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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.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Pirate Turkey

Image of animals gather around Planksy by Jasmime Mulliken

Image by Jasmine Mulliken

Arrrrrrr. Yer seven R arrr, me lassies and lads, fer yer enjoyment this holiday season presenting Planksy, yer favorite pirate turkey, reportin’ for duty, mam. Ahoy, the ship of fowls, 149-bird strong, sailin’ into Oklahoma on a mission per se no quid pro quo. Arrr. No bilge rats on me vessel, only sweet golden gobblers swayin’ in arrr prairie breezes. Yer know yer drill. If yer done right, you get me dranks straight from me personal rum barrel, holiday edition, drink yer fill, matey, please. Yer done wrong, yer nothin’ but a low-tide poisonous crawly rascal and yer get me planks replete with swimming lessons next to toothy fishes.

Dranks. Me first dranks go to the protestors locked out at the Lake Hefner fracking meeting this month. Ahoy, come aboard for me humble spirits, hornpipe dancing and birdy fellowship, me friends, a long time a fighting. Aye, yer stood in the cold and rain while bigwigs and uppity ups on their pedestals revealed the fracking plans. Aye, yer voices were heard inside and out. Don’t let the scallywags and landlubbers get yer down. Keep hammerin’.

Planks. Arrr! So me first planks go to the frackers, the landlubbers and bilge rats who want to frack up Lake Hefner in the first place. All for some fleetin’ treasure. Yer trove can’t buy arrr love. Avast, lookee here, fracky land urchins, that lake is a city water supply. Read my beak, frackers: What if the lake gets contaminated? Aye, we can’t swim in it, but hoity-toity we can frack under it? What kind of rascally bit of smarmy nonsense is this, mateys? Landlubbery collusion?

Dranks. Me next dranks go to anyone—glorious bird related no doubt—who has ever side-eyed and beaked down a landlubberin’ bilge rat scallywag rascal, or in non-pirate turkey parlance otherwise known as a BULLY. Arrr, get on this ship NOW, and get yer legs moving as the hornpipes blast us a merry tune. Yer stood up, me heroes, yer stood up, aye. You deserve a pirate turkey’s praise, hereby granted and certified and proclaimed on this day in herstory year 2014. Signed, Planksy.

Planks. Aye, yer see where all this is headin’? Avast, me planks go, then, to none other but bullies everywhere in Oklahoma. Yer whims and rascally actions deserve a pirate turkey’s repukin’. Yer hateful, angry ways mean this: Arrr, it’s the plank for yer! Keep walkin’, smartly, smartly. The toothy fishes want dessert and why deny ‘em yer tasty narcissism and cruelty. Hmm. Hmm. Good. Aye, did me beak go overboard, did it? Ha. It weren’t me went overboard. No, it were NOT me, …..ha…..ha…..ha.

Dranks. Me last dranks, as usual, go to none other than meself, Planksy, a pirate turkey with the latest gobbler style. Arrr, he’s poised, exciting, a feathery delight in the seas of arrr world. Ahoy, mates, methinks my gobbler’s blushin’ at me own compliments if I do gobble so myself. I raise me rum cup to meself and yer and yers. Cheers, me beauties. May yer find a treasure chest of love this holiday season, and enjoy that tofurkey with the vegetarian gravy. Arrr.

Okie Funk 2014 Year In Review: Part One

Image of armadillo

(Here is the first 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.)

Failing Students, Jan. 29, 2014

Third graders in Oklahoma public schools will start getting retained this year under state law if they don’t pass a reading test.

Supporters of the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act, which mandates retention starting this year if students fail the test, cloak it in sanctimonious language about helping children, but it’s really part of a unified conservative effort to damage the credibility of public schools.

Retaining an elementary-school student should be a holistic decision made by teachers, parents and school administrators based on a variety of factors, not just one proficiency test. Excessive, high-stakes testing in our schools is definitely political, not educational.

The test is given in April. According to a news report, 869 students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district didn’t pass the test last year when the retention rule was not in effect. If the number is anyway close to that this year, it could create a simple logistics nightmare.

Here’s how the conservative attack on public schools works: Create universal difficult tests that don’t take into account individual student development and home life, force teachers to teach to the tests and then demean teachers and students when the results don’t meet arbitrary expectations.

The Rich Reward, Feb. 27, 2014

An analysis of Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed income tax cut proposal shows that Oklahoma’s wealthiest households will benefit the most while 41 percent of its residents will get no benefit at all.

The overall average tax cut would be a paltry $29 while those in the top 1 percent in income would receive an average of $2,009.

The analysis, prepared by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and distributed by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, clearly shows Fallin’s proposal is primarily designed to reduce the tax burden for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.

In her State of the State speech earlier this month, Fallin proposed cutting the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5 percent despite the fact that Oklahoma faces a $170 million budget shortfall and has cut per pupil spending on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation since 2008.

The regressive tax cut would mean a $135 million annual loss in revenue, according to OK Policy, while 41 percent of Oklahomans wouldn’t get a break at all because they aren’t taxed at the top income rate.

Pension Paranoia, March 3, 2014

I’m glad that at least one statewide Republican leader has publicly asked for an actuarial study to determine the specific financial impact of a proposed and radical change to one state pension plan.

Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, writing in The Oklahoman/NewsOK.com, argues, “Any changes to the pension systems must be verified by an actuarial study to provide the impact those changes will have to the fiscal stability of the plan. It only makes sense to give the pension experts, CPAs and actuaries a chance to fix this problem. Working with these experts, legislators would be able to make the necessary, tough, informed decisions to find an actuarially sound solution.”

Jones’ point makes perfect sense, but some Republican leaders, such as Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller and Gov. Mary Fallin, both Republicans, are simply relying on reductionist rhetoric to move some new state employees into 401(k)-styled pensions without defined benefit payments and thereby putting one pension plan at risk.

Senate Bill 2120 and House Bill 2630 would require that new state employees under the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) go into a new 401(k)-styled plan. One major question that hasn’t been addressed fully by Miller and Fallin, according to some opponents of their plan, is how the old plan would still remain solvent without new participants.

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