Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Images Issues: The Okie Spectacle Goes National

Image of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl days

I’ve been trying today to remember a time when Oklahoma’s national image was this negative and, really, just downright cataclysmic for the state, and I just can’t come up with a time period. The Dust Bowl days in the 1930s?

Here’s just a partial list of what has been in the national news about Oklahoma recently:

(1) We lead the nation in executions on a per capita basis.

(2) Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of fatal police shootings on a per capita basis.

(3) We imprison the most women on a per capita basis.  

(4) We lead the contiguous United States in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes we endure because of a portion of the fracking process.

(5) We have cut education funding the most of any state since the 2008 economic downturn.

(6) Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues his relentless and laughable legal wars against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Affordable Care Act.

(7) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe recently held a snowball in his hand on the Senate floor and claimed once and for all it proves global warming is a left-wing conspiracy. He was widely mocked throughout the world.

(8) The governor’s daughter was living in a recreation vehicle at the state “mansion.” The story became known as “trailergate.” It got widespread, national coverage.

(9) The Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol has created controversy and silliness widely reported throughout the world.  

(10) U.S. Sen. James Lankford isn’t doing much as a political leader these days but attacking Planned Parenthood based on secretly recorded and obviously biased and fraudulent videos. He’s widely known as a fanatic ideologue in Washington but adored by The Oklahoman editorial board as some wise sage.

(11) Oklahoma faces a massive teacher shortage because of low pay and poor working conditions. The state’s anti-education mentality has never been on such wide display than now, or at least I can’t remember such a time.

(12) The Oklahoma Health Care Authority just cut the payment rate for developmental disabilities service providers. Read that sentence again.

Fill in the blank. I know I’m leaving something out when I haven’t even mentioned state Rep. Sally Kern or any other of the cast of characters in the state legislature that sponsor obviously unconstitutional bills that cost the state money in legal fees when they have to be unsuccessfully defended.

We kill. We imprison. We cut education. We deny health care to poor people because they are poor. The world looks on at the spectacle, and it costs the state economic development and lowers our quality of life here.

There’s not much to be done to save Oklahoma’s image at this point, especially since the local media is complicit in the tragedy. They wallow in the cesspool, get used to the stench and rake in what conventional advertising dollars are still left out there based on the Okie spectacle . . . for now.  Laugh or cry. Take your pick. Oklahoma is a longtime laughingstock of the world, and it’s only getting worse, folks. No, not even the Oklahoma City Thunder can get us out of this mess with a national championship.

The Oklahoma Standard

Image of state Capitol and a church

(I only have time for a short post today. The post might seem negative to some people, but nothing will change if we ignore reality.)

My last post mentioned how Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of executions it performs on a per capita basis, but I failed to mention that Oklahoma City also leads the nation in the number of people on a per capita basis killed by police.

What’s the correlation? It seems obvious on one level. Oklahoma is a violent place where human lives are not as valued as they are elsewhere in the country or in many places in the world. I think this is true to some extent. The state has an abundance of “pro-life” religious people, including many state leaders, concerned about the welfare of embryos, but they care less about people put to death on a regular basis by the state or killed by police.  

Here’s a Washington Post article about police killings on a national level, listing Oklahoma City as the highest in the nation in such deaths. Here’s a database in The Guardian that does the same thing.

Okay, yes, it’s too easy to just pass off Oklahoma as a violent place that doesn’t value human life. It’s nuanced. Oklahoma’s lack of anything remotely close to adequate investment in education and mental health programs is probably the main reason for our high “kill” rate and our high incarceration numbers. Oklahoma, for example, also leads the nation in the number of women it incarcerates on a per capita basis.

We kill. We imprison. We don’t invest in education. We don’t invest in our citizens’ overall health. We do this under the false perception that we are friendly, pious folk, the nicest people in the world, right? I use “we” here because not enough people here speak up about these pressing issues, and I concede it’s probably best to just leave Oklahoma than fight the established power structure. What’s the point? Some of us get stuck here, of course, for a variety of reasons, usually related to family or employment, so we grit our teeth and endure the stench of death and mediocrity.

Unfortunately, given the current political climate in the state it appears not much is going to change anytime soon. Kill. Imprison. Cut public education funding. Cut public health funding. It’s in the water now. It’s Oklahoma tradition. This is now the real Oklahoma Standard.

State Should Stop Glossip Execution

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 on Flickr The Commons

It’s the standard adage here.

Oklahomans are the nicest people.

Well, that is, until it comes to executing people. When you look at it with that frame of reference, as people living in a particular legal jurisdiction in this country, we and especially our great leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, are simply bloodthirsty barbarians waiting expectantly for their next victim.

Oklahoma likes to kill its criminals. We lead the nation in the per capita number of criminal executions. Since 1976, the state has killed 112 people. Oklahoma was even the first state to implement lethal injection to make everyone feel better about killing people. We also imprison the largest number of women in the nation on a per capita basis as well. We’re widely known for killing people and imprisoning women.

Howdy, y’all. People are so friendly in Oklahoma.

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be killed by Oklahoma on September 16. He was convicted of murder in the 1997 beating death of Barry Van Treese, who was his boss and an owner of an Oklahoma City motel.

Here’s the information everyone needs to be focused on: Glossip didn’t actually kill his boss, and he claims he is innocent.

He was convicted on what prominent people and lawyers say is extremely slim evidence. He was accused of asking Justin Sneed to kill Van Treese. Sneed, in fact, admitted he beat Van Treese to death and was given life in prison in the case, but he claimed Glossip asked him to do the killing. Van Treese’s wife testified at the trial that she and her husband had found $6,000 missing from the hotel’s financial accounts and planned to approach Glossip about the issue before her husband was killed.

But as actor Susan Sarandon has pointed out recently, there is no actual physical evidence that Glossip asked Sneed to kill Van Treese. Where’s the tape recording? Where are the corroborating witnesses? Sarandon, who starred in the film Dead Man Walking, has publicly asked Gov. Mary Fallin to grant Glossip a 60-day reprieve so his attorneys can gather and present more evidence on his behalf.  Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, who was depicted in the movie by Sarandon, has also asked Fallin to intervene. Fallin has declined.

There are two major points to be made here:

(1) The death penalty is barbaric and has been increasingly banned or not practiced here in the United States and throughout the world. Nebraska of all places just this year joined a growing number of states that have abolished the death penalty. Oklahomans should be ashamed we live in a place that leads the nation in this type of cruelty.

(2) Glossip didn’t kill anyone. Even if you’re in favor of the death penalty, this should be a no-brainer. He didn’t kill anyone. Even if he did coordinate the killing, which is a disputed fact not supported by physical evidence, he didn’t do the actual killing. The actual confessed murderer, who could have simply informed authorities about Glossip and not beat someone to death, will be allowed to live. Why not simply give Glossip life in prison without a chance for parole? Why even take the minutest chance of killing an innocent person?

The victim’s family and friends absolutely deserve our sympathies and justice, but life in prison is a major sentence. That’s what the killer received in this case. Even James Eagan Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 people in 2012 at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, received life in prison.

The case against Glossip is tenuous and ambiguous at best. Fallin needs to do the right thing in this case and at the very least grant Glossip a temporary reprieve. As Sarandon, who called Fallin a “horrible person,” recently said about Glossip, “He’s put there by a snitch who actually did kill the person, and then the snitch has life and this guy is being put to death on the 16th.”

Ten Questions About Oklahoma Earthquake Emergency

Balcombe anti fracking camp on Flickr The Commons

Here’s a list of ten questions about the ongoing earthquake crisis here in central Oklahoma:

(1) What is the current financial cost of the overall damage to houses, buildings, highway infrastructure and the environment because of the recent earthquake crisis caused by the hydraulic fracturing process in Oklahoma?

(2) How can house owners prove all the foundational/wall cracks and warped windowsills and doorsills were even caused by the earthquakes even though the residents absolutely know they occurred right after particular earthquakes?

(3) How much will the earthquakes lower property values here?

(4) The first major earthquake related to the fracking process was near Prague in Nov. 5, 2011? Why has it taken Gov. Mary Fallin and other state leaders so long to respond to the crisis?

(5) What are some of the potential impacts if the earthquake surge goes on for several more years or decades or indefinitely?

(6) The Oklahoman editorial board continues to insist the state has adequate earthquake policies in effect. Why won’t it allow dissenting views to this position since so much is at stake for everyone?

(7) When will an enterprising attorney or law firm start a highly visible class action lawsuit against the oil and gas industry on this issue?

(8) State leaders, the media and some people in the oil and gas industry are always quick to point out it’s the wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process not the actual fracking itself that causes the earthquakes. Since the two processes are inextricably linked, why make a big deal about the distinction or why not simply dispose of the toxic wastewater in a safer manner?

(9) Why won’t the Oklahoma Corporation Commission do more to try to stop the earthquakes, such as issuing a complete or limited moratorium on wastewater injection disposal wells?

(10) It is expected the state could experience 800 or more 3.0-magnitude earthquakes in 2015. That’s a staggering number, and it’s growing exponentially. Just a few years ago, Oklahoma experienced on average only two or three earthquakes a year. What annual number of earthquakes would force a massive human migration from Earthquake Central, OK?

Be sure to read my last post about the complicity of Gov. Mary Fallin, The Oklahoman and the oil and gas industry to downplay the earthquake emergency here. Here’s another recent Okie Funk take on the crisis.

Leadership, Media Coverage Lacking In State Earthquake Emergency

Image of Picasso work

Let it be clear that Gov. Mary Fallin and The Oklahoman are complicit in the dreadfully slow and inadequate response to the state’s ongoing earthquake crisis created by the fracking process.

As I’ve written before, we are experiencing a crisis. To call it anything else is frankly dishonest. The state will probably experience more than 800 earthquakes this year of 3.0-magnitude or higher. That’s an incredible number for Oklahoma, and the science clearly points to disposal wastewater wells used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as the reason for all the shaking and rattling.

Here are two dates to consider: November 5, 2011 and August 7, 2015. The first date is when a 5.6-earthquake struck near Prague causing significant damage. The second date is today, as I post this, and no action of any major significance has been taken.

The Oklahoman on its editorial page argues the state has “solid” earthquake policies in place and is acting in a responsible manner. Fallin, who has finally acknowledged the link between the earthquakes and fossil fuel drilling here, points to a reduction in well volumes at some sites believed to be triggering the quakes.

But it’s simply laughable that the state has handled the issue in an adequate manner. The number and intensity of the quakes keep growing. This is a real crisis-and it’s a bipartisan issue-that demands more immediate action, which should include at least seriously considering a moratorium on disposal wastewater wells. Reducing volume amounts may or may not work in the long run. The scientists simply don’t know.  What we do know is that the entire fracking process is incredibly damaging to the environment. Fallin needs to declare a state emergency and seek disaster help and relief from the federal government. This is an issue too large for a state such as Oklahoma to handle effectively.

Both The Oklahoman and Fallin have obviously been siding with the state’s oil and gas industry, which initially and blatantly argued the quakes were of a natural origin. That’s all changed now, but the oil and gas industry has a powerful political lobby in the state. It’s not going away anytime soon.

The Oklahoman is owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, who made his money in the drilling business. The oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.org, has been a top donor to Fallin’s political campaigns.

In the fracking process, water laced with highly toxic chemicals is injected into underground rock formations to create fissures that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure underground. Scientists believe it is the wastewater injection that is triggering earthquakes along fault lines here and elsewhere.

No one can deny that the oil and gas industry is important to the state’s economy, but what about damage to people’s homes and other property caused by the quakes. How many 3.0-magnitude and higher earthquakes can a house endure before there is serious foundational problems or other damage? What if the manmade earthquakes go on for years or decades near highly populated areas in central Oklahoma?

The Science Matters

Humboldt Glacier Greenland from Greenpeace on Flickr The Commons

As Oklahoma experiences a relatively cooler and wetter summer than usual, it might be wise to take a minute and note that a stunning and deadly heat wave is striking the Middle East and India.

In one area of Iran, the heat index has reached a staggering 165 degrees. This year will almost certainly be one of the hottest on record, which is yet another indication of global warming and the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

I’m not trying to be negative here just to be negative. It’s just that too often American politicians, and in particular U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, will point to a particular weather event, such as a snowstorm, to make the argument that global warming science and its predictions are part of some conspiracy against the fossil-fuel industry.

Just because we’re getting more rain and it’s relatively cooler than summer averages in Oklahoma does not mean that the planet no longer faces an extremely real crisis, from an extended drought in California to soul-destroying temperatures and heat indices elsewhere in the world to melting arctic ice that is contributing to rising sea levels.

So instead of throwing out a figurative snowball, here’s some summer reading for you. First, read this post on Democracy Now! that ties together the India heat wave and the California drought. Second, here’s an article about a new global warming study conducted by well-known scientist James Hansen and others that shows the planet’s growing predicament. Third, read this about how the expansion of the Antarctica ice sheet is overshadowed by Arctic ice melting and is probably the result of global warming, too.

Scientists have long argued that too much manmade carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated the greenhouse effect, which radiates heat back to the planet. Even a sustained two-degree jump in a medium temperature could have catastrophic impact on the planet, wiping out coastal cities and leading to mass migration and economic disaster.

All this might not make for pleasant summer reading as the mild summer winds down here in Oklahoma, but the state does not exist in isolation to the rest of the world. Any catastrophic global warming event on the planet has widespread ramifications. If New York or Miami become submerged in water in a couple of decades, it will have an impact throughout the world, even here.

This just something to think about this summer and also the next time Inhofe throws around a snowball instead of talking about science.

Keating Distorts Ten Commandments Monument Issue

Keating Gala from Flickr The Commons

An op-ed about the Ten Commandments monument controversy by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has an illogical premise and contains distorted historical information.

One question is whether the distortion is deliberate or just based on a basic lack of knowledge about the state’s history, a lack of a careful consideration of logical human behavior and, well, a lack in understanding just how the concept of time works.

The commentary, which basically argues voters should repeal a section of the state’s constitution so the Ten Commandments monument can remain on state Capitol grounds, appeared recently in The Oklahoman. The newspaper’s editorial board has also urged a repeal of the section.

Keating and the newspaper are obviously free to argue for a repeal of Article 2, Section 5 of the constitution, of course, but they should be called out on their faulty logic. Let’s call it what it is: Keating and the newspaper’s editors want an undeniably religious and exclusive monument supporting the Judeo-Christian tradition at the Capitol. They apparently don’t care that if their argument prevails the state will no doubt face an expensive lawsuit at the federal level.

Here’s the language of the constitutional section in question:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

In a recent 7-2 ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court argued that the section means the monument must be removed. The court has upheld its ruling. The monument was put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday school teacher.

Ritze and others have made the strained argument that the Ten Commandments monment represents an historic legal framework for Western culture and so that’s why it belongs at the Capitol. They have also said the monument is similar to the one at the Texas state Capitol. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote has ruled that monument can remain in place.

First, the Oklahoma monument is obviously religious. The Ten Commandments come from the Bible. Placing such a monument at the Capitol obviously is in violation of any reasonable reading of Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Second, the Texas case is not at all similar to the issue in Oklahoma. The monument in Texas went legally unchallenged for 40 years thus solidifying a peculiar but specific historical claim to legitimacy, one with which I don’t agree but have to accept. It’s also part of a larger display of other monuments and markers. That isn’t the case in Oklahoma. The motivation for the monument here is singularly religious-based on the Bible and exclusive of other religious and secular traditions and beliefs.

Now some state leaders, along with Keating and The Oklahoman, want voters to repeal Article 2, Section 5 in the constitution. Keating and the newspaper make the argument that the section is based on the failed Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the late 1800s. Many states adopted similar language in their own constitutions. Some considered the Blaine Amendment to be an anti-Catholic schools measure at the time, but that obscures the issue of the separation of church and state and the issue of providing free public education to all children. Those were two basic intentional concerns of the amendment as well.

Thus, Keating argues:

A second suspect minority that came into the sights of our early Legislature was my faith community, Catholics. About the time that legislative Democrats were passing odious “Jim Crow” laws and attempting to restrict the public use of alcohol so that consumption of wine at the Catholic Mass would be discouraged, Oklahoma’s constitution mirrored those of 34 other states by including a simple proviso intended to retard the further spread of Catholic education and Catholic values.

Keating is entirely wrong. Go back and read the section of the state constitution I cited. It contains no mention of Catholicism. The section has more in common with the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and separation of church and state than any concerted effort to specifically “retard the further spread of Catholic education.” The implicit comparison of Article 2, Section 5 to Jim Crow laws in Keating’s commentary is itself “odious” and repulsive. Just a cursory look of Keating’s biographical history shows he grew up with and has benefited from white privilege. Does he really want us to see him as a victim of discrimination? Keating’s argument also presupposes that those people who put together the state constitution were so dumb and such extreme anti-Catholic bigots they didn’t understand the sweeping nature of the language in Article 2, Section 5, which is simply false. This is actually a tremendous insult to those who met in 1906 to put together the Oklahoma Constitution. Keep in mind, the Blaine Amendment was initially proposed in 1875. That’s a 31-year difference between that event and the initial work on the Oklahoma Constitution. It’s obvious that three decades later the intention and language of the section, no matter what its first roots, would have been completely separate from what was going on in 1875.

But it’s the argument’s overall premise that should really make people cringe. Here’s Keating’s simplistic premise: Article 2, Section 5 was based on discrimination against Catholics and so therefore we should do away with it and allow a religious monument to be erected on the public square under the same right-wing Protestant view that generated such discrimination in the first place. Southern Baptists, in particular, were widely known to be at odds with Catholics in this country until even the 1980s. That’s well established and was even an issue in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Southern Baptists and Catholics now share a right-wing political agenda in this country, officially opposing abortion, for example, so Article 2, Section 5, even if it were initially and entirely based on an anti-Catholic school sentiment, now has actually united the two religious denominations in opposition to it. In other words, Keating’s take on the history of the so-called “Blaine Amendments,” even if it were true, which it isn’t, is no longer applicable. Ritze, a Protestant, and Keating, a Catholic, want the same legal and/or voting outcome. There’s no operative discrimination in place specifically against Catholics because of Article 2, Section 5. How can anyone with Keating’s educational background not understand that?

It’s all enough to make your head hurt if you think too much about Keating’s tortuous argument.

The bottom line is that Keating and the newspaper want an exclusive religious monument at the state Capitol to promote and publicly sanction the Judeo-Christian tradition. That’s the real discrimination going on here.