Good News/Bad News

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I wrote earlier about new U.S. Census Bureau numbers that showed the number of Oklahomans without health insurance has been declining in recent years. The report estimated that overall 15.9 percent of Oklahomans were uninsured in 2007-2008, which was down from 18.3 in 2006-2007.

This is good news, but it doesn’t change the need for health care reform.

Another recent Census report, however, claims the uninsured rate in Oklahoma City and Tulsa is around 23 to 24 percent. The report focused on the state’s largest metropolitan areas and on people younger than 65. Under this ranking or frame, Oklahoma is fifth among the states in uninsured people under 65.

These numbers are constantly changing and can be framed in different ways, but this is clear: There are too many uninsured people in Oklahoma and the nation. Uninsured people often put off going to the doctor and sometimes use emergency rooms for care. Often their conditions are in an advanced state because they didn’t seek treatment earlier. Their inability to pay for treatment then drives up the overall costs for health care and insurance. This is a cycle that has been in place for decades, and it needs to stop.

As debate begins on U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’s health care reform proposal, it’s important to realize that the some 47 million uninsured Americans are a part of a broken health care system that needs to be fixed.


More Budget Cuts For Oklahoma

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Oklahoma’s tax revenues continue to come in under estimates, which means more cuts are on the way.

Oklahoma Treasurer Scott Meachum reported last week that August revenues were down 32 percent from the same month a year ago. This news will trigger automatic five percent cuts in budgets for state agencies.

The OK Policy Blog, as usual, had the best take on the issue:

However, indications are growing that agencies that have thus far been able to absorb successive budget cuts by managing expenses more tightly are now being forced to consider more painful measures. The Office of Juvenile Affairs, for example, has already submitted a plan for up to 22 furlough days, along with measures to reduce staff. As the Tulsa World noted in an editorial last week, such proposals raise serious concerns about security at juvenile detention centers like the L.E. Rader Center.

The blog also mentioned recent comments made recently by Terri White, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Here are some of those comments as reported by

People will lose services if we have to make more cuts. There’s no other way around this.

All of those programs have outstanding outcomes and are very cost-effective. When we don’t provide the care we see people coming into contact with the criminal justice system. We see people injuring themselves and ending up in the emergency room, or children going to foster care because they may have a parent with a substance abuse issue.

Oklahoma has fared better than many states during the national recession, but the latest budget news is not good. Legislators could use some of the state’s Rainy Day money to help fix the budget problems, but right now it doesn’t look like they will meet in a special session anytime soon to vote on the issue.


Audacious Animosity

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I have to agree with former President Jimmy Carter that racism is fueling much of the irrational hostility faced by President Barack Obama these days.

Here’s Carter on the issue:

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans."

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

This is an important issue here in Oklahoma, which is the de facto headquarters of everything anti-Obama. Not a single county in Oklahoma gave him a majority during the 2008 election, and polls show he remains deeply unpopular here. Why? What does this say about the state? What has Obama specifically done to earn the extreme wrath of Oklahomans?

Obama inherited a mess from former President George Bush. He immediately had to deal with a major economic crisis as well as two military occupations. It was Bush who started the bank bailout, not Obama. Obama’s health care ideas—still not formally approved—won’t even cost as much as the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations or the recent tax cuts granted to the country’s most wealthiest citizens. Nothing he has done can even be remotely construed as socialist or a big government takeover of the private sector.

So why are mostly white people showing up with guns and screaming belligerently about Obama at this summer’s so-called “town hells”? What fuels those birthers who claim bizarrely that Obama is not a legitimate president because he wasn’t born in the United States? What compelled U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson to scream “you lie” when Obama addressed a joint session of Congress recently?

As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd puts it, “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”

Let’s be clear: Yes, one can oppose Obama’s political views and not be a racist. But the personal hatred, the boorishness and the irrationality of some people who oppose him simply cannot be construed any other way but as racist. It makes no sense any other way. Obama didn’t cause the country’s problems and decline. That was Bush. In addition, financial experts say the economy has started to expand again thanks in large part to Obama’s rescue, which included stimulus money for the states. Many people in Oklahoma still have jobs thanks to Obama. Without the stimulus money, the state’s finances would have been in much worse shape.

Those on the right will argue the left treated Bush with as much disdain as the right is treating Obama, and it did, but only after the Iraq military occupation proved to be a disaster in his second term and when civil liberties were threatened. Virtually the entire country, including many Republicans, eventually turned against Bush’s policies after initially supporting him.

If an Obama-supported health care plan had already been implemented and had proved to be a colossal failure, then, well, the personal hatred might be understandable at some level. But when there’s no real issue, only vague, weird assertions, then what does it mean? It can only mean racism. Obama is the country’s first African-American president, and some people just don’t like it that a black man is leading the country.

The right will argue that Democrats are now playing the race card as expected, but barring some rational explanation for all the extremism, one has to conclude the audacity of the animosity is rooted in that ugly side of our country’s history as Carter argues.

On a practical level, the GOP is committing political suicide by embracing those screaming, belligerent people who irrationally label Obama as a socialist or fascist. How in the world can you call someone a socialist after he continues a Republican president’s plan to bail out greed mongers on Wall Street? The extreme rhetoric will seem even more shrill and hollow as the country recovers from an economic crisis, which began under a Republican president.

It may not seem like it now, but all this extremism and, yes, racism, is going to hurt the GOP down the road.