OTRS Funding Dilemma Needs Drastic Solution
The Community Action Project (CAP) recently distributed information about the state’s pensions, focusing on the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System, which has one of the worst funding records in the nation.
If you pay your hard-earned money into OTRS and you are reading this, then listen up: Do not believe a word you are hearing these days from the pension’s managers. It is in their vested interests to act as if nothing is wrong. The pension fund is borderline insolvent because of a long history of mismanagement and anti-education sentiment in this state. What this means is that you may not have a pension when you retire.
Think about all those years in the classroom and all the retirement money taken from your paychecks, and then, poof, you have no retirement, nothing. That is not hyperbole.
Here are the facts, which are not in dispute: (1) OTRS has unfunded liabilities exceeding $7.1 billion. (2) It is the third-worst funded pension in the country. (3) The problem becomes more difficult to solve as time goes on. (4) The legislature did nothing last year to bolster the fund. (5) It is questionable whether the GOP-dominated legislature will do anything about it this year.
CAP proposes several excellent ideas to improve the pension and other state pensions through more dedicated state funding.
Here are some more ideas:
(1) Allow current educators to take their money out of the system and invest it in other retirement programs without penalty. The state would still match contributions at current levels. It is immoral to force people to pay into a fund that has a serious risk of becoming insolvent.
(2) Combine OTRS with the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, which, of course, is also in bad fiscal shape. But at least OPERS appears to be operated somewhat better than OTRS, and it is in overall better financial shape. Perhaps combining the two systems would give the new system more investment clout.
(3) Pay off existing OTRS obligations with existing funds and bonds, and move current educators and their money into an entirely new plan.
(4) Appoint people to the OTRS board who understand there is a problem and who want to solve it, not apologists for those who made mistakes in the past. The board should not be appointed based on political expediency but rather on expertise and real vested interests. We need “teacher power” on that board, not “political power.”
The larger problem here is what the underfunding says about the state’s conservative power structure. It says the power structure is absolutely anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-professor, anti-researcher, and, most of all, anti-student.
Newspaper Supports Tyranny
(BREAKING NEWS: A protest against Bush's unconstitutional escalation of the Iraq War is scheduled for tomorrow in Oklahoma City. Click here for more details.)
When President George Bush defies the will of the people this evening and calls for a tremendous, ill-advised escalation of the Iraq war, many news commentators will mention the president is provoking a major constitutional crisis.
But do not count on Oklahoma's largest newspaper to even broach the constitutional crisis issue on its editorial page. In a recent editorial (Troop Surge,” January 9, 2007), The Daily Oklahoman argued that adding more troops to the Iraq quagmire “is a plausible strategy.”
The Oklahoman, echoing the fading talking points of right-wing fanatics and Bushbots, argued, “The president is the commander in chief and must have latitude to make military decisions, based on sound advice, unencumbered by congressional micromanaging.”
Yet, as many politicians and experts have argued recently, the U.S. Congress has a constitutional obligation to provide the American people oversight of a president’s actions, including his war policies. American presidents do not and should not have the power to unilaterally wage war without the consent of the people, who are represented by their elected officials.
The American people have spoken. They did so in the November elections. They want American troops to be eventually withdrawn from Iraq, and they want Bush’s folly to end. A majority of U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, some of whom are Republicans, have indicated they stand against increasing troop levels. Polls show American people overwhelmingly want a way out of Iraq, not more involvement. They do not want troop increases.
Bush’s speech then will provoke a severe and major constitutional crisis tonight. It will have far-reaching implications in our country. Do we live under the tyranny of one man, a pathetic, perhaps delusional, despot? Or do we live under a representative government with checks and balances? Bush’s speech will implicitly ask the country this question.
Meanwhile, The Oklahoman will support tyranny over democracy, a military dictatorship over representative government, and not one single dissenting voice will be allowed on its pages. It silences voices which favor democracy. It supports tyranny to enable its owners to make even greater profits.
Right Wins Again
It should be increasingly clear by now that progressive commentators, from Sidney Blumenthal to Joe Conason to Hendrik Hertzberg, were duped recently by a simplistic right-wing media effort to manipulate the rhetorical frame of the Iraq war.
The ruse’s successfulness is quite disconcerting, even astounding in its implications. It should make every American progressive wonder if political change is really possible in this country within the current mainstream media discourse.
When the country’s so-called liberal intellectuals can be duped by such obvious political and rhetorical ploys as the Iraq Study Group Report, then it’s seriously time to wonder if our current media system, even our precarious progressive network, has been corrupted or indoctrinated beyond redemption.
As President George Bush prepares his speech in which he will call for adding up to 20,000 more troops in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group’s report, hailed initially by many progressive writers as a huge condemnation of the war, has slowly disappeared from the media landscape. The report, as I wrote soon after it was published, was merely a cover for Bush to add more troops and to escalate the war on his terms until his presidency ends. A handful of other academics, mostly published on Common Dreams and other progressive Internet web sites, also condemned the report as nothing new.
But the elite progressive writers literally gushed their enthusiasm for the report as other liberal voices—myself included, of course—were once again systematically and deliberately ignored.
Here’s what Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker’s “The Talk of the Town” (December 18, 2006) after the report: “”Given the provenance, authorship, and purpose of the ‘Iraq Study Group Report,' no one need be astonished that it eschews the language of over culpability. But because it does indeed, ‘take the situation as it exists,' and because the present is simply the past’s ever-moving outer edge, it cannot help looking back. The indictment is there to see, and it is devastating.”
Apparently the report wasn’t devastating enough to make anyone in Washington do anything to end the war, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 American soldiers and more than 100,000 innocent Iraqis.
All along the report was designed merely to give Bush more time and cover to wage the war on his terms. Its ideas and “findings” had been discussed for years. When progressive writers—and there were many more than those I mention here—gushed ecstatically over its findings, it allowed Bush the rhetorical space to marginalize it as extreme and then offer his troop-increase plan as a compromise.
If writers like Hertzberg and the legendary Blumenthal, who celebrated the report in Salon.com, would have simply dismissed it for the political ploy it was and called for troop withdrawals, then Bush would have been hard pressed to offer his new plan as anything but extremism in the sense of mainstream media frames about the war.
At this point, only investigations into the Bush administration will offer the country any help in resolving the war in the next two years. As these investigations reveal publicly for the first time the staggering corruption and incompetence related to the war under the Bush administration, the American people may be able to use them as leverage for some type of troop withdrawal plan.
The Gerald Ford Mythology
The recent inane, never-ending, government-promoted mourning over the death of former Gerald Ford is yet another victory for right-wing propagandists.
Here was the Ford story sold to America by virtually every mainstream media outlet in America over the last week or so: Ford was a great man who healed the nation by pardoning former President Richard Nixon.
That story line is a tremendous lie perpetuated on the American people.
Here is the truth: Ford was appointed vice president by Nixon because his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, had to resign because of tax evasion charges in 1973. When Nixon’s own hubris caught up with him, Ford became president and in one of the most dastardly acts in American history, he then pardoned his former benefactor in 1974, thus preventing the American people from immediately learning the full truth about Nixon’s sordid administration.
Millions upon millions of Americans were enraged that Ford and, by extension, the corrupt GOP, would simply sweep away the ruins of Nixon’s corrupt actions through the pardon.
Ford then ran for president and lost. His vice presidential and presidential career was hardly stellar by any definition. In any event, he was actually never elected vice president or president.
Democracies only work when their governments are transparent, but the mainstream media in this country is so lazy and corrupt these days, it presents right-wing storylines and fictions as truth.
To encourage the country to honor Ford in his death in an endless parade of televised media events is a right-wing tactic designed to rewrite a significant time period in American history.
Ford did a tremendous disservice to his country when he pardoned Nixon, a disservice that still affects us today as we contend with yet another corrupt, lying Republican president.
You know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why
he owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufaula
caught a great big ol’ bluecat on a driftin’ jugline
sells his hardwood timber to the chippin’ mill
cooks that crystal meth cuz his shine don't sell
he cooks that crystal meth cuz his shine don't sell
you know he likes that money, he don't mind the smell--“Choctaw Bingo,” songwriter James McMurtry
The way things look now Oklahoma’s centennial year will be marred by hateful, narrow-minded, right-wing initiatives courtesy of its Republican dominated legislature.
Get ready for a freak show, folks. The state’s business bigwigs and the religious fanatics, cheered on by the ultra-conservative propagandists at The Daily Oklahoman, are on the brink of getting their quasi-fascist desires fulfilled: Complete control of state government
By the time State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) and company get done with this upcoming session, Oklahoma will probably be viewed as the first true theocratic state in the union, Hispanic people will no longer be welcomed here, women will have to leave the state to get even basic care related to reproductive issues, and the state’s energy companies will be completely tax exempt.
Republicans now control the Oklahoma House, and have an equal number of state senators as the Democrats. Throw into this mix some of our state’s ultra conservative Democratic legislators, and what you get is right-wing extremism. When the country went left in recent elections, Oklahoma went right. This trend doesn’t appear to have lost its momentum.
Here is what you can expect from the GOP legislature this upcoming session:
(1) Reducing Reproductive Rights. Kern and others will lead a charge to take away as many reproductive rights as possible from women. Kern has already introduced a bill to limit the number of doctors who could perform abortions in the state. Her bill will ensure rural women, in particular, are denied convenient access to doctors who perform the procedure in the state. Watch as well for legislation that would completely outlaw abortion in the state. Watch as well for proposed legislation that would restrict access to Plan B, or the morning after pill.
(2) Attacks On The Hispanic Community.State Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson (R-Oklahoma City) has proposed a bill that would make English the state’s official language. This would primarily hurt Oklahoma’s growing Hispanic population. Some state services, like driver’s license tests, are now offered in Spanish, for example. The Department of Human Services often gets request for language assistance in Spanish. Will Spanish-speaking people still have access? In addition, other GOP legislators will undoubtedly try to pass legislation cracking down on undocumented workers, even though it was the failure of the GOP on the national level that created the problem. In addition, a relatively small number of children of undocumented workers are allowed to pay in-state tuition for college if they meet certain strict criteria. Watch for the GOP—in an act of petty hate and spite—to eliminate this pro-education state program.
(3) Religious Intrusion In Government.Watch for more bills promoting so-called intelligent design theory in schools. Intelligent design theory, or neocreationism, advances the idea that the world is so complicated, a “designer” or, wink, wink, the right-wingers’ Christian God, designed the universe. The aim is to eliminate the teaching of evolution, which is the foundation of medical science. The aim of the medieval-like fanatics is to stop scientific inquiry and eliminate advances in medicine. The religious fanatics in the legislature will also probably try to pass prayer-in-school legislation.
(4) Tax Cuts For Rich People.The GOP here will follow its recent successful strategy of cutting taxes for rich people on a huge scale as it gives token cuts to the middle class and poor. State revenues are up, and the rich people here probably believe they alone deserve the extra money. Watch for TABOR (Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights) initiatives in the legislature and corporate tax cuts, especially for energy companies.
The upcoming GOP legislative onslaught will all be done under the guise of populist rhetoric in the George W. Bush era of The Lie and Irrationality and Hatred of the Other. A lot of people here are still stupid enough to fall for the scam. Modernity, rational, intellectual thought, and a recognition of advances in science have been replaced here with religious fanaticism and greed.
Unfortunately, just as Oklahoma City appears on the brink of making it into big-city status with a prospering Bricktown and the NBA’s Hornets, among other things, the Christian fundamentalists have been put in charge of things. Behind the curtain, the state’s rich people pull their strings.
Progressives need to fight the fanatics at every turn by speaking the truth. They need to pressure the state’s media to offer varying opinions about the state’s central issues. If this doesn’t work, and chances are it won’t, they should create their own media to offer the balance the state will need to thrive in the twenty-first century. They need to pull Democrats away from the so-called center because in Oklahoma centrists are often just right-wing Bushbots in disguise.
I cannot scream it loud enough, local Dems: Bail, bail on Bush and the war and make the local GOP pay for supporting a lying, corrupt presidential administration. Do not take what you might sincerely believe is a centrist position. Every Kern move, for example, should be met with massive resistance and dissent not only because her particular legislation is anti-woman, anti-freedom but also because Kern represents all that is terribly wrong with the GOP these days. The GOP may be on the rise in Oklahoma, but its ideology is dead throughout the country and world. If the Kerns are going to take our state down into their freakish, ugly world of religious fundamentalism while the country gets mired further in Bush’s Iraq debacle, then at least we should fight it.
What progressive politician will stand up this session and speak the truth? If no one is brave enough to do so, the state’s new bumper sticker will be this: “Oklahoma: Land of Religious Fanatics, Meth Addicts, Greedy Corporations.”