Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to deny a federal order that Oklahoma must process benefits for all military couples, including those in same-sex marriages, has received a lot of negative national attention.
Fallin has apparently decided that a 2004 amendment in the state’s constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage trumps federal law. She has even gone as far as ordering state facilities to stop processing any benefits for ALL National Guardsmen’s spouses, who now must use federal facilities to do so in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma law is clear,” Fallin said in a recent statement. “The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.”
This unfair and discriminatory stance has been widely criticized in the news and on social media outlets in recent days. Rachel Maddow, for example, took Fallin to task for the decision in the above segment of her MSNBC show.
There are at least two important underlying issues here.
First, the Oklahoma National Guard is part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states, including Texas and Florida, which has decided to not process benefits for spouses of same-sex couples legally married in other states. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has explicitly ordered Oklahoma and these other states to process the benefits. That means Oklahoma is in clear violation of federal law. The state’s constitution clearly states: “The State of Oklahoma is an inseparable part of the Federal Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.” Common sense would dictate that this basic tenet embedded in the state’s constitution since its creation clearly trumps a much later anti-same sex marriage amendment that basically legalizes discrimination.
Second, Fallin, who is running for reelection in 2014, has obviously weighed the political costs or benefits for this decision. She’s undoubtedly hoping this political stunt will earn her votes, but is she right? Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to ban same-sex marriage in 2004, but much has changed since then. Several states, for example, have gone in a different direction and have legalized same-sex marriage. Cultural acceptance and tolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community has grown exponentially in this country in recent years. This has happened in Oklahoma as well. Fallin, of course, seems poised to easily win reelection, but her outspoken stance against LGBT rights could actually cost her some votes and will obviously tarnish her legacy as governor.
Let’s be clear that Oklahoma relies heavily on the federal government for its basic viability, from its military bases to aid for the state’s numerous weather disasters. Studies have shown that Oklahoma is a “taker” state that receives far more federal money than it pays in federal taxes. Given these circumstances, Fallin’s decision seems unduly petulant and calculated.
It’s intellectually dishonest for local corporate media outlets here to cover the state’s new A to F ranking of schools without mentioning how much education funding has been cut in Oklahoma in recent years.
It’s difficult to take the new ranking system seriously in the first place, given its inherent flaws, but to even discuss the issue without noting that of all states Oklahoma has cut education funding on a percentage basis the most since 2008 is a fallacy.
As I’ve written before, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown that Oklahoma has cut education funding by 23 percent since 2008. That’s a staggering cut. It’s simply indefensible to implement a new draconian ranking system of schools after such a decrease in funding. It’s also obvious that when considered together, the funding cuts and the A to F system represent the culmination of a right-wing agenda to damage the credibility of public education here. It’s a classic case of “starve the beast” ideology.
School superintendents, parents and education advocates here have spoken out against the ranking system to no avail yet. University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State researchers have found the system heavily flawed. But still state Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin support a system that relies too much on standardized testing and employs a questionable and not widely accepted mathematical model to calculate the grade for each school and district in the state.
It’s also absolutely unproductive to figuratively paint a school or a school district with a giant, red “F.” It serves no purpose, except to advance the conservative agenda of privatizing public education. Barresi and Fallin are Republicans, of course, and the GOP completely dominates state government right now.
Let’s be clear on this point: Education advocates are not claiming there shouldn’t be some testing or that those overall test results shouldn’t be available to parents. Transparency is always crucial when it comes to schools.
The system seems clearly biased on racial and class levels as well. The Oklahoma City School District, which has a diverse group of students when it comes to ethnicity and socio-economic status, received a F. The Edmond School district, with its more homogenized and wealthier student body, received an A-. Why attack inner city schools in this public, demeaning way? Don’t these results seem almost contrived as a “crisis” to precipitate some orchestrated takeover of at least some schools?
Fortunately, there is a new “Education Spring” developing in this country. Jeff Byrant describes it this way:
In a months-long Education Spring, students, parents, teachers and community activists staged boisterous rallies, street demonstrations, school walkouts, test boycotts, and other actions to protest government austerity and top-down “accountability” mandates that damage community schools and diminish students’ opportunities to learn.
It will probably take similar actions here to end the assault on public education. One simple strategy locally, as I mentioned earlier, might be to put pressure on media outlets to note how much education funding has been cut in recent years when they cover the controversial ranking system. There can be no real discussion of any school ranking system without acknowledging the state’s dismal funding of education. To not consider that issue as part of the overall equation when it comes to public education here is simply dishonest.
It’s been easy to expose the flaws in the A to F system, but the larger political issues underpinning the rankings—decreased funding for education and the conservative push for charter and for-profit schools—remain extremely important as well.
The ongoing earthquake swarm in central Oklahoma has increased speculation that wastewater injection wells used by the oil and gas industry are at least partially to blame for the rise in seismic activity.
But, obviously, it’s probably only one factor. Oklahoma’s underground does have “a great number of faults of varying sizes,” according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Any larger view of the issue needs to take that basic fact into account and also the historical record of earthquakes here.
But what if overall climate change, coupled with wastewater injection wells, are making the earth move here more frequently? That may seem implausible, at first, but it does make sense that primarily human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels that cause global warming, could be to blame for the dramatic increase in earthquakes here. It’s an understatement to say that overall humans haven’t been good stewards of the planet, and it should come as no surprise that there are ramifications for this.
First, here’s what we know for sure: Oklahoma has experienced 200 earthquakes of a 3.0 magnitude or above on the Richter scale since 2009, according to scientists. The state’s largest recorded earthquake, measured at a 5.6 magnitude, occurred near Prague in 2011. In recent days, there have been dozens upon dozens of small earthquakes in central Oklahoma, rattling buildings and nerves here.
Scientists have been considering the impact of wastewater injection wells used in oil and gas production on the increase in seismic activity here, but what about the larger issue of climate change?
British professor Bill McGuire’s 2012 book, Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, makes the case for a link between global warming and earthquakes. McGuire, a geophysicist argues that the recent rise in sea levels caused by climate change impacts the earth’s crust in particular ways.
Introducing his book in The Guardian, McGuire writes that the “earth beneath our feet” is a “slumbering giant that tosses and turns periodically in response to various pokes and prods.” He adds this:
Mostly, these are supplied by the stresses and strains associated with the eternal dance of a dozen or so rocky tectonic plates across the face of our world; a sedate waltz that proceeds at about the speed that fingernails grow. Changes in the environment too, however, have a key role to play in waking the giant, as growing numbers of geological studies targeting our post-ice age world have disclosed.
McGuire asks this question: “Could it be then, that if we continue to allow greenhouse gas emissions to rise unchecked and fuel serious warming, our planet's crust will begin to toss and turn once again?”
It may seem like a long leap to connect McGuire's hypothesis with earthquakes here in Oklahoma, but keep in mind that studies have shown that earthquakes in other countries can contribute to a seismic event elsewhere. In fact, researchers have linked a 4.1 magnitude earthquake in Prague to a 2010 8.8 earthquake in Chile. This, in turn, probably led to the 5.6 earthquake in Prague in 2011.
Let’s simplify it. Manmade global warming through carbon emissions creates rising sea levels, which are caused by the melting of glaciers and the arctic ice cap. This puts pressure on underground plates, which then places stress on the world’s underground faults, triggering large earthquakes and other extreme events. Those earthquakes can then trigger other earthquakes thousands of miles away. Wastewater disposal injection wells now make some areas in Oklahoma even more susceptible to earthquakes linked to other larger earthquakes elsewhere.
Again, it may seem like a large leap, but it makes sense when considered holistically. The injection wells are created through fossil fuel production, which leads to the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming in the first place. It could be all connected. It makes sense, on an organic level, that oil and gas activity, coupled with the climate change, has created the Oklahoma earthquake swarm.
A New York Times article on Sunday noted how some countries, such as the Philippines, that contribute the least to global warming suffer the most from its consequences. The recent typhoon in that country killed thousands of people. Scientists have predicted that global warming is responsible for more severe and frequent weather events throughout the world. Should we add earthquakes to that list?