Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

No Matter How You Parse The Numbers Oklahoma Still Faces Major Earthquake Crisis

Oklahoma’s manmade earthquake crisis is still a major emergency despite how the numbers are getting parsed these days.

NewsOK.com noted a recent decline in earthquakes in major coverage. Using Oklahoma Geological Survey data, it pointed out in a recent story, “Oklahoma averaged almost more than five magnitude-2.7 or greater quakes per day in 2015, but the rate fell to 3.6 per day last year and 1.4 per day so far this year.”

Don’t break out the champagne just yet, however, or, more realistically, start believing the state is on a sustainable path to stop all the earthquakes here caused by an element of the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. For example, here’s how the Los Angeles Times presented the numbers in a recent article:

According to scientists, there were only about two earthquakes a year of magnitude 2.7 or greater in Oklahoma from 1980 to 2000. But that number jumped to 2,500 in 2014 and soared to 4,000 a year later.

The article concedes the earthquake numbers have dropped recently, but the reason for the drop is still debatable. According to the article:

There has recently been a decrease in wastewater being injected deep underground, either because of regulatory actions or because oil and gas extraction has declined due to falling petroleum prices. That might be a reason for the decrease in the number of Oklahoma earthquakes last year, to 2,500,

So the state has gone from virtually no earthquakes to 4,000 in one year and is now back at around 2,500. That’s still 2,500 earthquakes, and, as anyone living in central and north-central Oklahoma will tell you, the temblors keep coming, and we’re still unsure the new rules surrounding wastewater disposal is the reason for the drop or not.

It’s difficult for Oklahoma residents in the seismic zone to tell the difference on a personal level between 2,500 and 4,000 earthquakes when some of them might go unfelt or are only felt in certain areas.

Scientists confirmed years ago that Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis has been caused by the oil and gas industry. These earthquakes have caused damage to personal property such as homes and other structures. Parsing the numbers, even if done as a hopeful gesture or to really indicate a trend, simply delays the inevitable, which is that oil and gas companies need to stop injecting wastewater from their fracking operations into Oklahoma’s underground rock formations.

In the fracking process, a toxic slew of saltwater and chemicals is injected by high pressure underground to create fissures in rock formations. These fissures release oil and gas. The wastewater from the operations is then injected underground into what are called injection wells or disposal wells. As I mentioned, scientists for years now agree it’s the injection well process that is triggering earthquakes along Oklahoma’s formerly dormant fault lines.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, with no help from former Oklahoma Attorney General and now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, has shut down some wells, and limited wastewater volume amounts in other wells over the last couple of years or so. I have no doubt the commission members are well intentioned at some level, but the decline in earthquakes has corresponded directly with less oil and gas activity overall because of the world’s fossil-fuel glut. If the fracking boom hadn’t gone bust here, how many earthquakes would we have annually now? It’s a guessing game in terms of numbers, but not in terms of the reality of how much we shake here.

What we also know is that world may have reached peak oil demand at this point because of the growth of renewable energy sources and fuel efficiency. This may mean that unless there’s a major disruption of the world’s oil supply because of a war or some other conflict Oklahoma may well has seen it’s last real oil boom. Those wind turbines everyone sees driving south down I-35 in Oklahoma are only going to multiply in years to come. Solar energy, which accounts for a growing amount of our energy supply, will also increase in geometric proportions.

What this means is that Oklahoma is tied to a dying industry, which gets major tax breaks, thus decreasing state revenues that go to fund education while damaging our personal property. The powerful oil and gas lobby here makes it difficult for regulators to do anything significant. Obviously, the complete demise in the use of fossil fuels is far from imminent, but the direction we’re heading is quite clear.

So the question becomes how long can Oklahoma endure these fracking-induced earthquakes even if it just’s 2,500 a year or one or two 2.7-magnitude or above earthquakes a day without major property damage? Will a big earthquake of a magnitude of 6.0 or higher, which geologists say could happen, strike in a highly populated area, causing massive damage and injuries, even death.

We know how to solve this. Simply place a a major reduction leading to a complete moratorium on wastewater injection wells.

No Complacency About Trump: Lies, Russian Connections Matter Even More

The chaos generated on an almost daily basis by the presidential administration of Donald Trump is a deliberate strategy to diffuse a full and direct organized response to the growing authoritarianism of the regime.

Trump attacks the fake news he helped to create with his outlandish birther claims, shifts focus for a moment to reductionist approaches on health care and budget matters, lies repeatedly about large issues (his historical Russian ties) and the mundane (his electoral college numbers), tweets once again his criticism of The New York Times, ignores obvious opportunities to fully condemn hateful acts of antisemitism and racism and reminds us, of course, for good measure about the flub at the Academy Awards ceremony. I could go on.

Trump is Big Brother. He’s everywhere. He demands and craves attention like no president I have witnessed in modern history, even the fellow actor Ronald Reagan. While it’s exhausting and the temptation is to check out into passivity, especially when the opposition party has been complicit in embracing the neoliberal agenda that helped create a political climate in which a liar like Trump could even get elected president in the first place and in which neofascism could get a firm foothold, this is definitely still a time—however brief it might be—for resistance and protest.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administration leaks its slime like a large sieve, with the compelling and not so compelling, which adds even more evidence to the growing nightmare of dealing with what some of the most intelligent people the world once warned us might well be the death of democracy in this country.

Then, in yet another twist to the chaotic narrative, and, yes, there is even more, we learn of Trump’s family business ties in foreign countries, with all the ensuing conflicts of interest and the constitutional violations because the president, as all evidence suggests, undoubtedly wants to make money out of all the madness he has created.

Still another twist came just last night when Trump’s supposed unity speech to Congress initially made a passing mention of Black History Month while also condemning recent hate acts against the country’s Jewish community and the recent murder of an India citizen in Kansas. So far so good, right? But this, of course, was soon supplanted by Trump’s typical xenophobic and nationalistic references to “the wall” and deporting immigrants, an appeal to the alt-right and those white supremacists among its ranks. His overall generalized proposals last night that feigned populism in terms of health care and jobs and infrastructure are simply not supported by his cabinet appointments or his initial executive orders that privilege Wall Street bankers over ordinary Americans or his specific tax ideas. The best one say about the speech is that it consisted mostly of hollow political rhetoric unsupported by his previous actions rather than the usual fare of easily discernible and outrageous lies. Unfortunately, some in the mainstream media seem to have bought into idea of a “new Trump,” at least for now.

As the poet W.H. Auden wrote in the poem “September 1,1939” after Hitler invaded Poland, “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie,/The romantic lie in the brain/Of the sensual man-in-the-street.”

Let’s parse that a bit, replacing the “I” with “we.” To me, “folded lie” fully describes Trump and the regime’s methods of repeating blatant lies sometimes walked back with half-lies or other qualifications. The lies get repeated in varying geometric progression and patterns, in some ways seemingly random, in other ways obviously deliberate. The “sensual-man-in-the-street” is, to me, someone who for whatever reason—and it’s no longer productive to search for that reason these days as if anything can be done about it—has given their lives over to the visceral instead of the rational while embracing a dark, isolationist vision for mankind in which official lies no longer matter and the authoritarian state creeps over our daily lives like an oppressive fog.

Literary interpretations aside, “we” do have a voice and personal agency to undo lies, and that’s mostly what only we have right now, and that’s what we need to deploy no matter how draining it becomes on a day-to-day basis. Remaining on the sidelines without taking a public position these days, no matter how that may manifest itself, is complicity.

Where we stand now a few weeks into it is that we know a mentally unstable and calculating person who repeatedly and openly lies and demeans decent people is president of the United States. There is so much verifiable evidence about his lies, in particular, that only calculating liars or extremely ill-informed people will deny it. Republicans in Congress, for example, fully know Trump lies and they are complicit in the lying as is the conservative press.

It bears repeating that the protest against Trump and his surrogates should be framed under the realization and outing of this basic foundation of deceit. Progressives concerned about individual issues, what gets called identity politics in the prevailing parlance, can surely rally around exposing this larger deceit because it crushes us all and all our movements and individual compassions.

The other big story for now is the incredibly obvious ties Trump and his surrogates have with the Russian government. We can intellectualize the tension between the deep state (our intelligence agencies) and Trump’s administration at this juncture, and waste time speculating on false equivalencies between contemporary Russia and the U.S., which even Trump has done and probably wants us to do, but that would be an error.

That the Russian government meddled in our recent election to help get Trump elected has been accepted by our government leadership. We know Trump has had previous ties with Russia business leaders. We know his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign, spoke to the Russian ambassador after then President Barack Obama announced sanctions against the country for interfering in our democratic election process. We know a former British intelligence agent has released a dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia, which includes salacious information, not yet confirmed elsewhere, that might compromise the president if used as a form of blackmail. Some of his non-salacious information has been confirmed, according to media reports.

These facts demand an independent investigator, perhaps even a grand jury inquiry, into how much contact the Trump campaign had with Russia leaders or operatives during the election and what business dealings the president’s businesses have had and now have directly or indirectly with Russia. Watch the below longer segment from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that deals with the Russian issue and how new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s Russian connections only add to a need for a real, non-partisan investigation:

Finally, I appreciate the new-found commitment to the truth by The New York Times, and I support its efforts to finally tell it like it is rather than continuing to engage in the he-said-she-said type of reporting that turned the non-sensational into the sensational, such as Hillary Clinton’s email server or the Benghazi investigation or some non-important Russian-hacked emails related to the Democratic Party. But they still need to open up their pages and staff pool to people who had it right in the first place and were criticizing them for sensationalizing Republican and Russian lies and dogma that got us to this precarious position in our history. Trump is what we got for the newspaper’s old journalistic rhetorical formulas and insular newsroom.

This applies to some other larger mainstream media outlets, too, such as The Washington Post, which are finding a new voice in calling lies out for what they are these days. Lies are lies, not one side of a legitimate argument.

Yet, tragically, many of the nation’s media outlets, especially the major networks, continue to normalize Trump as we saw last night in their analyses after his speech. One speech can’t even begin to normalize a Donald Trump presidency. If it only takes one “normal” speech to swing the American press back into complacency, then we know it is too late.

Divorce Bill Would Create Conflict

Each year now for at least a decade, there has been a smorgasbord of really bad and extremist right-wing bills introduced into the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature, from anti-abortion measures to actions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community to religious intrusion initiatives that threaten the teaching of real science in our schools.

Some actually make it through the process and are later overturned by lawsuits. Others don’t make it through the process because somewhere along the line a bit of common sense kicks in among the legislative leadership. It’s a circus, and all of this has been happening in the last eight or nine years as the state faces very real fiscal problems. Nothing like a bit of cray cray to take everyone’s minds off major cuts to education funding, right?

House Bill 1277, sponsored by Rep. Travis Dunlap, a Republican from Bartlesville, is one such bill that needs to get stopped by common sense. The bill, which would restrict no-fault divorce in Oklahoma, would make children more vulnerable to the emotional upheaval of divorce and manufactured even more conflict when it’s terribly unnecessary.

Dunlap was quoted in a local story about the bill this way: “I call it human flourishing or family flourishing or those sorts of things.” Okay, “those sorts of things” really doesn’t sort it all out for anyone. Strong families are diverse and have their own unique qualities. Single-parent families, blended families, singles with a strong friendship network, all can and do flourish.

The bill would restrict the use of incompatibility for divorce for couples married 10 years or more or have minor children or when at least one of them objects to the divorce. The couple then would then have to undergo counseling. I especially think the reference in the current version of the bill stating this could come about “where one party objects in writing” is problematic. What if someone does this simply out of spite or anger? The bill has passed out of a House committee, which is not a good sign that cooler heads might prevail. Maybe the Senate will stop the bill from advancing.

We all know Oklahoma has a high divorce rate, which often lands it in the top ten for divorce among states. Much of this has to do because of marriages among young people, whose religious backgrounds and romanticized notions about marriage distort the reality. The state even implemented the failed Oklahoma Marriage Initiative in 1999 to no avail.

The last thing anyone—from counselors to attorneys— should want to do is to inject vitriol and conflict into a family situation involving children and extend psychological chaos because of some legislator’s archaic beliefs about human flourishing, but this is what the bill is designed to do. Dunlap and other Republicans want to engineer human behavior by implementing legal obstacles, but it doesn’t work that way.

There’s no real legal need for this bill. If a couple with children can agree to divorce amicably then that’s obviously the best solution. The makeup of families and marriage itself has been transforming, evolving and changing over many decades now. More people need to embrace the pluralistic nature of new family structures, but that’s something that takes time, but it’s happening, even in Oklahoma.

Resistance

The ongoing Oklahoma budget crisis, which now threatens the very viability of our public schools, was created by conservative ideology and basic malfeasance.

Let’s be clear: The Republican Political Party here has broken the state in ways that may well last for a generation or more. The state has cut funding to public education the most on a percentage basis of any state since 2008. It cut higher education funding last year by nearly 16 percent. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion, leading to even more health problems in a state with terrible medical access. Conservatives fill up the state prisons while children’s stomachs remain empty.

All this is done under the flawed ideology of cutting taxes for rich people in the supposed belief the money will trickle down and create jobs and opportunities. That’s a big fat lie, perpetuated for decades by conservatives. I don’t think most conservative politicians here even believe it. I believe they just want to serve the rich so they can get campaign donations and get reelected.

The Oklahoma Legislature under complete domination by Republicans has slashed the state income tax, a slow drip of cuts that have primarily benefitted the rich. Conservatives have passed out tax breaks to oil and gas companies as well. All this has lead to another huge, looming budget shortfall next fiscal year—estimated at $878 million in an approximate $7 billion budget—and an immediate revenue failure, which means public education will receive yet another $11.1 million cut.

It’s simply not sustainable. Teachers here are leaving in droves to teach in other states that will pay them more money and give them more respect. The state pays money to public universities—a decreasing amount, of course, made up by tuition increases—to train many of these teachers and they then leave here. Obviously, people will leave Oklahoma for different reasons, but why are we training teachers for other states?

All of this will only get amplified under the authoritarian presidency of Donald Trump, who also aims to cut taxes for the rich. What federal programs will get slashed here as the state cuts funding to its agencies and educational systems even more? It’s difficult to believe a new fossil-fuel boom is on the horizon unless there’s a major world war. Renewable energy sources are steadily replacing fossil fuels, and we’ve probably reached or are close to peak oil demand.

Oklahoma faces a bleak future not only because of its Republican-dominated government but also because of Trump’s presidency as well.

I’ve argued at least since 2000 that there has to be a breaking point in which the right-wing extremists here come to realize how much damage they are inflicting upon themselves and others, but now the election of the dysfunctional and lying Trump and recent events in Oklahoma have made me reconsider.

What if there isn’t a breaking point but just a steady demise of our state and country under an ideology and a rigged political and election system that makes no sense? The demise of American world power and its public institutions won’t benefit Oklahoma.

The answer, of course, is to resist, to show up, to engage, to tell the truth, to call out the lies here by local conservative leaders and Trump. Oklahoma conservative leaders are destroying this state; Donald Trump is an unhinged, compulsive liar.

Don’t let the sadness weigh you down. Get angry about what’s happening to our state and country. Speak up. It might be a cliché but silence really is complicity at this point.

Teacher Pay Raise Plan Lacks The Major Component

The real question to ask about potential teacher raises next year in Oklahoma is whether the Republican majority in the legislature is serious about finding the money to fund them or if it’s just another GOP meaningless political performance.

I tend to think it’s the latter at this point. In fact, public education and higher education funding is getting slashed once again THIS fiscal year as we found out yesterday. The state faces a revenue failure, which means revenue collections came in recently with a more than 5 percent drop over the budget estimate.

The revenue failure means an immediate $11.1 million cut for public education and a $4.6 million cut to higher education, according to a media report. This, combined with an expected $878 million shortfall for next fiscal year, probably means the grandiose plan for teacher raises is mainly political posturing.

A House committee, however, has passed a measure that, if passed and signed into law, would increase teacher salaries by $6,000 annually over three years, but there’s a huge problem with the plan. It doesn’t identify the funds to pay for it.

Gov. Mary Fallin, of course, has advanced a proposal to increase sales taxes on everything from doctor’s visits to funeral services. Perhaps, we should call these death taxes. Pay more at the doctor’s office for, let’s say, a bleak diagnosis, and then pay more for dying later. But even if the proposal passes, and I doubt it will, would it be enough to fund teacher raises? I don’t think so.

I’ll address Fallin’s plan later in this post, but I want to focus for a moment on the plan to raise teacher salaries. Under the plan, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the next year and a $3,000 raise the following year. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this plan, although the hyperbole surrounding it seems a bit much.

For example, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Republican from Broken Arrow, who heads the House Education Committee, was quoted in the media like this about the plan:

Everyone would like to be able to do more now, but we have to deal with the reality of the current fiscal situation. Not only can this plan be achieved, but it would put us on track to being a leader with surrounding states in teacher compensation.

I appreciate Rogers’ enthusiasm for the raises because Oklahoma teachers are paid some of the lowest salaries in the nation, but it leaves out a major point. What’s to prevent surrounding states from raising their teacher salaries as well and offering better benefits. I find it highly unlikely Oklahoma will become “a leader with surrounding states in teacher compensation” in any conceivable future right now.

Yet the main sticking point is Fallin’s “bold” sales tax plan, which expands the tax to services not previously taxed by the state. Some of those new taxes make sense, but others don’t. The largest segment, for example, of the new tax revenue would come from the use of utilities, such as electricity and natural gas for heating, which would impact low-income households and people on fixed incomes the most. That doesn’t make sense for humanitarian reasons. (Note the lack of sanctimonious outcry by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.) What’s more, unlike State Question 779, an overall state sales tax hike proposal that was defeated by voters in November, the new money in Fallin’s proposal wouldn’t even be dedicated to education.

So the money could go to fund the legal defense of the array of lawsuits brought against the bizarre legislation that gets passed each session, or it could go to projects and initiatives that only benefit a small segment of the population, or, more than likely, it would just allow the state to come a bit closer to breaking even while the wealthiest Oklahomans and the state’s oil and gas titans enjoy the extra money they’ve received from recent income tax cuts and tax breaks

The middle class and low income households will pay for those tax cuts to benefit the rich like they always do here under the prevailing conservative philosophy now rooted deep in the state’s red soil. It’s called the Oklahoma Standard.

Planet In Peril: Senate Republicans Ignore Pruitt Email Controversy

Republicans have confirmed the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency without a full vetting of his well-known and established ties to the oil and gas industry.

That might seem like old and expected news by now, but Pruitt has just been ordered to release hundreds of emails based on an open records request submitted about two years ago by the Center for Media and Democracy. Pruitt had stonewalled on the request, but now a local judge has ordered him to turn over the information.

Perhaps, it might seem redundant to further establish that Pruitt, as the state’s attorney general, served the interests of the oil and gas industry far more than he worked to ensure the viability and extension of the state’s environmental health.

We already know, for example, that he sent a letter to the EPA during his tenure, arguing it had over estimated the amount of air pollution coming from oil and gas activity. The letter, as we found out, was actually written by staff of Devon Energy, a local Oklahoma City firm.

<pIt’s hard to imagine any deeper type of collusion that that. In addition, by presenting the letter as his own Pruitt committed a clear act of plagiarism, which in other places did cause a huge uproar. The local corporate media here didn’t really care about that aspect of the story.

We already know, too, that oil baron and billionaire Harold Hamm, the founder and chief executive officer of Continental Resources, another Oklahoma City oil and gas firm, served as an honorary chairman for Pruitt’s most recent campaign.

Pruitt’s connection to Hamm is especially telling since the oil mogul has been actively involved as a Republican in politics on the national level. Hamm served as an energy advisor for both presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. Hamm obviously promotes his own company’s vested interests in his political work by arguing for less federal environmental regulations of the oil and gas industry when, if fact, there’s a need for much more oversight.

But perhaps the most important aspect of Pruitt’s career as attorney general for Oklahomans is what he didn’t do. Pruitt has done nothing to try to stop the manmade fracking-induced earthquakes that plague our state and damage our property. Normally, attorney generals work on behalf on the state’s citizens to protect them from fraud and unscrupulous and damaging business practices. This wasn’t the case for Pruitt.

So, again, it might be redundant to prove once again Pruitt’s close ties to the oil and gas industry. What’s a few more jaw-dropping revelations about his service as a useful tool for the industry and his lack of concern for the environment or the property of hard-working Oklahomans? We know all that.

Yet Republicans may well have calculated wrongly here. What if the emails eventually reveal—and this is only speculation—some form of deep corruption that will render him unfit to serve as the EPA head? What happens then is yet another Trump-style debacle related to his cabinet picks, advisors and appointees. Of course, at this point in the Trump administration, the daily spectacle is becoming normalized. It would just be business as usual. These, however, are not normal times as we need to keep reminding ourselves.

Making the emails public are vastly important for the historical record. The larger issue, however, is that Pruitt’s appointment will likely set back environmental progress when it comes to climate change and regulations of carbon emissions, which accelerate global warming.

It’s not difficult to argue at this point, no matter what the emails reveal, that Pruitt’s actions as attorney general show that he cares virtually nothing about the environment and will use the EPA to increase the profits of oil and gas companies to the detriment of the planet. That’s what we call here “the Oklahoma standard” now arrived in Washington, D.C.

Bill Would Require Father Permission For Abortion

One of the controversial anti-abortion bills receiving consideration by the Oklahoma Legislature this session has drawn widespread media attention and has embarrassed the state throughout the nation once again.

House Bill 1441, sponsored by Justin Humphrey, a Republican from Lane in southeastern Oklahoma, would require women seeking an abortion to have the “written informed consent of the father” before proceeding. The provision alone is ludicrous in its essence because it doesn’t take into account many factors, such the basic right of women to control their bodies to the myriad of situations that could lead to an unwanted pregnancy.

But it was what Humphrey said about the bill that drew coverage throughout the country. In an interview with The Intercept site, Humphrey said:

I understand that they [women] feel like that is their body. I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant. So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.

But what if the birth control failed or what if the woman doesn’t want her sexual partner to know about it or what if the relationship situation doesn’t warrant discussing the issue with anyone but medical professionals? These are just some of the issues.

The idea that women don’t have personal agency when it comes to their bodies is an insult to them.

What’s more Humphrey’s comments are just silly in a truly remarkable sense that drew some form of coverage, along with The Intercept, from (and this is just a partial list) The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Vox and Slate.

The bill would obviously draw a major lawsuit on constitutional grounds and undoubtedly cost the state money in legal costs at some level even if Republicans dispute this.

This is what I call another performance bill by conservative Republicans. They enact a performance for their deeply seated conservative base, knowing full well such extremist bills will never be implemented.

Another bill drew widespread attention as well, although without some of the theatrics. Under House Bill 1549, sponsored by George Faught, a Republican from Muskogee, women would be prohibited from receiving abortions if based on the fact that the fetus has a genetic abnormality.

This bill, too, would draw a major lawsuit in terms of its constitutional legality. Here the question rests simply on a women’s right to an abortion as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. It also shows a streak of cruelty against women who might well know the fetus has little likelihood of surviving inside or outside the womb and perhaps put their own lives at danger. To abort a fetus in these situations is often a deeply personal and emotional decision, and it should be made by women with medical guidance and without any intrusion from the government.

Both bills are moving forward as the conservative performance here goes on to the laughter and horror of people throughout the country. Meanwhile, the state faces a major budget shortfall, and our low-paying teachers are flocking the state to teach in other places that will pay them and appreciate them better than what they find in Oklahoma. Funding to higher education was cut by nearly 16 percent last year.