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Okie Funk 2014 Year In Review: Part Four

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(Here is the last of four posts featuring posts on Okie Funk published in 2014. Click on the title to read the entire post. It was a dismal political year for progressives in Oklahoma, but there IS hope for a coming shift and realignment in 2016, at least on the national level. As always, thanks for following this blog. Best wishes to you this holiday season.)

Republicans Blame Hollywood Elite For Fracking Misconceptions, October 27, 2014.

Some Senate Republicans have issued what they are calling a “report” on the virtues, righteousness and basic overall goodness of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

Fracking, according to the political manifesto, i.e. report, is not only one of the most wonderful things to ever happen for the economy but has also strengthened our country’s geopolitical position in the world. What’s more, so it goes, fracking is also extremely safe and not harmful to the environment. Don’t listen to those Hollywood elites, people. All is well.

Here’s some language from the document just to show how serious it is:

This report highlights the incontrovertible benefits derived from the domestic production of oil and natural gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing. At the same time, it thoroughly discredits the leading claims made by the Obama Administration and their far-left allies who are rooted firmly in the fight against accessing America’s abundant domestic energy. It subsequently undermines the credibility of those who are seeking to devastate America’s energy security, economic opportunity and the livelihoods of families across the country through a coordinated war on hydraulic fracturing and domestic oil and natural gas.

Real scientific stuff, right? Note “far-left allies” and the hyperbolic “coordinated war.” The idea that there’s a real war of any type of oil and gas production in the country is utter fabrication. The frackers here in Oklahoma, for example, frack with impunity. If there IS a figurative war, then it’s a war against the environment, and the frackers are winning it hands down.

An Oklahoma Story: Boom To Busy, November 10, 2014.

What happens to Oklahoma if the recent boom in oil and gas production propelled by hydraulic fracturing goes bust?

If it’s anything close to the 1980s glut that led to steep price drops for oil, a devastated state economy and an ensuing exodus of people from Oklahoma, then it could be an extremely bad problem. For those of us who lived through the 1980s in Oklahoma as working adults, the sheer thought of another major bust should generate a lot of anxiety if not downright panic.

All this doesn’t even take into account the damage to the environment that would get left behind because of the hydraulic fracturing or fracking extraction process, which environmentalists claim contaminates water supplies and leads to earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal. Who’s going to pay for the clean up? Bankrupt or financially struggling oil and gas companies?

I’m posting about this topic because billionaire oilman and Oklahoma State University alum T. Boone Pickens recently gave a speech here in Oklahoma City in which he said oil production in the United States has doubled in the last 10 years and is creating a glut in the world market, lowering barrel prices. NewsOK.com quoted Pickens as saying, “Now we’re producing too much oil.”

The prices are much higher per barrel than they were in the 1980s and supposedly the state economy is more diversified now, but let there be no mistake that any major slowdown in the oil and gas patch is going to strain the Oklahoma economy and especially state revenues. Crude oil prices have dropped from more than $110 per barrel to approximately $80 per barrel over the last year, and some experts expect the decline to continue.

Too Much Oil: Blame Us Tree Huggers, December 5, 2014.

The Oklahoman editorial board’s take on the oil and gas fracking boom gone bust here is as insanely laughable and ridiculous as it gets. It’s cray cray, people.

Here’s the key point in a recent editorial in the newspaper about dropping oil prices and its impact on the state economy: “. . . populists will join the anti-fossil fuel crowd in cheering the pain awaiting oil company employees and their investors.”

See, it’s all about those crazy “populists” excessively worried, as the editorial notes, about those “obscene profits” made by energy companies, which “has never been matched by reality.” The oil company executives, you know those people with courtside seats at The Thunder games, bless their hearts, have nothing to do with it. They match reality. Populists can’t even match their socks on a good day.

It’s as if the writers and editors at The Oklahoman have never experienced or read about or studied the oil boom and bust cycle that has defined this state, well, basically since its inception by the federal government as one of the last states in the nation. I know 1982, the year Penn Square Bank failed, signaling the symbolic end of a major oil boom, may seem like ancient history to a 20-year-old getting ready to take finals next week, but it isn’t to those of us who lived here as adults that year.

Okie Funk 2014 Year In Review: Part Three

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(Here is the third of four posts featuring posts on Okie Funk published in 2014. Click on the title to read the entire post. It was a dismal political year for progressives in Oklahoma, but there IS hope for a coming shift and realignment in 2016, at least on the national level. As always, thanks for following this blog. Best wishes to you this holiday season.)

A Settled View Never To Be Determined By Science, July, 2014.

The Oklahoman published a really goofy editorial this week about earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process that bears noting and refuting.

For anyone else that follows the newspaper’s editorial page as closely as I do—and I only do it in an attempt to undermine the right-wing propaganda—you will immediately recognize the stylistics of this particular commentary, titled “Looking for fault as earthquake swarm continues in Oklahoma.”

It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek editorials, complete with what the writer must see as clever wordplay and with attempts at humor on an issue that some people are taking very serious. So we get “NIMBY, meet NUMBY,” not in my backyard but, instead, not UNDER my backyard. Get it? Disposal wells would be UNDER a backyard, right? A real knee slapper. How about this one then? The earthquakes are just maybe because “Atlas is just shrugging more than usual these days.” Hilarious.

But beyond the grating attempt at humor, the editorial does a grave disservice to Oklahomans for not supplying crucial details about studies linking the recent earthquake swarm here to injection wells used in the fracking process. Instead, it relies on generalizations and presumes the issue has produced a mob mentality that—it’s the NUMBYS’ fault—is off target.

The editorial’s thesis is the same argument made by most people in the oil and gas industry. The argument goes like this: There is no definitive proof linking injection wells to the earthquakes, and thus everyone should shut up here and let Atlas do what he’s going to do.

But can there ever be the definitive proof along the lines sought by The Oklahoman and the oil and gas industry, whatever that might be? I would argue that no scientific evidence, no matter how compelling and revealing, would force the oil and gas industry and their sycophants in the media to accept liability for the earthquakes.

Teenage Pregnancy: Solutions No One Will Talk About In Oklahoma, August 22, 2014.

(Here are the obvious solutions to the teenage pregnancy problem in Oklahoma: (1) Establish more comprehensive and required sexual education courses in public schools starting in early grades that continue through high school. (2) Offer students at an appropriate age free contraception, including Plan B and condoms. (3) Ensure women here retain the right to have an abortion. (4) Stop electing right-wing politicians who oppose these sensible ideas.)

It should come at no surprise that Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation.

But a story in The Oklahoman about the issue omits this crucial factor: It’s the right-wing religious folks here who oppose appropriate and extensive sexual education that goes beyond abstinence-only dogma. Until public schools can offer more required courses that directly and explicitly address sex and its ramifications, and even offer birth control to students at an appropriate age, Oklahoma will continue to struggle with this problem, which obviously costs taxpayers.

Let’s be real. Oklahomans elect numerous right-wing Christian politicians who profess themselves to be deeply religious. These politicians, using their religious beliefs, prevent the state from realistically addressing the state’s numerous social problems, such as the state's high teenage pregnancy rate.

The Oklahoman, of course, endorses many of these right-wing politicians or supports their overall ideology on its editorial page.

Oklahoma Still Has A Nursing Home Problem, September 22, 2014.

A new report shows the overall quality of Oklahoma’s nursing homes is among the worst in the nation and, unfortunately, that’s an old story dating back at least three decades.

I know the timeline well because, as a former journalist, I wrote a series of articles in 1982 along with another reporter outlining the overall poor quality of the state’s nursing homes and the political forces that helped make it so.

I visited several nursing homes in 1982 as part of my research for the series and while I found there were some outstanding homes there were simply far too many with problems, including substandard care.

The new report, issued by Families For Better Care, ranks the quality of Oklahoma’s nursing homes as 49th in the nation, only behind Texas and Louisiana. A major part of the problem then and now is the lack of professional staffing. The report notes, for example, that “. . . more than 80 percent of nursing homes had middling to below average professional nursing levels.”

This is from the 1982 series about the specific staffing problem:

The reason for the shortage and high turnover stems from the nature of the job. It's an unglamorous task. Nursing aides are responsible for bathing residents, cleaning up messes, helping residents use the bathroom or, in some cases, changing diapers. Aides also must help lift heavy bodies and empty portable toilets.

Okie Funk 2014 Year In Review: Part Two

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(Here is the second of four posts featuring posts on Okie Funk published in 2014. Click on the title to read the entire post. It was a dismal political year for progressives in Oklahoma, but there IS hope for a coming shift and realignment in 2016, at least on the national level. As always, thanks for following this blog. Best wishes to you this holiday season.)

Injustice Persists, April 11, 2014

The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City is fast becoming a symbol of bigotry and right-wing political incompetence as the entire world witnesses the spectacle.

The fact that it hasn’t been completed is a massive embarrassment. State lawmakers, especially House Speaker Jeff Hickman, a Republican from Fairview, are still haggling and posturing over how to come up with $40 million in state money to complete the project. Right now, Hickman is stubbornly refusing to bring a Senate-passed bill that would fund the center to a vote because he says it doesn’t have enough Republican support.

The massive delay in completing the center conjures up the sordid history of government-sanctioned discrimination against American Indians in this country. It’s a history of bigotry, terrible injustice and broken promises. Some people might argue that’s too extreme in this case, but what if the center never gets finished? What if the dominant white conservative majority in the House manages to stop it without even a vote?

Indian tribes have donated to the project, and private donors will match the state’s $40 million, but this is a state-owned facility, and the state needs to make good on its promise for the tribes and for everyone in the state. Construction on the project started way back in 2006 and had to be halted because of funding problems. Now is the time to finish it or come up with a different plan. Maybe it needs to be built in another state, one with people more tolerant of diversity and more appreciative of history.

Major Earthquake Warning, May 7, 2015

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey organizations have issued a warning that the dramatic surge in earthquakes here is “significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma.”

In a joint statement, the USGS and OGS pointed out an analysis “suggests that a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes is triggering by wastewater injected into deep geologic formations.”

For months, some researchers have concluded that the rise in earthquake activity here has been caused by oil and gas activity, specifically the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In that process, wastewater from the initial drilling is later injected by high pressure into underground rock formations. Oklahoma is currently experiencing a mini-boom in oil and gas production.

The USGS and OGS statement noted that there has been a rise of about 50 percent in the number of earthquakes since October 2013 alone, which increases the risk of a major, damaging earthquake. So far this year, there have been at least 145 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher, according to the statement. Last year, there were 109 such earthquakes. A 5.6-magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorded in the state, struck near Prague in 2011, damaging buildings.

Educational Darkness, June 4, 2014

The contemporary avalanche of high-stakes testing and other assessment procedures in education is constructed upon faulty philosophical premises, which can be detrimental and harmful to students and teachers.

In medicine, the adage goes, “First, do no harm.” That should apply to education as well. What if, for example, a particular high-stakes test is poorly constructed and penalizes students for giving the right answer? What if a teacher must teach the “untruth” in order to keep her job? The implications of these errors for our society are enormous.

We must grant the possibility that this country’s obsessive efforts to quantify student achievement, along with the conservative attack on the education establishment in general, is the real crisis in education today.

Let me be clear that the deployment of high-stakes testing in our schools has been both a Democratic and Republican conquest, and I mean the word conquest as in a political attack upon and then the occupation of schools. For example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, serving under President Barack Obama, has been a major battlefield general directing the current conquest.

I’m willing to concede there are political leaders that truly believe that high-stakes testing, which is testing in schools that can penalize teachers and students for low scores, is a method to boost achievement. Certainly, though, at this juncture anyone truly concerned with education would concede the high-stakes testing movement has created systems and procedures fraught with error.

The overall attack on the public education establishment, however, is ultimately a conservative ploy, which has used high-stakes testing in order to transfer public assets, primarily tax dollars, to private companies in order to respond to the fake crisis created by low test scores.

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