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Waging Retaliation

Image of Mary Fallin

A new law banning cities in Oklahoma from establishing a minimum wage for workers seems like an obvious retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a measure into law Monday that prohibits municipalities from creating their own minimum wage and mandatory benefits, such as sick leave and vacation time. The bill passed 68 to 23 in the House and 34 to 9 in the Republican dominated Oklahoma Legislature.

Fallin and others who support the bill publicly argued it would prevent the state from having multiple minimum wage requirements in different cities, which could be confusing and damaging to businesses. Fallin also argued that it could lead to fewer part-time jobs for younger people.

But it’s probably no coincidence that an initiative petition drive, conducted by the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation and attorney David Slane, is underway here to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. President Barack Obama is also pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to that level and local efforts are underway elsewhere in the country to do so as well. Connecticut, for example, recently passed a bill raising the minimum wage there to $10.10 per hour.

The bottom line is that $7.25 per hour is simply not a livable wage, and those who want to keep it that low are ignoring poverty and the growing income inequality in this country and across the world. According to the organization Raise The Minimum Wage:

Low-wage occupations have dominated job growth in the post-recession recovery, accelerating a decades-long shift in the U.S. economy toward lower-paying jobs. At the same time, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which translates to just $15,080 per year for a full-time worker, remains decades out of date, and the federal minimum wage for tipped workers – $2.13 per hour – has not increased in over twenty years.

The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, would actually be $10.74 per hour, according to the same organization.

Meanwhile, the poverty-fight organization Oxfam International notes, “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.”

The new law in Oklahoma, however, raises more than just moral implications about poverty and income inequality. It also raises the issue over whether the state legislature and the governor can directly circumvent a specific initiative petition drive, which the bill seems to do. Another basic issue, then, is whether people in Oklahoma communities have the right to establish laws. Could the bill face a legal challenge?

Another EPA Bashing

Image of Jim Inhofe

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe continues to berate the Environmental Protection Agency with sweeping generalizations and political sloganeering.

Inhofe’s contrarian demeanor as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee doesn’t really accomplish anything, but it does give all of us a preview of what could happen if Republicans take control of the Senate in the November midterm elections.

In a statement issued last week for an EPW Committee hearing, Inhofe criticizes President Barack Obama and “the EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels” for what he calls a “regulatory onslaught.” It’s sheer political hype.

Inhofe has been arguing against new EPA regulations, primarily the Utility MACT rule, for quite some time now. Maximum Achievable Control Technology Standards were authorized under the 1970 Clean Air Act and have been used to lower the amount of pollution going into the air. Older electric plants, generated by coal, in particular, have been affected by the standards.

Inhofe’s rhetoric on the issue shows he cares little to nothing about pollution and its impact on the environment and our health.

One of Inhofe’s claims is that the loss of electricity to the grid by plant closings or refitting could result in “rolling blackouts,” an argument used by the power industry to delay meeting new standards. Inhofe uses it as a fear mongering tactic. No one wants or is going to tolerate electric blackouts.

In the statement, Inhofe also claims “the Administration is making strides to regulate hydraulic fracturing and methane emissions from the natural gas production and transmission processes, which could further drive up the price of energy and electricity.” Again, note the lack of any regard for the environment. Inhofe is just piling on supposed grievances.

Here’s the bottom line: Manmade carbon and other toxic emissions are polluting the air. The EPA, which was formed under the former President Richard Nixon administration, is tasked with protecting the environment and the health of citizens. What it does isn’t sinister or anti-business. If anything, the EPA doesn’t do enough.

Inhofe, of course, is famous for claiming that global warming is a worldwide hoax committed by liberal scientists intent on bringing down the oil and gas industry. Inhofe has also received more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests since 1989. It doesn’t get more politically obvious than that.

Inhofe, 79, has claimed that he will end up as chair of the EPW Committee if Republicans take control of the Senate. If that’s the case, expect EPW Committee meetings to turn into EPA-bashing sessions. That won’t bode well for the planet.

Injustice Persists

Image of American Indian Cultural Center and Museum

The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City is fast becoming a symbol of bigotry and right-wing political incompetence as the entire world witnesses the spectacle.

The fact that it hasn’t been completed is a massive embarrassment. State lawmakers, especially House Speaker Jeff Hickman, a Republican from Fairview, are still haggling and posturing over how to come up with $40 million in state money to complete the project. Right now, Hickman is stubbornly refusing to bring a Senate-passed bill that would fund the center to a vote because he says it doesn’t have enough Republican support.

The massive delay in completing the center conjures up the sordid history of government-sanctioned discrimination against American Indians in this country. It’s a history of bigotry, terrible injustice and broken promises. Some people might argue that’s too extreme in this case, but what if the center never gets finished? What if the dominant white conservative majority in the House manages to stop it without even a vote?

Indian tribes have donated to the project, and private donors will match the state’s $40 million, but this is a state-owned facility, and the state needs to make good on its promise for the tribes and for everyone in the state. Construction on the project started way back in 2006 and had to be halted because of funding problems. Now is the time to finish it or come up with a different plan. Maybe it needs to be built in another state, one with people more tolerant of diversity and more appreciative of history.

There’s no question the approximately $150 million center will be a world-class facility, based on Smithsonian standards, which will attract visitors from throughout the world. It’s being built along the Oklahoma River near downtown Oklahoma City. Tourist dollars, which generate tax revenues, will pay for the facility in years to come. It will give some much-needed gravitas and intellectualism to Oklahoma City’s so-called renaissance. Cities and states just don’t open world-renowned museums on a regular basis.

Those are the undisputed sound financial and tourism reasons for completing the project, but the main reason it should be completed is to honor and embrace the rich American Indian history and culture of this country. It’s not even anything close to reparation for past injustices inflicted by white colonizers, but it does allow the stories about those injustices to be repeated and learned by future generations.

Oklahoma, previously known as Indian Territory, seems like the perfect geographical and historical spot for the center, but perhaps its current and intolerant conservative political alignment makes it impossible.

The bill to fund the center would get the $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund. The Senate and a House committee have passed the bill and Gov. Mary Fallin said she supports it. Hickman, however, wants at least 51 out of 71 Republicans in the House to support bill. According to one estimate, there are enough votes among all House members to pass the measure right now. All the chamber’s 29 Democrats favor the bill, along with many Republicans, but Hickman says he won’t budge.

So the broken promises and injustices continue.

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