The Theater of the Absurd
It is absurd that teacher salaries ever become politicized in a state that pays its teachers less than forty-eight other states and sometimes less than forty-nine other states.
If the state cannot afford to increase salaries for teachers, then fine. We are a relatively poor state, and we can deal with it. We are Okies. But when the budget coffers are flushed with money, the state should make a real effort to bring teacher salaries up to at least regional averages. It would be a sign that the state cares about the intellectual welfare of its citizens and is committed to improving the quality of life here.
The Oklahoma Senate, controlled by Democrats, has offered a budget proposal this year that would give teachers a $3,000 raise. The Oklahoma House, controlled by Republicans, has offered a plan that would give teachers a paltry $1,200 raise. Governor Brad Henry has offered a compromise budget that would give teachers $2,400.
All of this may seem like typical politics, and Henry’s compromise may seem to favor teachers since it is only $600 short of what the Senate has asked for. But teachers need a guarantee that everyone will receive a raise, and why not just give them the $3,000?
The real issue here is that our teachers are terribly underpaid, and they need a decent raise this year and in subsequent years. The $3,000 raise, which may seem substantial to some people, is actually not enough. It should be at least a $5,000 across the board raise. Teachers will undoubtedly face raise rising health insurance and pension costs in coming years. The raise they receive this year, especially if it is only $1,200, will simply melt into the giant morass of health insurance company profits, rising gasoline prices and an underfunded pension fund.
Why the state’s citizens and politicians want to reward rich corporate executives of health insurance companies (not to mention oil companies) and not give their kid’s first-grade teacher a decent raise is one of the great mysteries of the twenty-first century. The bigwig executives of these companies could care less if Oklahoma children can read. They are laughing all the way to the bank.
The state has a real opportunity this year to make a halfway significant difference in the salary structure for teachers. To not do so is to validate the state’s “hick” reputation. To give the money to rich people in the form of tax cuts is immoral. Let’s finally do something about this low salary issue, a chronic problem in this state. Give teachers the $3,000 raise. Make sure all teachers get the raise, and then let’s go from there.
Always In Your Corner
The death of Brad Edwards, the intrepid local KFOR consumer rights reporter whose In Your Corner segments helped countless Oklahomans through the years, symbolizes a passing of an era in local television news.
For me, Edwards represented a time when local television news stations actually did real reporting by getting in the face of authority and demanding answers. Edwards and his camera accomplished what others could not do in our culture by putting the spotlight on those taking advantage of others. What Edwards and other such consumer rights reporters did was moral and just. His job must have enriched his life and the lives of those around him with meaning and compassion.
Today, local television news stations do little real reporting, much less the type of real-life, get-the-facts-right advocacy journalism practiced by Edwards. In addition, the dominance of huge corporations in media ownership has blurred the line between profits and news. Can a reporter—any reporter—even hold big corporations accountable these days? Do advertising dollars trump truth in today’s media? I think so. It is tragic but true.
We are witnessing a transformation in the media today. More independent media outlets, not tied to the corporate narrative of reality, are working for the rights of everyday Americans and Oklahomans as the mainstream media abandons any sense of responsibility to the culture in favor of profits for a few top shareholders, owners and executives.
Edwards represented a time when the mainstream media really cared about ordinary people and was willing to put in the energy and take the risks to help them. His professional life was a testament to truth.
Bush Should Be Impeached
You would not know it from the mainstream media and especially here in quasi-Bushland, where The Daily Oklahoman’s editorial page still licks the cowboy boots of a president with a mere 29 percent approval rating, but there is a strong, growing movement in this country to impeach George Bush.
Congressional and other candidates throughout the country are actually running on the impeachment platform. For example, Bill McClosky, a candidate for the U.S. Congress in Los Angeles says:
“A President cannot commit a more serious crime against our democracy than lying to Congress and the American people to get them to support a military action or war. It is not just cowardly and abhorrent to fool others into giving their lives for a nonexistent threat; it is that the decision to go to war, in a democracy, must be made by the people and their representatives. Given that the consequence is death for tens of thousands of people and the diversion of billions of dollars to the war effort, the fraud cannot be tolerated. The President should be impeached for committing fraud.”
For the record, Bush lied this country into a botched, illogical war, sanctioned the torture of prisoners in American custody, and ordered the illegal wiretapping of American citizens. All these acts are impeachable offenses. The only reason the Republican-dominated Congress does not investigate the president is because they have sold out the country’s interests to partisan politics.
This country must have some type of reconciliation for Bush’s action or our democratic structures will be jeopardized. It is understandable, given the fear mongering of this administration, that the country’s citizens are just now realizing the magnitude of Bush’s actions, and this is reflected in the president’s declining poll numbers. We must reaffirm democracy and freedom in this country.
It might be tempting to believe immoral “Bush World” is coming to an end because of recent Democratic victories throughout the country and the president’s declining approval ratings, but much work remains for Oklahoma progressives.
Consider that one year from now—no matter what is going on in the rest of the country—here is what it could be like in Oklahoma:
(1) Theocrat Ernest Istook could be governor. His first acts as governor would almost certainly pertain to cultural wedge and religious issues because arousing people’s ignorance and advancing theocracy is his only chance of victory against popular Governor Brad Henry in the gubernatorial race. Istook could try to stop the education lottery through legal measures, mandate prayer in school, and whip up hate against Oklahoma’s gay community through more discriminatory legislation. Meanwhile, he would no doubt work to cut educational funding and social programs and give the state away to big corporate interests through unneeded tax breaks.
(2) The state could have a TABOR constitutional amendment. TABOR, or the ironically named Taxpayers’ Bill of Right movement, would limit the growth of the state government’s budget to a formula tied to the inflation rate and population. It is another right-wing “tax-relief” program that rewards the ultra rich as it increases living expenses for the middle class. It decimated the educational systems in Colorado, and that is why voters there recently rescinded TABOR. Still, it has a good chance of passing in Oklahoma because the corporate media in the state will not cover the issue fairly by allowing extended dissenting views. TABOR supporters are now circulating an initiative petition to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. If passed, it will destroy Oklahoma education. That is not hyperbole.
(3) Oklahoma science teachers could be forced to teach Christian creationism in the classroom next fall as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution, which has directly and indirectly led to great advances in medical science. Oklahoma House Representative Thad Balkman (R-Norman), a right-wing theocrat in the mold of Istook, has announced he will propose some type of legislation related to intelligent design this coming legislative session. Intelligent design argues that the national world is so complicated it has to be the work of an intelligent designer, i.e., a god. This has never been proven. Since it is virtually only right-wing Christian fundamentalists who support intelligent design, you know they perceive the intelligent designer as their Christian God. If intelligent design makes it into Oklahoma classrooms, our students will be taught religion instead of scientific experimentation and evidence gathering.
So Istook, TABOR, and intelligent design, the forthcoming triad of the continuing Oklahoma conservative juggernaut, loom large over the state’s politics this coming year. (This is not to mention other important political races and legislation.)
Huddled in our cold houses with our gargantuan heating bills this winter, it might seem logical that Oklahoma voters will begin to reject the ongoing right-wing dysfunction that privileges the ultra rich over hard working people. There is nothing wrong with being cautiously hopeful as you put on an extra sweater this winter to try to keep the gas bill halfway reasonable. It is true Oklahomans are sick of paying high gasoline prices and increasing health-care costs, and they will certainly grow weary quickly of the high heating costs this winter. I also sense Oklahomans are sick of the divisiveness brought about by the Republicans over the last five years. Families here have been torn apart by Bush’s lies. Meanwhile, the news from Iraq is bad, terribly bad. Simply put, Bush has lost the war, and our soldiers are dying for his own hubris and lies. The slogan “Bush Lied, Thousands Died” will live forever in historical infamy alongside the 1960s chant, “Hey, hey, L.B.J., how many kids did you kill today?”
What type of massive, narcissistic ego must it take to send American soldiers off to a meaningless war for politics?
The right-wing, psychological dysfunction is now increasingly rejected throughout the country. Democrat governors were recently elected in Virginia, a red state, and New Jersey. Voters in California turned down Republican Governor Arnold Shwarzenegger’s four conservative ballot propositions, one of which was a TABOR-like measure. Voters in Colorado, as I mentioned, rescinded their TABOR amendment.
In addition, Bush’s poll numbers continue to plummet as a majority of people now recognize he lied or misled the country into a botched, meaningless war, the most grievous act a president can commit. High-ranking Republicans officials, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, are under indictment. People have grown tired over how our moral reputation around the world has been destroyed because this presidential administration sanctions the torture of prisoners. America will perhaps never be able to claim the high moral ground again in geopolitics.
Again, it is tempting to think the recent votes and poll numbers bode well for progressives and the country. That may be true.
But this is Oklahoma. We have a terribly biased corporate media in Oklahoma, which overwhelming privileges conservative viewpoints. The Daily Oklahoman, for example, recently published an unsigned editorial arguing that Bush did not lie the country into war. It failed to mention, of course, how many people throughout the country disagree with its assessment. It failed to mention a lot of things . . . like facts, previous Bush statements, the Downing Street memos, reputable left and right critics who say Bush lied, and it goes on and on.
And so, as usual, Oklahoma progressives will have to fight Istook, TABOR, and intelligent design without a real voice in the state’s corporate media.
That means we will have to work harder here even as the country finally acknowledges the lies of right-wing ideologues and how these lies have hurt the financial conditions of the middle class as they damaged our country’s democratic foundations and world reputation for years and years to come.
Historians and political experts have pointed out recently that President George Bush’s war lies have some parallel with war-related fibs told by U.S. Presidents William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, and Lyndon Johnson.
Bush’s lies, though, are simply more pernicious, obvious, and costly for American freedom and foreign policy. In some respects, there is no parallel in American presidential history for Bush’s lies. He lied this country into an unprovoked and meaningless war that is quickly becoming the country’s worst military debacle ever. He did so to consolidate and extend the country’s current one-party government, which threatens our democratic foundations.
Yet Bush’s relationship in history to the war liar McKinley, another Republican, has some uncanny parallels, especially in how both Bush and McKinley used sensationalist “journalism” to advance their lies.
McKinley’s action to begin the Spanish-American war of 1898 by attacking the Spanish in Cuba was precipitated, in part, by a New York newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst, forever immortalized by Orson Welles’s classic movie, Citizen Kane.
Many historians argue Hearst wanted a war to help sell newspapers, and thus he portrayed the Spaniards as evil, barbaric animals in his newspaper. After an explosion on the battleship USS Maine that turned out later to be caused by perhaps a malfunctioning furnace, Hearst and others turned up the war propaganda with consistent sloganeering such as “Remember the Maine,” and McKinley went along.
Eventually, America took over the Spanish colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but not after thousands had died. Consequently, American imperialism replaced Spanish imperialism.
Bush, too, has a Hearst or two helping to advance his lies. One is the conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, whose right-wing Fox News has gleefully supported Bush’s lies since the war’s inception. The other, of course, is Judith Miller, the disgraced and now jailed New York Times reporter who consistently lied about Saddam Hussein’s fictional weapons of mass destruction before the war began.
Without the support of Murdoch’s Fox News and Miller, Bush’s lies would have withered on the vine. We would not be in this mess, and the country would not be as divided.
The Times continues to support Miller who has refused to divulge the name of the person who outed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to her. Miller, some now argue, was actually trying to find and spread information to smear Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who wrote an article contesting Bush’s lies about Hussein’s weapons before the war began. Wilson’s article, in fact, challenged the type of extreme right-wing ideology and warmongering that made its way into Miller’s stories.
On some level, both McKinley and Bush lied for imperialistic reasons as well. McKinley lied to push so-called “American interests” in the Philippines, for example, just as Bush lied to push America’s interest in Middle-Eastern oil reserves. Neither president was straightforward with the American public about the real reasons for the war.
Historians also point out how President Wilson’s lied us into World War I and how President Johnson’s used lies about attacks from the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin to continue the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War quagmire. But Wilson was responding to a 1915 German attack on a passenger ship that killed many Americans, and Johnson did not start the Vietnam War through a sudden, unprovoked invasion. This is not to excuse their actions. It is only meant to put Bush’s war lies in appropriate perspective.
But here are the two major reasons why Bush’s lies are worse than his predecessors:
(1) Bush’s lies were primarily used to consolidate one-party, quasi-fascist rule in the country by dividing the country through horrific propaganda. As Fox News and Judith Miller fixated the American public on the sensationalism and emotionalism of war, the Bush regime began an immoral, systematic campaign to attack democratic principles through its unending support of right-wing religious fanatics and by transferring great amounts of wealth from middle-class people to the country’s richest people. No one could suggest that McKinley’s lies were somehow altruistic in comparison to Bush. He did use the “success” (another “Mission Accomplished” stunt) of his unneeded war to win a second-term as president. But the fog created by Bush’s war lies, with the help of Murdoch and Miller, have created an American era in which the public does not know how or why or when White House decisions are made. Under the darkness of secrecy created by war propaganda advanced by their corporate media stooges, the Bush administration pushes its right-wing agenda.
(2) Bush, unlike his predecessors, has been able to completely manipulate the corporate media in the country with his war lies. Certainly, the Internet has helped those opposed to Bush, but the mainstream press has completely capitulated to Bush’s immoral governing philosophy of lies and distortions, and there is no end in sight. No previous president has been given a free pass like Bush when it comes to obvious, in-your-face-and-I-don’t-care lies. No one. True, the media is much different today than in McKinley’s time, but Bush enjoys universal support from the commercial media, even though a majority of Americans (and it grows by the hour) now think he lied about the war and even though a vast majority of people in the world have always known and accepted he lied.
It is one thing to be duped by audacity and the trappings of power. It is another thing to ignore a huge majority of people in your country demanding the mainstream media investigate and write about the lies of our president. This is simply unprecedented and should be cause for alarm among Democrats and Republicans alike. It lowers the bar of our country values, sets a new precedent for immorality, and threatens to end the world’s respect for the American symbols of freedom and democracy.
Sure, we know American presidents lie all the time. Look at Richard Nixon’s lies about Watergate or Bill Clinton’s lies about Monica Lewinski. But lying a country into war is the most grievous act an American president can commit. It transcends other lies.
This country’s intellectuals should continue relentlessly to examine Bush war lies in the context of their unique place in American history. If they do not, democracy here remains in peril as American soldiers and innocent Iraqis continue to die for a rich man’s heinous lies.
(Postscript: The anti-war movement continues to galvanize around the amazing Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq. Sheehan pulls no punches. She says Bush lied, and she says he knew he lied.)