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.

$7 Gasoline and Okie Mythology

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Some financial pundits are predicting Americans will soon be paying $7 a gallon for gasoline, and, rest assured, when it happens the corporate media here will spin this on one level as great news for Oklahoma because local energy companies will benefit with massive profits.

Sure, you might see the obligatory times-are-tough stories. But, really, who cares that you cannot afford to drive to work anymore? What is good for energy companies is good for Oklahoma, the mantra goes at The Oklahoman and Tulsa World. It has become a deeply entrenched Okie mythology that Oklahoma’s quality of life and the happiness of its people is dependent on the success of a handful of energy companies here and throughout the world.

When gasoline prices go up, well, then Okies should be dancing in the streets, right? After all, these wonderful energy companies contribute much to the state’s tax base and provide great jobs. Why, you are simply un-American and un-Oklahoman if you do not love those wonderful energy companies who make life so great here.

The only problem here is the mythology is not the least bit true. This is what energy company worship has wrought in this state: Oklahomans have relatively low average incomes when compared to other states. It does not provide adequate funding for education because its tax base is traditionally low and shrinking because of recent tax cuts that reward wealthy people. Its deteriorating roads and bridges are some of the worst in the nation. The state has high rates of hungry families, poverty and uninsured people. It ranks close to the lowest in the nation in most categories dealing with health issues.

Meanwhile, some local energy executives use their wealth to support ultra-right wing politicians and initiatives that help promote the oil-company mythology. This keeps the state’s political leadership mired in a corporate-worship mindset that hurts ordinary Oklahomans and rewards only the relatively few millionaires in the Okie oligarchy.

So what happens to a state that has been built on the sanctity of energy companies and planned on the ubiquity of the automobile when gasoline prices hit $7 a gallon?

During the last belch of The Oil Age, expect Oklahoma, in particular, to face incredible fallout. The state’s sprawling cities and neighborhoods were planned on cheap gasoline, for example, even though the idea of diminishing supplies of oil has been discussed for decades. Who will lose out as people here move closer together in centralized locations? More importantly, who will want to move here knowing they might have to drive 300 miles or more each week? As the economy sours even more because of rising costs, local energy companies will have even more leverage here to call the political shots.

The solutions are obvious, but nothing will happen here until we face a full-blown crisis because of the current political influence of energy companies. Here are some obvious solutions to rising gasoline prices: The state should become more sustainable. Oklahoma City and Tulsa should centralize their neighborhoods and important institutions. Local governments should provide new funding for mass transit. The government here should encourage the use of alternative energy sources through tax incentives.

The first thing that must happen, however, is for Oklahomans to stop electing politicians who support the agenda of oil companies over the needs of struggling families. A vote for politicians such as U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, who support the interests of energy companies over regular families, is an act of self-loathing. It should be known as a form of family abuse.

The financial success of energy companies has been an integral initiative of the failed neoconservative experiment, and these companies have reaped record profits. Now it is shaping up to be a year of great political change in this country. It would be a shame if Oklahoma once again got left behind, but it seems inevitable at this point.

Once the last bit of oil and natural gas is sucked from the soil here, the energy companies will leave and never come back. They are a blip on the state’s and country’s history. They have prevented the state from prospering by using political manipulation to protect their narrow interests, and that is what the historical record will show.

Carlin and Russert

When NBC’s big-shot infotainer Tim Russert recently died, he received the equivalent of a state funeral and the corporate media lauded him for days as a great “journalist.” Imperial President George Bush even attended Russert’s wake to obviously thank him posthumously for his unequivocal support of the Iraq invasion and ensuing occupation.

When comedian George Carlin died a couple of weeks later, the media offered up obligatory obituaries.

This is yet another example of how the mainstream media distorts reality and significance. Carlin and his comedy, which always offered brilliant critiques of our culture, will be remembered as an essential part of the American milieu in the last half of the twentieth century. Russert, who hosted Meet The Press, will be forgotten in a few years or so. If Russert is remembered at all, it will be as a sidenote, as one of those millionaire celebrity infotainers who served as a toady for the most corrupt presidential regime in the country’s history.

But Everything Is Okay . . . Really

Bush and McCain

The GOP’s complicit enablers in the corporate media have finally solved all the country’s current problems and just in time for the November elections.

Here is the new message: Everything is actually okay. Americans complain too much. The media (gosh, darn us) make everything seem so bad when, in fact, all is well. Americans are doing great. We do not need to change a thing.

Rising energy, gasoline, college tuition and grocery costs, lack of health insurance or adequate medical care, the mortgage crisis, stagnant wages, well, apparently these are relatively minor issues that get exaggerated, according to the new spin. By historical standards, the numbers show everything is hunky-dory.

Here’s the The Washington Post on the issue:

Ask Americans how the economy is doing, and their answer is stark: It is not just bad, it is run-for-the-hills terrible. Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in almost 30 years. Only 12 percent of Americans think the economy is in good shape. On the Internet, comparisons to the Great Depression are widespread.

But the reality is different. According to most broad measures of how the economy is doing, it's not all that grim.

So why all the silly whining?

Some analysts attribute Americans' negative views on the economy to media coverage, which tends to play bad news more prominently than good news. There is ample research proving that, say, a drop in the stock market or rise in the unemployment rate gets more extensive news coverage than a move in the reverse direction. (In other news, newspapers tend to cover plane crashes more extensively than a safe landings.)

This creates a real problem for our country’s great and revered financial leaders, according to The Post.

This paradox has created a unique challenge for those guiding the economy, who worry that Americans' pessimistic views will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Two-thirds of the economy is consumer spending. So if people's negative outlook leads them to cut their spending, a steeper downturn could happen.

On a local level, The Oklahoman, which is the nation’s most conservative metropolitan newspaper, has jumped on the bandwagon with an editorial urging everyone to cheer up. The editorial (“Bad news bearers: Image can really be everything,” June 24, 2008) cites a Wall Street Journal article by a think-tank pundit who follows the GOP line on the economy.

And yet, polling shows Americans feel about as bad as they ever have about the general state of things. Why? Easterbrook points largely to the media. "Whatever goes wrong in the country or around the world is telecast 24/7, making us think the world is falling to pieces ...” he says. "If a factory closes, that's news. If a factory opens, that's not a story.”

The editorial then urges Oklahomans to “take some of what you read and watch and hear with a grain of salt. And cheer up.”

Of course, all rational people here have taken The Oklahoman with a “grain of salt” for decades, and these rational people also know a GOP talking points initiative when they encounter it.

If the GOP and their enablers in the media can convince a certain number of Americans that their bleak financial situations are really not that bad, then maybe they can convince them that this country really does not need to change directions. Consequently, if the country does not need to change directions, then the 71-year-old John McCain will do just fine as president preserving the status quo.

These specious arguments about how things are not so bad are part of a political ruse in the Karl Rove tradition. The Post numbers, for example, lack context. Maybe the unemployment numbers are supposedly not as bad as in 1980, but how many people have left the work force under the President George Bush regime because they cannot find jobs? The article does not even mention the rise of hungry, broke families. The country’s food banks, for example, have been stretched thin in the current financial crisis. Even The Oklahoman has mentioned this issue on a local level. Who can even trust the government numbers this article cites?

Does anyone still believe any information or statistics released by the current presidential administration?

What about the worker who does not have the money to pay the health insurance co-pay on a simple medical test? What about those people who have lost their homes recently to foreclosure? What about rising energy costs beyond gasoline for our vehicles? What about college students who have faced steep tuition increases in recent years? Of course, people do not think the current government will do anything about these issues. Of course, they are pessimistic. They should be.

It comes down to this: If you want change, then throw the GOP bums out of office. Do not vote for John McCain.

Does this mean everything is gloom and doom? No. This is not yet the Great Depression. No one pretends it is. Still, where is the reform?

Do you think health insurance premiums or health care costs will ever be lowered in this country without government intervention? Do you think the oil companies will reduce their profit margins to help Americans drive to work? Do you think the utility companies on their own will reduce rates to help out struggling families?

After the long, gruesome Bush years, we need a federal government that cares about and is responsive to ordinary people and families in this country. The only way that will happen is if people vote for their interests this November.

The Oklahoma College Tuition Paradox

The recently announced tuition increases of 9.9 percent this coming fall at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are the result of the state’s recent income tax cuts, which heavily favored wealthy people.

As state revenues decline because of the tax cuts, universities and colleges are forced to raise tuition just to meet basic operating costs, such as utility expenses.

Sure, you might have received a $100 break on your Oklahoma taxes over the last two years or so, but now your college tuition or your children’s tuition has gone up so much it has wiped out any net gain. Do you or your child drive to school? Well, that is going to cost you a lot more as well given the country’s energy crisis that the neoconservatives have done nothing about. Fees and textbook prices are up as well. But you have (or once had) your $100 and you can feel good knowing the state's rich people get an extra vacation or two using their tax break money

Republican Versus Republican

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The continuing saga of House Bill 1804 here opens up the question again about the disparate interests of rank-and-file Republicans and their moneyed leadership, and it foretells a massive GOP schism.

HB 1804 is the anti-illegal immigration law passed in Oklahoma last year. Some contend it is the strictest such legislation in the country. Sponsored by state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Moore Republican, the bill denies illegal immigrants state services, and it also requires state businesses verify their employees can legally work in this country.

The anti-illegal immigration initiative is a national platform of so-called law-and-order Republicans, many of whom feel undocumented workers get a free ride on taxes and drive down wages for everyone. The GOP moneyed interests, which has always made up or influenced the major leadership of the party, want a pool of workers they can exploit and pay low wages.

Consequently, HB 1804 is a microcosm of the tenuous relationship between working class and rich Republicans.

Recently, those who represent the moneyed Republicans were able to get a judge to block the enforcement of the work eligibility verification process contained in the legislation. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron blocked the employee verification process, which could conceivably enable companies to continue to employ illegal immigrants.

Those who brought the suit against the law included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries. Certainly, the two chambers are widely known as pro-corporation, Republican bastions. Even the most conservative newspaper in the country, The Oklahoman, has criticized Terrill’s bill.

The state, as a matter of routine, appealed the decision to the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals. It now has until July 3 to outline its case, according to media reports.

So it is Republican versus Republican in a classic lawsuit that shows how the vast majority of GOP party members—the law-and-order types—support national leaders who do not share their world reality and will never do so.

Meanwhile, some Democratic Party leaders have long advocated a common sense approach to the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in this country. Recognizing both the problem of illegal immigration and the gargantuan task of arresting and deporting millions of people, some Democratic leaders have proposed a federal temporary guest worker program that levies fines and other penalties. It calls on better border protection. The point is to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

Actually, law-and-order Republicans have far more in common on this issue with most Democrats, who recognize illegal immigration is a problem and want to do something realistic about it. The Republican corporate interests are perfectly fine with the way things are because they can exploit employees and conceivably keep wages down. Terrill’s bill and others like it are easy legal targets because attorneys can argue the legislations' sweeping provisions conflict with federal laws and mandates.

In the end, the story of HB 1804 shows all the obvious contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the GOP these days. This idea of an emerging Republican populism among working class Americans has always been problematic and complicated. Rich people still run the show in the GOP, and they always will. Will this obvious schism, which HB 1804 has brought into the open once again, dilute the GOP’s election strength this year as the failed neoconservative experiment comes to an end?

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