Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Proclamation of Morality–Sally Kern Style!

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Oklahoma’s self-appointed leader of morality, Republican Sally Kern, received a reprimand from her Oklahoma House of Representatives  colleagues today over racist remarks she made last week.  Except for the reprimand, it’s the same old story. Kern uses the gravitas of her office to spew hateful and bigoted remarks to any who will listen.

Here’s a few of Sally’s greatest hits!

Homophobia

Kern refers to homosexuals as a greater threat than terrorism. “I honestly think it’s the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat.”

Sexism

Sally says that women don’t want to work as hard as men.   “Women usually don’t want to work as hard as a man. Women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time.”

Racism

While debating an amendment to the state’s constitution that would end affirmative action Sally Kern stated  “We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? “I’ve taught school,” she added, “and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it ironic that this darling of the Oklahoma right is the proud author of the Oklahoma Proclamation of Morality?

Hey Sally! When you have a moment, close your mouth, take off your “robes of righteousness,” get off your high horse, and read the last paragraph of your proclamation–here, I’ll save you the time and write it out for you!  If you’ll add, homophobia, sexism and racism to the last line, I might even sign it!

BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, humbly call upon Holy God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, to have mercy on this nation, to stay His hand of judgment, and grant a national awakening of righteousness and Christian renewal as we repent of our great sin.

Cyber Bulling, Let's Rethink This

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Before beginning this conversation, I want to state that, as a young boy in the 60’s, I was the victim of bullying at school by boys larger and meaner than myself. From living it firsthand, I know what it is like to experience the dread of going to school knowing that I would  suffer physical and emotional abuse.  I have painful memories of those years because there was no one looking after me.  I am very clear that school safety is an important issue and that bullying is something that should not be tolerated.  To this end, Oklahoma has enacted the School Bullying Protection Act.  State Senator Andrew Rice is proposing some additional legislation that would add cyber bullying to this act.  Based upon my experiences, you might  expect that I would support this act; but, I cannot just yet.  

Senate Bill 152, proposed by Senate Democrat Andrew Rice, is a well intentioned piece of legislation that seeks to provide students with additional protection against bullying. The problem is, that it gives schools extra legal authority to regulate communications via, texts, phones and social media when these messages are not sent during school hours or with school equipment.


…which communication includes but is not limited to e-mail, instant messaging, social media, text messages, blogs, mobile phones, pagers, online games, and websites whether or not the conduct or communication originated at school or with school equipment or within official school hours...(SB 152 Section 1.3

There are many types of communications that do not receive first amendment protection under federal law–and many states have added cyber bullying as an additional classification.  The issue here is not that threatening communication should be protected under the first amendment, it should not.  The problem is telling schools they have the obligation,  jurisdiction, and extra legal authority to oversee the behavior of students beyond the end of the school day.  Once school has ended, the responsibility of students should rest with their parents–and the legal system should an egregious behavior occur. Giving school districts additional authority to monitor students outside the bounds of the school day, is over reach.

Consider this. Would any argue that schools should have extra legal authority to act upon anonymous complaints(the bill allows incidences to be reported anonymously)over words exchanged between students at a church party? Or suppose that several school age boys and girls engage in smack talk behind a person’s back at some summertime pool party.  Should offended parents call their local school district to report the matter? If we would not do this for face-to-face communications, we should not do this for social or electronic media–especially when the student is using their personal equipment and is not participating in a school function.

Some might argue, that Senator Rice’s bill seeks only to punish students who: (according to the bill Section 1.1.a-b-c-d)

  • substantially interfere with a student’s educational opportunities, 
  • substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school

At first, these would seem to be admirable provisions; but, a closer look reveals the vagueness of the statute. How much communication must take place to be considered substantial? What kind of communication will be considered as disruptive by the school? What kind of communication will be considered as interfering of an educational opportunity? These terms are easier to define in a classroom setting–but less so outside of the classroom.  It is the vagueness of these terms that will give rise to abuse by school administrators.  

I am a school administrator and have been involved in teaching all of my life.  I support our schools; but, I also have to admit the long and embarrassing record of schools who would deprive students of their first amendment rights over the pettiest of reasons.  These include unflattering remarks about schools in personal blogs, underground newspapers, hearsay statements, and personal disagreements between students and administrators.  For more information, I encourage you visit the Student Press Law Center or The Fire.  These sites will amply demonstrate the arbitrariness of many schools, under the guise of laws such as SB152,  to punish those who disagree or embarrass them.

In my opinion, cyber bullying is an action that should not be tolerated.  When  it occurs during the school day or with school equipment, it should be punished.  And, students should be encouraged to go to their school’s counselors to report instances that they know about so that help can be rendered if needed or necessary.  These would be efforts in the right direction. However, once this law is passed, if it’s passed, I am confident that cyber bullying will come to be a catch all term that will overstep the bounds of free speech.  I encourage Senator Rice to amend SB152 in such a way as to not give extra legal authority to schools outside of the school day now  and to protect students against vagueness and the hypersensitivity of school officials who would use this act, in its present state, to punish or avoid being scrutinized or criticized.

Inflammatory Rhetoric and a Gun: Lessons for Oklahoma

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Oklahoma would do well to learn a lesson from today’s shooting of Arizona congressional representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Today, lone gunman Jared Loughner attended a town meeting, hosted by Rep. Giffords, and opened fire with a handgun.  By the time his rampage ended, Loughner killed five people and injured thirteen others.  The dead include a nine year old and federal judge John M Roll. No doubt, in the days ahead, we will learn more about Mr. Loughner; but for now; we can deduce from his YouTube videos that Loughner was a disturbed young man with an obsession over illegal immigration and illiteracy. Representative Giffords, who opposed Arizona’s legislation calling it “extreme” became an all too easy target.

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords didn’t occur in a vacuum; it happened in a larger political context where public anger, resentment and inflammatory rhetoric, fanned by Arizona public officials and the state’s extreme right, lit the spark of a volatile powder keg.

Representative Giffords faced unprecedented opposition for her congressional seat–especially from the Arizona Tea Party and Republican Jesse Kelly.  The Tea Party, known for their fiery rhetoric and name-calling, most recently placed Representative Giffords on Sarah Palin’s Target Map illustrated with a rifle scope.

The use of guns in political discussion has become standard fare in Arizona-especially among Tea Party Candidates. At a recent Tea Party rally held on the Arizona-Mexico border in support of 1070, former Senator Pam Gorman wore a gun and shoulder holster.  In June, as part of Republican Jesse Kelly’s election campaign against Representative Giffords, he held an event encouraging voters to come and shoot an Automatic M-16 to “Get on target and remove Gabrielle Giffords from office.”

The use of fiery rhetoric and guns in political discourse, coupled with Arizona’s new gun laws, which allow citizens, including deranged ones, to carry concealed weapons without a permit, creates an even more volatile situation where people are all but encouraged to enforce personal justice at the point of a gun.

Oklahoma needs to learn a lesson from today’s shooting.  Like Arizona, our state’s Republican leadership has been actively engaged in fanning the flames of resentment and anger towards undocumented peoples.  As in Arizona, our leaders have used this issue as a scapegoat for our problems-all the while seeking political advantage.  Even now, as the state’s harsh anti-immigration laws seems to be winding down from its 15 minutes of fame, representatives, like Republican Randy Terrill, seek to gain additional political advantage by writing even more anti-immigration legislation.  Additionally, our political leadership has brought national shame upon our state by passing anti-Sharia legislation–which singled the Muslim minorities of the state to hatred and ill will.

Even now, as in Arizona, leaders of our state legislation have stated their intention to change the state’s conceal and carry law for handguns. Fiery rhetoric, hate speech and easy access to weapons-we saw what that did today.  If we’re not careful, incidents like the shooting of Representative Giffords will become increasingly common.

It's time to appoint the insurance commissioner!

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Before long, voters in Oklahoma will be asked to approve an amendment to the State Constitution allowing the Governor to appoint the State Insurance Commissioner (Senate Joint Resolution SJR1).  Though there are pros and cons to consider, 39 states have already given their governors this authority and it seems sensible that Oklahomans do the same.

In studies conducted on this issue, findings indicate that appointed Insurance Commissioners are better qualified for the job and have greater accountability when money and the electoral process are removed from the equation. Those who run for election typically receive their campaign funds from insurance companies and thus become beholden to them. Further, without the burden of campaign fundraising, the commissioner has more time to devote to the job. Alas, this measure will come too late to benefit Oklahomans for the next several years.

Our present commissioner, John Doak, was elected  on November 2nd in a Republican sweep.  As is typical of campaigns against incumbents, Doak was long on criticisms of things he didn’t like–especially the President–and extremely short on substantial ideas that would make a difference to the citizens of this state.  Doak states that he fought against federal health insurance reforms (whatever that means) and touted his experience as an insurance salesman and executive. Doak considers it a badge of honor that he opposed “ObamaCare,” the derisive term used by conservatives to skirt more substantial issues concerning insurance reform that is long overdue across the state and nation. And, Doak states that he’s a supporter of the NRA–whatever the heck that has to do with being a good insurance commissioner. One thing Doak deserves credit for is his willingness to largely fund his campaign from his own pocket.  Few contributions were made by insurance companies–and of those, most were small independent agents.  

All that aside, it is also interesting about what you will NOT find at Commissioner Doak’s campaign website.  For instance, he makes no mention about meeting the needs of the people of Oklahoma–especially those who cannot get insurance due to present regulations which favor corporations over people (other than to state that he believes people should be able to purchase insurance across state lines).  And, you won’t find any ideas about how Doak will represent the citizens of Oklahoma against unfair insurance practices.  Doak is proudly “pro-market,” which for consumers mean, we have to put up with whatever arbitrary rules insurance companies want to enforce against us. The sad fact of it is, Doak’s website reads more like an insurance salesman seeking a position in the corporate home office than someone who is concerned about protecting the needs of  his constituents across the state who must fight for every insurance benefit owed them on a daily basis.

Will the proposed legislative changes calling for the Governor to appoint the  insurance commissioner change the problems with this present system? No, but at least we may have a fighting chance that the governor may appoint someone who views the job as one of regulation and consumer protection instead of selling more product and touting their pro-life and NRA credentials.

Which came first? The Chicken, Egg or Creationism?

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Oklahoma public school districts face many difficulties. Budgets have been cut, teachers laid off, class sizes are increasing, national test scores indicating a need for improvement in all subject areas, and school districts have hardly enough money to repair their buildings. These are very real problems that loom large and impact the quality of education our kids receive.  To solve these and other problems, we need the best thinking and wisdom that can be mustered; yet, it appears the most help our students will receive from the Statehouse this year is Senator Josh Brecheen’s proposed legislation requiring that creationism be taught in all Oklahoma public schools. In a letter written to the Durant Daily Democrat (we have not edited for grammar or spelling) he concludes:


In wrapping this up, I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion. The state of Texas has given their children access to this information and so should our Oklahoma schools.

Josh Brecheen is a handsome young 30 something, complete with a beautiful wife and family. He idolizes Senator Tom Coburn and is brim full of conservative ideas. He’s just finished a successful campaign and won his bid to the state Senate.  Unfortunately, he is as green as they come.  But that aside, it’s clear that Josh is more than confused about the differences between public and private education, cosmology, his role as a state senator, the concept of separation of church and state, and science.  So let’s begin.

There are many different stories of creation and the Judeo-Christian version  is one of many–though no doubt the Christian view is the prominent one held by Senator Brecheen and most Oklahomans.  As a leader of our state, the Senator needs to do his due diligence and learn more about the other points of view concerning creation which are held by his constituents.  Should he Google the term “creation stories,” Senator Brecheen will no doubt be surprised by the diversity of stories out there. Though he favors Christianity–now that he represents all the peoples of Oklahoma, should he not show respect for other traditions besides his own? One wonders if he would be as passionate about allowing our children to be taught Native American views of creation, or perhaps the oriental view of the Cosmic Egg , or perhaps the Hindu Vedas, as he is the Christian viewpoint?

Senator Brecheen is also showing a lack of lack of understanding about settled law (Epperson v Arkansas) on US constitutional issues– particularly those related to the separation of church and state.  The creation story Brecheen wants schools to teach is a decidedly Christian version. His insistence that teachers  teach this religious information will not pass constitutional muster because it favors, and would establish, a particular religious view over another.  One can only hope that someone among his Republican senate colleagues gives him a quick civics lesson before this goes much further.

It is also abundantly clear that Senator Brecheen does not understand science–nor the scientific method. The Senator would do well to consult a textbook or two and learn the difference between philosophy, religion and science. The national exams our students take in the subject of science will not cover religion or philosophy; rather, it will examine the understanding our students have of science and the scientific method.  Rather than insisting that religion be taught as science, Brecheen should be more than a little concerned that our students learn real science. This is especially important now that Americans rank 17th among the advanced nations in science.   And contrary to what the good Senator may think, evolution is an important part of agriculture, animal husbandry and medical technologies–all of which are huge industries in Oklahoma!

Finally, it is clear that Senator Brecheen needs to make a quick transition from becoming Candidate Brecheen to Senator Brecheen! While our state faces unprecedented  financial, economic, and educational problems–Brecheen would have the senate spend its valuable time arguing about creationism and evolution.  While our schools need financial and educational reform, Brecheen is using his newly elected status as a personal platform for proclaiming his personal faith rather than doing the job he was elected to do.  

Illegal Immigration Pt. 2: A More Sensible Approach

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Immigration photo


The United States needs a legal immigration system that enhances our security, strengthens our economy, and supports our communities: The most practical and realistic way to reduce unauthorized immigration dramatically is to bring U.S. immigration policy in line with economic and social realities.  Lawmakers should devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native-born and foreign-born, and which require unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States to apply for legal status. (The Immigration Policy Center)

Though Oklahoma is one of the least impacted states when it comes to illegal immigration (ranks 22nd out of 50) it  is among the loudest and shrillest in the nation when it comes to publicly proclaiming a disdain for aliens.  State Representative Randy Terrill is perhaps among the most cruel of persecutors when it comes to writing legislation to punish  illegal immigrants and has stated his intention to introduce even more legislation denying citizenship to children born in Oklahoma to parents of undocumented workers.

In the previous post we noted that Oklahoma, like the rest of America, subscribes to a four-pronged approach to stem the tide of illegal immigration consisting of: border reinforcement, mass deportations, writing laws that punish employees and creating laws to make the home state inhospitable–such as the denial of public services, police round-ups, and English only laws. It could be argued that a fifth approach–mass amnesty–has also been tried.  Regardless, the common denominator among  all these  approaches is this: they don’t work, they cost a lot of money, they promote hatred and racial tensions and they don’t address the larger reasons why people come here in the first place.

Why are they here?

The situation we now face is largely of our own doing. Simply stated, these folks are here because our culture is addicted to goods and services produced by cheap labor. In our Wal-Mart  culture of low prices, we entice immigrants to work in agriculture, building trades, restaurants, auto repair services, meat packing industries, and hundreds of other jobs so that we might enjoy the luxury of having goods and services we could not otherwise afford.  Rather than pay a living wage, we have all become complicit in a system that exploits immigrants to satisfy our desire to buy things cheaply.

This exploitation has created one of the largest underground and illegal economies in the world.  It’s a world of human trafficking where immigrants are smuggled across the border in very unsafe conditions. Once here, they face further abuse in the workplace from employers who subject them to unsafe conditions and threaten them with deportation.  At the same time, the nation loses billions of dollars in potential tax revenue because of the underground labor market.  Instead of benefiting from a flexible employment system that could collect billions of additional tax revenue, we turn a blind eye and use a prohibition approach that rewards high risk takers and those willing to flaunt the law.  But there is a better way.

What should we do?

We are beyond the point of arguing whether these people should be here in the first place. An estimated 13 million people are already here and Americans will be spending an enormous sum of money in the future to find some solution to this present problem. According to Professor Gordon Hanson of the University of San Diego, the cost of apprehension outstrips the benefits we receive by pursing a different policy (See the Migration Policy Institute’s Study). If this is indeed the case, it makes all the more sense to seek a better solution that advances the cause of our nation while seeking the good of all concerned. Here are some sensible approaches.

  • Create a streamlined approach that allows immigrants to register and become guest workers quickly.  Then, vigorously prosecute employers and those who would flaunt the system.  Immigration is the New Prohibition.The goal here would be to dismantle this system as quickly as possible.  When it becomes more profitable to be a registered guest than an undocumented worker, we can begin to eliminate the abuses occurring with black market labor.
  • At the time of registration, provide appropriate identification and taxation identification numbers that becomes a part of the national e-verify system, and homeland security, that could be shown to any potential employer or law enforcement officer.
  • According to the National Immigration Policy Center, 67% of Americans believe that we would be better off if those who are here illegally paid their fair share of income taxes.  The report further states that America would realize as much as a  1.5 trillion dollars of increased gross domestic product over the next ten years were a sensible program of immigration reform and legalization to be enacted.   

  • For those properly registered, provide citizenship opportunities based upon demonstrated records of model behavior and workplace productivity.
  • We have everything to gain by making citizenship more accessible.  In follow-up studies conducted among immigrants who were given amnesty in the Reagan years, 68% were homeowners. A large percentage had obtained additional education–including college degrees and most had significantly improved their income levels.   

  • For undocumented residents educated in our k-12 public school system, allow them to pursue citizenship through the paths of military service, public sector service (such as Peace Corps or Americorps),  or service in areas of great need such as teaching, engineering, mathematics, nursing, rural physicians and so forth.  
  • Time and again studies demonstrate that educated workers earn more, contribute more, and pay more taxes. Society benefits greatly from an educated community. Fo
    r those willing to serve, we should be willing to lend financial assistance in the same way we would for those to any other student.  Consider this study by the American Immigration Council.


    A glance at recent research on the contributions of immigrants supports the expectation that immigrants are helping to lead the green economy and other emerging industries: Immigrants are nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business. Immigrants are filing patents at twice the rate of the American-born. Immigrants founded more than half of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Immigrants are much more likely to earn an advanced degree than the native-born.

    Conclusion

    To summarize, the United States is now at  the crossroads of an important decision concerning what will be done about 13 million illegal immigrants. If we continue with our four-pronged approach we will spend billions of dollars to create a police state to oversee a modern day prohibition system.  Or, we can pass laws that will use our money to create additional prosperity by adding capable people to our workforce and military.  The second choice increases our gross national product while providing us with the brainpower we will need for the new green economy.  Additionally, we will generate untold billions of revenue to grow our country.  While the choice is ours, we must never forget that the rest of the world will be watching how we treat these 13 million people and wondering if our talk matches our actions.

    Illegal Immigration Pt 1: The failure of the four-pronged approach.

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    flag photoDepending on whom you read and what you believe, there are between 12 and 20 million  people in the United States illegally. The large discrepancy is due to the fact that illegals are not easily identified or counted. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a rather right leaning group, estimates that some 13 million illegals live in America–60,000 of which live in Oklahoma.  To many, the way of solving this problem is simply to take whatever steps are necessary to round-up and deport them. This neat and tidy view usually espouses a four-pronged solution that includes: repatriation, penalizing employers, increasing border protections, and creating state laws designed to make the culture of  the home state inhospitable to illegals. (Oklahoma’s own HB 1804 serves as an example.)  

    The problem with this approach is that it focuses upon solutions after the fact instead of addressing the significant issues contributing to illegal immigration in the first place. This is the first of a two part series addressing the problems of illegal immigration.  In this first part, I will examine the viability of the present four-pronged solution.  In the second part I will suggest an alternative approach to the problem of illegal immigration.

    A commonly touted solution is to repatriate or deport all illegals.  The idea is that once we find someone–they should be sent back to where they came from.  According to the Center for American Progress, the actual cost of doing this, over a five year period of time, would be close to 206 billion dollars–or 41.2 billion annually.  A budget, such as this, exceeds the present Homeland Security budget.  And even with this amount, we would deport a little more than 10 million illegals–leaving a significant amount.  And, even though illegals take a toll on social services, our economy would be drained of 2.5 trillion dollars of economic benefit were we to follow this plan. There are other problems as well.  To identify everyone who is living illegally in the United States will require that we have enormous police powers and expanded laws–greater than the patriot act–to investigate and spy upon American citizens. To create an agency the size of Homeland security will literally turn our country into an oppressive police state.

    A second solution is to punish employers who hire illegals.  Many states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, have instituted such laws.  The problem with this is that employers can be fooled or tricked by fake documentation needed for employment.  To assist employers, Homeland Security has instituted an E-verify program.  The problem is, that about 55% of illegals who use illegal documentation are not caught by this system according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.  You may read the report here.   If illegal aliens are able to fool the Department of Homeland Security, how can we expect ordinary citizens to do better.  Also, it is a bit ironic that the political right, who mostly champions restrictions against illegals from working in this country, have no compunction against passing protective legislation that allows their corporate cronies to outsource American jobs all over the world.  We criminalize an illegal who picks fruit while  outsourcing engineering and computer jobs.

    A third solution proposed by the right is to reinforce our borders with fencing, additional personnel and equipment.  This will be no easy task.  According to the Congressional Research Service, America has some 25,000 miles of border to protect. If we were to erect our own version of the Berlin Wall over these 25,000 miles it would be a very costly venture.  For instance, the Scripps News Service, reports GAO figures of  3.4 million dollars per mile  as the cost of the 600 mile fence between the United States and Mexico.  Additionally, according to CBS news, the 20 year cost of maintaining this wall will be another 6.5 billion dollars. Of course, this present wall no where near covers the entire Mexican Border and it is a safe bet that additional fences will have to be built as well–at even higher costs–as immigrants seek other means to enter the country.  Given present costs, the cost of fencing some 12,000 miles of Canadian and Mexican borders would would minimally cost 40.8 billion dollars to build and more than 130 billion dollars to maintain. And remember, this doesn’t even count the cost of buying the rights to the land, personnel, vehicles, etc.  And of course, even more technology will be needed to stop tunneling under the fences.

    The last of the four prongs is to create an inhospitable environment for illegals and non English speaking peoples.  The goal of these laws is to encourage an attitude of rudeness and inhospitality among citizens while denying public services.  These include laws which would denying a public school education to children of illegals, requiring hospitals to report to police any suspected illegals they may treat, requiring police to stop, detain and inquire about the citizenship of people “suspected” of being illegals, English only laws for governmental services, refusing and taking away state business licenses to those who hire an illegal, fining those who rent a housing property to an illegal, and fining and imprisoning people who offer assistance to illegals.  In other words, the state uses a big stick to insure that illegals cannot have a place to live or work–as well as punish those who would offer humanitarian service.  If we given in to this mindset, it will come at a great cost to our society in the form of additional bigotry and racism outside of the bounds of immigration.  It is no small coincidence that the Anti-Muslim legislation authored in Oklahoma comes on the heels of the constant drumbeat and talk about immigration.

    What conclusions can we draw about this four-pronged legislation?

    • It is impractical because of the cost of building and maintaining the necessary infrastructure.
    • It will require our country to greatly expand its military and police powers,
    • It will further erode our civil rights as we expand investigative and police powers,
    • It will further encourage racism and hostility–beyond the bounds of immigratioin,
    • It is reactive and isolationist.  It does not address  issues impacting immigration–only outcomes.

    In part two we will examine some alternatives to this four-pronged approach to solving our immigration problems.