This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Solid Plan To Increase Education Funding

Image of OU President David Boren

Finally, a prominent Oklahoma leader has come up with the barebones of what I view as a workable and perhaps revisable plan to help bolster education funding in the state.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren has proposed a ballot initiative to allow voters to raise the state’s sales tax by one cent to help increase Oklahoma’s dismal funding of education.

Boren, according to news reports, said the increase would raise $615 million a year, and that $378 million could be used to give public school teachers a $5,000 raise. Oklahoma has some of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country and currently faces a major teacher shortage because of it. The state also ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil funding.

Boren said the additional money, among other things, would go to fund incentive pay for teachers, an issue pushed by conservatives. Some of the money would also go to higher education to limit tuition increases.

One of the first and somewhat negative reactions to the proposal came from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa progressive think tank, which argues the tax, if voted into law, would hurt lower income people the most because sales taxes, as we all know, are regressive. OKPolicy did note it supported more funding for education overall, but, as usual, it seems to want to have it both ways when it comes to funding education. It’s for it, but, well, there doesn’t seem any way to get it done. Parse through the lines in this final sentence of its statement about the proposal:

Oklahomans urgently need real tax reform to create a tax system that does not put the greatest burden on those who can least afford it and that collects enough to meet critical needs of Oklahoma families — not just for education but also health care, safe communities, and other public services to ensure a stable economy and strong quality of life.

Translation: We’re probably not going to support this proposal and we also know there’s not one iota of chance for “real tax reform” right now in our conservative-dominated state government. Also, education is important, but, well, is it AS important as, say, health care?

Watch for OKPolicy and the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to join together again to defeat another education funding proposal if Boren goes forward with it.

It seems to me that one obvious solution to the “regressive issue” when it comes to the sales tax increase would be to make it more progressive by exempting lower-income and middle-class income people from all or some of the “education tax” through income-tax credits or rebates. This might complicate the language on the petition drive to put the measure on the ballot, but at least it’s worth considering.

As it stands now, the state faces what will likely be a $1 billion shortfall next fiscal year, and state agency heads are getting informed that they could face cuts in their budgets. This complicates the ballot initiative even further.

If Boren and any type of coalition he helps to put together go forward with the proposal, those circulating the petition would need to collect 65,987 signatures in a 90-day period for the November 2016 ballot.

Sure, I agree that the tax proposal, as it stands, is regressive, but that can be fixed with credits and rebates in the tax code, and, it’s only ONE CENT. Even if the proposal stands as is, I would support it and urge other voters to do the same. We shouldn’t forget that lower-income people would benefit by better schools. This could enable them to raise their incomes. It goes together.

If this is what it takes to improve education funding, then we need to get behind it. We face a real emergency here when it comes to education funding. Let’s do something about it.

The Oklahoman Gets Hiccups

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 from Flickr The Commons

(I only have time for a short post today. The botched Richard Glossip death penalty case continues to draw worldwide attention to Oklahoma in a negative way. Yet this attention could eventually lead to the end of the death penalty nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court as I’ve argued earlier.—Kurt Hochenauer)

I wish I had the time to collect every stupid, clichéd paragraph the editorial board of The Oklahoman has ever published arguing against reproductive rights for women. These oppressive, sexist gems would fill volumes.

When it comes to abortion, the sanctimonious drivel flows in torrents on the newspaper’s editorial page. One of the “historical” former editors of the page, Patrick McGuigan, made his opposition to abortion one of his all-time favorite harangues as he made Oklahoma the “conservative bastion” he so adores, which some amnesiac liberals here have forgotten. But when it comes to the death penalty or the execution of an innocent person by the state, well, it’s all just hiccups to The Oklahoman.

I’m referring to an editorial in the newspaper Friday that heralded the moves by Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Attorney General last week to halt the execution of Richard Glossip and the state’s other death-row inmates until they can refine the mixture of their killing brew of drugs and “protocols” and self-righteousness.

The newspaper is just fine with these moves because, as it notes, it’s all just “embarrassing hiccups.”

Here’s the key sentence in the editorial, which shows how just callous and cavalier the newspaper is about a person’s life as long as it isn’t a small speck of tissue inside a woman’s body:

As the spotlight only grows brighter, Oklahoma must prove that it can carry out this solemn duty without the sort of embarrassing hiccups that have dogged it of late.

It’s all just hiccups, right, not an indicator of some larger incompetence consistently and organically embedded in the death penalty itself? Killing someone violently is not easy because it’s not right. But, hey, folks, this violent and immoral act is a “solemn duty,” according to the newspaper. Pope Francis specifically asked Oklahoma to spare Glossip’s life on the very precepts upon which the foundation of his church is built. I wonder what some members of the newspaper’s editorial board think about that.

People who read and follow this blog know about the Glossip case and can read about it here and here.

My overall point is that every bit of the Glossip case, all the little nooks and crannies, even the awful, mediocre corporate media coverage here and the pettiness of its smarmy, obsequious right-wingers, is filled with hypocrisy, mediocrity and mindless mendacity. The ignorant, morbid Okie mob smells death, and so it shall have it. It’s insufferable and incompetent and suffocating because the death penalty itself is barbaric and should be ended in the country.

It will end. The Glossip case is the beginning of the end. Lethal injection was invented in Oklahoma and passed into law first in all the land, and this, to quote T.S. Eliot, is how it will end: “Not with a bang but with a whimper . . .” or maybe with hiccups in the very same place the carnage began and continues.

Glossip Case Could Abolish Death Penalty

Image of Richard Glossip

Oklahoma was the place in which lethal injection to kill people was first legalized, and now it has become the ugly worldwide symbol of why the barbaric practice should end.

I’ll take it even further. The cruelty and incompetence of some Oklahoma state leaders, which has been dramatized on the world stage in recent weeks, will be a major part in abolishing the death penalty in the United States soon.

Oklahoma, so often a laughingstock of the nation in so many ways, just sealed the deal with its inhumane treatment of inmate Richard Glossip. Finally, an Oklahoma worldwide embarrassment might pay off big time.

The state’s typical slapstick mediocrity exposes the truth: Some states, in these decisively un-United States brutally kill innocent people by injecting painful fire into human veins as witnesses gather to watch and report the spectacle. Many self-righteous people here in the sticks of the world revel in the gore and suffering, but ALL civilized people in the world are appalled at the sheer brutality.

This week Glossip, who has never killed anyone in his life and has maintained his innocence of the crime for which he was convicted, was given a stay of execution when it was discovered that one of the drugs scheduled to be used to kill him was not part of what state leaders call “the protocol.” See, it was supposed to be potassium chloride not potassium acetate that sent him into cardiac arrest. (No pain there, right? Just as peaceful as can be.) But the anonymous provider of the drugs—someone needs to do an undercover video of this outfit—sent potassium acetate by mistake or, perhaps, by nonchalance over the death of a human being, an unintended “error” that morphs into an act of mercy that can make even agnostics like myself feel something spiritual for a second.

The response from state leaders went something like this: Well, the drugs are really similar so it probably would have been okay, but just to be sure we’re going to stop the execution.

I’m unsure what the late Rev. Bill Wiseman, a former colleague of mine and the man who pushed through the Oklahoma legislative bill that made lethal injection the main method of execution here and throughout the country if not the world, would have thought of all this. He later regretted his decision in a major way as a state legislator to write the lethal injection language into law. At the time, and this was back in the 1970s, he thought he was doing something humane by eliminating gas chambers and electric chairs. Now, “lethal injection” is how he’s mainly remembered by those people who didn’t know him personally. He died in a 2007 plane crash with this regret.

I digress. Gov. Mary Fallin stayed the execution of Glossip at the last minute Wednesday for 37 days after the drug mix up. Attorney General Scott Pruitt then ordered the halt of all executions in Oklahoma until “the protocol” is investigated and the state gets its killing drugs right. Oklahoma may well start killing people again, and Glossip may die soon, but, as I’ve written over and over, the Glossip case is the beginning of the end of the death penalty here and in the entire country.

How can the U.S. Supreme Court continue to allow such violations of “cruel” and “unusual punishments” forbidden by the Eighth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution now that the Glossip case has shone the light on the random application of the death penalty and the barbaric and unsettled practice of lethal injection itself?

Glossip was given the death penalty in the 1997 murder of his boss Barry Van Treese at an Oklahoma City motel. Here’s the major catch: No one, no police officer, no prosecutor, has ever accused Glossip of actually killing Van Treese. The man who killed him by beating him to death with a baseball bat is Justin Sneed, who testified that Glossip asked him to kill Van Treese. Sneed got life in prison instead of the death penalty for his testimony that changed in details throughout the initial investigation and in Glossip’s two trials. There is no physical evidence linking Glossip to the murder or to asking Sneed to kill Van Treese. Without Sneed’s testimony, Oklahoma has no case.

Prominent people throughout the world, including Pope Francis, actress Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean, British businessman Richard Branson, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, have tried to stop the execution. Glossip’s attorneys even have new evidence that Sneed was lying, evidence that a court and prosecutors dismiss as heresy as if Sneed’s testimony isn’t the very same thing.

On the same day that Glossip was scheduled to die, a man in Colorado was given life in prison for stabbing five people to death at a bar. The sheer randomness of how the death penalty is applied in this country is breathtaking and numbing.

Oklahoma, of course, has had its recent and infamous problems with lethal injection killings. One inmate writhed around in misery on the gurney for 45 minutes or so before he could be declared dead. Another lethally injected inmate said, “My body is on fire,” as the spectators looked on after the blinds were opened to show the death chamber. So far a divided U.S. Supreme Court sanctions all this, but for how long?

Kill five people in Colorado, you get life. Kill no one in Oklahoma, you get death by body fire. That’s just too much disparity for any rational person to ignore or endure, even someone like conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Here’s a link to a recent article in The New Yorker that does a more thorough job of what I’ve been arguing for weeks now, which is this: The Glossip case resonates worldwide and could help end the death penalty soon on a national level by the high court. It’s worth noting in this regard that even Nebraska recently abolished the death penalty. The tide is shifting.

The drug mishap/serendipity in the Glossip case has raised a lot of questions that have gone unanswered by state leaders and left people throughout the world baffled. These questions will undoubtedly be answered eventually and display basic incompetence and the overreach of right-wing ideology in Oklahoma. It’s the same old story.

The right-wingers here in the days to come will want to obfuscate by talking about potassium chloride versus potassium acetate, but the real issue is the death penalty itself. More than 150 people sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1973. The death penalty in this country is applied unevenly on a state-by-state basis. Glossip is white, but racial prejudice clearly is a factor in death penalty cases as is our entire corrections and judicial system in this country.

What happened in 1997 to Van Treese, a husband and father, was horrific and tragic, and his family deserves closure and our heartfelt sympathies, but the Glossip case has been extended and become symbolic of glaring government errors, unfair prosecutorial treatment and conservative law-and-order overreach.

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