Okie Funk 2006 Review

(Progressives made some strides in Oklahoma this year, but the fight goes on. Okie Funk will continue to serve as a voice for progressive causes in Oklahoma this coming year. Today’s blog contains selected Okie Funk excerpts from each month during 2006.I have updated some of these excerpts with new links. Have a great 2007. Cheers!—Kurt Hochenauer )

Image of Picasso’s Guernica

”Intelligent Design Is A Losing Proposition For Oklahomans,” January 4, 2006

Oklahomans need to look no further than Dover, Pennsylvania when it comes to the state's political movement to dumb down our students with faux creationism or intelligent design.

The newly-elected school board there recently rescinded the board’s earlier decision to include a statement about intelligent design in science classrooms. This comes after a federal judge ruled it was illegal and the community ousted the former school board members who dragged their small district through an embarrassing debacle that will cost local taxpayers there thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The Dover case, and especially the ousting of the school board, has even caused the right-wing’s darling, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, to back away from intelligent design after becoming one of its most visible, national supporters.

Intelligent design is a religious concept, not a scientific theory, which argues the natural world was created by an intelligent designer or God. It is creationism in disguise. Its supporters are primarily fundamentalist Christians.

”Out of Reach Books,” February 1, 2006

Imagine a library in which all the truthful and most important books are placed on high shelves out of your reach. You want to read those books, but you cannot reach them, and the library staff will not help you. In fact, they have been ordered by “officials” not to help you. They are also scared to help you because they could lose their jobs if they do so.

The books you can reach are filled with right-wing religious and nationalistic propaganda. You know, everyone knows, the truth is in the books on the top shelves. But you cannot reach them. Since they are books without readers, they do not exist in a crucial sense.
Sound like a scene from George Orwell’s 1984? Well, actually this top shelf policy may well be coming to a library near you soon.

A committee of the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library has voted to place truthful, important children’s books on shelves so high the kids cannot reach them. The committee voted to create special parenting sections filled with children’s book about child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, and, of course, the real reason for the policy, homosexuality.

”The Sad, Immoral Trash of Ernest Istook,” March 26, 2006

Oklahomans received their first real glimpse at U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook’s gubernatorial campaign strategy this past week.

If you cut through all his boring, conservative rhetoric about tax cuts, and his sanctimonious posturing, corporate worshipping and hate-disguised-as-policy, here is what Istook really said in Repubcode at a Wednesday meeting of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee in Edmond:

“If elected, I will ensure ultra-rich people get even more tax cuts. I’m against the new lottery, even though everyone in this room knows I accepted money from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented gambling interests. I want the state’s energy companies to give me lots of campaign money, and if they do so I will work to ensure they pay less in taxes. Also, Oklahomans should hate Hispanic people.”

Here is a direct quote from his speech, according to a local news account:

"I do not believe that you can tax and gamble your way to prosperity," Istook said. "We do not have leadership in the governor's office. I shudder to think where we would be if it weren't for the oil and gas industry right now that is holding up Oklahoma's economy. ... It's not anything that's been done at the state Capitol."

Do you really shudder Ernie, or do you just want the same local energy company payout that kooky Tom Coburn received when he was running for the U.S. Senate?

”Toby To State: Read Y’All White Trash Okies,” April 15, 2006

Oklahoma’s library poster child Toby Keith has come out with a recent album, and its title is sure to make the “official” intellectual community here proud the musician claims the state as his home.

Library officials, in particular, will be extra proud they selected Keith for a recent poster campaign to promote reading in the state.

Copies of Keith’s “White Trash With Money” should be given out to all Oklahoma school children, many of whom have already encountered Keith in his pornographic pose in the “Read Y’All” library posters plastered throughout the state.

When teachers pass out the free cds maybe they can then begin a discussion on the term “white trash” and its use.

Here is how such a discussion might go:

Teacher: Would someone define “white trash”?
Student: It means an inhabitant of Oklahoma.
Teacher: Okay. Anyone else?
Student: Doesn’t the word “white” in the term “white trash” mean that people of other skin colors are automatically trashy people. Isn’t that racist?
Teacher: Yes, it is racist, but you know we can’t criticize Toby Keith.
Student: Why?
Teacher: Because he will put a boot in our . . .ahem . . . bottoms.

I want to put a too fine of a point on it here. The term “white trash” does make a linguistic claim that “white” is somehow special to someone trashy. In other words, the prevailing culture’s language has to qualify “trash” with “white” because it is somehow so unique that a white person could be trashy. I realize the term is commonly used to signify someone without culture, and some may argue the term is not racist. But there are trashy people with all types of skin colors. Why use “white” to modify “trash”?

”Okies Protest Bush,” May 7, 2006

Nearly 600 protestors, including students, military veterans, and peace activists, showed up to express their disapproval of President George Bush Saturday in Stillwater.

Bush gave the commencement speech in Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State University. He was flown in by helicopter at approximately 10 a.m. after landing in Air Force One at Vance Air Force Base in Enid.

As Bush flew in, protestors shook their fists at the sky and chanted, “Bush lied, thousands died.” The chant grew louder and louder during Bush’s speech as well. Sometimes, chanters just yelled, “Liar” over and over, or “1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your stupid war. 5, 6, 7, 8, stop the killing, stop the hate,” or “Impeach, indict, imprison.”

Bush lied the country into the immoral, illogical war in Iraq, sanctioned the torture of prisoners in American custody, and ordered the illegal wiretapping of American citizens. All these acts are impeachable offenses. Bush does not face any real investigations into these acts because the Republican Party, with its majority in Congress, has placed partisan politics above the country’s interests. Meanwhile, Bush approval ratings continue to drop, even in Oklahoma.

”State Newspaper Omits Essential Information,” June 23, 2006

The Daily Oklahoman published an unconscionable editorial this past week, criticizing state lawmakers for giving teachers a $3,000 across-the-board raise. It leaves you wondering why even a biased, right-wing newspaper would want to alienate those very people who could train and inspire people to read its product.

But then this is Oklahoma, the surreal graveyard of obvious contradictions.

Titled “Lawmakers cave to union demands” (June 22, 2006), the editorial argues the raises should have been distributed disproportionately to veteran teachers and that the Oklahoma Education Association’s “focus on money is out of control.”

What the newspaper fails to tell its readers is how Oklahoma teacher salaries often rank last or near to last in the nation. What the newspaper also fails to tell its readers is that our educational systems have been chronically underfunded for decades to the detriment of the state’s economic development and quality of life.

Instead, it talks about the OEA’s “clout” and Senate Democrats’ “refusal to be reasonable.”

”Voters Offered Clear Choice In Governor’s Race,” July 29, 2006

Brad Henry is a popular governor. Some polls show his popularity in the state at 70 percent. He was instrumental in steering the state through a budget crisis after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has cut taxes and raised teacher salaries. He has given the state a lottery that helps fund education.

Istook, a Mormon, will almost certainly use wedge issues, such as abortion, intelligent design, or illegal immigration to try to rally the Christian right-wing in the state in order to defeat Henry. This is his only chance. Ultimately, the election may well be a mandate on how far the Christian right can push its theocratic philosophy in a state filled with religious fundamentalists.

The clear choice in the race is Henry, a centrist Democrat, who deserves another term. Voters here should reject Istook’s religious extremism, which hurts the state’s national image.

“Poverty Rate Rises in Oklahoma,” August 30, 2006

Poverty continues to rise in Oklahoma and income levels remain stagnant for the middle class, but do not expect our state leaders to do anything about it soon. Helping the poor and middle class does not translate into short-term political expediency these days.

The Community Action Project (CAP) recently issued a news issue brief showing that poverty rose from 11.8 percent in 2003-2004 to 13.2 percent in 2004-2005. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s median income declined slightly to $39,292 for 2004-2005. The agency based their analysis on recent U.S. Census figures. Oklahoma remains the fourth highest in the nation in residents without health insurance.

The statistics show what many of us see everyday. Unfortunately, we never openly discuss these issues because the mainstream media no longer provides significant and meaningful news coverage.

”Oklahoma TABOR Threat Is Gone For Now,” September 2, 2006

Here are the two remaining questions about TABOR after the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week ruled the constitutional amendment limiting growth of state government could not be placed on the ballot in November:

(1) What type of legislation will Republicans try to pass this coming session that will resemble TABOR, the so-called Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, and can Democrats stop it?

(2) Why did it take so long for the business power structure in Oklahoma to come out against TABOR, which would have devastated our school systems much like it did in Colorado before voters there rescinded it?

”Who Will Speak For Oklahoma’s Poor?,” October 1, 2006

Oklahoma residents continue to slip into poverty in increasing numbers as the state leadership stands idly by and does nothing. Here’s the question everyone is afraid to openly ask as the centennial year approaches: Is the state currently experiencing the largest increase in poverty since the Great Depression?

The most recent statistics show a 34 percent increase in the number of people requesting food stamps from 2002 to 2005, according to a local newspaper article. As I wrote recently in the Oklahoma Gazette, the U.S. Department of Census has reported overall increases in poverty here in the last few years. Currently, 16.5 percent of Oklahomans live in poverty. Oklahoma remains second in the nation in the percentage of children without health insurance. Recent studies show the state is number one in hungry families.

“Oklahoma, where hungry, poor families without health care are getting poorer.” Can you fit that sentence on a bumper sticker? Maybe the Oklahoma Centennial Commission can use it for a poster campaign sponsored by Chesapeake Energy.

”Oklahoma Progressives Lose A Champion,” November 22, 2006

The Oklahoma progressive world lost one of its true champions when political activist Keith Smith died Monday. Smith, 51, died of pneumonia at Integris Baptist Medical Center, according to newly-elected state Senator Andrew Rice.

Smith was a tireless activist for equal rights in this area of the country, and he was known to everyone in Oklahoma political circles.

Fighting the conservative juggernaut here in Oklahoma can be a thankless task. The state’s power structure—the Republican business people and the religious rubes they manipulate through cultural wedge issues—has been a formidable opponent for years in this state. Smith stood up and fought.

As the Christian right flourished in Oklahoma, Smith went on championing those causes that granted dignity and rights to all people in our culture. He did so with class and intelligence.

“Keith’s most endearing attribute was that he never admitted defeat. He might lose one battle, but he always bounced right back strategizing on how to win the war,” Rice said in a written statement about Smith’s death.

Oklahoman Should Issue Mea Culpa, December 4, 2006

“Anyone seeking to understand what has become the central conundrum of the Iraq war—how it is that so many highly accomplished, experienced, and intelligent officials came together to make such monumental, consequential, and, above all, obvious mistakes, mistakes that much of the government knew very well at the time were mistakes . . .”—Mark Danner, “Iraq: The War of the Imagination,” New York Review of Books, December 21, 2006

“As has always been the case, the only option for the United States in Iraq is victory. Yet more than ever before, the real responsibility for victory rests with the Iraqis themselves.”—Unsigned Editorial, “Victory Plan: Iraqi government must take charge,” The Daily Oklahoman, December 2, 2006

The Daily Oklahoman has failed Oklahomans miserably by not providing comprehensive commentary of the Iraq War, a debacle that will go down in history as perhaps the worst presidential deception ever.

The newspaper’s editorial board needs to immediately issue a mea culpa about its radical pro-war position and then allow alternative views on its opinion pages. By keeping readers oblivious to the war’s facts and by framing the war with the propagandistic rhetoric of President George Bush on its editorial pages, the newspaper duped thousands of Oklahomans.

What the newspaper will not give its readers is the type of information contained in a recent article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books. Danner outlines mistake after mistake (these mistakes have been recorded here on Okie Funk) made by the Bush administration in regards to the war.


Istook's Campaign Gets Desperate

Polls Show Henry With Commanding Lead

You know it’s a bad year for the Republicans when even The Daily Oklahoman won’t endorse the GOP candidate for Oklahoma governor.

Poster from http://oldamericancentury

The newspaper, one of the most conservative publications in the nation, recently ran an unsigned editorial (“Two good men: Race to set pace for state’s future,” October, 29, 2006) in which it declined to endorse either Democrat Brad Henry or Republican Ernest Istook.

This non-endorsement of Istook is a big slap in the face to his misguided campaign, which has been floundering for months. It also shows that the state’s oppressive, right-wing power structure is either (1) certain Henry will win and is fishing for new corporate tax cuts this coming legislative session or (2) truly believes as many do that Istook’s public theocratic religious agenda would harm the state. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Congressman Istook’s religious agenda includes his infamous Religious Freedom Amendment, which was nothing more that an attempt to break down the wall separating government and religion. If elected governor here, Istook, a Mormon, will surely propose religious legislation or enact executive decrees that would bring religion into state government.

Istook’s election would also be a serious red flag to progressives and liberals in the state. Who would want to live in such a close-minded place with an obvious religious extremist as governor?

Polls show Governor Brad Henry with a commanding lead. Henry, a moderate Democrat, obviously deserves a second term as governor. He has worked to fund public education while cutting taxes. He plays to the pragmatic center. Many people are sick of Istook’s brand of GOP extremism as the Iraq war debacle drags on.

Meanwhile, the Istook campaign is taking the low road with pathetic attack ads and ugly campaign rhetoric. Istook, for example, has criticized Henry for signing a bill allowing a few children of undocumented workers to get in-state college tuition. It seems so petty and senseless. None of the ads have gained any traction.

Istook’s campaign has also suffered because of the country’s low approval of current Republican leadership on the national level. Istook uses the immigration issue to criticize Henry, but he was actually in a position to do something about it and failed to do so. Istook merely draws attention to his failed tenure in the U.S. Congress when he brings up immigration.

Will The Dems Win?

It’s okay to be optimistic that Democrats will capture a majority in the House or Senate, and it’s fine to be optimistic about the Democrats chances here in Oklahoma from governor on down the ticket.

Public opinion shows the country is sick of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, but does the country still have the democratic tools to force a correction? Republican gerrymandering makes it nearly impossible for Democrats to compete in some congressional districts. In addition, the GOP political machine will undoubtedly employ, as usual, unscrupulous tactics to prevent Democrats from voting in major cities.

Progressives here should realize we’re engaged in struggle against an entrenched right-wing machine that may take many more years to win. What’s important is that we vote this coming Tuesday and stay focused on changing the political landscape no matter what the outcome.


Istook Fails To Rally GOP Base

Read DocHoc’s commentary on Oklahoma poverty in this week’s Oklahoma Gazette.

Ernest Goes To Cultural Wedge Issues

U. S. Rep. Ernest Istook's desperate attempt to rally the Oklahoma Republican base around the issue of illegal immigration has been an utter failure.

Photograph of Governor Brad Henry

The problem is the Republican Party is split on the issue. The ultra-rich, business bigwigs in the GOP want some type of immigration program that will give them a cheap labor force. The so-called “law and order” Republicans want undocumented workers out of the country, no matter what the personal or economic costs.

Consequently, Istook and his own party have stood in the way of meaningful reform because there can be no reconciliation between the two positions.

But that hasn’t stopped Istook, who is running for governor here, from criticizing Governor Brad Henry for signing a measure into law that grants a handful of undocumented students in-state college tuition rates under certain strict criteria. (Remember, these are people who live here and are paying for college.) Only 200 students or so take advantage of the 2003 law, which was passed by the legislature. Henry only signed the measure, which is a good law that promotes education.

Istook’s attacks on Henry about this issue simply have no traction. It seems petty and hateful to deny a relatively small number of students educational opportunities, and it would do absolutely nothing to solve the immigration issue. Istook’s attacks create the obvious question: Why didn’t he do something about this issue while serving in Congress when he could have made a difference?

Even The Daily Oklahoman, which certainly represents the interests of the GOP wealthy, has criticized Istook on its editorial page for making this a campaign issue.

According to the newspaper, “Immigration reform is needed. But punishing students who are seeking higher education and want to become citizens for the actions of their parents isn’t the kind of immigration reform that will ultimately help our state.”

So what is a Republican to do? Listen to Istook’s rants? Believe what The Oklahoman says? The GOP has failed the country on this issue. Istook’s attacks on Henry only reveal the hypocritical lies and split in his party. Meanwhile, Henry is running powerful campaign television advertisements that focus on his many accomplishments in his first term as governor. Current polls show Henry has a commanding lead over Istook among Oklahoma voters.

More than one political observer has noted that Istook miscalculated when he decided to run against Henry. He trails in fundraising, and he is now forced to run a negative campaign. Istook seems desperate. Meanwhile, Henry can talked about how pulled the state through difficult economic times and generated more funding for education.

Democrats Rising?

Speaking of politics, Keith Gaddie, an OU political science professor, writes about the rising fortunes of Oklahoma Democrats in the Oklahoma Gazette this week.

In a commentary titled “Boo! The Democrats might win!,” Gaddie, a local political guru, writes, “All indications are that, for the first time ever, a viable and organized Democratic Party is present the Sooner State.”

The Democrats have a great statewide ticket for the upcoming election in November. The ticket is led, of course, by popular Governor Brad Henry. (Gaddie writes that some in the GOP think Ernest Istook “will be lucky to break 40 percent” in the election.) In addition, polls show voters nationally are fed up with President George Bush and the Republican majority in the House and Senate. And I sense, too, Democrats are becoming more unified in their efforts to stop the Republican juggernaut that has seized this state and turned it into a seething battleground for right-wing, religious-based ideology. This could translate into big wins for the Democrats.