Collateral Damage

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Did U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s demonstrative antics over global warming reached new heights of absurdity at the climate-change summit in Copenhagen?

Inhofe, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, was not invited to speak at the conference and could have easily reiterated his global-warming hoax claims from Washington or Oklahoma. Instead, Inhofe flew to Copenhagen to speak to reporters and continue his disinformation campaign on an international stage.

Inhofe’s Copenhagen comments were utterly gratuitous. He said he was simply there to tell everyone that the United States Senate would not pass a cap and trade bill dealing with carbon emissions no matter what President Barack Obama says at the conference.

Did he really have to fly all the way to Copenhagen to try to embarrass an American president?

Apparently, Inhofe also brought up so-called “climate-gate,” which is a right-wing manufactured controversy involving emails from scientists who study climate change at East Anglia University in England. Hackers retrieved emails sent over a 13-year period and then published them on the Internet. Inhofe and others have cherry-picked a few of the emails and distorted their meaning to argue scientists have exaggerated global warming. (Here’s a good, scientific discussion about the issue.)

The emails prove nothing. Other scientists throughout the world have also studied climate change and have concluded the planet is warming. The arctic ice cap is melting. Developing alternative, renewable energy sources and reducing our country’s dependency on foreign oil is a good thing in terms of national security even if the plant wasn’t getting warmer.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also pointed out that Inhofe made an “embarrassing gaffe” in his remarks. The organization argues on its Internet site:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) made an embarrassing gaffe in a speech at the Copenhagen climate conference today that demonstrates his lack of understanding of climate science and the significance of emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). First, he erroneously claimed that one stolen email was written in response to another email that was written 10 years before. Second, he misrepresented the meaning of the contents of those emails to attack climate science.

Inhofe’s absurd argument that climate-change science is some liberal hoax is a wild and ultimately dangerous accusation, but the mainstream media reports it often because the senator consistently pushes his misinformation campaign in support of national and international companies who reap massive profits from selling fossil fuels.

Don’t forget that for many international people, Inhofe is what they mainly know about Oklahoma. He makes the state residents seem anti-science, irrational and even kooky to the world. Despite this, he gets strong support from the local corporate media, which ignores the collateral damage inflicted on the state’s image by Inhofe’s political stunts.

Ultimately, Inhofe’s Copenhagen trip was anti-American and anti-Oklahoma.

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Cuts Could Create Backlash

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As Oklahoma’s budget crisis grows larger, mental health advocates are warning of a potential backlash because of program cuts.

Karina Forrest, a former director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, argues the state pays “dearly” for people who go untreated. Forrest, posting on Blue Oklahoma, writes:

Mental Illness and addiction strikes one in five individuals in our state. We pay dearly for individuals left untreated. In addition to many other examples, our tax dollars fund Medicaid for emergency room visits, the Department of Corrections if these individuals end up in the criminal justice system, the foster care system if these illnesses separate parents from their children, and most importantly, in loss of life and quality of life for our state's citizens.

Her insightful comments came at the same time state officials announced that state agencies would have to endure 10 percent cuts in their budgets this month because of declining revenues. State Treasurer Scott Meacham reported November revenues were down $139 million. That’s 25.1 percent below estimates and 30 percent lower than last year. Meacham said agencies might face 10 percent cuts next month as well.

In response to earlier budget cuts, the state announced it will close the Norman Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center. Other cuts were also announced by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health. Given the most recent budget news, more major cuts will likely be proposed soon.

Jeff Tallent, a co-founder of Oklahoma Federation of Families, recently wrote in The Oklahoman:

Health care for people with mental illness or disabilities is one of those life-or-death issues. The consequence of waiting to act on mental health services is not inconvenience; it is potential productivity dissipated and lives lost.

Public education, which has also seen a decline in revenues from a dedicated funding source, is also facing dramatic cuts.

It’s a bleak picture, and Oklahoma leaders could be making a wrong, long-term decision by not considering small tax hikes or even temporary surcharges on the state’s wealthiest citizens to keep vital programs available. Even when the state finally dips in the Rainy Day Fund, budget cuts will be needed. Recent income tax cuts that primarily benefited the state’s richest citizens are at least partially responsible for the budget crisis.

The cost to the state in terms of human suffering, poor educational outcomes and higher incarceration rates down the road will be enormous unless the economy recovers quickly. It could have a cyclical effect, creating more budget demands and stress. Most everyone laments the steep drop in revenues, but few major state leaders have stepped forward to specifically and urgently address the long-term damage the budget crisis could inflict on Oklahoma. It’s the political, not the fiscal, reality driving the current discussion about the budget crisis. How bad must it get before Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated legislature finds ways to increase revenues?

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Incarceration Reduction Critical To New Jail Project

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Oklahoma County officials need to take a serious look at reducing its incarceration rate before asking local taxpayers to pay for a new jail.

County officials say voters may be asked soon to approve a one-cent sales tax increase, which would raise $350 million over three years. That money would go to building a new jail or improving the current one.

If the county does nothing, the U.S. Department of Justice, which issued a report last year that cited civil rights and overcrowding problems at the jail, will file a lawsuit to increase property taxes over a three-year period to raise money for a jail project, county officials say.

The enforced property tax increase would cost some local residents more than the sales tax, which is partly funded by people outside the county, but sale taxes are by nature regressive and cost low-income people more of a percentage of their wages. (Here’s an article by Brian Bus in The Journal Record that outlines the two types of tax increases.)

Simply put, there are no good options. Taxes are going to go up one way or another.

But underlying the chronic overcrowding problem at the county jail is the pervasive statewide attitude to lock up as many people as possible. The state leads the nation in the per capita number of women incarcerated. It’s overall incarceration rate for 2007 was 665 per 100,000 residents compared to 506 per 100,000 residents nationally. The state normally ranks in the top five among states in incarceration rates.

The U.S. Department of Justice report pointed out the Oklahoma County jail is overcrowded and doesn’t have enough bed space for its approximately 2,500 inmates. Only eight other counties in the nation incarcerate people at a higher rate than Oklahoma County, according to a Justice Policy Institute study.

Unfortunately, reducing the county’s incarceration rate doesn’t seem to be a major part of the recent discussion when it comes to building a new jail, but it’s probably the most critical issue. There are too many nonviolent offenders, many on drug charges, sitting in jails when they could be on parole or in treatment programs. Too many people are arrested, locked up and their lives ruined in the ongoing, disastrous “War on Drugs,” started by former President Richard Nixon.

Oklahoma County officials should join with local judges, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, among others, to find ways to reduce the incarceration rate at the jail. This could prevent future overcrowding problems and tax hikes.

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