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The Truth Goes Marching On

Image of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco June 30 1964

(I have a dream that our country will soon bring an end to institutional racism, racial profiling, police brutality, poverty and senseless wars. I have a dream that our country will, free at last, embrace equality and dignity for all people.)

The annual Oklahoma City parade honoring and celebrating the life of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. will begin at 2 p.m. today near St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral at N.W. 7th Street and Broadway Avenue.

A program and a silent march in King’s honor starts at 9 a.m. at the Freedom Center, 2500 N. Martin Luther King Avenue, followed by other activities.

The Rev. King, of course, was a tireless and non-violent advocate for equality in his career until his assassination in 1968. A portion of his many accomplishments was recently featured in the movie Selma, which has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Below is an excerpt from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech given in 1963 in front the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The speech is considered one of the greatest pieces of oratory in recorded history.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

King’s legacy lives on, and the spirit of his work—the fight for equality and social justice—is needed just as much now as it was in the 1960s here in Oklahoma City and elsewhere.

I have a dream that our country will soon bring an end to institutional racism, racial profiling, police brutality, poverty and senseless wars. I have a dream that our country will, free at last, embrace equality and dignity for all people.

Taking The Heat: Has The Fracking Boom Really Been Good For Oklahoma?

image of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, his wife and Vice President Joe Biden in the recent U.S. Senate swearing-in ceremony

Scientists have just reported that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded, providing more evidence that manmade carbon emissions are accelerating global warming and threatening to do more extensive damage to the planet’s ecosystems.

Here in Oklahoma, many people are worried about the world oil glut and lowering gasoline prices, which are already damaging the state’s economy. But it’s precisely the burning of fossil fuels produced in energy states like Oklahoma and elsewhere in other countries that is contributing to the much larger problem—some would argue the world’s greatest challenge—of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, according to media reports, have concluded the average temperature in 2014 was, respectively, 58.24 and 58.42 degrees Fahrenheit. This is more than 1.2 degrees above the twentieth-century average. NOAA reported that nine of the ten warmest years ever recorded have come since 2000.

Meanwhile, scientists reported in September that Arctic sea ice was at its sixth lowest level ever recorded. Arctic ice reflects ice back into the atmosphere cooling the planet. Less ice means a warmer planet.

Scientists throughout the world have long argued that growing carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and energy plants increase what is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect, a natural phenomenon, is when carbon dioxide, methane gas and water vapor, get entrapped in the atmosphere causing the planet to stay warm.

But too much warmth can cause damage to the environment in several ways: Rising ocean levels caused by melting Arctic ice threatening coastline property, longer and harsher droughts diminishing the world’s food supply, extinction of wildlife disrupting natural habitats and extended heat waves killing people.

Some of those problems have obvious major consequences. For example, rising ocean levels could submerge millions of buildings and homes throughout the world in water, forcing massive human displacement. Droughts kill growing crops and reduce the drinking water supply. Other problems, such as wildlife disruption, which include insects, don’t necessarily have one clear and shared consequence, except in cases like fewer fish, a major world food source.

Republicans, most notably Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, have denied that manmade carbon emissions have contributed to global warming. It’s widely known that Inhofe claims scientists throughout the world are involved in a leftist conspiracy aimed at hurting oil and gas companies and that the warnings of the impact of global warming are simply a “hoax.” He has also argued that only a god could impact the environment in any major way.

“The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He [a god] is doing in the climate is to me outrageous,” Inhofe once said in an interview. That’s Inhofe and his wife with Vice President Joe Biden pictured right in a recent Senate swearing-in ceremony.

Inhofe is now chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has announced he will fight to rollback rules by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment from pollution while reducing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, in other Oklahoma-related news, the hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom in this state and others has contributed to a world oil glut that has dropped the price of a barrel of oil below $50, a steep drop from the $100 to $110 a barrel range last summer. This means oil and gas companies here are planning to reduce production, which means fewer jobs and less tax revenue for the state.

So Oklahoma gets it all ways. The fracking bust could very well lead to a major economic downturn in Oklahoma, not experienced since the 1980s. Yet the fracking boom produced more of the carbon dioxide that leads to environmental crises, such as the current extreme drought in western Oklahoman that’s creating a major agricultural and water crisis in the state. Oklahoma also now leads the lower 48 states in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the wastewater injection well process used in the fracking process.

None of this will probably impact Inhofe’s quest to add as much carbon dioxide as possible to the planet’s atmosphere. It’s important to note Inhofe has received more that $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Riffing Charlie Hebdo

Image of DocHoc at the The Centre Pompidou Paris, France

I thought I might use France’s Charlie Hebdo tragedy and an absolutely inane guest editorial column published this week in The Oklahoman about it to riff briefly on the local media scene here.

As you know, two Islamist extremists stormed into the Paris-based office of the satirical magazine Jan. 7 and killed 12 people and wounded 11 more. Ostensibly, the terrorists murdered and injured people in the office because the magazine had a long history of running satirical cartoons mocking Mohammed, who is considered a prophet by Muslims.

It was an act of utter, unmitigated evil, and it really has the potential for a self-imposed suppression of freedom of expression and the press. Most major American publications, such as The New York Times, for example, were too scared and cowardly to even publish one or two of the provocative cartoons in their coverage of the event and consequently the terrorists won yet another victory. But at least Charlie Hebdo goes on. It was published today with another cartoon mocking Mohammed. Good for those who published the magazine after the tragedy. Good for Paris for standing up to evil and hate. Vive la France!

All the basic facts of this act of terror are well known to anyone who cares about geopolitics and our connection to the rest of the world in this country so it seems almost an act of tedious repetition to comment on it here in backwards Oklahoma, which is not known for embracing the outside world in great numbers and has produced image-destroying politicians like U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and state Rep. Sally Kern. I tried to talk to one of my students about the incident yesterday, and the student didn’t even know what I was talking about.

But The Oklahoman did publish what appears to be a right-wing and extremist guest column about the terrorist act that might tell us something larger about the local media scene here that goes beyond the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. The question is one of, again, suppressing or not suppressing freedom of expression in a press too scared and too timid to speak truth to power.

First, let me deal with one of the most asinine columns ever published by The Oklahoman. It was written by John W. Traphagan, described as a “professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin.” I don’t know how this Texan’s column ended up in The Oklahoman, and it really doesn’t matter. I will say unequivocally that Traphagan’s column is ridiculous.

Let me summarize Traphagan’s absurdist argument: The Charlie Hebdo tragedy is bad because it’s a threat to the freedom of expression, but this country has its own threats to the freedom of expression, most notably when a large group of students at Rutgers University protested a scheduled commencement address by former right-wing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who later withdrew from giving her speech. I really do try to refrain from loaded hyperbole, but in this case I will make an exception. Traphagan's column is idiotic.

It simply amazes me this argument was even published in a media outlet if The Oklahoman still qualifies to be known as a media outlet. Perhaps, it was published in many publications as astute commentary. No, it’s not astute. It’s asinine. Do I even need to go through the major false comparison here for discerning readers? Essentially, Trahagan is arguing that those protesting Rutgers University professors and students are just like the Islamic terrorists who killed journalists in Paris. That’s a major error in thinking and logic.

I will spend one more paragraph on this stupid, stupid argument. The Rutgers University professors and students were the ONES exercising their right to freedom of expression. They already knew the warmongering and right-wing positions of one of former President George W. Bush’s favorite toadies and useful tools to promote war and death and torture. Rice has a plethora of ways to express her views. She can speak at conservative colleges or other colleges that would welcome her. She can write op-eds that I’m sure major publications, such as The Times, would automatically publish. She can appear on Fox News, of course. In fact, she could probably have her own show on Fox News. She could blog. She could tweet. She probably has enough money or could obtain enough investment money to start her own publication or even television network. She could probably talk to the current President of the United States if she wanted. In essence, she’s the ONE with the huge platform of expression, not some undergraduate English major or some adjunct biology professor at Rutgers University. Traphagan, you’re the one who wants to limit freedom of expression, not the students and faculty at Rutgers University. Shame on you, man.

If anyone has read this far, allow me to use this to frame a little spat among three local medial outlets that DO or at least have tried in the past to speak truth to power. Those publications would be the Oklahoma Gazette, The Lost Ogle blog and the Okie Funk blog.

The Lost Ogle and Okie Funk have recently poked some fun at the Gazette for losing its edge. The Gazette never was a Charlie Hebdo, of course, and the political climate here since its inception has always made it impossible for it to even come close to emulating alternative publications in places such as Austin or New York. But the Gazette in the last three years or so—dating mainly since former editor Rob Collins left the weekly—has lost its edge. There are fewer and fewer in-depth and meaningful stories and the commentary section has been given over, for the most part, to flacks from think tanks or nonprofit organizations and politicians that are pushing definite agendas. It doesn’t matter if I agree with these agendas or not and, believe me, many times I do, but the writing is predictable, constrained and BORING. As I said, there have been exceptions, but not enough to keep my interest. Much of the material can be found in some form on the sites of these nonprofits. The Gazette is just repeating extremely old material already published on the web.

Yet, really, who am I or Patrick Riley at TLO to question this new model at the Gazette? It seems obviously business-based as hard-copy publications decline in popularity because of the Internet. If it works financially for the Gazette, then so be it. I guess Riley and others, including myself, could try to buy it, but what a risk in today’s market. Yet, even given what I’ve just written, I want the Gazette to thrive even in its current form. This might just be a period of retrenchment or discovery or whatever for the Gazette. Things can change. I’ve known the last three Gazette editors and one of the initial, founding editors Randy Splaingard, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. I would give them all a group hug and tell them just to do what you can do to speak truth to power, especially to The Oklahoman, given the circumstances of the media market right now and the limited advertising dollars.

But, as I’ve argued, TLO, in particular, is pushing the edge by not adopting the old, tired journalistic frameworks and cliches. It takes chances. It makes readers at least pay some attention because they never know what might come next. It’s abrasive and sarcastic, and it’s founder, Riley, has found his writing voice through the years. I like his sentences most of the time. As I’ve mentioned before in another way, sometimes TLO can fall flat just like Charlie Hebdo or certainly like this blog, but at least it’s trying. Gov. Mary Fallin deserves satirical treatment just like all powerful politicians.

So, again, if any readers are still with me at this point in this rambling piece, let me say: The Gazette, TLO, and Okie Funk, and other publications here, such as The Oklahoma Observer, the Red Dirt Report and The Gayly, are all trying to speak truth to power in one form or another given our own individual constraints and limitations. What I hope is those journalists involved with all of our publications can say in unison and without any hypocrisy “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), and continue to thumb our nose at The Oklahoman, a testament to how right-wing monopolies shut down freedom of speech to kiss the asses of the powerful and elite.

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