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Oklahoma Families Face Rising Costs, Stagnant Wages

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Forbes Magazine might have labeled Oklahoma’s largest city as “recession proof,” but a growing number of state families face financial hardship as food and energy prices rise and wages remain stagnant.

A newly formed, nonprofit organization, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, warned about these vulnerable families in an issue brief released Tuesday.

OK Policy, an offshoot of the Community Action Project of Tulsa, was formed to “provide objective, non-partisan, analysis” of state policy issues. The institute, according to statement, will be concerned with “alleviating poverty, expanding economic opportunity and promoting fiscal responsibility.”

According to the issue brief, written by the organization’s policy director, David Blatt, the Oklahoma economy is doing better that some state economies in distressed areas of the country, but it is unlikely the state can escape residual problems from the national economic downturn. The brief is titled "On The Brink: Oklahoma Families Are Already Facing Tough Times."

Blatt writes, “What makes the prospect of an impending downturn especially worrisome is that even in these generally prosperous times for the state, many Oklahoma families are already feeling financially pinched. Despite low jobless rates and rising statewide incomes, a great number of households are barely scraping by or not making it at all as they struggle to balance their household budgets and cover their essential needs.”

Blatt points out the Oklahoma’s median income, when adjusted for inflation, declined 4.1 percent from 2001 to 2005 while the top one percent of households grew by 11 percent. In addition, the 2005 median average hourly wage of $12.26 was actually 0.7 lower than in 2001.

Blatt’s research reflects the growing disparity in this country between the richest families and everyone else.

“According to a recent study, on average,” Blatt writes, “incomes have declined on aver age by 2.5 percent among the bottom fifth of families since the late 1990s, while increasing by 9.1 percent among the top fifth.”

Meanwhile, Blatt points out, the price of food, gasoline, utilities, health care and education (tuition, fees, child care) continue to rise in Oklahoma. Middle-class families are feeling the pinch. The state also has the sixth largest rate of people (650,000) without health insurance in the country and high rates of hunger. Many Oklahomans continue to have poor access to health care. State poverty rates continue to rise. State tax revenues are declining.

Is the state on the verge of a major economic slowdown or even a crisis for middle-class and lower-income families as the state’s richest people continue to enjoy increasing income levels? Forbes Magazine recently declared Oklahoma City as the most recession-proof city in America, but does it take into account families trying to make it during a time of rising prices and stagnant salaries?

State leaders should carefully consider Blatt’s research for a full and realistic view of Oklahoma’s economic situation.

Gaylord’s Ghost

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Does the ghost of the late Edward L. Gaylord, the longtime publisher of The Daily Oklahoman, continue to haunt the state?

In the last few days, The Oklahoman opinion page, according to a list on NewsOK.com, has published three editorials related, on some level, to race in Oklahoma and the country. These editorials support a proposed state voter ID program that could inhibit some African Americans from voting, argue the American justice system is not actually inherently racist despite a huge disparity in incarceration rates between black and white people and question whether Barack Obama has the right “innermost values and compass."

Under Gaylord’s leadership from 1974 to 2003, the newspaper, a corporate monopoly, was widely known for not hiring African Americans and relegating any basic coverage it might give to the black community—besides crime stories, of course—to the back pages. One former editor even claimed the newspaper had an unwritten rule for many years mandating that no photographs of black people could ever run on the front page.

But that was then, right? Well, you decide.

On May 5, The Oklahoman ran an editorial (Picture imperfect: Voter ID measure gets shelved”) wondering why the proposed voter ID law in Oklahoma had not received enough traction in the state legislature since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such laws are, in effect, perfectly legal. The law proposed by state Sen. John Ford, a Bartlesville Republican, requires state voters show identification to cast votes.

Republicans throughout the country are pushing for voter ID laws because they burden poor people and minorities the most, and these groups tend to vote Democratic. The editorial mentions this concern among Democrats, but says it’s “hard to believe anyone would have trouble meeting those criteria.” The editorial makes an inane comparison to Democrats’ concerns after the 2000 and 2004 elections to qualify its argument.

It is Ed Gaylord redux. The Oklahoman editorial writers and editors, in effect, want to discourage poor people and black people from voting despite how they try to tiptoe around the issue. There are no major problems with voting corruption here, making such a law senseless, and the newspaper’s editorial writers know it.

Also on May 5, The Oklahoman ran an editorial (“Matchpoint: Shattering myth of race-based justice”) that claimed the wide disparity in incarceration rates between whites and blacks is simply because of black crime. Statistics show 37.5 state and federal prisoners are black, though they make up only 13 percent of the population. As proof of its argument, the unbalanced editorial quotes from an article in a journal published by the Manhattan Institute, which many people consider to be a right-wing think tank.

Here is the quote the editorial uses for evidence:

"The favorite culprits for high black prison rates include a biased legal system, draconian drug enforcement and even prison itself. None of these explanations stands up to scrutiny. The black incarceration rate is overwhelmingly a function of black crime.”

Meanwhile, an article in The New York Times the very same day begins like this:

“More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.”

The Oklahoman editorial is obviously based on biased information. At the very least, it should give opposing views like those contained in The Times article.

On May 1, The Oklahoman ran an editorial (“Making room: Obama distances himself from Wright”) questioning presidential contender Barack Obama’s judgment because he attends a church where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaches.

According to the editorial, “At issue are core questions about Obama's judgment, mainly because the candidate has touted judgment as one of his strengths on the campaign trail. Obama's ability to judge character, it appears, is lacking. Meanwhile, the substance of Wright's pulpit messages about blacks and whites in American society, and Obama's prolonged exposure to those messages, must raise concern about the senator's innermost values and compass.”

But Obama has clearly denounced Wright’s statements. The newspaper is obviously trying to make a case against Obama without an extended discussion about the issue, without any context, and only because Obama is an African American and because this, in the editorial's words, is "about about blacks and whites in American society."

Why didn’t the newpaper’s editorial writers also point out the connection between John McCain, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, and the outrageous Rev. John Hagee, who has endorsed him. Hagee once said about Hurricane Katrina,

"All hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.”

Of course, New Orleans has a sizeable black population. Hagee also consistently condemns the Catholic Church in no uncertain terms. Certainly, Catholics in Oklahoma should know about Hagee’s anti-Catholism. How much do Hagee’s views influence McCain?

So there you have it. In a span of just a few days, these editorials argue it should be more difficult for some African Americans to vote, casually dismiss the idea of institutionalized racism in an American justice system that clearly has a huge disparity in back and white incarceration rates and condemn a major candidate for president, who just happens to be black, because he supposedly lacks judgment.

The newspaper continues to support outdated and useless right-wing attitudes about the world. It never offers substantial opposing views to its racist views. The newspaper may look better, and no one yet can compete locally with NewsOK.com, but, yeah, Ed Gaylord's narrow vision lives on in The Oklahoman.

Carnage Continues in Iraq

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The corporate media continues to downplay the continuing carnage in Iraq, reinforcing White House administration’s claims the so-called “surge” is working.

Corporate media outlets, of course, have bigger stories to report these days, such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s recent speeches and their impact on presidential contender Barack Obama’s campaign or 15-year-old Miley Cyrus’s recent photo shoot. This, the media pundits will assure us, is what ordinary Americans want to know about. But is it all they want to know about?

The mainstream American press, complicit in enabling President George Bush in the run-up to the war, undoubtedly has buried the Iraq story as part of the “surge-is-working” recent public relations initiative conducted by President George Bush and Gen. David Petraeus. This accomplishes two things for the right-wing in this country: (1) It puts a positive spin on the worst foreign policy decision in at least a generation, if not more, giving cover to Republicans running for office this year, and (2) it means Bush does not have to actually make any difficult decisions about the continuing Iraq occupation before he leaves office.

But here are some facts you might not know: American military and Iraqi civilian causalities have skyrocketed recently. The military reported 50 American troop deaths last month, which was the highest amount since September. Meanwhile, Iraqi civilian deaths are at their highest in six months as well. American military deaths are now at 4,065. Nearly 30,00 soldiers have been wounded. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from 83,000 to more than 600,000.

The way in which the mainstream media frames and positions a story is critically important in how the public views its importance. The surge in deaths should be a major headline, but the story has been relegated to secondary status. The issue is a vitally significant one in an election year in which voters must decide between two vastly different views about the Iraq war. Both Democratic presidential candidates, Obama and Hillary Clinton, want to begin removing American troops if elected. They see the war as a mistake and believe it has long been an irreversible quaqmire. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, wants to continue the Bush administration’s strategies (or non-strategies) about the war.

The corporate media continues to enable the worst president in American history and his courtiers to manipulate the news cycle as he spreads quasi-fascist propaganda sanctioning a senseless war, torture of prisoners and the suspension of habeas corpus. This specific dynamic—Bush and the docile corporate media—has changed the American presidency and the press forever. One has to ask larger questions: How can democracy survive within this dynamic? Can independent media outlets correct this structural error?

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