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.

Okie Voter Vortex of Apathy

All the local discussion and punditry hype and think-tank mush about the political disengagement of Oklahomans fail to note the obvious and the reality.

The obvious and the reality are that political apathy here is based on the fact that conservatives—both Republicans and Democrats—and the right-wing corporate media here have shut down any real political debate in the public square.

This means people are labeled freaks if they passionately question whether the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, leads to environmental damage or if they believe impoverished people should have access to health care or if they want to argue teachers should get paid halfway decent wages.

These arguments are presented by activists, for sure, and on a blog like this, but under present circumstances they’re never going to get a full and extended hearing, say, in The Oklahoman or on News9 in Oklahoma City. Why become politically engaged when news anchor Kelly Ogle or the editorial board of The Oklahoman will dismiss such engagement with sarcastic, self-righteous indignation worth about two cents?

Better to just move out of this place or shut up, right? That’s the prevailing message that everyone eventually gets in Oklahoma one way or another.

Here’s a link to a blog post by Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post, which outlines Oklahoma’s pathetic “political disengagement.” Here’s the gist of the matter from Chokshi enlightening post:

Oklahomans consistently rank near the bottom on a variety of measures of political obsession — or engagement, depending on your perspective. Only two states saw a smaller share of eligible voters cast ballots in 2012, and just seven states had a smaller share of residents registered to vote, according to census data. People in Oklahoma were 10th most likely to say they never vote in local elections, 11th most likely to say they infrequently discuss politics with family and friends, and 14th most likely to say they don’t express their political or community opinions online, according to data collected by the census in 2013.

It’s a rough assessment, but when those five rankings are combined, Oklahoma scores higher than any other state on political disengagement — ahead of Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.

The Oklahoman editorial board supposedly laments this lack of participation and calls it a “perpetual problem,” but the newspaper itself is the problem. It operates as a monopoly in the dying business of hard-copy newspapers, and it doesn’t allow consistent, dissenting opposition to its extremist right-wing views. Why participate?

Of course, the newspaper didn’t even think low voter turnout was a problem way back in 2014.

One of the newspaper’s former editorial page editors, Patrick McGuigan, was unabashed about it back in 1998. McGuigan said back then, “"We're trying to change the political culture; we're trying to make Oklahoma a conservative bastion." Mission accomplished. That’s why McGuigan is being inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame this month.

Obviously, there are solutions beyond better and fairer journalism to the problem. We can make it easier to register to vote. We can start combining our local election days with general election days. We can teach our children in schools about the importance of civic duty, but that’s problematic here in the era of right-wing, gay-bashing extremists, such as state Rep Sally Kern of Oklahoma City. She might call that liberal indoctrination. Better to just move out of this place or shut up, right? But I said that already.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute lays it all out here in its incredibly wonky and beautiful way as usual, but I see OKPolicy as part of the morass these days. I didn’t think this at one time, but now I do. The organization has absorbed The Oklahoma Observer, for example, and has become the token “liberal” viewpoint for the media, especially for The Oklahoman, but its centrist-to-left views hardly challenge the right-wing orthodoxy here. On some of the real important issues, such as the environmental impact of fracking in the state, OKPolicy doesn’t have much to say at all. Since its creation, the state voters have become more conservative and monolithic and apathetic. I guess you could say that about this blog, too. But I don’t get paid by or take my orders from corporations. I’ve never accepted one cent of advertising money or even contributions of any kind just to prove Okie Funk’s complete independence.

It can be absolutely scary when you don’t know what someone might say or do. Sometimes in the world of politics, and especially when it comes to political engagement, that can be a useful tool. We all know what OKPolicy and The Oklahoman are going to say or do. How will that sameness and repetition help people become more politically motivated? What new chart or statistical analysis will help us here? What groundbreaking, right-wing editorial will motivate some young person to become politically active and help end the earthquakes here in central Oklahoma?

Maybe, New York Times columnist and professor Paul Krugman is correct that politics these days is now all about the party. The Republicans here and elsewhere have moved so far to the extreme right, according to Krugman, there’s little to do but vote against a party and its ideas. It’s not about the individual running for office anymore. Ignore all that. Anyone but a Republican? But this can breed its own form of apathy, too.

In the end, though, it might just be something in the water here in Oklahoma. Maybe it’s all the mental illness, the poor health care, the poverty, the closed minds, the religious fundamentalism, the denial of any personal agency for anyone seeking it, the tornadoes and now the earthquakes that no one will do anything about. Let’s just call it the vortex of apathy with two sides of anxiety.

Right To Vagueness

Crops and Clouds by Dave Toussaint on Flickr The Commons

A measure dubbed by its critics as “the right to harm” law would leave it up to voters to decide if farms and ranches in Oklahoma would go virtually unregulated, which could lead to an increase in pollution and animal abuse here.

House Joint Resolution 1012, which has overwhelmingly passed the House in a 90-6 vote, would let voters decide to amend the state’s constitution to make farming and ranching “forever guaranteed” in the state. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Scott Biggs of Chickasha and state Sen. Jason Smalley of Stroud, both Republicans.

Here’s the key language in the measure, which would appear as a ballot measure in the November 2016 general election:

To protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma's economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma's economy, the rights of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.

The resolution creating the ballot question and measures like it across the country—one such law has been approved in Missouri, for example—are called “right to farm” bills and their supporters frame their case in the typical conservative, sloganeering language of “freedom” and “fighting government encroachment.” But this resolution is so open and sweeping it opens the door for farmers and ranchers to indiscriminately pollute groundwater and treat animals abusively. The possibilities for water pollution near urban areas and less-regulated puppy mills could increase enormously if the measure can withstand legal scrutiny.

Oklahoma is already dealing with the environmental problems created by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, which critics say leads to water pollution and scientists have tied to the huge surge in earthquakes here.

Now the legislature seems ready to pass a bill that could eventually make Oklahoma an even more unsafe place to live. The measure does allow for “a compelling state interest” to enable the legislature to pass laws related to farming and ranching, but the language is so nebulous and contradictory it doesn’t even make sense. If lawmakers can actually pass laws because of the state’s “compelling interest” that abridge “the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices,” then what’s the point of the measure anyway? What’s a “compelling interest”? How do we even define farming and ranching as we consider the growing popularity of locally grown food by small operations? Wouldn’t this bill further help large corporate farming operations to escape regulation and erode the number of family farms even more?

The measure, according to ThinkProgress, is part of an overall political initiative by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is a conservative group noted for its support for corporate interests. Obviously, some family farms can be large operations, but common sense dictates this bill would only encourage corporate farming here.

The Oklahoma Farm Bureau adamantly supports the bill. Groups such as The Humane Society and Sierra Club oppose it.

State Sen. Kay Floyd, an Oklahoma City Democrat, has offered an amendment to the bill that would make the “right to farm” ballot a county-by-county special election, arguing a statewide amendment could interfere with local municipality laws.

The amendment, if passed, like other sweeping measures and amendments passed in recent years by the legislature and Oklahoma, could also conflict with federal laws. This would once again lead to a costly lawsuit for the state.

Let’s be clear: Farmers and ranchers here already have the right to grow crops and raise livestock. Nuisance and zoning laws help mediate issues that can arise when urban and rural interests collide. This measure is simply a way to supposedly get around basic and needed regulations when it comes to the environment. I write “supposedly” because I sincerely doubt the amendment would render any federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law or requirement obsolete.

If this amendment question makes it to the ballot in its current form, no one here is really going to know what she or he is voting for in all reality. The Oklahoma Senate should reject HJR 1012.

Tax Day

Image of James Lankford

There’s probably nothing cornier or more predictable than a conservative politician issuing some generic statement on so-called Tax Day, which is April 15, the due date for filing federal income taxes.

Of course, today is April 15, and our new junior U.S. Senator James Lankford has weighed in with a serious tome. Drum roll, please. It goes like this:

The federal government’s overly complex tax code, which contains over 4 million words and has changed over 4,600 times in the last 12 years, is a burden on all of us.

As we conclude the first year of the individual mandate of Obamacare in the federal tax code, we see the consequences the failed law has on American taxpayers. With only four percent of enrolled households receiving the correct Obamacare subsidy and half of the enrollees forced to repay a portion of the aid, Obamacare has added a new layer of pain to Tax Day.

We cannot continue down a path where the federal tax code continues to grow in complexity and length. The IRS gains power in the complexity of the tax code. Tax reform will not only simplify the code, it will also encourage economic growth by keeping the government out of every business. Tax reform will also confront the rampant tax fraud and identify theft that has plagued our nation.

The Obamacare reference, which makes no mention of how more people are receiving medical care, is so predictable and political and boring that even Lankford’s fellow conservatives’ eyes must have glazed over if they took the time to read this mush. But it’s what’s left out that matters. Why didn’t Lankford, for example, acknowledge that his salary and benefits are paid with taxpayer money. It could go something like this:

I want to thank American taxpayers today for paying me $174,000 plus benefits a year.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, who won Lankford’s District 5 seat in the November election, has his own take on Tax Day or does he?

Every year the United States tax code gets longer and more complicated. This past year saw the addition of over 3,000 pages of legal guidance added to IRS.gov on the tax ramifications of Obamacare alone. Also, with the IRS complaining they are too underfunded to properly pursue the billions of dollars in owed back taxes, it is beyond time to redo our entire tax system.

“I stand with many in Congress in support of the Fair Tax, a national tax on consumption to replace the income tax, which would help broaden the tax base and simplify the tax process for all citizens. We cannot continue failed policies just because they have become entrenched in our society. Let us develop a strategy that will work for Americans, strengthen our economy and help pay down our growing national debt.”

Note the eyes-gazing-over reference to Obamacare again. But it’s the Fair Tax mention that deserves attention here. That’s the proposal to replace the federal income tax with a whopping 23 percent federal sales tax (some argue it’s actually around 30 percent) on purchases, which would set in motion one of the largest black markets for all goods in the history of humankind and place a huge burden on the most impoverished in our culture and also the middle class.

I wonder if Russell is thankful for U.S. taxpayers paying his $174,000 salary for dispensing this type of wisdom on Tax Day.

Anyway, happy Tax Day! Here’s my statement:

I don’t consider paying taxes one of the fun things I do on a regular basis, but I do see how important it is to the operations of our federal government. I also think our elected federal government officials should be grateful for their taxpayer-funded salaries, which are quite high in terms of the national average. The fact politicians such as Lankford and Russell don’t have the decency and gratitude to thank taxpayers for their income calls into question any arguments they make about taxes in general.

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