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Inhofe So Disgusted

Image of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

It’s no surprise that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe has joined in the attack on Planned Parenthood after secretly-recorded videos were released by what the health organization’s president calls “militant anti-abortion activists.”

Those videos, produced by a group calling itself Center for Medical Progress, reveal no new information but only sensationalize the use of fetal tissue obtained after abortions for life-saving and breakthrough stem cell research. The videos show doctors discussing the process of obtaining the tissue.

Inhofe, along with other senators, has called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist in investigating the matter, but the problem is there’s nothing to investigate. Embryonic and fetal tissue has been used in medical research for years. Inhofe and his fellow senators can, of course, try to shut down this type of medical research or try to ban abortion altogether but the “gotcha” videos reveal nothing new and are tremendously unethical.

In an overly dramatic statement about the issue, Inhofe said:

I am disgusted that Planned Parenthood chapters are selling fetal body parts for profit. The casual discussion of abortion, dismemberment and sale of babies in these videos is alarming and shows a true lack of moral conviction. Our nation should not be condoning the act of killing our own children or allowing these corrupt organizations to sell body parts for profit. This isn’t about being Pro-Life or Pro-Choice anymore, this is about our country’s moral conscience, and I will not stand for such horrid actions like this taking place on American soil.

First, Planned Parenthood officials have been adamant that they don’t sell fetal tissue for profit. They merely recover costs for preserving and transporting medical specimens. Second, the videos have come under much criticism for selective editing and slicing to support a political agenda. These are biased political videos not fact-supported journalism. The fact they were secretly recorded by an organization with a political agenda makes them obviously unethical and irrelevant.

In his overblown statement, Inhofe proclaims, “I will not stand for such horrid actions like this taking place on American soil.” This is incredibly bombastic. Why didn’t he make this same statement years ago? Again, the videos DO NOT reveal any new information. They simply sensationalize what’s been happening on “American soil” for years.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, according to media reports, said the videos are part of an orchestrated attack on the organization. She fired back at the critics this way:

They're using these very highly edited videos, sensationalized videos, to try to impugn and smear the name of Planned Parenthood. These activists, these militant anti-abortion activists . . . do nothing to improve the health and safety of women. And if they had their way, women could no longer come to Planned Parenthood for birth control services, for breast cancer screenings, for cervical cancer screenings or any other health care.

Inhofe and some of his fellow senators, such as James Lankford, have obviously used the political stunt to try to rile up their voter base, but what does it even matter in conservative Oklahoma? Why fuel the anger when it’s not even necessary.

Planned Parenthood does incredible work in our communities, and this latest flap will eventually subside. But what’s telling is how unethical the anti-abortion movement has become. The secretly-recorded and selectively-edited videos only reveal the fanaticism of some zealots in the anti-abortion movement. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood remains crucially vital to women’s reproductive health in this country.

Newspaper Windmills

Windmill, Jalubí, Czech Republic on Flickr The Commons

No amount of sarcasm about “garden-variety” environmentalists from the editorial board of The Oklahoman will diminish the basic fact that global warming is real and that the planet is heading toward a catastrophe because of it.

The newspaper recently published an editorial that made fun of people concerned about the environment while celebrating the use of natural gas to produce electricity. The snarky piece begins like this:

Pity the plight of the garden-variety environmentalist. He loathes coal because it’s dirty. He’s uncomfortable with nuclear power even though it’s far cleaner than coal. And he can barely tolerate natural gas because, well, it’s a fossil fuel.

Oh, a faux pity party. I want to go. Can I bring a friend? I’m unsure how exactly “garden-variety” is supposed to be read here. Of course, it means commonplace, but I guess it’s also meant to be pejorative in some way. Still, it’s confusing. Note the gender bias as well as in “he loathes” and “he’s uncomfortable.” I guess women don’t care about the environment or the editorial writer needs some training when it comes to gender issues in writing. The overall generalization in the paragraph screams out the writing here is sophomoric and not to be trusted.

Maybe this is too much nitpicking for another goofy editorial in The Oklahoman, but the commentary was published right before it was announced that a new scientific paper shows global warming accelerated by carbon emissions is leading to a catastrophic rise in sea levels. The contrast between the two could not be greater. One mocks people and the science in which they believe. The other is a scientific approach to one of the most important issues of our time.

The paper, which was written by prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen and several co-authors, argues that a temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius over the next 50 years could lead to sea levels ten-feet higher than they now exist because the added heat will melt ice sheets on the planet.

The paper seems unnecessarily alarmist to some people, according to media reports, but the fact remains that carbon emissions have led to a rise in greenhouse gases. This melts ice sheets on the planet and leads to rising sea levels. If the planet’s inhabitants don’t take any corrective action, the outcome could be devastating.

According to a media report about the paper, Hansen and his coauthors write, "We conclude that continued high [carbon] emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating." Imagine entire coastal communities wiped out.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman is cheering on the fossil fuel industry. It’s one dying industry cheering on another dying industry.

Developing renewal energy sources, such as solar and wind power, with a limited environmental impact is the primary solution to the planet’s crisis. Obviously, fossil fuels, including natural gas used in power plants, are still vital and will remain so for decades, but in the larger picture they need to be replaced.

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in Oklahoma and in other areas of the country has also brought with it a host of environmental problems, such as water contamination and earthquakes. Oklahoma, in particular, has been shaken relentlessly over the last few years by earthquakes scientists claim are caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process. The state now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above.

The 5.6-magnitude 2011 earthquake near Prague caused significant damage, and many property owners are concerned about the impact on their homes and buildings from the almost daily earthquakes the state now experiences. On Monday, 4.4-magnitude and 4.0 magnitude quakes rattled north-central Oklahoma near Cherokee. The Stillwater City Council has even passed new regulations about setbacks and noise levels of fracking operations in its jurisdiction.

While all this is going on, The Oklahoman chooses the snarky road while lauding the energy industry. It should be noted Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made his money in the drilling business, currently owns the paper. But the newspaper business is in serious decline. How long before he sells it or the newspaper stops publishing a hard copy, another waste of the planet’s resources? Obviously, the newspaper intentionally alienates many potential “garden-variety” readers.

After outlining the ways in which natural gas is leading to a decline in coal use, the editorial ends with a reference to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes:

Most of these aren’t on the agenda of our garden-variety environmentalist. Let him tilt at his windmills. We’ll celebrate the gas milestone.

This is what passes for reasoned, compensated written insight in Oklahoma these days. The newspaper’s executives want us to read this and think it’s wise and pertinent commentary and then subscribe to its dying, sometimes offensive and narrow-minded publication. The editorial is simply silly, although we could use more windmills (i.e., wind turbines) these days.

We actually don’t need The Oklahoman in its present form anymore. It’s counter productive for an informed local culture. We DO need to become better stewards of our planet and less worried about lining the pockets of rich oil and gas executives here. That’s not fighting imaginary enemies. It’s just common sense.

Stillwater Takes Action

Fracking Rig on Flickr The Commons

The Stillwater City Council unanimously approved new regulations Monday protecting its citizens from the residual effect of oil and gas drilling in its jurisdiction.

Guess what? The oil and gas industry doesn’t like it.

But here’s the dilemma: The hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom in this country has raised both quality of life and environmental issues, ranging from loud operational noise levels to more significant issues, such as a dramatic surge in earthquakes. People in local communities, such as Stillwater, are starting to speak up and take action.

Last year, for example, voters in Denton, TX actually approved an outright ban on fracking in its city limits. When a city in Texas bans oil and gas activity, the issue takes on powerful significance in our culture.

The Stillwater City Council voted Monday to regulate noise levels and establish appropriate distances between homes and buildings from oil and gas operations. In response to the new ordinance, an official with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said, “It’s essentially a ban.”

Under a Senate bill passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last session, cities are forbidden to ban oil and gas operations in their jurisdiction, but they can regulate certain elements of the process. Thus, the action in Stillwater Monday could generate a legal showdown of some manner. The Senate bill establishes the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the main regulating body for the oil and gas industry in the state.

Other municipalities in the state will almost certainly carefully scrutinize the backlash of Stillwater’s action.

Conservative legislators here find themselves in the difficult position of wanting to “drill, baby, drill” to create American energy independence while denying people local control over their communities. Local control is often touted as a bedrock conservative principle. This contradiction, along with the surge of earthquakes here, as I’ve written before, has the potential to become an important political issue in the 2016 general election.

The obvious question is why the oil and gas industry won’t just limit drilling operations to less sparsely populated areas and avoid this type of political friction. The obvious answer is probably that it simply doesn’t matter to the industry, which has a powerful political lobby and undoubtedly has enough money to proceed with legal actions.

In other news, dangerously high levels of radiation have been found in a creek in Pennsylvania, and one university biologist said, “It's highly suggestive that it may be due to drilling operations, or at least the wastewater.” The oil and gas industry has denied it. The creek leads into a river, which is used for an area water supply. Eventually, the tainted water could even make it into the Pittsburgh water supply, according to a media report.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, earthquakes that scientists have attributed to wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process continue to rumble the state. A 4.4-magnitude earthquake followed shortly afterwards by a 4.0-magnitude temblor struck near Cherokee in northern Oklahoma Monday.

The growing surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma has become a major crisis. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, according to media reports, just recently expanded the number of injection wells by more than 200 that face new restrictions.

But is it enough? Many people concerned about their homes and property don’t think so. It’s time to speak up. The Stillwater City Council has fortunately helped to accelerate the debate.

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