(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 )
”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The newly-elected school board there recently rescinded the board’s earlier decision to include a statement about intelligent design in science classrooms.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.
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.
Baptists Say No Health Care For Gays, Unmarried Couples
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s recent call urging businesses to deny health care benefits to same-sex and unmarried couples is morally repugnant.
It’s beyond belief a mainstream American religious organization would actually take a position that would deny health care to people. That’s just how far the Christian right has sunk in its theocratic campaign to make America a land of religious hatred and bitterness under the Bush imperial presidency.
In its latest gambit in its relentless anti-gay crusade, the organization, meeting in Oklahoma City, issued a so-called “position paper” that called on the nation’s businesses to make sure people go without adequate health care. Its position created a small debate in the local press. It hardly qualified as a real discussion of the issue.
The Daily Oklahoman editorialized—now get this—in favor of the convention’s right to issue the position paper but not in favor of what it argued.
In an unsigned editorial (“Canon fire: Baptists again in the crossfire,” November 18, 2006), The Oklahoman wrote those who protested the Baptists' position were essentially wrong to do so. Since the Baptists suppposedly don't actually make government policy, those who oppose their ludicrous ideas should not speak out, according to the most conservative newspaper in the country. It’s one of those classic warnings from the Oklahoma power structure to anyone who dares speak out against religious extremism unless it’s Islamic extremism. Yet the newspaper never said it actually agreed with the Baptist hatred.
Certainly, Southern Baptists have every right to define “sin” or “sinners” in their narrow, literalist views. That’s what most religions do, especially the Southern Baptists. But, come on, to actually call on businesses to deny health insurance to particular individuals really crosses the line into hatred. It reminds you how these same white, southern protestant churches supported slavery in the nineteenth-century and then racist laws later. The Southern Baptist Convention, of which the Oklahoma organization is a part, was actually founded on pro-slavery ideology. The Southern Baptists were wrong then, of course, and they are wrong now.
I believe everyone in this country should have access to adequate health care, and I'm ready to discuss and debate ideas to make this happen. Call me a heathen. Call me a sinner. Take away my health insurance, too. Burn me at the stake, you Southern Baptists. I truly believe it. I even believe you, yes YOU, should have access to health care despite your hateful, angry positions. You simply don’t understand how morally bankrupt your political positions and statements really are. Your evangelical leaders use these wedge positions for personal power and money. Wake up.
Give The Lips The Alley
One of the best ideas to surface in Oklahoma City recently is to name some small Bricktown alleys and streets after famous state musicians.
One proposal would name a small alley The Flaming Lips after the band that comes from Oklahoma City. The Lips have international acclaim, big album sales, and a solid following. They are a proven band with huge, vested interests in the Oklahoma City area. Undoubtedly, the redneck, “put-a boot-in-their-ass” Toby Keith crowd has no clue about the band but thousands of Oklahomans and millions of people throughout the world do.
Naming the alley after The Lips shows the world Oklahoma City is more than redneck Baptists trying to make sure gay people can’t get health insurance. As crazy at this might seem to some people, this idea of diversity actually helps economic development here.
At its recent meeting, the Oklahoma City Council put off the decision about naming the alley until December 5. Why? Well, gosh, maybe Toby Keith hasn’t been consulted. He was so right about the Iraq war, right? Certainly, his intellectual input on this alley issue is desperately needed as well. (Rumors are the OKC Council doesn't do a thing in Bricktown without Keith's "I love this bar and grill!" if-it-ain't-redneck-it-AIN'T approval.) But we need to go to the brightest Oklahomans like Keith when decisions need to be made, right? Come on, Toby, take your boot out of our asses and let The Lips have the alley.
Here's an excellent local blog. Check it out. It's so nice to read about science, especially on a local level, in today's world of religious extremism.
Speaking Truth To Power
The results are now in on the Dixie Chicks Natalie Maines and Toby Keith flap that started some three years ago, and the clear and obvious winner is Maines. Too bad, Toby. She was right. You were wrong.
Three years ago and just two weeks before the Iraq invasion, Maines told a London audience, “'Just so you know, we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
Maines later apologized for the comment, but her remark sparked an outcry in the country music industry. Some stations even refused to play the band’s music, and the band received threatening letters. Maines also criticized Okie Toby Keith’s jingoistic song, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and Keith returned the “compliment” by criticizing Maines’ songwriting capabilities, according to news reports. It was a star spat that Keith appeared to win initially in terms of the country music industry and fan loyalty.
Keith, of course, is the Oklahoma musician who rambles the sidelines during Oklahoma Sooner football games and poses for local library, literacy posters that say, “Read Y’All.” He owns a restaurant in Bricktown. The latest album from Oklahoma’s Ambassador of Intellectualism, the state's favorite role model, is titled “White Trash With Money.”
Just for the record, here some of those saber-rattling Keith lyrics on “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue:”
Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
`Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way
Three years into a botched war with an imperial president who has sanctioned the torture of prisoners in American custody and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, Keith’s song seems misguided and Maines’ words seem prophetic. Essentially, Maines was right about the war, and Keith was wrong. Keith’s nationalistic, violence-sanctioning rant represents the type of shallow, emotional manipulation that Bush and company used to rile the masses into believing the president’s lies about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Maines and her fellow band members, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, are currently promoting their new album, “Taking the Long Way.” The band members say they are trying to broaden their audience outside of the country music industry, which turned against them when they dissented from the initial nationalistic fervor surrounding the Iraq war.
Here are some lyrics from the song, “Not Ready To Make Nice:”
I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Maines said, "I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President. But I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.” Who can argue with that? Bush’s approval rating is under 30 percent in one poll, and a clear majority of Americans now think it was a mistake to invade Iraq.
In the final analysis, Maines was right and Keith was wrong about Bush and the war. She and her band deserve to be vindicated. Keith and others in the country music industry should issue some type of statement, with the release of the Dixie Chicks new album, that says dissent is patriotic. Not everyone who listens to country music is a mindless Bushbot willing to blindly follow him aimlessly into a misguided war.
Webby Awards Creator Visits OKC
Tiffany Shlain, the creator of the Webby Awards, will be in Oklahoma City this coming week at the June 1 Oklahoma Technology Conference.
Shlain is a tech guru, screenwriter, and film director.
The Webby Awards were established in 1996 and are highly coveted. Former Vice President Al Gore was recently given an award for his work in advancing the Internet during his political career.
Senate Democrats Should Hold Firm
Oklahoma Democratic Senators should hold firm in upcoming budget negotiations and ensure the state funds educational programs instead of giving large tax breaks to rich people. What is there to lose?
The state has a $1 billion surplus this year. The state has a real opportunity to help adequately fund schools and colleges. Cutting the income tax rate, a move which would primarily benefit the state’s wealthiest residents, is simply not prudent or far-sighted. How will this money be replaced during down years? What will happen to the state’s financial foundation in coming years without adequate revenue streams?
The country’s wealthiest citizens, along with big corporations, have received huge tax cuts during the five years of the Bush presidency. It is time for Oklahoma teachers to be able to afford their health insurance and for our children to have enough textbooks in any given classroom. Our colleges and universities, which represent the state’s future, need a big boost as well. Our college students, for example, have dealt with skyrocketing tuition increases and gasoline prices recently.
Check out the Web site of the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, which breaks down the state’s budget issues.