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.

A Religious War? Inhofe Takes On The Pope

140916-D-NI589-292 by Ash Carter on Flickr The Commons

The antics of Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe when it comes to denying humankind’s contribution to global warming never cease.

Has he made himself into parody for the fun of it or does he really believe in all of the stuff he argues in some of the world’s most serious forums?

As you recall, last winter Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor and, in a speech, referred to how unseasonably cold it was in Washington. The point was to show, as Inhofe has repeatedly argued, that the whole science underlying climate change predictions and causes is what he calls a hoax.

None of this might matter except that Inhofe is chairperson of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

This past week, Inhofe gave the keynote address at what is called a “Climate Conference” sponsored by the conservative Heartland Institute, which gave him an award for all his diligent work in refuting the scientific evidence based on his religious views and, well, things like snowballs even though 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded on the planet.

Speaking of religion, Inhofe took on Pope Francis at the conference. The pope has discussed the moral issue of global warming recently, but Inhofe wasn’t having any of it.

According to media reports, Inhofe had this to say about the pope at the conference: “Everyone is going to ride the Pope now. Isn’t that wonderful. The Pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.” That’s showing the pope, isn’t it? The Catholic Church has now been brought to its figurative knees.

Inhofe apparently has a different view of the role of religion than the pope when it comes to global warming. Speaking of climate change on a Christian radio show, Inhofe once said, “My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” So God is making this all happen. Just get out of the way, and don’t let the pope stick his nosey craw into it.

All of this might be considered funny in a type of frontier or southwestern Mark Twainy humor sense, except that Inhofe holds some real power as the chair of EPW. When he’s not telling the pope how to do his job, Inhofe, 80, is usually criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for trying to protect our water and make sure we’re breathing clear air.

Here’s the usual information I always try to include in these posts about Inhofe’s antics when it comes to his fight against the scientific evidence of how manmade carbon emissions have warmed the planet:

(1) In his political career, Inhofe has collected more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. He represents an oil and gas state that is experiencing an energy boom because of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This has obviously influenced his political agenda. Any reporters who don’t mention these basic facts in a story about Inhofe related to global warming are not doing their job.

(2) The greenhouse effect is what happens when the atmosphere absorbs radiation from the planet surface and radiates it back to the surface. The vast majority of scientists who study global warming believe the burning of fossil fuels in cars, power plants, machinery, etc., accelerates the greenhouse effect and the warming the planet, creating higher sea levels from the melting of ice caps. This threatens the very survival of coastal communities and creates more frequent and severe weather events.

I know that’s not the type of information that makes headlines. It’s not like I’m telling off the pope or anything or throwing snowballs around on the U.S. Senate floor. But it does show Inhofe’s obvious motivation to advance the interests of the oil and gas industry, which makes profits off selling fossil fuels. It also gives the basic, simplistic form of what scientists are arguing about when they warn of the dangers of global warming.

The answer, of course, is to double down on developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and that’s happening in places. We also need to limit the amount of fossil fuels we do burn and eventually phase them out, which will take decades. Both those renewable sources I mentioned, as the deniers are quick to point out, have environmental impacts as well, but they are localized and don’t jeopardize the entire planet.

Even local Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company is experimenting with solar power.

Inhofe, as I’ve noted through the years, has brought notoriety and, yes, national embarrassment to Oklahoma because of his political stunts. He has been enabled by the corporate media here over the years, and, in particular The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, which refrain from consistently holding him accountable.

I realize voters here keep reelecting Inhofe to office, but do they realize the negative impact he has had on our state image? You wouldn’t know this by following the state’s corporate media. But consider this: The fracking boom here would have happened with or without Inhofe’s implicit boosterism of the oil and gas industry by denying humankind’s influence on climate change. Oklahoma would still be reaping the economic benefits of the oil and gas industry even if Inhofe focused his political agenda elsewhere. All he’s doing is making Oklahomans look backwards and even selfish for putting their localized economic concerns above the interests of the entire planet. I realize not everyone believes this, but Oklahoma remains relatively isolated in its own ridiculous false hubris.

Conservatives Finally Embrace EPA

Fracking the Ocean by Truthout.org on Flickr The Commons

There are at least three things to keep in mind when considering an Environmental Protection Agency “draft” assessment that argues hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, hasn’t led to widespread water contamination.

One, there definitely has been some water contamination related to fracking, according to the draft assessment.

Two, fracking uses up a tremendous amount of water, which could conceivably lead to drinking water shortages in dry areas, according to the EPA.

Three, the results of the study are in draft form. It has yet to be reviewed by the Science Advisory Board and the public hasn’t been given a chance to comment on it. The “public” may well include environmentalists and people who believe they have had their own drinking water contaminated by fracking operations. They would then provide their own observations, studies and specific cases. This will be part of the public record.

Here’s a National Public Radio report by Jeff Brady on the issue.

The oil and gas industry, of course, and the conservative media are lauding the news as a huge vindication of the fracking boom in the country. But the issue isn’t quite settled yet. It’s also important to note that conservatives are quick to criticize the EPA on just about anything it does, but not this time around. Suddenly, the EPA is exactly right, according to conservatives. No need for a lawsuit this time, right? Hurray for the EPA!

Here’s how The Oklahoman editorial board weighed in on the issue: “It’s telling that the extremism of the environmental movement has reached the point that some of its members now insist the Obama administration is engaged in a grand conspiracy with Big Oil.” After this bit of typical mockery, the editorial goes on to celebrate the EPA’s draft assessment as “good news.”

Here’s what that same editorial board had to say about the EPA a few days earlier: “Given the Environmental Protection Agency’s activist bent during the Obama administration, the natural reaction is to recoil at most any new EPA rules and regulations. Its recently released clean water rule is no exception.”

So if the EPA is right about how fracking doesn’t lead to widespread water contamination, according to conservatives, then why is it so wrong on other issues? This is a contradiction The Oklahoman will never acknowledge.

In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into deep underground rock formations. This creates fissures that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected into disposal or injection wells. Scientists say the injection well process has led to Oklahoma’s dramatic surge of earthquakes.

Oh yeah, earthquakes. That’s another issue related to the fracking process, and it’s an important one that at this point specifically in Oklahoma is more urgent than water contamination.

Environmentalists did argue the EPA’s draft assessment was influenced by the oil and gas industry, and they may well have a point. But is that “extremism” as The Oklahoman argues? What’s extremist about concern over clean water, which is necessary for our survival. Doesn’t the oil and gas industry have significant political power in this country? No one could argue otherwise.

This issue of the relationship between fracking and water contamination is ongoing and fluid. If there has been no widespread water contamination from fracking, then, yes, that’s good news. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about the possibility of it or that more cases won’t develop in the future. When it comes to drilling for oil and gas, it only takes one accident to cause immense damage to the environment. Everyone should know that by now.

Flat Education Budget Not Much Of A Shield

Image of Joy Hofmeister

The fallout to education from next year’s fiscal year budget became clear last week when Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister warned Oklahomans to get ready for school closings, teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

As you might recall, I recently noted that Gov. Mary Fallin recently praised the budget as “a fiscally responsible blueprint for state government” while pointing out, “I’m proud legislators and I were able to pass a budget in challenging times that shields common education, our largest and one of our most important expenses, from budget cuts.”

Common education received what everyone calls a “flat budget,” but flat budgets don’t leave enough money to pay for higher operating costs due to basic inflation, testing mandates, rising enrollment and insurance increases.

A flat budget for education and any state agency, in essence, means a smaller budget because of the basic structures of economics in a capitalistic society. So does the budget, as Fallin noted, really “shield” education? Given the fact the funding for Oklahoma education dropped by 23.6 percent from 2008 to 2014, the most in the nation, the answer would have to be a resounding no.

Here’s an Oklahoma Watch story by Nate Robson about some specifics of the education cuts. I want to deal with the larger issue of cutting funding to education.

The conservative qualification about denying public education adequate funding always goes along the lines that “money isn’t always the answer” to better learning outcomes or “educators will always ask for more money,” which carries the implications they don’t really need it.

Conservatives have also created high-stakes and costly testing mandates and school grading systems that through their structures will result in what they deem as failure and “crisis.” This manufactured “crisis” of failing public schools is a methodical and long-term strategy to shift away the debate over societal problems, such as childhood poverty and hunger, which do affect learning outcomes. Instead, many conservatives dismiss these concerns and push for privatization in education as some magic answer to a problem that doesn’t exist.

What I’m going to write next will seem hyperbolic to some, but a growing number of people are waking up to it on the local level. Conservative “reforms” of education are about destroying public education and teacher unions, and in the long-term it threatens our democracy. Is there anything more despised by conservatives, in a general sense, than teacher unions? These reforms are also about shifting taxpayer money to private, for-profit companies and operations.

Conservative educational reforms threaten democracy because they create an imbalance of opportunity between social classes. They especially leave the marginalized more vulnerable to a lack of opportunity. They enhance the opportunities of a privileged group of people, who then use their privilege to enhance their own privilege. The losers in this arrangement also now include many, if not most, children in a shrinking middle-class.

Some want to see these ideas as some sort of wild conspiracy theory, but a couple more generations of these conservative attacks on public education could lead to vastly different educational systems between classes. It certainly will diminish this country’s role as a superpower, which needs a widespread educated citizenry as much as a huge military apparatus to retain its status. Maybe it’s too late.

There’s always room to improve learning outcomes or improve a particular school, but when the system is intentionally and methodically starved of money and when underfunded schools and children are branded as failures, there can be little hope for systemic increases in achievement.

Of course, the rich kids don’t have anything to worry about.

Oklahoma’s cuts to education in the last several years and this year’s flat budget to fund schools don’t bode well for the immediate future in this state. The 3.5 cut to higher education will also lead to higher tuition and more student loan debt. That’s not a good sign for prosperity either.

In Oklahoma, under the current framework, many students will be attending K-12 schools with larger class sizes and less personal instructional attention, and then when they graduate they will face steeper college tuition rates that can lead to debilitating loan debt.

This framework, unless it changes, will have a significant impact on our state in terms of the quality of life here, social problems and economic development.

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