In its quest to lionize Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn as some type of great thinker of our time, The Oklahoman editorial board has offered up for our enlightenment some fancy Coburn witticisms that seem far more crazy than profound.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who at 78 has indicated he plans to run for reelection in 2014, has vowed to stop any efforts in the Senate to pass the minor gun control measures under consideration in the wake of the Newtown, CT shootings that left 20 school children and six adults dead.
Coburn and Inhofe represent an outdated, dying set of political beliefs repudiated by President Barack Obama’s convincing reelection in 2012. They rile up the angry home folks here, for sure, but if this state had just 200,000 more college graduates it would never elect anyone even remotely like them.
Let’s start with Coburn. Last Sunday, The Oklahoman editorial page published a commentary that argues, in its clichéd, hackneyed way, “Congress could use more members like Coburn, who puts country first.” He’s not like “The Great Divider,” i.e. Obama. What’s more, “Coburn is willing to make the difficult decisions.” Insightful, no?
To prove its astounding, nonpartisan thesis, the editorial announces: “Today we present Coburn in his own words, about the most pressing concerns of the day.” Sound the trumpets! Drum roll, puhleease. What follows are an assortment of boring, Coburn quotes that mostly just regurgitate the GOP line. Some of them, however, are just plain whacky or seem like typical Republican truth stretchers. Read them for yourselves. I’ve selected a few, not in any certain order, to parse through in this post.
Coburn: “You've got to give him (Obama) credit. He's an ideologue. He actually believes in socialism. He thinks that's the way to solve the problem. And it's an elitist view that says Washington knows better than what the individual family or statesman (does).”
So does essentially labeling Obama a socialist mean he’s making the “difficult decisions” in Washington? No, it proves Coburn is a partisan, who will stoop to hyperbole and name calling to scare people here into voting for Republicans. It’s also a rejection of intellectualism. Coburn has to know what socialism is, and he has to know that Obama is not a socialist.
Coburn: “Government's 89 percent bigger than it was 10 years ago. Personal income's down 5 percent in this country. And they want to claim that we need more government to be able to solve our problems. And the problem is we're incapable of managing the government we have today.”
I tried to find some verification for Coburn’s statement about government growth but failed. I did find somewhat reputable articles that showed the number of government employees has declined under the Obama administration and overall government spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen by less than 10 percent since 2003. Both articles had conservative bents. Just like the socialist comment, this fancy witticism seems basically untrue.
Coburn: “Start treating health care like every other resource in the country. Create a real market that's transparent, created where payment is connected with the purchase. And American consumers, they're the best buyers in the world at everything else, they will lower the cost of health care.
“Our total care will decline rapidly in this country under the Affordable Care Act, the quality of care — plus we're going to ration Medicare.”
That Coburn wants a commercial health care system that is basically only accountable to “free-market” (free to die) principles is nothing new. But two statements stand out. First, Americans are absolutely NOT the best buyers in the world and they are often manipulated by unscrupulous corporations. Look at the mortgage crisis. Second, and this is more important, there is no movement to “ration Medicare,” certainly not among Democrats. If Medicare would ever be rationed—what does that even mean?—it would be part of a Republican plan to try to end the program altogether. Coburn is trying to scare people.
The editorial also contained some Coburn comments about excessive job programs in Ada that seem exaggerated and, at the very least, needs some verification from the state’s largest newspaper.
In the end, it’s just the same Coburn we’ve always known, taking ideological jabs and distorting facts while hiding under his cover as some bipartisan, fiscal expert. The Oklahoman seems quite content to perpetuate this real hoax among its dwindling readership.
Speaking of hoaxes, that man that once proclaimed that the science underpinning global warming was a type of liberal “hoax” has now turned his attention to gun control. Inhofe, along with other Republican Senators, has vowed to filibuster any gun control measures that come before the Senate. One of the proposals would expand background checks on those who purchase guns.
Obama has made gun control a priority since the Newtown shootings, and a group made up of family members of victims recently visited Washington to meet with Congressional members and push for gun control measures. According to Inhofe, “See, I think it's so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them when, in fact, it doesn't.” This is just more Obama bashing, and it lacks basic compassion for those mothers and fathers who lost their children in the shootings.
Inhofe and Coburn continue to base their political platforms on creating as much anti-Obama hysteria in the state as they can and then reaping the benefits of that through constituent support. That’s about the sum total of what they stand for right now. They don’t let truth get in their way, and they are as willing as the next Republican to use the GOP standard talking points.
The Oklahoman commentary that poses Coburn as some type of great thinker of his time is laughable. In fact, the rhetorical love fest does more damage to Coburn than good because it shows just what an ideologue he remains. What’s not laughable is another six-year term for Inhofe, which seems like it’s going to happen.
It’s taken some time, but the academic side of higher education, along with an attendant philosophy of open, shared knowledge, are finally asserting themselves in digital learning at universities throughout the country.
An open, elearning system is remarkably good news for Oklahoma, with its low college graduation rate and overall underfunded educational systems, just as long as higher education leaders here recognize that MOOCs and the soon-to-be launched DPLA are opportunities, not threats to their individual turfs.
Massive Open Source Online Courses (MOOCs) and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which launches April 18, represent a turn away from the corporate model of education and places professors and teaching, and, of course, students, at the forefront of elearning. Corporate learning management systems, from Blackboard to Desire2Learn, have for too long dictated the terms of online intellectual engagement at universities, especially smaller, non-research colleges with limited funding. Online, for-profit colleges can never duplicate in any sustainable sense the academic rigor offered by our public and private universities, especially our leading institutions of knowledge.
Before I go further, let me give some background. MOOCs, which came into the academic scene a couple of years ago, are free online courses offered by some of the country’s premiere universities, such as Harvard and MIT. Anyone with an email address can take courses—“Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health,” “Write Like Mozart: An Introduction To Classical Music Composition,” and “Greek and Roman Mythology” to name just a few-- through systems such as Coursera and edX. The courses are not currently offered for credit, but that could soon change.
The Digital Public Library of America is a project began in 2010 that aims, according to one of DPLA’s founders, Harvard professor Robert Darnton, to “make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge.” It will launch April 18 in an initial, limited form. The plan is to build the DPLA into what would be the largest bank of accessible knowledge ever in the history of mankind. The scope of the project simply can’t be understated.
Can you imagine having every written artifact in history and much more available to you in a matter of seconds? It will revolutionize information science, and could help universities save millions of dollars (maybe even more) through centralization.
At the philosophical core of MOOCs and the DPLA is the idea that knowledge and learning should be a shared, global experience, which will create better societies and advance mankind even further in the sciences and the arts. It’s the culmination, really, of the so-called Information Age in which we live. We’re not there yet, of course, but the trajectory is clear. It’s difficult to not look at all this in utopian terms, but there’s also a pragmatic side. In discussing the DPLA, Darnton writes:
What could be more utopian than a project to make the cultural heritage of humanity available to all humans? What could be more pragmatic than the designing of a system to link up millions of megabytes and deliver them to readers in the form of easily accessible texts?
The dilemma, of course, is the question over how are we going to pay for all this, and the answer is that we can’t afford to NOT go forward. Again, it’s difficult not to place it in sweeping terms. Our very existence on this planet may well depend on the main philosophy driving MOOCs and the DPLA. That doesn’t pay a professor’s salary, of course, but just as media outlets have had to adjust to the reality of the Internet so, too, must universities. I may risk ridicule here, but the money issue seems trivial when compared to the overall conception of what MOOCs and the DPLA offer mankind.
In practical terms, MOOCs could be offered for credit in the days ahead and a combination of taxpayer and institutional money could be used to subsidize online education to underserved populations throughout the world. The DPLA, funded now by foundations, has many different partners and stakeholders, and could conceivably survive financially under its current, fiscal model.
As I stated before, what I find so encouraging about MOOCs and the DPLA is the new surge of academic energy in online learning. I’ve taught online courses for some ten years now, and I’ve seen how corporate learning management systems have influenced pedagogy and class structure with mixed results. MOOCs are built around the professor; it’s not the professor building a course within a for-profit platform that will always increase in cost and will always have built-it obstacles to limit sharing or changing systems. MOOCs reassert the simple premise that it’s the instructor that determines course quality, not the technology itself, not a mid-level university administrator often without academic experience. It’s the instructor’s expertise, her credentials, her commitment that matters, not the underlying computer code, which in the case of MOOCs is open source and available to everyone. This is not to say that corporations don’t or can’t have a role in both MOOCs and the DPLA, but openness and sharing, their driving force, are the antithesis of monopoly and control.
What does all this mean for our state? The concepts of MOOC’s and the DPLA represent a huge opportunity for Oklahoma. It’s been my experience that online learning here overall has been somewhat slow to develop and hindered by limited funding, institutional bias and lack of foresight. For example, the former provost at Oklahoma State University, Robert Sternberg, now the president of the University of Wyoming, recently made it a point to argue that online learning had limitations. But these new trends in online learning could open the door for thousands of Oklahomans, who want a college degree but face life obstacles in attending a college as traditional students. The state has chronically lagged behind the national average in the number of its college graduates. MOOCs and the DPLA also have the capability, if managed appropriately, to help make a dent in the nation’s student-debt problem if courses remain free or reasonably priced while allowing students to take courses with some of the best professors in the country and in our state.
The new trends in online learning also open new opportunities for collaboration among our state’s many universities.
Why can’t GOP legislators simply set aside tax-cut proposals for this session and wait until next year to assess the economy and determine what impact a cut might have on the state budget?
That would be the prudent course of action. It would be responsible governance after years of budget cuts to education in this state. No one is rallying at the Capitol for a tax cut. The tax-cut proposals presented so far only really benefit the wealthiest in our state. The last time I checked, our state’s millionaires, well, were still millionaires and doing all right financially.
What we have now at the Capitol is a repeat of last year when House and Senate members failed to agree on a tax-cut approach. I hope it all falls to pieces like last year and ends in a stalemate, but the more sensible course of action would be for legislators to just agree to delay any cut until the overall national economy fully recovers and get serious about eliminating unneeded tax credits for corporations.
Here’s where we stand: Gov. Mary Fallin’s simple plan, contained in House Bill 2032, to reduce the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5 percent without offsets has now been recrafted by the Senate Finance Committee. The new proposal would lower the tax rate from 5.25 to 4.95 percent in 2015 and limit the transferability of some tax credits.
It’s not difficult to see the new proposal as a direct retaliation to the House where a committee voted down a previous Senate proposal that also delayed a tax cut and dealt with tax credits and deductions in the state’s tax code. The arguments between the House, Senate and Fallin’s office might well doom any tax-cut proposal. That’s good. But it could also lead to impulsive, last-minute legislating that could harm the state for years to come. That’s not so good.
Much like Fallin’s proposal, the new Senate offering makes little sense. Fallin’s proposal is simply a tax cut for a tax cut’s sake, reducing state revenues by $120 million annually just to proclaim look at us, we’re Republicans, and we cut taxes for rich people. The new Senate proposal begs the question: Why vote on a delayed tax cut when you can just wait until next year and accomplish the same thing?
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, a state think tank, issued a statement about the new Senate plan that included this: “If we set aside a tax cut for now, lawmakers would still be free to approve one next year or to prioritize other investments, depending on the state's situation. It is irresponsible to make tomorrow's decision today.”
I don’t want to denigrate the overall approach to tax reform by state Sen. Mike Mazzei, a Tulsa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I’m opposed to any tax cut right now, but tax-code reform and modernization, if done responsibly and fairly, could add to state revenues and make any tax cut easier to absorb.
The larger issue remains the conservative quest to eliminate the state’s income tax, which has become a holy grail created by ideology not logic. Is it even possible to eliminate the income tax in a small state like Oklahoma without raising regressive sales taxes or other taxes that would only make our impoverished citizens here even poorer?
The state faces many problems, from inadequate education funding to pressing infrastructure needs. The state Capitol building is literally crumbling before our eyes, and there’s no will among the GOP to do anything about it. A small, token tax cut should be placed on hold this session. Let’s deal with our problems first.