Lance’s Lege devolved into a typical Okie spectacle over the state budget last week, but who cares about real issues involving real people in space and time when you can savor rhetorical gems like this one:
"My 3-year-old, he loves chocolate chip ice cream. One time, I got him chocolate chip ice cream in a cup, and he said he wanted chocolate chip in a cone, or he wouldn't eat it. The governor and the Democrats are saying they agree with 90 percent of this budget, but they don't like it in a cup, they want it in a cone.” (“House Democrats standing behind veto,” The Daily Oklahoman, April 1, 2007.)
That’s how House Speaker Lance Cargill (R-Harrah) summed up Democratic support for Gov. Brad Henry’s recent budget veto.
(You’re a normal person if you've had to read the above quote several times to catch its Big Meaning. Let’s brainstorm. So picture $6.9 billion stuffed in a Braum’s waffle cone held by a three-year-old Brad Henry in short pants and a beanie as he faces everyone in the media. No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense either. Okay, try this: Picture underfunded schools and colleges getting the cup and corporations getting the cone. Hmm. That’s not quite right either. I mean how many extra calories and fat grams does the cone add?)
All of which brings up this major question about the vetoed budget: Why didn’t Cargill simply get his kid an ice cream cone?
And as absurd as it sounds, the question makes as much sense as any over why Senate and House Democrats initially cut out Henry from the budget process. (Some Senate Democrats disagree with Henry’s claims that he was cut out of the budget process, according to earlier news reports.) Henry is one of the most popular governors in state history. He beat Ernest Istook in a landslide last November. His approval rating is nearly 70 percent. He is the state’s leading Democrat.
Henry’s bonafides don't give him a blank check, and it’s perfectly appropriate for Democrats to disagree over particular budget issues, but why cut out the executive branch of state government when it’s your own party in control?
The governor had no choice. If he let the budget stand, Henry would have essentially abdicated the Oklahoma governorship, making it a figure-head position that has no real power. Why run for governor? Why even have a governor if that governor cannot suggest ideas and programs for the state? What’s the point of all the speeches and debates and campaign fundraisers and yard signs? (Say, here’s an alternative idea, maybe we can save ourselves some money in Oklahoma and just do away with the position.)
To their credit, House Democrats now say they will stand with Henry on the veto. Maybe The Lege can try to have a real discussion and debate over the state’s funding priorities. And if Cargill has more brain teasers for those of us who need help understanding the sophisticated political scene in this state, let’s hear them, too.
Taxes Continue To Fund Religion
House Speaker Lance Cargill (R-Harrah) has introduced a bill dealing with inmates’ reentry into society that, if passed, would be an obvious and direct violation of the Oklahoma Constitution’s strict separation of church and state.
Here is a passage (emphasis mine) from House Bill 2101 introduced by Cargill:
“There is hereby created in the State Treasury a revolving fund for the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives to be designated the ‘Reintegration of Inmates Revolving Fund’. The fund shall be a continuing fund, not subject to fiscal year limitations, and shall consist of monies received from appropriated funds to be used for grants to volunteer organizations including, but not limited to, faith-based organizations which provide health, educational or vocational training and programs that assist the reintegration efforts of the Reentry Policy Council. All monies accruing to the credit of the fund are hereby appropriated and may be budgeted and expended by the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Expenditures from the fund shall be made upon warrants issued by the State Treasurer against claims filed as prescribed by law with the Director of State Finance for approval and payment.”
Here is a passage from Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution:
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
How can you reconcile funding “faith-based organizations” with taxpayer’s money when the state constitution clearly forbids it? Doesn’t this at least deserve more discussion and scrutiny? Don’t count on it.
Cargill’s bill is yet another example of how Republicans, in particular, are set on tearing down the wall separating church and state. (But, unfortunately, there are a lot of Democrats in Oklahoma that want to do the same thing.) Overall, the faith-based initiative movement, advanced by the warmongering President George Bush and his declining number of apologists, is nothing more than a back-door way to funnel taxpayer money to right-wing Christian groups. Progressive religious groups may try to manipulate the system as well for money and power, but this religious intrusion in government is unconstitutional on the state and federal levels and should be stopped.
The religious right wants to use your tax dollars to fund a perpetual, bloody occupation of another country and those particular church groups who sanction the gruesome violence. They want your money. The fix is in, folks, and your taxes are paying for it.
Greenwald The Great
Glenn Greenwald is writing one of the best blogs in the country right now. His blog appears on Salon.com. Greenwald exposes the corporate media for right-wing bias in a methodical manner, using immense textual evidence.
What I especially appreciate about Greenwald’s arguments is how he holds the corporate media accountable for their mistakes in supporting the Iraq invasion and ensuing occupation. He also shows how the media has a definite conservative bias. Why are those corporate media columnists who were so wrong about Iraq still getting published at The Washington Post and New York Times? How can you be so wrong about the most important event in a generation and still serve as a political analyst for a major media company? Has the corporate media lost all standards in its quest for greater profits? Greenwald’s writing implicitly asks these questions.
I know I’m repeating myself here to my regular readers. But there were those of us who opposed the Iraq invasion publicly and loudly before it even happened, and then predicted each and every mistake made by the Bush administration in the subsequent occupation. We did so at great personal risk. Some of us were marginalized and ridiculed for our positions. We were threatened and harassed. Now our political positions, articulated as earlier as 2002, are held by a vast majority of Americans, but many who were wrong still hold major editorial positions at our country’s largest media companies and are still rewarded by our country’s public institutions.
So allow me to make another prediction that will undoubtedly prove just as true as my predictions about Iraq. The corporate media is doomed unless it begins to reward those who were so obviously right about Iraq. These are the people who need more column space, more money, and more recognition. The people who were dreadfully wrong should be publicly discredited if not outright fired. The mainstream media loses credibility by the hour for ignoring the basic human principle of right and wrong. It’s bad for their businesses, and it’s bad for the country.
Is it too late to correct the fundamental error that exists within the mainstream media today?
100 Republican Ideas
Oklahoma House Speaker Lance Cargill’s effort to pass a so-called ethics bill supposedly making the state’s campaign contribution system more transparent is a blatant gesture of hypocrisy.
But then this is Oklahoma, where extreme right-wing political contradictions go unchallenged by the state’s corporate media on a daily basis.
On one hand, Cargill (R-Harrah) wants to create an online system, under his House Bill 2110, that shows all donations to the state’s political candidates on a monthly basis. He also wants to require donors from out of state to identify themselves. (The bill also contains a few more minor “reforms,” but nothing that will seriously challenge that pay-to-play mentality that has completely corrupted our political systems in this country.)
On the other hand, Cargill continues to keep secret those who are bankrolling his 100 Ideas initiative, which is nothing more than a front to promote Republican ideology and his own political career throughout the state.
How can you honestly try to pass a bill that calls for transparency in our campaign system at the same time you operate a secretly funded organization for political reasons? Well, it’s easy in Oklahoma when corporate media outlets such as The Daily Oklahoman serve as the GOP’s very own propaganda ministry.
The 100 Ideas initiative mimics a similar program in Florida. People supposedly submit ideas to improve Oklahoma to the 100 Ideas organization. The organization will then select the 100 best ideas and publish them. Cargill and former state Rep. Thad Balkman, another Republican, are operating the initiative. They are pretending the organization is non-partisan, but clearly its intent is to promote right-wing ideology. For example, Balkman has said he doesn’t want any ideas that might expand government, according to news reports.
Balkman recently lost his House seat to Wallace Collins, a Democrat. This was primarily because Balkman promotes religious intrusion into government, and enlightened voters in Norman, a college town, stopped his religious crusade. As a legislator, for example, Balkman supported teaching intelligent design, or neocreationism, as science in our schools. This would have kept our students ignorant of the scientific method.
According to a story about the issue in the Oklahoma Gazette, the weekly publication has filed a request under the state’s Open Records Act asking for records from Cargill and his staff. (Ben Fenwick of the Gazette has done the best local reporting on the controversy.) In addition, Balkman now says he will release sponsor information in March. But is this just a delay tactic on Balkman’s part? Will he really do it? Will he release all the information? Why do the sponsors want to remain private?
Okie Funk again calls on the Oklahoma Attorney General or other state legal officials to determine whether this organization can operate secretly or not within the scope of campaign laws. This new fronting technique could change the political landscape here considerably, and it will only be for the worse.
Revenue Estimates Decline
When you cut taxes, you have less money to spend on government. This is obvious, of course, but somehow this simple idea got lost in all the tax cutting hoopla in Oklahoma the last two years.
Consequently, the State Board of Equalization has now revised its revenue estimates, lowering the state’s surplus estimated amounts by $105 million for 2007 and by $163 million for 2008.
The Alliance For Oklahoma’s Future gives an excellent breakdown of the lowered estimates, which “confirms that passing deep, permanent and back-loaded tax cuts based on a temporary revenue surge is leaving the state in a tight fiscal bin.”
The state legislature recently lowered the state income tax. This has contributed to the decline in the estimates.
What this means is that during the next financial downturn in Oklahoma (and there will be a downturn), the state may find itself unable to fund its legislative mandates, much less adequately fund public education or help the medically uninsured or improve our roads. The middle class and poor will get hurt the most. What else is new, right?