Tornado Deflections

Image of tornado with flying words by Jasmine Mulliken

(I plan to get back to politics after this post on the recent tornadoes in the area. I think it’s important we build more private and public storm shelters here. We absolutely need laws and incentives that will help us to do so.—Kurt Hochenauer )

The criticism faced by local KFOR Meteorologist Mike Morgan for suggesting on air that people in the path of Friday's tornadoes should drive away from them is merely an anti-intellectual deflection.

It’s tragic because we need an honest discussion here about tornado safety. Instead, we roast some television weatherman and ignore obvious arguments, such as the need for storm shelters in all Oklahoma homes and schools.

Criticizing Morgan or whoever allows us to ignore a difficult reality about our state. We’re the epicenter for Tornado Alley, but we don’t even protect our children at schools. We build homes that are death traps. We have great “Oklahoma spirit,” but only after more than 40 people are dead and hundreds more are injured.

According to media reports, Morgan told people last Friday to flee from approaching tornadoes. That supposedly led to a mass exodus, congested roads (“a parking lot”) and then to death and injuries. Really? Lost in all of this is that he even HAD to recommend such a course of action because of the huge lack of shelters here.

Let’s be clear: It’s not intellectually sound to embrace edicts about tornado safety. Shelter in place? Drive away? It depends on a broad variety of factors. Do you have a shelter? Where is the tornado or cloud set that will likely produce one? Where is the dry line? Are other wall clouds forming in the area? What time of day is it? What time of year is it? What is the temperature? How near are major thoroughfares? Will the roads be crowded? Where can you go? That’s just a short list of questions.

The point is that if we embrace one particular view about tornado safety, we put ourselves at risk. What’s so insidious about tornadoes is that they strike quickly and become erratic. Our response should be the same. We should respond quickly to a tornado warning and take the particular (“erratic”) precautions dictated by the particular storm and the accompanying weather.

I urge everyone to ignore anyone who clings to blanket statements about tornado safety, such as “you should always shelter in place.” It all depends on the context of the storm or storms bearing down on you and what type of shelter, if any, you might have.

This is not a defense of Morgan by any means. In fact, I think tornado safety suffers here because storm coverage is relentlessly commercialized by our television stations, which crave viewers and money. If a big tornado strikes and there’s great video, well, then that works out quite nicely for our local stations, doesn’t it? They might launch self-serving programs to raise money for storm victims after they capture that great video, but they won’t support a comprehensive program to build shelters in this area. That might mean fewer deaths and less urgency to provide coverage, fewer viewers and fewer advertising dollars.

I wonder what the overall, local television news ratings would be here if we didn’t have such crazy, violent weather in this place.

So my point is that all this is a typical deflection that I’ve seen over and over again here. We’re arguing over what some guy said on television and not the reality. Meanwhile, time marches on, and all of it goes down our collective memory hole until the next tornado strikes.

As I wrote in a recent Op-Ed in The Washington Post, let’s build underground shelters everywhere here. Let’s require them in ALL homes. Let’s require shelters in ALL schools. Let’s construct our buildings with stronger materials and tie them more strongly to foundations. Let’s actually do something this time instead of making ourselves a national spectacle of ignorance and victimization.


Oklahoma Teachers Deserve Big Raise This Year

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.

Satirical poster by Oldamericancentury.org

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.