I think it’s fair to say that at least some members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation and the corporate power structure here are waging a carefully constructed rhetorical war against the environment.
The principal ammunition is money given by the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions to politicians, such as Republicans U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who represents Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District. The principal tactics—or to put it another way, what that money buys—are relentless science denial, linguistic subterfuge and reductionist sloganeering.
The victim, of course, is the environment. Our planet faces the major threat of global warming caused by man-made carbon emissions. By supporting the interests of the oil and gas industry above environmental protection, politicians like Inhofe and Lankford, the corporate energy sector here and their mouthpiece, The Oklahoman, have not only positioned themselves on the wrong side of history but have also sold out the future of the planet for money and power.
Take just this week. On Wednesday, Inhofe announced he, along with other senators, have introduced a legislative plan for a “full global embargo against Iranian oil” that also includes a requirement that the federal government open up more of its land for energy production. Of course, as even Inhofe concedes in a press release, the United States doesn’t import any oil from Iran, but that doesn’t matter because the new production of oil by big corporations on federal lands would somehow help those countries who do import oil from Iran. All this will result in the “defeat” of Iran, according to Inhofe, which is a somewhat fantastical concept in itself.
Of course, traditional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal lands will also damage the environment and only exacerbate the real problem of climate change through the burning of fossil fuels, but, as we know, Inhofe doesn’t buy into the science of global warming and calls it all a hoax.
On Friday, Inhofe also issued a statement arguing that the Department of Interior needs to back off any re-proposals of rules over fracking on federal lands, which are going to provide the oil needed to defeat Iran. In the statement, Inhofe makes the claim that “over one million wells have been fracked and there has not been a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination in that time.” It’s not surprising that argument has been refuted. (Click here as well.) Fracking has also been related to earthquakes here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
It’s also not surprising that Inhofe doesn’t mention in his press releases that he has received at least $550,950 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2007.
Inhofe’s ties to the oil and gas industry through campaign funding ultimately result in an assault on the environment as he does the bidding of big energy companies.
One of his anti-environment colleagues in Washington, Lankford, does the same type of bidding. Lankford received $160,350 in campaign money from the oil and gas industry in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle. What does that amount of campaign money get the oil and gas industry?
On Thursday, Lankford criticized the federal government during a hearing for not expediting drilling permits on federal land. He has argued that new rules related to fracking are not needed for drilling on federal lands because apparently states do such a good job regulating the oil and gas industry. The Oklahoman, of course, extensively covered Lankford’s predictable remarks.
To round out the week, the newspaper, which is a propaganda mouthpiece for Inhofe, Lankford and all of Oklahoma City’s large energy companies, such as Devon, Chesapeake, Sandridge and Continental Resources, published an editorial Friday mocking protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline currently under construction in the state.
The editorial focused on one quote by a protester, who was arrested at a construction site, and the editorial made the sophomoric argument once again that people who fight for the environment most likely also use cars fueled by gasoline and thus have some type of conflict of interest that renders their arguments invalid.
The real conflict of interest is that the newspaper is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich drilling for fossil fuels, and that the newspaper conveniently never allows consistent, dissenting views to its one-sided, conservative myopia when it comes to the environmental destruction. Has Oklahoma become the epicenter of an anti-environment campaign waged by corporate interests for short-term profits?
It’s only fitting that as an editorial in The Oklahoman pointed out that Oklahoma’s cool weather in April was “news that a climate change zealot won't want to hear,” scientists were reporting the average daily level of carbon dioxide in the air in the world was at its highest level in three million years.
Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, and its growing levels in the atmosphere have been blamed for global warming and climate change.
In a May 10 editorial brief titled “Cool to conclusions” in its weekly Scissors Tale column, The Oklahoman reported the rather unremarkable news that last month was the seventh coolest recorded April in the state’s history dating back to 1895.
“We won't extrapolate from this data to support a conclusion that global warming is over or that this will be one of the coolest summers on record,” the editorial claims, and then goes on to criticize anyone who brings up the recent temperature record breaking summers as evidence of global warming.
“It would be nice if the zealots wouldn't leap to conclusions based on those summers,” according to the commentary, “or last year's Superstorm Sandy or any other weather phenomenon that's cashed in like a lottery ticket to score a political point.”
So, in essence, the editorial IS using a particular weather event to criticize those concerned about climate change, which is the same thing as using a weather event as evidence to argue global warming is simply a mythology embraced by, to use its own word, “zealots.” The editorial does exactly what it says it won’t do, which makes its writer as much as a zealot as anyone else.
The disingenuous rhetoric comes with a heaping dose of faulty logic. The seventh coolest April in one state hardly compares with the fact that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States or the fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that ocean surface temperatures last year off the Northeast coast in this country were the highest in 150 years.
The editorial also doesn’t refer to the actual math of global warming, which can be viewed in these charts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Two other subjects The Oklahoman will always omit from any discussion of climate change is the fact the world’s best known global warming denier, its own home-state darling U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, has received at least $550,000 in campaign funding from oil and gas companies since 2007 and the fact the newspaper itself is currently owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich decades ago by drilling for fossil fuels.
All the omissions and faulty logic come just as scientists reported that the average daily carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is now at 400 parts per million, the highest in at least three million years. The measurements come from scientific instruments in Hawaii and have been compared to carbon dioxide levels in trapped air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice.
According to a New York Times article, scientists didn’t mince words about the significance of the finding. “It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” one scientist said. The impact of carbon emissions on the climate continues to be one of the planet’s largest problems.
So let’s be clear: Global warming is a scientific issue and fact, not a bipartisan debate, and no one weather event can determine much of anything. Long-term climate patterns, which now include a series of unusual weather events through the years, high carbon dioxide levels in the air, warming sea temperatures and melting Arctic ice indicate we face a problem. The Oklahoman does a great disservice to its readers and the broader community here in its discussions of global warming when it simply engages in rhetorical hyperbole by calling people zealots, making false comparisons and omitting crucial information about conflicts of interest.
The Oklahoman editorial board has attempted to philosophically defend the GOP push for a tax cut this year despite the cut’s future impact on revenue in a state that has faced budget reductions in recent years.
Unlike Gov. Mary Fallin and to an extent House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, who mostly engage in sweeping, Republican generalizations when it comes to cutting taxes, a recent commentary in the newspaper actually tried to parse the issue and offer specific counter arguments to those people who oppose an income tax cut right now.
The newspaper should be commended for actually trying to construct a logical argument, but ultimately the overall argument fails because of misguided assumptions, lack of empirical evidence and over reliance on unproven conservative dogma. It would be nice if state leaders, including editorial writers at Oklahoma’s corporate media, could have a rational discussion about taxes, but it can’t happen if we must begin with prevailing conservative presumptions that simply aren’t true.
The editorial, “High-tax states wouldn’t mind an economy like Oklahoma’s” (April 12, 2013), essentially offers counter arguments to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which has opposed any income tax cut this year, primarily because of its future effect on state revenues and in light of recent budget cuts. The latest proposal under consideration, which came out of the state Senate, would drop the top tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.95 percent starting in 2015, sunset some tax credits and would cost the state $169 million a year. That proposal is now under negotiation. Fallin and Shannon have pushed for a cut from 5.25 percent to 5 percent starting in 2014. It would cost the state more than $100 million a year.
I have outlined my argument against a tax cut at this time here, but in this post I want to address some of arguments put forth by The Oklahoman in its response to OK Policy and others opposed to a cut.
The commentary, for example argues that a “tax cut is hardly going to make the poor poorer” because the top income tax rate starts at $8,700 for a single filer. This argument supposedly addresses concerns OK Policy has about the relationship between taxes and poverty in the state. But the editorial doesn’t address the fact that any flat cut that doesn’t take into account income brackets is always regressive and shifts the most money to the wealthiest in our society. Also, declining government revenues eventually lead to budget cuts or stagnation, which could mean fewer dollars for safety-net programs that help the poor.
The Oklahoman dismisses OK Policy’s concerns that state workers haven’t had a cost-of-living raise since 2006, arguing in italics that it’s a political sales pitch that comes off like this: “You need to accept less take-home pay so a bureaucrat can get more.” Not every state worker is a bureaucrat, of course, and under Fallin’s original plan 43 percent of Oklahomans wouldn’t even receive a tax cut. I’m unsure the sales pitch for stopping a tax cut right now comes off to a majority of people as described by The Oklahoman. Here’s the real sales pitch: You will receive no tax cut at all or a token amount of money and it will take money away from schools.
Higher education funding from the state has declined in recent years because of lower state revenues, prompting tuition hikes, but that’s okay, according to the commentary, because colleges will raise tuition no matter what. This type of argument dismisses any real discussion of just how much tuition has skyrocketed or of the increasing cost of college, which is saddling many students with crippling debt. It also makes a presumption that colleges will always raise tuition each year, which isn’t necessarily true. A few years ago, for example, many state colleges came together and gave students a year without any increase. It also implies that colleges would have raised tuition that same amount with more state support. I don’t think that’s true, either.
The editorial goes on to argue that “no amount of taxation is ever so great that government boosters won't claim poverty,” which is a misguided, conservative assumption. On the philosophical level, so-called “government boosters” are usually people who want a fairer, progressive tax system. They actually favor tax cuts for the less fortunate in our culture. They want to adequately fund education and safety-net programs and call attention to the growing income inequality between the richest people in our culture and everyone else. Specifically, they recognize the state’s historical and well-documented lack of decent funding for education and the state’s historical and well-documented poverty levels. How can we not “claim poverty” when it stares us in the face?
Many of us opposed to the tax cut have argued that the median cut is only $39 a year, a trivial amount, at the same time it collectively takes a large chunk of money away from overall state revenues. The answer from The Oklahoman is more Republican dogma and presumption. The editorial claims, even though the cut is small the private sector “allocates money far better than any government agency.” That’s certainly true if you’re a billionaire, like the newspaper’s owner, Philip Anschutz, but it’s not so true if you’re working at a minimum wage job and don’t even receive the extra $39 annually. The free market enforces poverty as much as it makes people rich. The newspaper is making an assumption certainly not held by everyone and probably not even a majority of voters in this country.
Finally, the newspaper claims tax collections actually went up after recent tax cuts, but it completely ignores the impact of the Great Recession on Oklahoma and the steep decline in revenues after 2008. I’m trying hard not to engage in hyperbole here, but this claim borders on rewriting not just history but extremely recent history. A strong argument could be and has been made that the tax cuts sent state revenues into a devastating downward spiral once the economy tanked.
Still, I’ll give The Oklahoman some credit here for the attempt to argue ideas and also for its rather subdued approach to the tax-cut proposals presented by lawmakers so far this year. The editorial seems okay with the idea that lawmakers “may favor state spending over tax cuts this year, and consider tax cuts again in future years.” I’m okay with that idea, too.