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Obama’s Secrets

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On May 5, 2006, I published a post about an upcoming protest of former President George Bush at Oklahoma State University. The post mentioned illegal wiretapping and impeachment.

Here is part of the post:

The imperial Bush lied this country into a botched war, sanctioned torture of people in American custody, and ordered illegal wiretapping of American citizens. All of these acts are impeachable offenses, and they threaten our democratic structures.

I stand by this argument. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has continued Bush’s state secrets policies, using much of the same national security rationale as Bush. This should be, as Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald points out, a big disappointment for those of us who spoke out against Bush, and it is.

Greenwald writes:

All of this vividly underscores a vital point. There is simply no way that a person with even the most minimal levels of intellectual integrity could have objected to these actions during the Bush years yet defend them now that Obama is doing them, or even refrain from objecting just as loudly. What would it say about a person who spent years warning of the dangers posed by these very policies, yet found ways to excuse them now that there's a new President who is affirming and further institutionalizing them?

I agree with this assessment, and I hope more people who criticized Bush for his state secrets’ policies will now criticize Obama for retaining them.

Last March, I posted a piece about the issue of Obama’s embrace of secret government. It included this paragraph:

It’s really bad news, but it doesn’t come as a surprise. When Congress failed to check the executive powers of the Bush administration, it became clear that future presidential administrations—Democratic or Republican—could easily claim the same powers and even broaden them. That’s exactly what has happened and will continue to happen. Why would anyone willingly give up power? That’s why many of us in recent years were so adamant about calling for thorough investigations into who was wiretapped and why under the Bush administration. It’s an issue that transcends political parties.

I stand by that statement, too. Democracy is dependent on transparency and openness. Obama has chosen the wrong path, as Greenwald points out, and it threatens to solidify presidential dictatorial powers. People should protest just as much as they did when Bush was president.

Greenwald references a New York Times editorial, which also criticizes Obama for continuing what it calls a “cover-up.” According to the editorial:

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.

I was overjoyed when Obama was elected president, and I support his overall domestic policy agenda. I hope he can help pass a health care reform bill. But his refusal to reverse Bush’s secret government policies deserves aggressive criticism. The nation can survive financial crises. Can it survive lingering, institutionalized government policies that remain the antithesis of democracy?

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Teacher Protection

(How could the so-called “Obama effect” influence Oklahoma’s 2010 elections? Read DocHoc’s commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette, the state’s finest alternative newspaper.)

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Looming, “devastating” financial cuts in education is yet another reason the Oklahoma Legislature should meet in a special session to craft a new budget strategy for this fiscal year and to tap into the state’s $600 million Rainy Day Fund.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education learned that an important source of funding for public education—the revolving 1017 fund, which accounts for more than 25 percent of all school funding—is almost empty of reserves, according to the Tulsa World.

Overall, state revenues are in a serious decline, coming in way below estimates for the first quarter of this year. State leaders expect tax revenues will continue to slide. Most state agencies are now experiencing a five percent or more budget cut on a monthly basis. This has affected many state programs. For example, the state’s senior nutrition program, funded through the Department of Human Services, has experienced a $7.4 million cut.

According to the World, State Superintendent Sandy Garrett had this to say about potential cuts in education:

Our concerns are: If the general fund revenue is being reduced by 5 percent each month and we potentially have another reduction, we think that will be devastating to our schools. We just ask them (local school boards) to look very carefully at their budgets and try to protect that teacher in the classroom. But when it's that much of their budget, that's hard to do.

It’s vitally important, as Garrett suggested, to ensure teaching positions are not cut during this financial downturn. Teacher layoffs, if widespread, would obviously hurt student-learning outcomes. School children would lose out. Oklahoma already has underfunded schools, which has helped create low college graduation rates here. More cuts would be absolutely devastating. That’s not hyperbole

As I wrote in my previous post, the Oklahoma Legislature could meet in a short special session to deal with anticipated revenue declines, protecting, as much as possible, education, health programs and social services from deep cuts. State leaders could craft a new budget strategy for this year, taking a proactive rather than reactionary stance. The legislature could also use some of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help shore up the finances of vital institutions, such as the state schools. As it stands now, the legislature will not meet until February.

Declining energy production tax revenues and recent tax cuts passed by the legislature that primarily benefited the state’s wealthiest citizens have created a real budget crisis for the state. Obviously, tax hikes are out of the question in Oklahoma because of its conservative politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, but at the very least state leaders could come up with a more specific and targeted plan to meet the current crisis.

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Special Session Time

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A $7.4 million cut in senior nutrition programs by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is reason enough for legislators to meet in a special session as soon as possible to look at the effect of recent budget cuts and to tap into the $600 million Rainy Day Fund.

As it stands now, a rally is planned at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the state Capitol to protest the cuts, but it’s unlikely to nudge Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders into calling for a special session. The next legislative session begins in February.

The state is facing true financial hardship. Revenues are 26 percent below budget estimates for the first fiscal quarter and most agencies are facing 5 percent cuts each month. Henry has said the state will likely have to use the Rainy Day Fund to balance next year’s budget and to repay loans for this year's budget, but he hasn’t called for a special session to deal with current cuts.

If legislators met in a special session, they could protect vital programs, such as the nutrition program, from disastrous cuts. They could look for deeper cuts in other areas, target priority areas for less cuts and then allocate Rainy Day Fund money. It’s understandable some state leaders wanted to wait as long as possible to tap into the fund, but the situation is now dire.

According to NewsOK.com, the cuts could mean some seniors will “go home hungry” on Sunday when the cuts take effect.

What does it tell you about a state that has $600 million in a savings account, but won’t use a relatively small amount of it to help prevent major cuts in an important food program for seniors?

The Tulsa World recently published an insightful story about the effect of the budget cuts.

Oklahoma is doing better than some other states, for sure. But systemic problems in the state—poverty, poor health access and underfunded educational systems—mean some of the cuts could do long-term damage.

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