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.

Uptight Oklahoma

Image of state Capitol and church

A new study ranks Oklahoma high in “tightness,” or perhaps it might be better to describe it as “uptightness.” It’s not bombshell news for many of us here, but uptightness does influence the quality and personal freedom of day-to-day life here

Two University of Maryland psychologists, Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand, have developed a theory they call “tightness-looseness,” which they use to rank geographical places. As you might expect, tight places have little tolerance for people breaking minor rules or living outside the box while loose places give people more leeway to express themselves freely.

Oklahoma is ranked the fourth tightest state, right under, respectively, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. As you might expect, most of the tight states have numerous negative social problems, such as high incarceration rates, and poor medical access. They have more consistent severe weather. They have fewer artists, such as writers and painters. In Oklahoma’s case, I would definitely stress that overt right-wing religious extremism palpable here on a daily basis is a part of our “tightness.”

The report notes "a negative and linear relationship between tightness and happiness.” That means the authors make the claim that, overall, people in loose states are happier than people in tight states. How happiness gets measured on any scale seems problematic to me, but I tend to agree generally with the assumption, especially when you examine depression and anxiety levels.

The ranking corresponds pretty much to the red state/blue state divide in the country and, consequently, the information could have substantive political potential. Yet I wonder if the study really only gives an academic frame that most open-minded and progressive people here in Oklahoma already known in a deep-seated manner. Sometimes, it takes a visit elsewhere to make it more manifest. In the freedom of Paris recently, I was struck by this very dichotomy.

Tea Party voters here yell “freedom” at every opportunity but it’s difficult to know what they mean on a personal level. Oklahoma is a place with oppressive laws, from the banning of same-sex marriage to the arcane restrictions on alcohol to the severe implementation of draconian drug laws. Because of our tightness, we end up with poor health outcomes and depression.

For some of us who stayed in Oklahoma and made our lives here for whatever reason or responsibility, this study probably just states the obvious. It can be suffocating to live here. The local, mainstream news, for example, is often enough to remind us of this place’s ultra-tightness level. The solution, of course, is to seek open-minded communities and friendship groups, which do exist here. This is easier for some people more than others. We can work to change things as well, but success can only be measured in generational terms at this point.

The bottom line is that tight Oklahoma can be an oppressive place for open-minded people. I believe we lose an extraordinary number of creative people to other places because of the overall ambience of sternness and intolerance here.

Dorman Offers Up School Funding Plan, Links Fallin To Barresi

Image of Joe Dorman

Joe Dorman’s campaign for governor took a strong step in the right direction Thursday when it linked Gov. Mary Fallin to controversial outgoing State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and offered up a plan to better fund schools.

In a press release, Dorman, the Democratic nominee for governor, pointed out, “Governor Fallin failed students. On her watch, hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from education, in contrast to other states that have chosen to invest in education. She allowed her State Superintendent, Janet Barresi, to run amok.”

Of course, Republicans might see this as typical attack politics, but it’s simply a fact that Barresi’s aggressive stances were supported principally and myopically by Fallin and the editorial board of The Oklahoman, which had its own personal vested interest in Barresi. Oklahoman Republicans disapproved of Barresi's actions so much that she came in third in the primary of her reelection attempt. She’s now a lame duck. Joy Hofmeister won the election and is the Republican nominee for the position.

Fallin’s support for Barresi in how she implemented the A-F assessment system for schools and high-stakes testing, especially reading tests for third graders, remained consistent through Barresi’s stormy tenure. If Hofmeister is elected, and Republicans are expected to sweep state offices again in November, will she be pressured by Fallin to follow Barresi’s lead, only in a softer, less aggressive demeanor?

But is Fallin infallible when it comes to her reelection because of national politics, primarily President Barack Obama’s unpopularity here, which is outside Dorman’s control? That might be so, but that doesn’t mean an honest, aggressive campaign doesn’t stand a chance at all or that it isn’t worth it for Democrats down the road.

Dorman’s plan, called “Classrooms First,” would dedicate the state’s business franchise tax to classroom instruction. In a press conference about his plan, Dorman said it would add about $50 a year per pupil. This doesn’t seem like a lot of money, and trying to use franchise tax money is problematic because Republicans have indicated they want to end this tax on businesses altogether, but the point is to stop Oklahoma’s race to the bottom when it comes to funding its education systems. Let’s at least explore the possibilities.

What always gets overlooked in the recent debate over the state’s schools is the fact that funding for them was cut by a drastic 22.8 percent since The Great Recession in 2008, the most in the nation. It’s a form of outright cruelty to make such massive cuts in education and then implement draconian assessment measures that are designed to show failure.

Dorman’s plan is not a game-changer when it comes to increased funding for education, but it starts a debate that needs to happen in Oklahoma. He should also continue to expose the specifics of Fallin’s support for Barresi. It doesn’t even have to be couched in attack language. It’s just a fact, backed by copious amounts of evidence.

It’s illogical to think we can cut our school funding the most in the nation and expect high test scores in return. Dorman apparently recognizes this. No, this doesn’t mean money solves every issue in education, but everyone should know that cheap stuff breaks easier.

A Settled View Never To Be Determined By Science

Electric car in Amsterdam filling up

The Oklahoman published a really goofy editorial this week about earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process that bears noting and refuting.

For anyone else that follows the newspaper’s editorial page as closely as I do—and I only do it in an attempt to undermine the right-wing propaganda—you will immediately recognize the stylistics of this particular commentary, titled “Looking for fault as earthquake swarm continues in Oklahoma.”

It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek editorials, complete with what the writer must see as clever wordplay and with attempts at humor on an issue that some people are taking very serious. So we get “NIMBY, meet NUMBY,” not in my backyard but, instead, not UNDER my backyard. Get it? Disposal wells would be UNDER a backyard, right? A real knee slapper. How about this one then? The earthquakes are just maybe because “Atlas is just shrugging more than usual these days.” Hilarious.

But beyond the grating attempt at humor, the editorial does a grave disservice to Oklahomans for not supplying crucial details about studies linking the recent earthquake swarm here to injection wells used in the fracking process. Instead, it relies on generalizations and presumes the issue has produced a mob mentality that—it’s the NUMBYS’ fault—is off target.

The editorial’s thesis is the same argument made by most people in the oil and gas industry. The argument goes like this: There is no definitive proof linking injection wells to the earthquakes, and thus everyone should shut up here and let Atlas do what he’s going to do.

But can there ever be the definitive proof along the lines sought by The Oklahoman and the oil and gas industry, whatever that might be? I would argue that no scientific evidence, no matter how compelling and revealing, would force the oil and gas industry and their sycophants in the media to accept liability for the earthquakes.

In the fracking process, wastewater is injected into disposal or injection wells underground by high pressure. Scientists believe this can cause instability within rock formations that trigger earthquakes along fault lines.

Here’s what we know: (1) Scientists have linked specific injection wells in Oklahoma to earthquakes. (2) Earthquakes are increasing in other states, which are experiencing an increase in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. (3) The government has linked earthquakes to injection wells for decades. I’ve written about that here.

The editorial does mention scientists, but only to make a point that when it come to earthquakes and disposal wells it’s not “settled science.” (Sound familiar? That’s a term conservatives use about global warming as well.) It doesn’t mention the most recent study that actually names four disposal wells in the Oklahoma City area that might be causing problems. It doesn’t mention how the issue transcends Oklahoma and has been a problem in other places. It doesn’t frame the issue in a historical perspective.

It also violates accepted rules of journalism by failing to note the newspaper is owned by Philip Anschutz, who made his millions as an oilman in Wyoming.

The editorial also makes the argument that fracking and disposal wells have been around for a long time without earthquake problems—a regurgitation of an oil and gas industry’s claim—but fails to note the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma and elsewhere. It’s a false comparison to argue that what’s going on with oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma in 2014 is the same as it was in 1980.

Sometimes, one wonders how the newspaper stays in business. Many of the earthquakes, for example, have struck in or near Edmond, a prized demographic area for many of the newspaper’s advertisers. A recent town hall in Edmond on the issue attracted hundreds of people, many angry at the lack of action on the state level. To dismiss this group of people with patronizing quips seems like a form of business suicide.

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