attacked by the Government and he was emerging victorious.

I don’t know what the final outcome of the Mueller report will be and I am not here to weigh in on Trump’s impeachment chances. But historically speaking, if after two years of investigating Trump and nothing comes from it and if Democrats continue to investigate, it starts to look like an abuse of power from the Democrats. As with Long, the constant attacks only strengthen his base and even draw in others. If after the 2020 election, Trump is still in power and the left is scrambling again to figure out why, their answer may likely be the very investigation they started.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Congressional Embezzlement



Imagine you are the owner of ABC Widget Company and that you have just discovered some of your employees have regularly been leaving company premises during paid work hours. These employees have been collecting pay for work not performed. And while they were away, your widget production fell.

Wouldn’t you, as a business owner, feel you have been wronged? Wouldn’t you feel you have a legal right to recover your losses?

I’d side with the business owner on this one. Call me old-fashioned, but I was raised in a generation that believed a dollar’s worth of work ought to be rendered for a dollar’s worth of pay. I’d feel that the business owner ought to legally recover not only the lost wages, but he also should recover his losses for widgets not produced.

Now, would you be surprised if I told you that nearly every member of the U.S. Congress is doing precisely what those imaginary wayward employees of ABC Widget Company were doing? Am I saying that your congressman is collecting a $174,000 salary and is leaving company premises during paid work hours? Yes, that is precisely what I am saying. And more. Our elected congressional representatives are pocketing the salary that you and I pay them and are busily “out of their offices” engaged as telemarketers. They are dialing your phone number and mine raising funds for their next election!

There are “call centers” complete with “scripts” to aid individual congressmen in “dialing for dollars.” Both parties have told newly elected members of Congress that they “should spend 30-hours a week” in these call centers which are conveniently located just down the street from their offices.

Why just down the street? Because by law members of Congress cannot make such fund-raising calls from their offices. So our elected representatives circumvent the law, go outside of their offices and spend 4 or more hours a day making fund-raising calls. They are literally told to do so by political party leadership. Why? Because the Political Action Committees (PACs and Super-PACs) have helped fund their elections. Congressmen are told their first priority each day is to raise $18,000 to replenish the Super-PAC’s funds for the next election.

If you would like to verify this, you can do what I did. Go online to the CBS website and navigate to Season 48, Episode 32 of the 60-Minutes show. You can hear reporter Norah O’Donnell interviewing Florida Rep. (R), David Jolly, Wisconsin Rep. (R) Reid Ribble, New York Rep. (D) Steve Israel, and Minnesota Rep. (D Rick Nolan. You’ll hear these congressmen spell out the details. They are sponsoring a bill (H.R. 4443) attempting to stop the practice of federal elected employees from “dialing for dollars.”

Former Rep. Israel admits he has spent more than 4,000 hours soliciting donations. Israel adds that congressmen spend more time raising money than on constituent needs or being on the floor of Congress. Rep. Nolan tells us the “last few years of Congress have been the most unproductive ever.”

Now let’s return to our imaginary ABC Widget Company. If you or I were among those employees collecting pay for work not performed, would we not likely be prosecuted under the law? Might we not be convicted for embezzlement? Why, then, do we sit idly by and allow our elected congressmen to break the law?

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What is a Progressive?



historically speaking

It is currently looking like in June that at least twenty-five Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for the presidency. With so many candidates, there seems to be a growing wedge in the party over the term “progressive.” In a “60 Minutes” interview, Nancy Pelosi said her party needed to come back towards the center, whereas many of the newer members are moving too far left.

Pelosi claimed the socialist wing of the party is small, but the interviewer countered that the progressive wing is actually getting larger. Pelosi’s response was that she is a progressive. As the party of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ, being a progressive is a badge of honor for the Democrats, and if some is good, more must be better. With so much talk about progressives, it is worth taking a look at the Progressive movement and consider who they were and what they stood for. When we understand the original movement, it becomes clear that progressivism is often misunderstood and misused.
In America’s first century, life could be hard on the poor, kind of an understatement, I know, but during this time it was not considered the government’s job to care. Government was much too busy in the Gilded Age passing tariffs and fighting about who started the Civil War to care about the poor. The initial real push for change did not come from the progressives, but actually the Populist movement. This radical fringe movement first suggested government should actually help those in need. It was this movement that first introduced many of the reforms that Progressives would later claim, like income tax, direct election of Senators, women’s suffrage, and prohibition.

What hurt the Populists were some of their more radical ideas, such as government takeover of railroads and adding silver to the gold standard to increase the money supply. Ultimately, the Populists were too radical too quickly for the American public, however, they set the stage for things to come. It was the Progressives who, after the initial shock, asked for many of the same reforms but did so in a much more conservative, orderly, and controlled fashion. They allowed Americans to ease into the drastic changes, while also not going as far as government takeover.

Today the historical faces of the Progressive moment are Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. With two Republicans and one Democrat, we see that Progressivism did not follow party lines but actually brought them closer together. The Progressive presidents became famous for “trust busting,” or going after monopolies. Wilson’s approach was to break up companies in order to restore competition between larger and smaller businesses, while TR wanted to expand the regulatory power of the Federal Government to control rather than destroy business. None of the Progressives wanted to end capitalism or business. All three men ran in the 1912 election (TR for the Bull Moose Party) and all three opposed the socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, and his platform.

Some historians, most notably Joan Hoff Wilson, believe there was a fourth progressive president, Herbert Hoover. Even though a Republican, Hoover worked for Wilson during the Great War and inspired his beliefs in cooperation in the economy and volunteerism between labor and business. Hoover differed from fellow 1920s Republican presidents who believed “less government in business and more business in government.” Hoover, like his fellow progressives, did not want business in government. They wanted regulations but also did not want government completely controlling business.

If Hoover was a Progressive, as Wilson suggests, that means that FDR was not. Hoover had serious reservations about the New Deal and did not consider FDR a progressive. The problems Hoover had with the New Deal were that, first, it did not actually fix the Depression. Second, Hoover did not believe mixing capitalism with some of FDR’s more socialist ideas worked. Giving handouts, or what Hoover called “the dole,” hurt traditional freedoms and independence of Americans. Lastly, he feared the individual was becoming a pawn of the state and the government becoming too powerful.

Based on this example, it is Pelosi’s moderate wing of the Democratic Party that seems more in line with the Progressives. The Ocasio-Cortez wing fits more into the Populist ideology or even more like Deb’s socialists.

For historians who disagree with Dr. Wilson and who see FDR as a true Progressive, once again the Ocasio-Cortez wing does not match up with FDR’s progressivism. What I have always found the most interesting thing about the loudest critical voices of the New Deal were that they did not come from the right, but actually from further left. In FDR, America had a president who did more for welfare than any president ever had, but there were complaints that he should do more.

The two loudest voices were Louisiana Governor-turned-Senator Huey Long and Catholic priest-turned-radio star Father Coughlin. Long wanted a tax code that destroyed concentration of wealth by capping income. Father Coughlin wanted a complete overhaul of our monetary system, including adding silver to our monetary system, and nationalism of railroads. Both seem more influenced by the Populists, even to the point of free silver, than they do to the Progressives. Both men believed the answer to all ills was more government control, way more that FDR did.

What we see is that Pelosi’s call to return to the center is more in line with historical progressivism and Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist’s wing is fighting against it. If anything, the far left in the Democratic Party is more in line with the Populists. The problem is we have changed meanings of words; we call Trump a populist when he has nothing in common with the Populist Party and Ocasio-Cortez a progressive even though she does not have ties with the historic Progressive movement. Words also matter in that labeling yourself a progressive is beneficial, so that anyone who opposes you becomes a non-progressive. Also, calling yourself a socialist will hurt electability. Pelosi understands that.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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