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.

Right To Vagueness

Crops and Clouds by Dave Toussaint on Flickr The Commons

A measure dubbed by its critics as “the right to harm” law would leave it up to voters to decide if farms and ranches in Oklahoma would go virtually unregulated, which could lead to an increase in pollution and animal abuse here.

House Joint Resolution 1012, which has overwhelmingly passed the House in a 90-6 vote, would let voters decide to amend the state’s constitution to make farming and ranching “forever guaranteed” in the state. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Scott Biggs of Chickasha and state Sen. Jason Smalley of Stroud, both Republicans.

Here’s the key language in the measure, which would appear as a ballot measure in the November 2016 general election:

To protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma's economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma's economy, the rights of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.

The resolution creating the ballot question and measures like it across the country—one such law has been approved in Missouri, for example—are called “right to farm” bills and their supporters frame their case in the typical conservative, sloganeering language of “freedom” and “fighting government encroachment.” But this resolution is so open and sweeping it opens the door for farmers and ranchers to indiscriminately pollute groundwater and treat animals abusively. The possibilities for water pollution near urban areas and less-regulated puppy mills could increase enormously if the measure can withstand legal scrutiny.

Oklahoma is already dealing with the environmental problems created by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, which critics say leads to water pollution and scientists have tied to the huge surge in earthquakes here.

Now the legislature seems ready to pass a bill that could eventually make Oklahoma an even more unsafe place to live. The measure does allow for “a compelling state interest” to enable the legislature to pass laws related to farming and ranching, but the language is so nebulous and contradictory it doesn’t even make sense. If lawmakers can actually pass laws because of the state’s “compelling interest” that abridge “the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices,” then what’s the point of the measure anyway? What’s a “compelling interest”? How do we even define farming and ranching as we consider the growing popularity of locally grown food by small operations? Wouldn’t this bill further help large corporate farming operations to escape regulation and erode the number of family farms even more?

The measure, according to ThinkProgress, is part of an overall political initiative by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is a conservative group noted for its support for corporate interests. Obviously, some family farms can be large operations, but common sense dictates this bill would only encourage corporate farming here.

The Oklahoma Farm Bureau adamantly supports the bill. Groups such as The Humane Society and Sierra Club oppose it.

State Sen. Kay Floyd, an Oklahoma City Democrat, has offered an amendment to the bill that would make the “right to farm” ballot a county-by-county special election, arguing a statewide amendment could interfere with local municipality laws.

The amendment, if passed, like other sweeping measures and amendments passed in recent years by the legislature and Oklahoma, could also conflict with federal laws. This would once again lead to a costly lawsuit for the state.

Let’s be clear: Farmers and ranchers here already have the right to grow crops and raise livestock. Nuisance and zoning laws help mediate issues that can arise when urban and rural interests collide. This measure is simply a way to supposedly get around basic and needed regulations when it comes to the environment. I write “supposedly” because I sincerely doubt the amendment would render any federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law or requirement obsolete.

If this amendment question makes it to the ballot in its current form, no one here is really going to know what she or he is voting for in all reality. The Oklahoma Senate should reject HJR 1012.

Tax Day

Image of James Lankford

There’s probably nothing cornier or more predictable than a conservative politician issuing some generic statement on so-called Tax Day, which is April 15, the due date for filing federal income taxes.

Of course, today is April 15, and our new junior U.S. Senator James Lankford has weighed in with a serious tome. Drum roll, please. It goes like this:

The federal government’s overly complex tax code, which contains over 4 million words and has changed over 4,600 times in the last 12 years, is a burden on all of us.

As we conclude the first year of the individual mandate of Obamacare in the federal tax code, we see the consequences the failed law has on American taxpayers. With only four percent of enrolled households receiving the correct Obamacare subsidy and half of the enrollees forced to repay a portion of the aid, Obamacare has added a new layer of pain to Tax Day.

We cannot continue down a path where the federal tax code continues to grow in complexity and length. The IRS gains power in the complexity of the tax code. Tax reform will not only simplify the code, it will also encourage economic growth by keeping the government out of every business. Tax reform will also confront the rampant tax fraud and identify theft that has plagued our nation.

The Obamacare reference, which makes no mention of how more people are receiving medical care, is so predictable and political and boring that even Lankford’s fellow conservatives’ eyes must have glazed over if they took the time to read this mush. But it’s what’s left out that matters. Why didn’t Lankford, for example, acknowledge that his salary and benefits are paid with taxpayer money. It could go something like this:

I want to thank American taxpayers today for paying me $174,000 plus benefits a year.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, who won Lankford’s District 5 seat in the November election, has his own take on Tax Day or does he?

Every year the United States tax code gets longer and more complicated. This past year saw the addition of over 3,000 pages of legal guidance added to on the tax ramifications of Obamacare alone. Also, with the IRS complaining they are too underfunded to properly pursue the billions of dollars in owed back taxes, it is beyond time to redo our entire tax system.

“I stand with many in Congress in support of the Fair Tax, a national tax on consumption to replace the income tax, which would help broaden the tax base and simplify the tax process for all citizens. We cannot continue failed policies just because they have become entrenched in our society. Let us develop a strategy that will work for Americans, strengthen our economy and help pay down our growing national debt.”

Note the eyes-gazing-over reference to Obamacare again. But it’s the Fair Tax mention that deserves attention here. That’s the proposal to replace the federal income tax with a whopping 23 percent federal sales tax (some argue it’s actually around 30 percent) on purchases, which would set in motion one of the largest black markets for all goods in the history of humankind and place a huge burden on the most impoverished in our culture and also the middle class.

I wonder if Russell is thankful for U.S. taxpayers paying his $174,000 salary for dispensing this type of wisdom on Tax Day.

Anyway, happy Tax Day! Here’s my statement:

I don’t consider paying taxes one of the fun things I do on a regular basis, but I do see how important it is to the operations of our federal government. I also think our elected federal government officials should be grateful for their taxpayer-funded salaries, which are quite high in terms of the national average. The fact politicians such as Lankford and Russell don’t have the decency and gratitude to thank taxpayers for their income calls into question any arguments they make about taxes in general.

Same Boaters

Shipwrecked by Chris Pugh on Flickr’s The Commons

It’s the type of logic that has been used by conservatives for decades in Oklahoma that drives me crazy.

It goes like this: Oklahoma is a low-wage state so we all just need to accept it, especially when it comes to that pesky fact that teacher salaries here traditionally rank 49th or 48th lowest in the nation. Everyone is “in the same boat” here.

Note that the argument isn’t that all working Oklahomans, given the data, should make MORE money and have MORE household income. That would be a more positive message. No, we’re all “in the same boat.” Get over it.

I’ve repeated the cliché “in the same boat” because it was used by The Oklahoman in an editorial brief Saturday as part of their Oklahoma ScissorTales series to qualify how badly teachers are treated here.

Teachers here make some of the lowest pay in the nation when compared to teachers in other states and now the state faces a major teacher shortage that is probably going to get worse because of a state budget shortfall of $611 million and growing.

The answer to the problem by The Oklahoman is, to repeat it again, to say we’re all “in the same boat” here. Here’s the editorial brief:

Much is made of Oklahoma’s low ranking for average teacher pay. Yet new data from the Internal Revenue Service suggest many people across Oklahoma would likely be glad to swap incomes with those teachers. Oklahoma’s average teacher salary is $44,128. IRS data show that the average income in 32 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties is less than $44,000. In Marshall County, the average income is $43,534. The lowest average income recorded is in Adair County ($31,347). The highest average income was recorded in Grant County ($86,864). But that high number, nearly double the amount notched in Grant County in 2009, was tied mostly to oil-field work. Teachers work hard, but oil-field work is not exactly for slackers. And that work is prone to boom and bust cycles, as many are experiencing today. This doesn’t mean some teachers don’t deserve more. It just shows that many Oklahomans are in the same boat.

Seems logical at first, right? It even throws out the idea that “some” teachers should make more money. “Some” is the operative word here. But the problem with this thinking is that it’s self-defeating for all us same boaters. The Oklahoman just wants us to accept our same-boat low wages and get over it. Let’s all bask in our low wages and poverty, people.

It also proposes absolutely nothing of value when it comes to the critical issue of our teacher shortage problem here. Education officials have estimated there are 1,000 unfilled teaching positions in the state, primarily because teachers trained and educated at Oklahoma colleges seek higher-paying jobs in other states. If education funding is cut further for next fiscal year—Oklahoma has cut education funding the most of any state since 2008—then that number could grow even more and what we’ll have here is not a crisis but a full-fledged disaster.

So that whole issue of low salaries for teachers has really nothing to do with how much someone makes working at a convenience store in Adair County. It has to do with educating our children to make sure they get off the ship of fools.

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