Strange Days Indeed

This has been the freakiest, weirdest political season I’ve ever experienced both nationally and locally in Oklahoma, from the rise of the nationalistic Donald Trump to the gross fiscal mismanagement by Republicans dealing with our state budget.

Add to that the violence on the streets here in this country and around the world, and it gets too easy to wrap it all up under some sort of dystopian philosophy or end-of-the-world outlook. But that would be wrong. They’re simply different components in this drama, separated both by importance and substance.

Let’s take Trump, for example. I try not to write about national politics too much because as a proud progressive Oklahoman I don’t get much say in who becomes president of this country. The state’s conservative voters here do that by voting against their own interests because their conservative ministers tell them to do so. It has been a freaky political presidential race, for sure, but I’m betting Trump will win handily here . . . maybe? It’s really a time of uncertainty.

What has really struck me, however, is the rancor of SOME (note the all caps) of the supporters for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a capable, intelligent person who lost to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the first woman to receive the nomination from a major political party.

To be clear, I’ve tried to stay neutral in the Sanders-Clinton wars on social media, but once the convention started and it was clear Hillary would get the nomination, I wandered into the fray, hoping to send a small message of unity and reconciliation. That was a mistake, I guess, because Wikileaks, which was founded by Julian Assange, an Australian who has ties to Russia and faces sexual assault charges in Sweden, has released emails—apparently obtained by Russian hackers—from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that purportedly show the organization sided with Clinton in her presidential bid. The place names alone are enough to make one dizzy.

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Education Remains Key Answer To Corrections Reform

A U.S. Department of Education report released this month shows that states, including Oklahoma, have been increasing funding for our horribly overcrowded prisons at a much higher rate than funding for K-12 and higher education.

The numbers viewed at both the overall national and individual state level are simply not sustainable. The report, using a nuanced and important comparative frame, absolutely shows the country and Oklahoma desperately need corrections reform. We need to shift from an emphasis on funding for incarceration to an emphasis on funding for education.

The report also shows that in Oklahoma, which has long had the highest incarceration rate for women on a per capita basis, had a whopping 272 percent change from 1979 to 2013 between more spending on prisons and jails than on more spending on education. The number of people incarcerated in local and state prisons and jails grew in Oklahoma since 1979 by 485 percent, according to the report, which also noted that the state’s population only grew by 34 percent during that time. The state now has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, according to OK Justice Reform. Why? Is it because of our dismal funding for education? That makes sense.

The report notes:

Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased at a much faster pace than state and local spending on elementary and secondary education and postsecondary education. All too often, children growing up in poor communities not only do poorly in school but also are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during their teen-age and young adult years.

Here’s the report. It’s worth going through it if for nothing else than its shock value. Local media outlets, when the report was first issued, made a big deal out of the fact that Oklahoma’s incarceration rate grew 14 times faster than the state’s adult populations since 1979-1980, but that headline grabber doesn’t really do the report justice in terms of its scope.

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Before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appoints Harold Hamm as his possible energy secretary, he might look at what the oil and gas industry and the fracking boom has wrought in Oklahoma.

Earthquakes. Air pollution. A ruined economy. Underfunded schools and colleges.

It has been rumored that Hamm, chief executive officer of Continental Resources in Oklahoma City, might be considered for the cabinet position, although Hamm has told one media outlet he hasn’t “given it a minute thought.”

Hamm did speak at the recent Republican National Convention, tossing out gems like this: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded.” That sounds like a huge exaggeration to me, but then this is Trump’s party now and gross generalizations and fear mongering are the non-substance of its warped ideology.

Let’s be clear: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is not good for any economy. What’s good for the overall world economy is the move towards cleaner, renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, which is slowly happening. Fracking is not only harmful to the environment it also has created a huge world oil glut that has driven down prices and hurt our local economy, leaving Oklahoma exposed, once again, to the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry.

Oil prices remain low despite rosier predictions from wishful people inside the fossil fuel industry. Right now, the price per barrel is around $45. This is down from highs of more than $100 a barrel not that long ago. Some experts have predicted oil prices will go below $40 again after the summer driving season when demand lessens for gasoline. This, along with generous tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, has resulted in major Oklahoma budget problems and cuts to schools and colleges. State legislators cut funding to higher education by nearly 16 percent last session.

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