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The Gaylord SuperSonics?

Image of Clay Bennett and NBA Commissioner David Stern from The Seattle Times

Here are two more reasons Oklahoma City voters should vote down a March 4 sales tax proposal to help fund a NBA team: The Seattle SuperSonics will relocate here no matter what happens in Tuesday's vote and a yes vote only gives more validity to the type of exclusive and oppressive right-wing politics practiced by The Daily Oklahoman.

The one penny sales tax proposal, lasting 15 months, would fund $120 million in improvements to Oklahoma City’s Ford Center. The improvements are necessary, voters have been told, in order for a group of local business people, led by Clayton Bennett, to move the Seattle SuperSonics here. Bennett’s business group now owns the team. Bennett is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett. She is a member of the Gaylord family, part of the Okie oligarchy which owns The Daily Oklahoman.

(Bennett is pictured to the right on The Seattle Times Web site sporting his well deserved Oklahoma Hall of Fame medallion. That is NBA Commissioner David Stern on the left holding Bennett’s medallion.)

Those people who support this wealthy group of wannabe tax consumers have launched an impressive and slick campaign, led by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. The group seems destined to win the vote on Tuesday. Those who have loosely organized to oppose the proposal, including the Maps For Millionaires Web site, make several salient points and ask important questions, such as these: Why should the city taxpayers line the pocketbooks of millionaires? Why should any city support corporate welfare, especially during a time of acute economic anxiety? Why can’t these wannabe tax consumers pay for their own investment? Oklahoma City Peace House Director Nathaniel Batchelder says simply, “The $120-million improvements to the new Ford Center should NOT be funded with a sales tax, which falls most heavily upon low-income families, while benefiting most the millionaire investors in these enterprises.” It is difficult to argue with Batchelder's clear moral statement.

There is no doubt, however, that a NBA team in Oklahoma City would improve the city's image. This is important when it comes to economic development and quality of life. The team could provide a direct economic stimulus to the city as well, though how much is arguable. Certainly, high attendance at the New Orleans Hornets’ games when that team temporarily relocated here after Hurricane Katrina showed the city was ready for its own team.

But all this does not mean the city should pass the sales tax. Let me go into detail over the two reasons I mentioned earlier in arguing for a no vote.

(1) Simple logic would dictate that the local business group which owns the Supersonics, the Professional Basketball Club, LLC, would not give up moving the team to Oklahoma City if the vote fails. Bennett and company have been fighting Seattle city officials and the state of Washington for a long time now. The group demanded a new arena funded by taxpayers and made it contingent on keeping the team there, but, in the end, Bennett could not drum up support from enough elected officials or residents. So if Oklahoma City voters turn down the sales tax will Bennett look elsewhere? This seems highly unlikely. Bennett has been fighting for this move for too long to just give up and try to move the team to Toledo or wherever. Also, the high attendance rates at the Hornets’ games made Oklahoma City a highly attractive place for a NBA team in terms of investment return. What could happen if the vote fails is this: Bennett will probably look to the state for his welfare handout or he will simply decide to place some type of arena improvement surcharge on individual tickets.

(2) Bennett, through his marriage to a Gaylord, and at least two of his partners, local energy executives Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward, are tied to the right-wing politics of The Daily Oklahoman. McClendon and Ward, for example, each donated $250,000 in 2004 to a political action committee, Club For Growth, that helped elect archconservative U.S. Tom Coburn, who was supported by the newspaper’s editorial board. According to The Seattle Times, the two have also donated $1.1 million to an anti-gay marriage group, Americans United to Preserve Marriage. Who, what else have these right-wingers funded? Someone should do a study. Do not forget Coburn’s infamous lesbians-in-the-bathrooms comment during his campaign. This is old news for sure. My point is a yes vote will just continue to validate the type of oppressive, hateful, right-wing political climate fostered in this state by The Daily Oklahoman and its late publisher, Edward L. Gaylord, and now his children. The newspaper’s editorials often deride teachers and social workers as “tax consumers,” but when a Gaylord family member comes seeking tax dollars it is somehow different. A yes vote will tell the newspaper’s editorial writers, albeit on a small level, to crank up the Republican propaganda and lies even more. It will tell the team’s owners they can use their tax dollars to fuel the right-wing noise machine. A no vote has the potential to send a message in the opposite direction.

I hope Oklahoma City gets a NBA team, but making taxpayers cough up the do re mi to fund the type of right-wing dogma presented each day by the warmongering editorialists at The Daily Oklahoman is simply asking too much.

Dr. No Says Yes To Genetic Discrimination

Image of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn continues to create image problems for the state with meaningless political stunts and obstinate support for corporations over people.

Coburn, a Republican, recently put a “hold” on legislation known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The bill, authored by U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York), prohibits employers from discriminating against anyone for their genetic predisposition. Recent advances in DNA research have made such a law crucial. This is a pressing contemporary issue.

The bill is nonpartisan and has overwhelming support. It passed the House on a 420-3 vote and passed on two Senate votes by 95-0 and 98-0 margins. The Bush White House has issued statements of support for the bill.

Any Senator can place a hold on legislation to stop it from advancing. Coburn did just that with the GINA bill because, according to a news report, he believes the bill raises the “possibility that an employer who provides health insurance for its workers could be sued both as an insurer and as an employer. That means employers could be hit for much higher damages than insurers.”

Coburn is siding with corporations over people. Thanks to Coburn's "hold," employers might be able to deny employment, promotion and insurance to anyone who might be predisposed to disease or cancer. So if a parent, for example, has ever had cancer or suffered from a chronic illness, her/his children may well be denied health care in the future because of the connection between genetics and heredity.

Image of GINA Petition Drive logo

Coburn’s love of big corporations over ordinary, hard-working Oklahomans, has made its way around the Internet and news outlets, and there is even a petition drive underway to try to force Coburn to remove the hold. Click here and here and here to find out how the rest of the world views Coburn’s actions.

Coburn has a reputation for what can only be described as political stunts or meaningless political gestures. The GOP national base may see him as a jolly ol’ contrarian, “Dr. No,” as George Will describes him, but his actions only further embarrass and isolate the state. (U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe does this almost daily with his bizarre obsession with denying scientific evidence about global warming.) Why is a Senator from Oklahoma doing so much to work against the interests of his own state, which has high rates of uninsured people, historically low per capita income levels and poor health care access? When will the state again elect a Senator who will actually do something positive for its residents?

Meanwhile, Coburn continues to draw support from the corporate media here.

Oklahoman Takes Cheap Shot At Obama

Image of Michelle Obama

Mark Green, a national editorial writer for The Daily Oklahoman, recently took a typical, right-wing cheap shot at Barack Obama’s wife, and it is difficult not to see it as an example of lingering racist attitudes at the newspaper.

The newspaper recently opened a video studio in Washington for its Web site. Ed Kelley, the newspaper’s editor, and Dave Morris, who works as a digital anchor for the newspaper, appeared together in a short video clip announcing the formation of the studio for the right-wing ideologue Green and reporter Chris Casteel, both based in Washington. (Casteel often slants his stories to the right.)

One of Green’s first pieces (you can watch it here) was a bizarre piece of propaganda comparing some recent comments made by Michelle Obama with comments once made by former President Gerald Ford during his campaign against Jimmy Carter.

Green’s thesis is that Ford lost the election to Carter because of a major “gaffe” when he said Poland was not dominated by the Soviet Union. In an incredible leap of logic, Green then speculates whether Michelle Obama’s recent comments about how she is proud about her country for the first time in her life will rank right up there with Ford’s supposed gaffe.

Here is the logic problem: (1) Michelle Obama is not running for president. (2) Her comments were opinion, not a reflection of ignorance about geopolitics. Many people her age—she is 44—share her opinion about the country’s downward direction over the last two or three decades. She was speaking about the country’s political systems. (3) It is ludicrous to claim Ford lost the election to Carter in 1976 mainly because of his comments about Poland. There were other major factors. Is it possible that Green does not know about Watergate and how Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon after his resignation? Most historians would say Ford's pardon of Nixon was a huge factor in his loss. Green does not mention the important information. Leaving this information out is, in Green’s own brilliant words as a hotshot editorial writer, a “colossal booboo.”

Another colossal booboo is Green only identified himself as “with The Oklahoman.” He fails to mention to his viewers that he is an editorial writer. Will this be the new modus operandi (aka the Fox News model) for the newspaper's Web site? Editorial writers will not even be identified as editorial writers just as "with The Oklahoman"?

What would drive the freaky ideologue Green to strain a comparison to the point of absurdity? Could it be because Barack Obama is black, and Green and The Oklahoman do not want a black person to be president? The newspaper certainly has a long history of racism, especially under the leadership of the late Edward L. Gaylord, the newspaper’s longtime publisher. This is clearly documented in the Columbia Journalism Review's series on the newspaper.

Let’s get this straight. The newspaper’s editor makes a big deal about opening up a new video studio in Washington, and one of the first pieces is a cheap right-wing attack aimed at the wife of a black man who is a leading candidate for president. And it is not even announced as opinion or as an editorial. The technology might change at The Oklahoman, but the moral depravity remains the same.

(Update: I have long refused to get behind a boycott of The Oklahoman because of my small voice and fears, but the time is ripe. When I consider an organized boycott of The Oklahoman and its advertisers, I think about this segment of the Rev. Martin Luther King's famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail":

"Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: 'Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?' 'Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?' We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change."

It will take Reverend King's type of commitment to change the racist agenda of The Daily Oklahoman.)

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