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Jim Inhofe and the Wall Street Era

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(In the coming weeks, Blue Oklahoma and Okie Funk will set the record straight when it comes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. This blog will be publishing an open-ended series, “The Case Against Jim Inhofe.” The series will comment on Inhofe’s political and business escapades, from his earlier lies about when he graduated from college to the insurance company he ran into insolvency to his dirty campaign tactics. It will show how Inhofe has consistently hurt the state’s image. It will focus as well on Inhofe’s atrocious record on economic, health, energy, environmental, military and government spending issues. Here are the installments published before this post: Part I: “Rice Gains Ground on Inhofe,” Part II: “Character Issue Follows Inhofe,” Part III: “When Inhofe Talks, People Cringe,” Part IV: “Iraq Distortions Cast Shadow Over Inhofe Campaign,” Part V: Can Voters Trust GOP, Inhofe With Social Security, Health Care.”)

Is there another longtime Washington insider more pro-big business and with more ties to the financial industry and energy corporations than U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe?

It is not a stretch to claim that taken together-Inhofe’s staunch right-wing view that big businesses should dictate government policy and the $1.3 million he has reportedly received from Wall Street-these two aspects of Inhofe’s political career clearly show and symbolize how the current financial crisis was created. Big businesses give money to our politicians who then allow them to essentially non-regulate themselves.

Inhofe is not the only Washington politician to lose touch with the vast majority of people he represents, but he may well be the most obvious.

As the stock market declines, the financial crisis especially hurts people near or at retirement age, though the entire fallout will surely be much worse as more jobs and homes are lost.

The crisis has most Inhofe critics, most notably his election opponent state Sen. Andrew Rice, 35, claiming the Senator has his priorities wrong. What about the middle-class people in Oklahoma? Who will speak up for their retirement? At 73, Inhofe could retire right now with a decent government pension and great health insurance. So why would he care about your retirement, right? With his narrow concerns refuting the science of global warming, your retirement is not even in Inhofe’s frame of reference.

This is not the first time Inhofe has faced such questions about priorities.

In 2002, Inhofe was criticized for supporting legislation that weakened the accountability of auditors after accepting $19,500 in campaign contributions from the accounting industry, according to a news report. In his campaign against Inhofe, former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters argued that Inhofe’s action’s had given accounting firms a “form of immunity,” which led to the Enron and WorldCom debacles, the report stated.

This is from an Associated Press story, “Walters hits Inhofe in donations, legislation,” written by Ron Jenkins and published on July 24, 2002:

Walters said Inhofe signed on as sponsor of the securities act on Feb. 1, 1995, and received $19,500 in contributions from the accounting industry before the bill became law when Inhofe joined in the override of a presidential veto. Some of the donations were from Arthur Anderson, the accounting firm associated with the WorldCom and Enron scandals.

The timing of the contributions, Walters said, was “very suspicious in absence of a strong explanation”from Inhofe.

“Oklahomans have the right to hear Jim Inhofe explain why he inserted himself as a co-sponsor of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, although he was not a member of the Banking Committee and no major accounting firms are headquartered in Oklahoma,” he continued. “Could it have been because of the huge sums of money he received from the accounting industry as the bill moved through the Senate?”

Walters said the 1995 legislation weakened the hand of the Securities Exchange Commission and gave accounting firms a degree of immunity.

He said Inhofe has yet to back tough legislation to remove problems that led to the WorldCom scandal.

He said Inhofe has a moral obligation to explain his actions to the 3,000 WorldCom employees in Tulsa and the thousands of Oklahoma teachers whose retirement fund lost $17 million because of the company’s collapse.

Inhofe, after weakening accounting rules, later supported President George Bush’s push to “reform” Social Security by allowing for personal accounts, which would be conceivably tied to the stock market (Jim Meyers, “State delegation assesses the address,” Tulsa World, February 3, 2005).

Can you imagine if Social Security accounts were directly tied to the recent fallout of Wall Street greed?

The nation’s current financial crisis can be directly attributed to the over-reaching philosophy that the free market can do no wrong, a philosophy embraced by President George Bush and GOP cronies like Inhofe.

Rice has questioned Inhofe’s inaction and lack of concern for ordinary Oklahomans as the financial crisis deepens to proportions resembling the Great Depression.

In his recent debate against Inhofe, Rice said, “An era allowed this to happen. George Bush came into office eight years ago with a Republican majority and … an agenda of radical deregulation.” Inhofe has consistently supported Bush’s policies.

A recent Washington Post article quoted economics expert Joseph Stliglitz on how the Bush/Inhofe era has affected America’s reputation:

“People around the world once admired us for our economy, and we told them if you wanted to be like us, here’s what you have to do — hand over power to the market,” said Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University. “The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis. And of course it raises questions about our credibility. Everyone feels they are suffering now because of us.”

Debate Score: Rice 77, Inhofe 0

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State Sen. Andrew Rice trounced U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in Tuesday’s debate in Tulsa.

Rice, an Oklahoma City Democrat, is trying to unseat the Republican Inhofe in the November election. The debate was televised by KJRH-2, which also streamed it live on the Internet. There was a small studio audience.

During the debate, Rice, 35, repeatedly challenged Inhofe for supporting unwise and sometimes horrendous government policies during the last eight years under President George Bush, one of the most unpopular presidents in modern American history.

The state Senator pounded Inhofe on supporting investment banking deregulation sponsored by “special interests” during the Bush years, leading to the recent $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street. Inhofe allowed these special interests to essentially non-regulate the financial markets, he charged, and now Main Street is suffering.

Rice argued Inhofe has allowed terrorist cells in other countries to flourish-a real threat to American security-because of his blind support for the Iraq war.

In a statement released after the debate, the Rice campaign said, “Despite what Jim Inhofe said in tonight’s debate, our national security has been weakened, not strengthened, by his support for reckless and out of touch policies.  By focusing so much of our superior military strength on Iraq, George Bush and Jim Inhofe took their eyes off the ball, failed to capture Osama bin Laden and allowed new threats to emerge.”

Rice also argued Inhofe has done nothing to help solve the country’s health care crisis.

Meanwhile, Inhofe, 73, offered no new initiatives or programs he plans to undertake in the next Senate, which will almost certainly contain a larger Democratic majority. He offered no real defense of his previous votes, which have favored Bush policies more than 90 percent of the time. He stood by his bizarre statements about global warming that have made him infamous around the world.  To his credit, he often agreed with Rice on his positions.

In the debate, Rice depicted Inhofe as a Washington insider that has allowed special interests to dictate policy and legislation.

“The middle class has become invisible to Washington,” Rice said, arguing the Inhofe was using the debate to take “political potshots” instead of trying to find solutions to the country’s growing economic crisis.

Inhofe downplayed the financial crisis, arguing that Oklahoma has a better economic climate than much of the country as Rice talked about his experiences on the campaign trail meeting people who are suffering financially.

Rice also offered a bipartisan approach to solving the health care crisis by bringing business and government leaders together to reduce health care costs. Inhofe talked about medical malpractice lawsuits.

“. . .  Jim Inhofe has spent 22 years in Washington gutting health care services for Oklahoma seniors and the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” according to the Rice campaign in its statement, “while voting in favor of privatization schemes that let big insurance companies decide who will have health care.”

Where does Oklahoma want to be politically for the next few years?

Cross-posted from my blog, Peace Arena.

On Nov. 4, Oklahomans have a serious question to ask themselves before voting: Do they want to be stuck with two Senators and all but one of their Representatives in the minority party for the foreseeable future, or do they want to be seriously involved in governing this country, solving our collective problems and moving into the future?

Because, unless something unexpected happens before, or something illegal happens on Election Day, the Democratic Party is going to control both houses of Congress — probably by a considerable margin — as well as the White House, come January 20, 2009.

Members of the minority party, meanwhile, simply will be keeping their seats warm, having have no real power.

If Andrew Rice, the Democrat who is challenging Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, is elected, he will be part of that national majority, and able to represent Oklahoma’s interests in Washington during the next six years, which I happen to think he will do very well. But even if you disagree with him on many issues, at least you will be able to contact a member of the ruling party to influence legislation. The other option is to send Inhofe back, where he will continue to suffer the precipitous decline of his status and influence to shape anything other than the cushion of his chair. In the latter outcome, Oklahoma will have no serious voice in the world-changing debate and decisions that are looming before us — in security, the environment, energy, the economy, et. al.

It’s really that simple.

I hope Oklahomans will think about whether they want to have any participation or power in making the changes that are coming. This election could be their one chance for that to happen.

The Oklahoma deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 10. Check here for how to register, or to confirm your registration.

Rice Challenges Inhofe On Privacy, Medical Issues

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U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn continue to vote against the interests of Oklahomans when it comes to privacy rights and medical issues.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Andrew Rice, pictured right, who is running against Inhofe this election year, was honored nationally for his support of privacy rights as he challenges “one of the most extremist members of the U.S. Senate.”

This week Republicans Inhofe and Coburn voted to extend the so-called “no warrant wiretapping bill” that grants retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies for participating in President George Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.  They also voted against a bill that will prevent drastic cuts in Medicare payments to physicians.

The wiretapping bill passed despite opposition from a broad range of organizations and individuals concerned with civil and privacy rights.  The bill allows the government to continue to spy on its citizens without adequate judicial oversight. Telecommunication companies who previously helped the government spy on its citizens will face no penalty under the bill’s provisions.

The Medicare bill passed by a veto-proof margin despite the opposition from Inhofe and Coburn.

Law-abiding Oklahomans concerned with protecting their privacy from government intrusion should be appalled the state’s two senators voted in favor of the wiretapping bill.  Will the government read your email, listen to your telephone conversations?  How will the government use your personal information against you? Why should big corporations be immune from the law?

Oklahomans who rely on Medicare or know people who use Medicare should be extremely concerned about the Inhofe and Coburn votes.  If the cuts would have remained in effect, many doctors would have stopped accepting Medicare patients, according to media reports.  This would have impacted the lives of thousands of elderly Oklahomans.

The 73-year-old Inhofe is running for reelection this year.  His main opponent, Rice, 35, an Oklahoma City Democrat, was recently cited by Blue America as a “Real American Patriot” on the popular blog Down With Tyranny for opposing the wiretapping measure.

Howie Klein writes, “State Senator Andrew Rice (D-OK) is running a strong campaign against one of the most extremist members of the U.S. Senate, James Inhofe, who raked in $12,550 from the Telecoms this year and was determined to grant them retroactive immunity– and positively giddy about giving the government the right to listen in to all phone conversations and read all e-mails without a court order. Andrew disagrees-strongly . . .”

Rice said this about the wiretapping issue, which was published on the national blog:

“Congress must remain vigilant in order to protect Americans from another terrorist attack. However, the bill that is before Congress this week bargains away the privacy of law-abiding American citizens while protecting the companies that allegedly participated in the President’s illegal wiretapping program. The Senate should stick to the narrow fix it set out to accomplish by making it clear that the government does not have to obtain a warrant to listen to foreign-to-foreign communications. Instead, this bill allows a significant expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act so that government can eavesdrop on the international communications of innocent American citizens. Since losing my brother on 9/11, I have vowed to improve America’s anti-terrorism capability without sacrificing the freedoms that so many Americans have died to protect.”

Rice has called on Inhofe to return the $342,166 he has received in campaign donations from private insurance companies because of his vote on the Medicare bill.  Inhofe is siding with these companies over seniors, according to Rice.

“Senator Inhofe voted on Wednesday to protect private insurance companies at the expense of seniors, military families and their physicians,” Rice said.  “If he doesn’t want us to believe that he is beholden to one of his largest contributor interest groups, then he should return their money.” […]

“Our U.S. Senator walked away from seniors and military families in order to protect a windfall for insurance companies,” Rice said. “Fortunately for Oklahomans, there were enough Democratic and Republican Senators who voted to protect Medicare and Tricare.”

Rice also pointed out that Inhofe has voted against Medicare 17 times since 1995.

Inhofe's Radical Environmental Stance Concerns Oklahomans

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U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s abysmal record on the environment is a major issue among Oklahomans and could help pro-environment  Andrew Rice in his campaign against the state’s senior senator, according to a recent article in The New Republic.

The June 3 article, written by Marisa Mazria-Katz, notes how state Sen. Rice, 35, pictured right, has put “environment issues at the heart of his campaign.”

On the trail, [Rice] emphasizes his efforts in the Oklahoma legislature to convert the state’s vehicle fleet to clean-burning fuel and to require public schools to reduce their energy consumption. Rice is hoping his larger agenda of alternative fuel initiatives, which include better harnessing the state’s vast natural gas resources, will appeal to a wide range of voters. “There is a segment of Oklahoma’s population that is willing to swing to the other side for the first time in 20 years,” Rice says.

Rice represents a district in Oklahoma City, but he continues to appeal to state rural voters who are tired of Inhofe’s grandstanding on global warming.  Environmental issues transcend political affiliation and the 73-year-old Inhofe seems out of touch with the latest scientific information about climate change.  Even his own political party’s presumptive presidential nominee has proposed a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions. The article notes,  

While there are other reasons for Inhofe’s drop in popularity–particularly his mishandling of the state’s devastating ice storm last year–environmental issues have surprisingly risen to the top of many Oklahoma voters’ agendas. According to a TVPoll survey taken in February, 86 percent of likely Oklahoma voters believe that the state and federal government must take a strong hand in tackling environmental issues–and so they’re taking a second look at the Republican Party’s hard-line stance on environmental issues. In the same poll, almost two-thirds of likely voters disagreed with Inhofe’s position on climate change, and almost twice as many believed that the Democratic Party was better positioned to handle environmental issues than the GOP.

Rice’s environmental proposals are measured and thorough even as they promote substantial change in how we view and respond to climate change.  He understands global warming’s particular impact on Oklahoma, and he sees an opportunity for the state in creating new energy sources.  According to his campaign Web site,

…Rice believes Oklahoma is in a unique position to lead the way in research and development of alternative fuels and in promotion of clean-burning energy. Also, because of our state’s diverse wildlife and abundant agricultural resources, our quality of life is at great risk if nothing is done.  Rather than standing as a stubborn obstacle to change, Oklahoma’s U.S. Senator should help his state by taking a leadership role in Congress to advocate for reduced carbon emissions and development of alternative, clean-burning energy technology.

The environment, of course, is not the only issue in which Inhofe is out of synch with Oklahomans.  Inhofe remains an ardent supporter of the Iraq war, for example.  He has offered no major deviation from the Bush agenda if he is reelected, yet Oklahoma has a sizeable percentage of people without access to adequate health care.  His political party has offered no real solutions to the health care crisis, stagnant wages and rising living costs.  It is not political hyperbole to argue that Inhofe represents the status quo in right-wing Washington politics.  He is truly a figurehead of dead GOP ideologies, of the failed neoconservative experiment.

Rice remains the underdog in the race, for sure, in conservative Oklahoma. He has raised more than $1 million in campaign money, but it is only half of what Inhofe has raised.  More importantly, the right-wing corporate media in Oklahoma-led by the ultra-conservative newspaper The Oklahoman-refuses to cover in any depth the growing tide of world leaders who oppose Inhofe’s radical positions on the environment.  Inhofe has brought great embarrassment to the state’s residents, but the newspaper refuses to cover the story.

But this is a year of change. The Democrats have their presidential nominee now, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who represents the philosophy of change in historic terms, and Republican political strongholds are crumbling throughout the nation.  Rice, an articulate, intelligent progressive, represents a clear break from Inhofe and the past.  He has a strong grassroots appeal as well.