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.

Blame Shame

Image of Oklahoma state Capitol and church

This country’s prisons are filled with self-professed Christians who have committed heinous acts of violence, but few Oklahoma politicians will want to note this obvious fact.

Instead, right-wing politicians here distort and cast aspersions on one of the world’s largest religions, Islam, based on the extremely non-religious and unholy actions of one solitary person.

Why not blame all of Christianity for Timothy McVeigh, the maniac who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in 1995, killing 168 people? Some people argue he was influenced by the extremist Christian Identity Movement, and he grew up as a Catholic. But that’s different, right?

Alton Nolen has been charged with murder after police say he decapitated a worker last week at Vaughan Foods in Moore. Nolen, who had just been suspended from his job at the company, had supposedly tried to convert a fellow worker to Islam and had photos of Osama bin Laden and a beheading on his Facebook page.

Some right-wingers here immediately called the case an act of terrorism without any regard for simple logic. What would be gained by Islamic terrorists, for example, by killing people at a company in, of all places, Moore, Oklahoma? Can you imagine terrorist group leaders in Syria or Iraq ordering Nolen to kill his fellow workers if he ever got suspended or fired from his job? None of that makes any sense, and the FBI is treating the murder as a case of workplace violence.

But Nolen’s professed Islamic beliefs—he converted to the religion apparently while in prison—was enough to fire up the anti-Islam crowd here.

The so-called Counterterrorism Caucus in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives called for “public discussion about potential terrorists in our midst and the role that Sharia law plays in their actions.” Those who signed off on the statement were state Reps. John Bennett (Sallisaw), Sean Roberts (Hominy), Lewis Moore (Arcadia), Dan Fisher (El Reno), Mike Ritze (Broken Arrow), and Sally Kern, Mike Christian and Mike Reynolds, who are all from Oklahoma City.

Let’s be clear: Sharia Law, which is essentially an Islamic moral code, does not condone murdering your fellow workers once you get suspended from your job. Does that even need to be stated?

Bennett, it should be noted, has made controversial statements recently about Islam and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) even before the killing in Moore. His recent comment that Islam “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out” has drawn national attention and condemnation from CAIR.

Even Gov. Mary Fallin, who is up for reelection this year, decided to weigh in on the murder case with some typical fear mongering when she issued a statement that said “it is unclear at this time whether the crime was an act of terrorism, workplace violence, or a gruesome combination of both.” She also urged “Oklahomans to remain alert and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.” In other words, people, be scared.

There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and only a tiny fraction of them distort their religion to support violent acts of crime. There is also a long history of violent extremists who have distorted or used Christianity to support their violent acts. What about The Crusades or the Salem witch trials or David Koresh? What about the former but deep support for slavery among American Southern Baptist Churches? Doesn't slavery meet the definition of "terrorism"?

Do religions, in general, create hardened dichotomies of thinking among some people that turn into vitriol when those dichotomies get challenged or are not accepted? That’s the real public discussion we should have, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon in Oklahoma.

Obamacare Obsessions

Image of Scott Pruitt

How much money are Oklahoma’s taxpayers spending in order to prevent people from getting health insurance?

That’s one obvious question that should be asked after a reprimanded federal judge in Muskogee—in what I believe is a crass political ruling—agreed with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, that federal subsidies shouldn’t be allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in states that haven’t set up their own health insurance exchanges.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma ruled in favor of Pruitt’s lawsuit. After the health law was signed into law in 2010, the IRS implemented a rule that allowed federal exchanges to award subsidies under the ACA, which was the obvious intent of the law. Pruitt and other right-wingers, however, argue that IRS rule is unconstitutional, and they’re trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually side with them.

A federal appeals court in Virginia has upheld the IRS rule, and another appeals court in Washington D.C. initially sided with the anti-Obamacare crowd but has since vacated the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the overall constitutionality of the ACA in 2012. The right-wing is now simply trying reduce the effectiveness of the law.

Here are some points to consider about Tuesday’s ruling:

(1) White was nominated by former Republican President George W. Bush in 2003 and has been reprimanded for misconduct in his tenure. According to one 2011 news story, the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver reprimanded him after an “investigation found White used his power to appoint friends to be special judges in settlement proceedings even though they were unqualified.” It’s not difficult to see White’s decision as politically motivated given the president who nominated him as judge and his past judicial behavior, which indicates a problem with impartiality.

(2) Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin both hailed the political ruling as a great victory, but a ruling from a red-state obscure judge with apparent past ethical problems is hardly a panacea for those people who want to deny health care to low-income people. Fallin claimed that “Oklahomans won a major victory” because of the ruling, but that’s an obvious sweeping generalization. What about the Oklahomans who are benefiting from the law?

(3) As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted, Obamacare has been an overall success, and especially in those states that have embraced the obvious intent of the law and tried to get more people insured. This is a story pretty much ignored by the corporate media here and elsewhere. It’s much easier to report the reductionist doomsday predictions of right-wing politicians than to take a serious look at the growing numbers of people with health insurance in this country.

Meanwhile, Pruitt continues his relentless pursuit against Obamacare. How much is his obsession costing Oklahoma taxpayers? Are other issues, such as consumer protection, taking a backseat to Pruitt’s politically motivated agenda? My answers to those two questions: Too much. No doubt.

Finish It

Image of graphic related to American Indian Cultural Center and Museum

Does the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City remain unfinished mainly because of the long, sordid history of discrimination against indigenous people in this country?

It’s time to start seriously asking that question.

I’m sure the lawmakers, primarily Republicans, who refuse to complete the project by funding it would disagree and refer to the intricacies and quirks of the political process, but there the unfinished project sits, right off Interstate 40 in downtown Oklahoma, stalled since 2012.

It’s not difficult to view the project as a small gesture of reparation from the country’s dominant white culture, which removed native people from their lands and killed many of them in the process. Under this frame, the fact the project remains unfinished because the state government won’t fund it is yet another instance of institutionalized bigotry and the enduring legacy of European colonization of what became the United States. Would this be happening to a project depicting the history, lives and achievements of any particular group of people who identify as white and have ancestral ties to colonizers? That’s a question no one seems to want to ask.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, according to a recent story, doesn’t seem hopeful the state legislature next session can come up with the $40 million needed to help finish the project. Some leaders are even discussing handing the project off to Oklahoma City. If that needs to happen for the project to be completed, then so be it. Right now, the unfinished project serves as a perfect symbol for the current dominant Republican majority at the state Capitol, which spends much of its time passing frivolous legislation while leaving major issues unresolved.

Hickman argues that legislators outside of Oklahoma City have their own priorities, which apparently doesn’t include the cultural center. The problems with that argument are enormous. Here they are: (1) Everyone in the state will benefit from the center because of its educational value alone. Just imagine, for example, all the school field trips it would generate. (2) It is centrally located in the state, which ensures easy access for everyone in Oklahoma. (3) It will generate more revenue in its current location than if it were located in, say, Enid or Woodward. (4) If it’s a state project, then, philosophically speaking, it belongs to everyone in the state, not just to Oklahoma City residents. This is an important distinction. (5) It’s a major project that will add to the quality of life and should make everyone proud here.

The state has been asked to come up with the $40 million to match $40 million already pledged by private donors. Right now, the unfinished center costs $700,000 to maintain and $5 million in debt service each year, according to the story. That’s a lot of money for something that is fast becoming a symbol of calculated indifference if not blatant bigotry.

The overall cost of the center, which is being built with Smithsonian-type standards, is estimated at $170 million. There’s little doubt it would attract huge crowds from not only across the state and country but also even the world. It will generate its own self-sustaining revenue through ticket sales. It just has to be finished.

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