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Begetting Violence

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It should be noted by at least some people in conservative Oklahoma that there is opposition in this country and state to President Barack Obama’s escalation of military action against ISIS, the Islamic extremist group.

I’m one of those people who oppose Obama’s decision to unleash American bombs on ISIS in Syria and for any additional escalation of military action in the Middle East. But then again I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and, yes, I was right about that, too. Getting it right somehow doesn’t count anymore in America’s international affairs or in the corporate media.

Here are two obvious frames of reference on why we should deploy different tactics in responding to ISIS:

(1) Bombing ISIS won’t work. It’s utterly impossible to eliminate ideas—whatever you might think about those ideas—through brute force. Those ideas, which include opposition to the values and actions of the Western world and especially the United States, will live on even if every current member of ISIS were killed today. Bombing and killing people in the Middle East will only increase support for the ISIS cause. This should be incredibly obvious to everyone.

(2) Innocent people, who don’t hold any animosity towards the Western world, will also be killed in the bombing. This is morally wrong, of course, but, again, it will only increase support for ISIS. Relatives and friends of these innocent victims will seek at the very least some justification for their loss if not direct retribution. How this most obvious scenario of cause and effect doesn’t enter into Obama’s case for military escalation shows just how oblivious the prevailing political establishment—Democrats and Republicans alike—has become to the death and destruction it continues to perpetuate around the globe and especially in the Middle East.

I’m sure that just like in 2003, I and other people who think in these terms will be labeled naïve and simply ignored. Yet we were right about the military occupation of Iraq, a senseless endeavor that left us no safer, generated an onslaught of animosity and cost us much in lost lives and money. Killing people in Syria during that country’s own civil war accomplishes just the opposite of what we should be seeking, which is our own security and peace.

I’m not an isolationist. The U.S. and its allies need an active and holistic approach to our relationship with Middle Eastern countries, one that relies less on military action and more on diplomacy and outreach. This requires actual thinking, intense debate and momentous shifts in policy.

It might be easier in the short term to just kill people than try to build wide consensus among seemingly disparate groups of people from different countries, but history has repeatedly shown violence begets violence.

A Crisis Here, Too: Growing Student Loan Debt

 Image of Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University

Just because the average amount of student loan debt in Oklahoma is lower than the national average doesn’t mean there isn’t a major crisis here related to college affordability.

Oklahoma’s higher education leaders have long backed college tuition and fee increases at least partially on the premise that the state’s overall costs for a college education are significantly lower than the national average. That lower rate, it follows, would naturally translate into lower student loan debt as well.

I don’t know how many times through the years I’ve read some quote in the media by a state higher education official that goes something like this: Quit whining. Even when we raise tuition and fees, our universities remain less expensive than in other states.

That doesn’t offer much solace to an Oklahoma college senior getting ready to graduate with $30,000 or more in debt. It probably doesn’t feel to that student it’s a good deal or bargain, which gets complicated even further when you consider a particular university’s reputation.

A recent article on NewsOK.com repeats the trope. It cites a recent analysis by Experian, which offers credit reports and tracking on its online site, that shows there was an 84 percent increase in student loan debt from 2008 to 2014. According to Experian, student loan debt in the country now stands at $1.2 trillion, a record high. The average student loan debt in Oklahoma of $23,636 is lower than the national average of $29,400, according to NewsOK.com, citing the Project on Student Debt.

So begins the age-old story here. Oklahoma Chancellor Glen Johnson claims the numbers prove success. According to the NewsOK.com story, here’s Johnson’s take on the situation: “One significant area of success has been our commitment to affordability. Oklahoma’s state system of higher education is recognized as the fifth most affordable system in the country.”

Later in the story, Johnson also points out that Oklahoma’s tuition and fee increases of 5.3 percent over the last five years are lower than in most states.

Let me be clear that this isn’t a criticism of Johnson, who is merely repeating historical fact as so many others do and have done when it comes to this argument. Our colleges are cheaper here. Who can argue that point?

But one fact that gets lost in the argument over college affordability is that Oklahoma has been consistently ranked among the nation’s bottom 25 states for decades in per capita income. Sometimes, the state has been ranked in the bottom ten. Here are the rankings since 1990.

What that means, of course, is that Oklahomans, along with their access to less expensive colleges compared to other states, also have less money to go to college. It also means that college graduates here if they stay in Oklahoma will overall make less money in the workforce than graduates in other states and consequently have less money to pay down their student loan debt.

Another companion issue omitted from the argument is that Oklahoma has long had a lower number of people with at least bachelor’s degrees than the national average. How many potential students or graduates here simply can’t afford our colleges even though they are less expensive because of our low per capita income rates?

Finally, the argument that a college education is cheaper here can enable people to ignore the fact that growing student loan debt here and elsewhere is a major humanitarian crisis. Banks feast on people simply trying to get an education by doling out loans guaranteed and even molded by the federal government. It’s a great deal for the lenders, but it means a new generation of educated people is now saddled with burdensome monthly payments for years. These people will have a difficult time buying homes or simply just surviving because of their debt.

It doesn’t matter if one gets their degree here or in California or if the debt is $40,000 or $45,000. Many Oklahoma college students, along with their counterparts across the nation, are mired in student loan debt, a development that doesn’t bode well for their financial future or the nation’s financial future.

Oklahoma Still Has A Nursing Home Problem

Image of Picasso work

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.

The new report also notes that Oklahoma nursing homes “with severe deficiencies remained inordinately high when compared to other states . . .”.

As I noted earlier, I visited some wonderful nursing homes in the state in 1982, and there are surely some great nursing homes here now, but overall Oklahoma’s homes have consistently been ranked below the national average.

It’s a complex problem that gets intertwined with the drawn-out process of dying of old age in this country, a process that many medical experts believe needs reconsideration. Some experts believe too many unnecessary procedures are performed to sustain the lives of bedridden dementia patients, who require around-the-clock care.

According to one prominent member of a panel formed by the Institute of Medicine to study the issue, end-of-life care is “poorly designed.” This is from a recent article in The New York Times:

“The bottom line is the health care system is poorly designed to meet the needs of patients near the end of life,” said David M. Walker, a Republican and a former United States comptroller general, who was a chairman of the panel. “The current system is geared towards doing more, more, more, and that system by definition is not necessarily consistent with what patients want, and is also more costly.”

Of course, that statement is a red flag for right-to-life groups, which make the slippery-slope argument that such thinking could lead to premature or even government-ordered deaths among the elderly.

None of this solves Oklahoma’s nursing home problem, which seems chronic and everlasting at this point. Obviously, someone with enough money can find a decent facility in which to die, but many nursing home residents rely solely on Medicaid dollars. It’s a tragic situation.

This is from one of the 1982 articles:

Nursing homes scare people.

They frighten people because they offer a glimpse into almost everyone's future: wrinkles, gray hair, loss of mobility and, possibly, senility.

It’s no different 30 years later. Everyone ages. All of us could theoretically end up as nursing home patients as we near death. As a culture, we need to drastically improve our end-of-life protocols and processes. Improving nursing homes here and elsewhere should be a central component of any reform.

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