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.

Conservative City

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It’s no big surprise that Oklahoma City ranks as the second most conservative big city in the nation, according to a recent academic study, but it does confirm progressives here face a huge wall when it comes to community activism and getting liberals elected to office.

Does it mean progressives should give up trying to change the political climate here? No. But it does mean progressives should realize the overall fight for basic concepts such as equality and social justice is long-term in central Oklahoma.

The study, which was conducted by scholars Chris Tausanovitch of UCLA and Christopher Warshaw of MIT and published in the American Political Science Review, was based on the analysis of large surveys. The authors created an ideological scale for 51 cities with a population of 250,000 or more. Here’s an AlterNet story about the study.

Mesa, AZ was ranked the most conservative city, followed, in order, by Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, VA, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville. Tulsa was ranked the ninth most conservative city. The most liberal cities were, in order, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Seattle, Oakland, and Boston. New York was ranked the eighth most liberal city.

For progressives here, the study basically confirms what we already know, and, obviously, it’s not good news. Yet it’s a solid reminder that we operate and live in an extreme, sometimes radical, conservative political place. That knowledge can not only help us cope with our marginalization but also help dictate activist strategy.

What do you do when the odds are constantly overwhelmingly NOT in your favor? Who should you support politically when even Democrats can hold right-wing views? How do you get your voice heard when the vast majority of people around you don’t care about what you have to say or despise your views?

The study absolutely SHOULD NOT be welcomed news for those city and business leaders who want Oklahoma City to grow and become more culturally vibrant and interesting. Conservative ideology stifles diversity and plural cultural opportunities, two components of any great city.

Italicized Shaming

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The Oklahoman recently published a fatuous editorial about the state’s strict third-grade reading test law, arguing with heavy handed italicized emphasis that it and the ensuing fallout has shown thousands of state students can’t read.

Leave aside the editorial's overall sweeping generalization about “thousands” of students, which is hyperbolic. The editorial presents a red-herring argument that minimalizes and distorts the arguments of those people that oppose the law while effectively shaming elementary school students who struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, many of which are not related to instruction.

The law mandates that third-grade students be held back if they can’t pass a high-stakes test showing they read at a first-grade or higher level. State law allows some exemptions and alternative tests, but those other tests or the fallout from the law, according to the editorial, also show too many students can’t read.

Here are the two italicized sentences in the editorial that supposedly make the big point that so many of us have just been too stupid so far to understand: “Those students really can’t read! Thousands of Oklahoma students simply haven’t learned how to read.

Note the exclamation point after the first italicized sentence. It’s as if the editorial writer is reveling in the reading struggles of a group of third-grade students, some of whom undoubtedly have learning disabilities or problematic home lives. Some children live in poverty and go hungry on a regular basis!

The editorial also doesn’t fairly address those who oppose the law. I’m one of them. I definitely oppose the third-grade reading test and other high-stake tests in public schools. I know that some students struggle with reading. I know how important reading is as a foundational lifelong learning tool. I know that some students get to the third grade in Oklahoma and other states and can’t read well. But I also know the educational system—not newspaper editorial writers and politicians—should address the reading issue with individual students and parents, and educators do address the issue, which is a holistic one that involves more than just sitting down with a child and sounding out words and reading sentences aloud.

The third-grade reading law is really just a political weapon intentionally designed to show the failure of schools and to justify the push for the privatization of public education. The law is designed so editorial writers at conservative newspapers can gleefully write, “Thousands of Oklahoma students simply haven’t learned how to read.” Pop open the champagne. Why not also write, “Millions of elementary school students in the country live in poverty and dysfunctional homes!” Then open another bottle.

There’s no argument that some at-risk students struggle at school. Why would The Oklahoman and conservative politicians even need to make this point unless it wasn’t politically motivated? The issue is whether we nurture and help develop the students’ capabilities or if we shame them with italicized language and consequently help label and stigmatize them. The second approach, which The Oklahoman apparently endorses, is abusive and only creates more learning blocks for students.

As I’ve argued over and over, the conservative school “reform” movement is deliberately designed to show failure. First and foremost, the school reformers here starve public education of needed funding. Oklahoma, for example, has cut education by 23.6 percent since the 2008 recession, which is more than any other state in the nation.

The reformers then implement high-stakes testing and individual school evaluations that focus on punishment for individual students and educators. Public shaming of students that get held back and educators at schools with meaningless F grades are a major part of the process. This is followed by criticism of teachers’ unions and a push for charter schools and further privatization of our educational system. It’s a long-term effort to dismantle public education in this country, which, if it happened, would essentially lead to the dismantling of our democracy.

Let’s help the kids that can’t read. No one can argue against that. Give them more teachers, the best textbooks and encouragement. But, as a society, we also need to work to eliminate child poverty and provide kids with adequate health care. The problem of poor school performance of individual students is more often than not a holistic one and multi-layered. Tests and punishments only serve to further a conservative political agenda. It has nothing to do with helping students to read.

Republicans Blame Hollywood Elite For Fracking Misconceptions

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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.

The report, titled “Setting The Record Straight: Hydraulic Fracturing and America’s Energy Revolution,” was prepared by the Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Oklahoma’s own U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the EPW Committee, lauded the report, arguing “. . . this report dispels the falsehoods perpetuated by the Obama Administration and environmental extremists about hydraulic fracturing.”

Who is the extremist? Someone like Inhofe, who has long argued that the science of climate change is a worldwide leftist conspiracy or someone in Oklahoma concerned injection wells used in the fracking process are causing nerve-rattling earthquakes every other day where they live?

The report itself is such a political statement that one wonders why the Republicans even bothered to dress it up in a “study” format. Here’s another sentence from the report: “Far-left environmental groups have teamed up with President Obama’s federal bureaucrats and the Hollywood elite in a coordinated effort to distort the truth about hydraulic fracturing and try to sway public opinion against it. “ How can anyone possibly take the “report” seriously after reading that? Movie stars are ruining America’s energy independence? That’s just nonsense.

Let’s be clear that fracking is a highly intensive industrial process that needs constant monitoring and heavy regulation. In the fracking process, water and chemicals are injected by high pressure into rock formations to release oil and gas. The wastewater is then injected into underground disposal wells. Scientists and environmentalists, have argued that the fracking process can lead to ground and surface water contamination. They have also linked wastewater disposal wells to a surge in earthquakes, especially in Oklahoma. On a larger level, the carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have contributed to global warming that threatens the planet.

To simply argue that the environmental impact of fracking is non-existent or negligible is, in itself, a sort of extremism that panders to rich oil and gas industry executives. Since 1989, Inhofe has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The larger question, then, is how to release oil and gas from the ground with the least amount of impact to the environment, not whether Hollywood elites and President Barack Obama are meeting in secret lairs plotting the demise of the diabolical fossil fuel cabal. It should be noted on a more serious level that the fracking boom has continued while Obama has been in office.

This country and the entire world needs to invest more in the development of renewable energy sources that have the least amount of impact on the environment. No report or, to be more accurate in this case, no amount of clichéd political sloganeering can dispel that argument.

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