Indictments Not Bonuses

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The Obama administration needs to nationalize some of the country’s major financial institutions, including the insurance giant A.I.G.

The administration also needs to press for criminal investigations against investment bankers and mortgage experts who made millions off the housing bubble. Did they commit fraud? Some of these thieves are actually receiving major financial bonuses from taxpayers. A.I.G., which has received $170 billion in government bailout money, plans to give $165 million in bonuses to the very people who bankrupted the company.

President Barack Obama has denounced the bonuses, but can he stop them? A.I.G. leaders say they are contractually obligated to pay them. A.I.G. is one of those companies deemed “too big” to fail.

The larger picture here is the Obama administration, with its “we only-look-forward” philosophy, continues to allow people, who should actually face criminal charges related to fraud, to remain in positions of power and authority in major financial institutions, such as A.I.G. Consequently, people are rewarded for greed and incompetence.

Throughout the country, people who have been wrong or silent about every major fiasco during the Bush administration remain securely ensconced in power. It’s a real tragedy. The stimulus package wasn’t big enough, and some of our major financial institutions, now propped up by taxpayer money, are still controlled by crooks, who subscribe to failed neoconservative ideology and openly flaunt their bonus money in President Obama’s face.

The core philosophies of companies, such as A.I.G. and Citigroup, are corrupt. Their controlling principle is to shift as much wealth as possible as fast as possible from the middle class to the ultra wealthy. This is the major Bush-era mandate, true, but now Democrats have to do something about it or simply become part of the problem. How can you rescue a company when it continues to employ charlatans and incompetent managers who believe in market fundamentalism with religious zeal, but gladly accept government handouts to buy their next yacht or Italian villa?

If major, failing financial institutions were nationalized, then the government could stop these companies from paying lavish bonuses and salaries to executives who have run their companies into the ground and brought about the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. This would stabilize the economy and the markets as a different set of management methods and business values replaced the reigning corruption and unfettered greed on Wall Street.

The world waits on the United States to do something meaningful to restore its economy. Right now, we’re just throwing taxpayer money at the rich people and hoping they will change their ways. It’s not a good strategy.


No New Tax Cuts

(There’s a simple way to solve the state’s budget problems. Check out DocHoc’s recent commentary in the Oklahoma Gazette.)

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The Oklahoma budget situation gets bleaker by the day.

The state treasurer’s office reported recently that February’s revenues were $130.9 million, or about 30 percent, lower than the certified estimate. This follows a revenue drop of $50.8 million in January. Will the state have enough money to finish out the fiscal year? What does this mean for next year?

The staggering drop in revenues prompted the Oklahoma Policy Institute to release an updated version of their short-term and long-term take on the state’s budget picture. (Click here to view the presentation.)

According to OK Policy, “With the economic downturn now contributing to large and growing state budget shortfalls, Oklahoma faces great challenges in making progress towards its goals of becoming a healthier, better-educated, and more economically vibrant state that provides opportunities to all.”

Meanwhile, legislators continue to look at ways to cut taxes. The Oklahoma House, for example, recently voted to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. This is a regressive tax that has to go, for sure, but now is simply not the time. Next year’s budget faces a shortfall estimated at about $450 million after the state’s receives federal stimulus money. Will vital services be threatened if tax cuts get approved?

Oklahoma had a chance in recent years to improve its educational systems, health and social services and infrastructure as revenues skyrocketed. Legislators, however, following dead, neoconservative ideology, decided that rich people needed tax cuts. Now is the time for responsible leadership as revenues plummet. Tax cuts should be off the table as the state faces what looks to become a major budget crisis.


Anti-Evolution Bills Create State Image Problems

Is Oklahoma’s corporate power structure ever going to fight against the right-wing religious folks who consistently embarrass the state with their absurd protests against evolutionary theory and their disingenuous attempts to allow the teaching of creationism in schools?

Surely, the state’s power brokers can see how much damage these people do to the state’s image. This, in turn, hurts basic economic development.

Perhaps we should ask these questions: What is the symbiotic relationship between big corporations in Oklahoma and the religious right? Do these corporations cultivate the religious right in order to maintain the state’s conservative political culture, which then rewards them with tax breaks and less business regulations? If that’s true, then certainly there’s an eventual downside in terms of financial development and population growth. Have we reached it here in Oklahoma? Perhaps it doesn't matter to large energy companies here, but other companies and small businesses need customer growth. The state's national image is important to that growth.

These are larger questions, but what we do know is twice this legislative session conservative politicians have introduced measures attacking the theory of evolution, a theory which is as much as a fact as the theory of gravity.

First, state Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) introduced a bill that would have allowed teachers to present arguments against evolution (i.e., creationism, wink, wink). The bill, which was defeated in a committee, was seen by many as a way to get intelligent design rubbish in the state’s classrooms. Intelligent design, which argues a designer created the world, is simply a disguised version of creationism. It’s religious subterfuge.

Brogdon’s bill claimed evolution theory is controversial, but it’s only controversial on religious grounds for some people, not scientific grounds. Evolutionary theory, which argues life forms evolve or change through the years, is open for scrutiny, and anyone can try to disprove it. But it has never been disproven. Never.

Then, another legislator, state Rep. Todd Thomsen (R-Ada) filed a resolution criticizing the appearance of noted evolutionist and retired Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins on the University of Oklahoma campus. The resolution claims Dawkins’ views “are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.” I’m unsure of this bill’s status, but we do know that Dawkins made fun of Thomsen’s bill during his Friday speech, and the YouTube video of it, posted above, is making its way around the Internet.

So it goes in Oklahoma, and there’s no end in sight.

But fortunately there’s help from the outside for those fighting to uphold the scientific method. Dawkins donated $5,000 to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, which has diligently opposed attempts to bring creationism into science classrooms.