Report Criticizes TABOR Petition Drive

Progressives Were Right About TABOR

An Oklahoma Supreme Court report severely criticizing an outside group for its tactics in gathering signatures for the failed TABOR petition several months ago brings up the question again of Oklahoma’s ideologically conservative and recalcitrant leadership.

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As many of us warned months ago, the group, National Voter Outreach, probably violated rules governing initiative drives by employing out-of-state signature gatherers. But conservative mouthpiece The Daily Oklahoman told us on its editorial page to withhold our criticisms and let the issue come to a vote of the people. The court’s report said the group employed 60 out-of-state workers. You must be an Oklahoma resident to collect signatures for a state initiative petition drive.

Progressives also warned how the petition workers often distorted the TABOR “story” or lied or withheld information about the impact of the measure in Colorado when they approached people. In essence, paid operatives from outside Oklahoma came into the state and tried to swindle voters. To its credit, the court stopped them.

TABOR, or the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, is the idea that states need a constitutional amendment to reduce spending. TABOR would require that the growth of state spending become tied to a formula related solely to population growth and the inflation rate.

A state that passed a TABOR amendment, Colorado, recently voted to rescind it because it had decimated the quality of life in the state through cuts in education, health care, and road maintenance.

The report issued this week was scathing in is criticisms of NVO, according to news reports.

Yet the larger question remains: Why did it take so long for the power structure to oppose TABOR? Business bigwigs in the state—executives from Kerr McGee, Devon, and Chesapeake, for example—eventually filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the petition. The Oklahoman, in a rare break with extreme GOP ideology, then began editorializing against the petition.

The power structure in this state, if Oklahoma is to thrive, needs to become more open-minded to ideas and positions from progressives. We were exactly right about TABOR, but don’t count on the right-wingers to admit their mistakes or their own complicity in the issue. Look at the Iraq debacle.

Another question looms about what whether the upcoming legislature will pass a TABOR-like bill cutting funding to education and not allowing the state to catch up from its position as a state possessing one of the lowest per student funding rates in the nation. The House has a majority of Republicans, and the Senate is equally divided between the two major parties.

Could a TABOR bill make it through?

Senate Democrats Must Save State

Oklahoma Senate leaders have decided to share power now that the legislative body is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. As lieutenant governor, Jari Askins, a Democrat, will cast any tie breaking votes if needed.

The question for most progressives is what will happen to the kooky, religious-driven legislation the House passes and sends to the Senate. State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) is still in the House, for example, and she or other religious ideologues may well bring up the intelligent design issue again. Intelligent design proponents want to make Oklahoma students study creationism in schools under the guise of a “science” that argues an intelligent designer (or, in their view, the Christian God) created the world. These ID proponents are right-wing, Christian extremists who hide their real interests behind their fake science in order to dumb down Oklahoma students to their own intelligence level.

Will Senate Democrats fight the religious fanatics on this issue and others? This may well shape the state’s economic development for years to come. Radical religious legislation mandating intelligent design and prayer in school and outlawing abortion will only make the state’s residents seem even more narrow-minded as political moderates and progressives prevail nationally. Who but religious extremists would want to raise children here? What types of businesses would want to locate here? The obvious disparity between new Democratic control of the federal legislative branch of government and Oklahoma’s right-wing political nutcases—from Kern to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe—will hurt the state immeasurably. It’s up to the Senate Democrats to save the state from itself in 2007.

Conservatives Continue To Frame War

Democrats have been tragically duped again by the right-wing frame machine that creates the terms and boundaries under which the nation views the Iraq war.

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The right-wing’s recent deconstructive discourse about the Iraq debacle, under the guise of a supposed important report, allows the military occupation to continue under the control of an extremely unpopular and misguided president.

One side of the binary calls the Iraq Study Group’s report a product of wise, prudent leaders who understand the “grave and deteriorating” conditions in Iraq. This group supposedly criticizes the president for his decisions about the war. The members of this group are known as “realists,” though none of them opposed the war at its conception or spoke up when the president actually made his decisions.

The other side of the binary is represented by the stylistics and nomenclature of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. They call the panel, among other things, “surrender monkeys” and the “Iraq Surrender Group.” They contend we should continue to occupy Iraq despite the cost in lives and money. The Iraq Study Group, they argue, is calling for a retreat.

Thus, as the late philosopher Jacques Derrida would argue, the two sides cancel each other out, leaving us with little direction and no insight about what may well be the country’s worst foreign policy blunder in its history. This cancellation of opposites creates a void that gives rhetorical space in the mainstream media for President George Bush to conduct the war on his terms. (Yet it also gives progressives an opportunity to create their own binaries about the war.)

The mainstream media hands the nation this deconstructive discourse as urgent and vital, referring to the right-wing’s complaints about the report, privileging the binary, and, in most cases, ignoring those who see the report as simply cover for the president to subvert the will of the people.

Some progressive writers—Sidney Blumenthal and Joe Conason are two examples—have taken the bait. They argue the report criticizes the president’s war leadership on a substantial level. The problem is, they argue, the president will not listen. But they miss the deconstructive frame, and then it is too late. The dichotomy of “realistic” advice to an indifferent president and “surrender monkeys” has saturated the American electorate. The frame has been set. Each side becomes extreme. The middle way, at least in terms of the mainstream media, becomes Bush’s Way.

Many Democratic leaders, as well, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, argue the study group has done a “tremendous service” and shows the president has made bad decisions. Reid, unknowingly perhaps, consequently supports Bush’s debacle by not recognizing how the report creates the right-wing frame between the two competing arguments. His sanctioning of the report only propagates the frame.

The report says nothing new about the war. Its recommendations have been circulating in public for years. It does not hold the president to a troop withdrawal timetable. Its critique of Bush’s policy is outdated and useless. These facts about the report should be painfully obvious to any Democrat or progressive.

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), for example, who has been right about the war since its beginning, has refused to sign off on the report as anything new. He sees it as establishment spin. New York Times columnist Frank Rich is also highly critical of the report, calling its recommendations “bogus.” Author Robert Shetterly argues the report does nothing to “avert the mythic disaster.”

It is long past time progressives create their own rhetorical frame about the war. It goes like this: An American president has threatened the democratic structures and safety of our nation by lying, incompetence, and hubris surrounding the military occupation of another country. He governs without considering the will of the people on this issue. This is unacceptable tyranny. He should be held accountable through impeachment proceedings unless he drastically changes course in Iraq once the new Congress convenes.

There is our frame, Mr. President: Acknowledge the will of the people, which is the bare minimum for democracies to exist, or be impeached for willful fraud.

Impeachment Threat Could End War

The media’s framing of the Iraq Study Group’s report—an absurd, surreal spin of establishment discourse—should lead any thinking person to this conclusion: The only way to change direction in Iraq is to bring articles of impeachment against President Bush and force him politically to withdraw American troops.

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This is a war of choice for the imperial president, but it’s also a war sponsored by the New York Times and most of the mainstream media. The newspaper’s erroneous, unbalanced reporting by Judith Miller before the war has now resulted in more than 2,900 American deaths and 21,000 injuries. It continues to distort information about the war.

The New York Times, along with most others in the mainstream media, frame the report as the result of a wise, non-partisan group of people finally affronting a misdirected president with reality. But the report offers no new ideas—is training Iraqi security forces a new idea?—and only allows Bush more cover to continue the war on his terms over the next two years.

Much has been made in the mainstream media, as well, about how the report repudiates the neocon’s mythology about creating a massive democratic groundswell in the Middle East. But, really, who cares at this juncture? Of course, Bush’s grandiosity has failed. It failed years ago. It was inevitable. And, make no mistake about it, these ideas have been out in the public for literally years now.

For the good of the country, Okie Funk calls on Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to resign and allow a new presidential administration to get the country out of the Iraq quagmire as efficiently and as painlessly as possible.

This is an unrealistic call, of course, but investigating the administration’s lies leading up to the war, its lack of oversight of war spending, and its torture of so-called enemy combatants might make the president more willing to bring the troops home if it results in some type of political compromise. Once the investigative committees bring articles of impeachment against Bush, for example, he would probably order troop withdrawals if a political deal could be struck.

Meanwhile, any study group associated with studying the war should be focused on how we should withdraw the troops, not “if” we should withdraw the troops.

Here are some ideas:

(1) Iraqis who have associated themselves with the U.S. should be given visas and allowed to come to this country or another country that will accept them. This should be happening now. Any secular, modern Iraqis still in the country need to get out now as the nation turns itself into a radical theocracy, much like Iran’s theocracy, courtesy of George Bush.

(2) Funding to the remaining private contractors in the country, such as Haliburton, should be immediately cut off, and their employees should be told to leave the country as soon as possible. The government should help them get out of the country, but the companies’ executives should be held accountable for how they spent American taxpayers’ dollars in Iraq.

(3) The country should create refugee camps (we might call these places Bushvilles) in Kuwait for fleeing Iraqis who want to escape the violence in the country. These camps should be temporary, but it could take two or three years before the refugees could go back to Iraq or be placed in other countries. The U.S. has a special responsibility to take as many refugees as possible.

(4) All American troops should withdraw with as much equipment as they can take at the same time to Kuwait. Bush’s Retreat will be supported by air power, of course. The idea here is to limit causalities. Once there, some American troops could remain to protect the refugee camps.

This is not a definitive list of ideas about a troop withdrawal, and some of these ideas have been floating around for quite some time now. The point is we need to think about Iraq realistically. We can never “win” in the grandiose and delusional terms expressed by Bush over the last four years or so. In fact, we’ve already lost our credibility and world standing as a democratic superpower that acts rationally in world affairs. (Let’s hope countries like China, which support our currency, continue to do.) Our presence in Iraq merely exasperates the problem.

It’s tragic that something so politicized and generic as the Iraq Study Group’s report is actually thought of as realistic by the mainstream media. When will the mainstream media allow a plurality of realistic voices again in its columns and on its stations?

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