Misdirected Anger

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If only these misdirected Oklahoma tea baggers would show up for Tuesday’s health insurance reform rally at the state Capitol, then they would be protesting in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, which was an action to hold a corporation and its government enablers accountable.

Health insurance reform advocates will rally at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21 on the South Plaza or on the stairs near the Lieutenant Governor’s office. These protestors, in the spirit of true patriots, want to make sure people have affordable health care. They want to stop big corporations from ripping off people with the help of the government just like the original Boston Tea Party protesters.

According to Okwatchdog, one of the groups sponsoring the health insurance reform event, “Our message is that we need to protect Oklahomans from abuses and take back the Legislature from the insurance lobby.”

Meanwhile, the Fox News-sponsored and conservative tea bag parties on tax day, April 15, left a lot of commentators and pundits baffled at just what the tea baggers were protesting, though the mainstream media—on the left or right—seemed to argue we need to take it all very seriously. Was it taxes? Well, taxes were actually higher under former President Ronald Reagan, the Republican political deity, than they are now. President Barack Obama’s budget plans would actually decrease taxes on the vast majority of American citizens. Was it increased federal spending? Well, the blame there belongs to former President George Bush, another once-lauded Republican who dragged the country into two botched military occupations, ran the economy into the ground and then started an unpopular bank bailout program.

So could it be the tea baggers were, in fact, protesting the failures of their own Republican party? Seriously, it appears to be so.

The Republican tea party at the state Capitol drew an estimated 5,000 people, according to news reports, which is a sizable number, but it was again difficult to discern the main message. Here’s what The Oklahoman said about it all on its April 17 editorial page:

Judging by news reports, the events — perhaps as many as 350 across the country — were boisterous and sometimes overwrought (a few tea partiers in Texas demanded secession from the Union), yet policy-makers in the nation’s capital ridicule or ignore them at great risk.

It’s all quite vague, but no ridicule or ignoring here the “great risk.” I just want the tea baggers to show up for other anti-corporate-better-government rallies because what we do know is this: The initial 1773 Boston Tea Party, which eventually led to the Revolutionary War, was a protest against a company.

According to Thom Hartmann, a New York Times best-selling author and talk show host:

The real Boston Tea Party was a protest against huge corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company, the largest trans-national corporation then in existence. This corporate tax cut threatened to decimate small Colonial businesses by helping the BEIC pull a Wal-Mart against small entrepreneurial tea shops, and individuals began a revolt that kicked-off a series of events that ended in the creation of The United States of America.

They covered their faces, massed in the streets, and destroyed the property of a giant global corporation. Declaring an end to global trade run by the East India Company that was destroying local economies, this small, masked minority started a revolution with an act of rebellion later called the Boston Tea Party.

It’s understandable people—and this includes the tea baggers—are angry with the federal government right now, though the problems it faces have far more to do with Bush’s incompetence than it does with Obama. No one can deny Obama was handed a real mess from Bush. Many on the left, myself included, oppose the bank bailouts under Bush and Obama, for example. We think key Obama economic advisers are too vested in Wall Street, and that could stop real banking industry reform. We’re angry, too.

But the question for the tea baggers is this: Can the Republican Party, which is in serious decline nationally, do more than just pull political stunts or engage in a politics of fictional hysteria? The neoconservative agenda has failed miserably; old-school, small-government conservatives are often vilified by the party’s cultural and social extremists, who want to tell other Americans how to live their lives. Where are the new ideas, tea baggers?


Al Franken Won

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The votes have been counted and recounted, and the result is clear: Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live star, has won a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.

But his opponent, Republican Norm Coleman, and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, another Republican who must certify the election results, are obstructing Franken from taking his seat and representing the state. It’s a GOP ploy to manipulate the system to either declare Coleman the winner of the election somehow or to delay Franken from joining the Democratic majority in the Senate for as long as possible.

The latest news from Minnesota is that a panel of judges has declared Franken the winner with a 312-vote lead. Coleman has said he will appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He has even indicated it might take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Meanwhile, Minnesota is left with only one Senator, and the situation could drag on for weeks or even months as Republicans continue to obstruct.

No one disputes this was an extremely close election, and it’s reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore with one major exception: This time the GOP wants the recounting to go on. In the end, it’s typical, self-serving politics.

It would be inexcusable at this point to conduct another count of any votes or to just declare Coleman the winner in the election. If Franken is not seated, the election will seem corrupt and the overall Minnesota political system will seem corrupt. Certainly, the GOP should be disappointed, but in today’s political world elections are sometimes extremely close.

Minnesota Republicans should heed the advice of Bush’s 2000 campaign chairman, Don Evans, who said during the Gore/Bush morass: “Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day, it does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome.”

Franken won. Give him his Senate seat. The U.S. Senate needs his intelligence and creativity. The people in Minnesota deserve representation.

Give it up, Norm.


State Budget Cuts Loom

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In another sign the Oklahoma economy is slipping, State Treasurer Scott Meacham reported today that revenue collections have slid below projected estimates.

In a press release, Meacham said third-quarter revenue collections for 2009 were down $34.5 from the projected estimate. This is the first time in nearly six years revenue collections fell below the estimate, according to the release, but it’s still a $33.4 million increase over last year’s collections. This was led by $93.1 million revenue decline in March compared to last year.

What does this portend for Oklahoma?

Meacham points out that current collections apply to this fiscal year budget and he remains hopeful the state can finish out the year without budget cuts. Next year, however, is a different story.

According to Meacham:

The next state budget year that begins July 1 of this year will definitely require cuts. While federal stimulus money will help offset some of those reductions, we will most certainly have to cut spending. We anticipate making targeted reductions in funding for the coming year. If we were to experience a revenue shortfall in the current year, we would be required to make across-the-board cuts.

The overall Oklahoma economy has so far escaped the brunt of the national recession, but unemployment is on the rise and revenue collections continue to slide. Some of the larger questions are how far will the slide go, and how will it impact educational funding and social/health services.

Tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy in recent years have added to the current budget problems.

Earlier in the year, the Oklahoma Policy Institute outlined some ways the state could handle a budget shortfall.

According to an OK Policy brief:

The deteriorating budget situation obviously presents tough choices for Oklahoma policymakers. Since Oklahoma is constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit, its options for keeping expenditures aligned with revenues consist primarily of three choices: it can tap reserve funds; it can raise new revenues; and/or it can cut expenditures.

Gov. Brad Henry has so far ruled out tapping into Oklahoma’s $600 million Rainy Day Fund. It’s highly unlikely legislators and policymakers can raise significant revenues without tax increases, which have not even been proposed or debated. That leaves budget cuts. How deep will they go?

Update: This post has been updated to correct an error. The decrease in collections were for the third-quarter, not just March. The OK Policy Blog has a thorough breakdown of the numbers.