Oklahoman Attacks Senior Citizens

Oklahoma Media Watch will continue to monitor The Daily Oklahoman’s editorial distortions about the ongoing Social Security issue. All “The Watch” asks for is a full vetting of the issue when the newspaper’s editorial writers go at it. I agree with The Oklahoman editorial writers that this is a singularly important issue, but the newspapers omissions about the issue are deceitful. At the very least, they should allow dissenting opinions. I guess I should be happy the paper has stopped attacking, for the moment anyway, the AARP, right?

In its editorial, “Just saying no: Democrats no help on Social Security,” The Oklahoman makes the point that the Democrats are rejecting President George Bush’s Social Security plan for private stock market accounts without offering a plan of their own. This is true enough, and if I thought Bush’s point was to really “lead” on the issue in some non-partisan way, I might think the Democrats should come up with some ideas.

But I argue, and many, many people—with far better minds and significance than me—argue the president is exaggerating the social Security funding problem to dismantle the most important social insurance program this country has ever seen. He wants to do this because Social Security was created by Democrats who cared and continued to care about middle-class people. When it comes to “leading,” our president cares only for rich people. I am not the only American to make that argument. How can the Democrats, or anyone for that matter, engage the presidential administration in debate when it is obvious that there is no “good-faith” effort to really discuss the issues?

The editorial is filled with unsupported claims about Bush’s plan. It argues that “it’s a better deal” for younger workers, that “private accounts . . likely would have a better rate of return,” and that investment accounts “could total more than $500,000 for those 30 and younger.” But the editorial offers no support for these claims.

In addition, here are two major items the editorial excludes from it argument: (1) Bush contradicted himself during his recent press conference when, on the one hand, he said Social Security’s treasury bonds represent worthless IOUs from the U.S. government and, on the other hand, he said that treasury bonds are "backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.” So which one is it? Such an obvious contradiction or “lie,” in my judgment, does not seem like it would be part of good-faith effort to me. It seems like politics as usual. (2) The editorial does not mention how the system will pay for the money that is withdrawn from it to form these private accounts. If you think that the money would come from what you have already paid in and from reduced benefits, then I think you have a valid argument. At least, you deserve a more thorough response from the president.

On a larger note, I must add that in today’s online world The Oklahoman’s editorials have become freakishly old fashioned. Here I am responding to the issue, and I have linked to other websites that would be helpful to people wanting to really get to know about the issue, or, at least, wanting alternative views to the president’s ideas. It is quite easy to link. All you find on The Oklahoman’s editorial pages these days, though, are whiny, unsupported claims. Undoubtedly, its editorial writers are afraid to try to present supporting information for its claims. Maybe we will see an editorial soon that argues we should do away with the Internet in Oklahoma.

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The Decline of the American Media

The conservative columnist George Will had an enlightening piece published in The Washington Post’s online edition this past Sunday about declining hard-copy newspaper circulation. I do not much care for Will, who has been proven to be unethical, overly pedantic in a stylistic sense, and tied to a regressive ideology that threatens American democracy. But this piece pretty much sets aside politics momentarily for a discussion of facts about the newspaper industry. I could care less what conclusions Will draws from these facts, but everyone should pay attention to one main argument:

Newspapers in hard-copy form, as Will argues, are dying out.

Let me take this further. Newspapers are relics, dinosaurs, sinking ships, ugly, stupid reminders of a long ago era. They do not click or link or speak or show or amuse or astound. They line the floors of our houses when we paint inside, true. They are used in our packing boxes when we ship something, true. Some people still use them for paper machete creations. But if you want to know what is really going on, if you are really intelligent, if you are really self-aware, you have to go online. Newspapers—again, in hard-copy form, and this is a big distinction—slow us down because they put too much energy in supporting declining monopolies tied to the old technologies of newsprint presses and fossil fuels.

This, in turn, I will argue later in this blog is a major reason the mainstream media has become so conservative in the last decade or so, and this is also one of the reasons there seems to be this big disconnect between the fact a majority of newspaper reporters still apparently describe themselves as liberal even as their stories support one of the most conservative presidential regimes in the nation’s history. As I have mentioned before, I think this administration is now a full quasi-fascist government. (Alas, we teeter on fascism, Funko Heads, and I do not care if you think that is hyperbole. I read somewhere recently that our first thought everyday when we wake up should be, These are not normal times. I need to do at least one thing today to protect democracy from the theocrats. I agree with that, and I hope you do, too.)

The declining circulation numbers and the growing conservatism of the mainstream media is especially important to us in Okalahoma, which is home to the largest, most conservative newspaper in the nation, The Daily Oklahoman.

I have many arguments, but first some numbers, as cited by Will in his article, “Unread and Unsubscribing” (The Washington Post, April 2004, 2005).

Overall newspaper circulation is down from 62.3 million in 1990 to 55.2 million today.

Only 23 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 say they read newspapers.

People between the ages of 8 and 18 spend only 43 minutes a day with all print media, newspapers, magazines, books, but more than six hours a day with all media.

Expertsclaim, according to the article, that people do not change their reading habits significantly as they age. That just makes common sense.

Locally, The Daily Oklahoman’s hard-copy circulation continues to decline overall as evidenced by their recent and drastic price cut a couple of years ago. I am sure it is no different at The Tulsa World or any other newspaper in the state. I am also sure “hits” are increasing at all the online newspaper sites in the state. The new model, then, is free online newspapers supported by ad revenues. Many metropolitan newspaper publishers recognize this, but they are moving slow, slow, and slower because these monopolies want to suck the last piece of subscription change from your pockets.

What few pundits or media critics talk about is how this “slow” changing of newspapers to online models has created an extremely conservative mainstream media. I would argue that, overall, newspaper editors and reporters are still tied to a regressive, monopolistic model of journalism. This, by definition, creates conservative politics. Plunging into the online world for many reporters and editors must be a tad frightening for these reasons: (1) You have to work harder if you must update your story constantly, (2) you have more competition from bloggers and other sites who challenge your job on different levels consistently, and (3) you might not know much about the technical side of computers and code language, and you might be right that you are way behind the curve of a major media revolution in the world.

All this means that newspaper editors and reporters will consciously and subconsciously protect the status quo and the status quo is always conservative, always tied to the “good ole days” philosophy that forgets this one important fact: back in the “good ole days” no one really thought it was that good; no, in fact, there were times when it was downright ugly and immoral in this country. Take slavery, for example, or how about the lack of women’s rights in the nineteenth century?

Hard-copy newspapers are tried to regressive politics in these ways as well: (1) Tons upon tons of newsprint must be produced annually to sustain a dying industry, (2) huge trucks using large amounts of gasoline must be used to deliver newspapers to their destinations. Killing trees and using the last vestiges of fuel in “The Oil Age” can hardly be described as forward, progressive thinking. Again, I think editors and reporters, and even those who might describe themselves as political liberals, subconsciously support other dying industries that are harmful to the world’s ecosystem.

It simply amazes me that newspaper editors and reporters can describe themselves as progressive when they are anti-progress and tied to old technologies. In fact, they are not liberals. They are deluded. By definition, if you work as a reporter or editor (not necessarily as a progressive political columnist) for a major, metropolitan daily newspaper on the hard-copy side, then you are a conservative, backwards-thinking person no matter how you vote in political elections. If you were not and you had any sense of morality and justice, you would be scrambling to get to the online side, or you would quit altogether and work for a progressive, online publication. That would be a life-affirming decision, and you would sleep better at nights as well.

What all this means is that newspapers today want to remain as boring and meaningless as they now are. Newspapers, then, frame the issues in ways that are already conservative. The Daily Oklahoman is a perfect example of this. Our state’s largest newspaper already assumes that virtually all the state’s residents naturally support oil companies, big business, monopolies, a continuance reliance on fossil fuels, tax breaks for the wealthy, the whole ugly litany. What readers encounter then is a closed, conservative system not only on the pages of The Daily Oklahoman, but also on the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Of course, The Oklahoman will support launching nukes in Afghanistan to get Osama, of course The Times will send their ringer and careerist Judith Miller to distort and exaggerate to ensure our country starts an illogical war, of course The Post will give Bush a free pass. These monopolies exist to make money; conservative ideology supports monopolies. These newspapers could care less about you, or what you have to say, or what you want to know. Are you against using nukes? Well, then you must be out of the mainstream? Are you against unethical and lazy journalists making up information that allows a dangerous, religious presidential administration to get this country mired in a senseless crusade/war? Then you must be out of the mainstream. Are you perplexed as to why the country’s newspapers will not go after Bush when he lies and lies and lies. Then you must be out of the mainstream.

No, folks, it is the country’s newspapers that are out of the mainstream. They have become conservative, boring, old ugly fuddy-duddies. They are out of touch. They ignore or silence any voice that does not fit into their monopolistic madness and corporate-sanctioned immorality. And their hubris is creating their own demise. Any future or any role hard-copy newspapers may have in the ongoing media revolution will have to backed by the American liberal intelligentsia who actually read, not the morons who get their news from Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly or Fox News. Yet those in charge, as usual, are too ignorant to see it. They support the Fox News crowd, and then say ‘get lost” to people who actually read. Now that is a great business model they need to discuss at the Harvard Business School. It would be a splendid, ironic show to watch newspapers die out—sort like it must have been a real treat to see the old, railroad barons lose out—if so much was not stake right now in this country

Meanwhile, bloggers and independent media websites, such as Salon.com, continue to change the world. It cannot happen soon enough for me, and let us hope it happens soon enough to save American democracy from the quasi-fascists who hope to install a Christian theocracy here.

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Progressives Need To Network

At a recent local event to raise awareness about women’s reproductive rights, I introduced myself to Oklahoma political lobbyist, Keith Smith. I receive organizational emails from Smith, who is associated with Oklahoma’s chapter of the Sierra Club, and he and I share the same basic political views. I respect and admire the work he does for local progressive causes. I thought I would shake his hands and thank him and maybe let him know about Okie Funk. It was no big deal.

So, needless to say, I was somewhat surprised when Smith immediately admonished me to get more involved in progressive issues. He said this in a pleasant way, of course, but it struck a sensitive nerve with me. This is because he does not know me. I am pretty sure he knows nothing about this blog, for example, or about the Progressive Coalition at my university, or about my progressive pieces in The Oklahoma Observer, or about my work with other progressive organizations and publications, or . . . I could go on and on. I guess this is Smith’s shtick. I mumbled something back to him about how I was there contributing money at this particular function he supported and so what more did he want, really, and then I left his table feeling lectured and, frankly, a little bit patronized. My thoughts went something like this: Why doesn’t Smith lecture all those people who DID NOT show up at the event? What is the point, really, about political participation in Oklahoma unless you are an extreme conservative?

And so Oklahoma progressives lose and the conservatives and right-wing extremists win.

I think this trivial incident—and it is extremely trivial—illustrates perfectly the need for all the growing progressive organizations and people in Oklahoma to start working closely together. Obviously, I support Smith’s work, and I will continue to do so. But we do not know each other, and we probably never will. Why would he automatically assume I am an apathetic political novice just becoming enlightened and activated by his emails? In addition, just because people like Smith send out a lot of emails does not necessarily mean they are actually doing anything but sending out emails. A listserv is easy, folks, and there is so much email clutter these days that it is becoming somewhat pointless as well. I do not think we can win back this country through emails. I do not think we can take Oklahoma back to its progressive roots through emails. No, and I seriously mean this, everyone has to actually show up in person. (Methinks, I hear a collective liberal gasp from Elk City to Oklahoma City to Tulsa.)

Right now, the progressive movement in Oklahoma is fragmented and splintered. We do not know each other. That is my argument, anyway. Take it or leave it. Maybe it will always be that way because, overall, we are a small group marginalized by the state’s right-wing power structure. Maybe it is useless, and we should just shut up and get drunk or move to New York or Los Angeles like so many other former Oklahoma liberals. Maybe the quasi-fascists have won already and what we are doing here is just the last gasp of democracy before the coming theocracy. (Certainly, Oklahoma could be one of the first theocratic states in the union, right?) Soon, we could be sipping our Orwellian Victory gin in our tiny New York apartments waiting for the next religious edict to come down from the White House. Sometimes, that seems even better than living here in the red-state sea of “W” supporters.

Yet. And there is a very significant “yet.” Yet, and I speak with all my heart here, I have never seen this level of liberal and progressive activism in the state before. Never. Some of us are making connections, some of us are setting aside differences, some of us are not making generalized assumptions about people or exuding that tired leftist hubris. But there is much work to be done. The battle is going to be a long one, too. We will not win this on the cheap. There will probably be no single magic moment when it all comes together, just hard work and more hard work in the face of one disappointment after another as the Bush administration and the Oklahoma right-wing flaunt their power and rub it in our faces day after day.

Here are five pre-2006 election arguments I want you to consider:

(1) The Party. The Oklahoma Democratic Party needs to reach out to all progressives, even those it might deem too leftist for this particular state at this particular time. Please. I do not care if you are a leftist, semi-anarchist at heart or a centrist, right-leaning Democrat in the Joe Lieberman tradition. We all share many of the same beliefs. Everyone can play their part in the drama. Let’s set aside our differences to ensure Brad Henry is re-elected, the Republicans do not get control of the state senate, and the Democrats win back the house.

(2) Young People. Let’s go out of our way to applaud the efforts of our young people when they take an active role in promoting progressive causes. For example, a group of UCO students recently published The Progressive Voice, a publication dealing with liberal issues and concerns. This publication and those who work on it deserve our support. But there are surely other state university groups working on progressives causes as well. Find them, recognize them, and encourage them. I think it was James Carville who said, “Democrats eat their young.” I agree with that. It is time to change.

(3) Blogs.We need to recognize and support the many progressive and liberal blogs that are now online in the state. More and more people are getting their information online, and blogs are shaking up the conservative media landscape in valuable ways for progressives. This is a major opportunity for us.

(4) Progressive Experience. There are new progressive organizations in the state, and some of them are doing a great job, from the Red River Democracy Project to the Oklahoma Independent Media Center to the local spin off organization of the Howard Dean meet-ups, but we should not forget those progressives who have toiled away in Oklahoma City for years. These people have validity and connections and pull and followers. I am thinking of people like Frosty Troy, editor of The Oklahoma Observer, the Rev. Robin Meyers, pastor of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, and Nathaniel Batchelder, director of Oklahoma City’s Peace House. Obviously, there are others, but my point is we should draw on our experience just as we support our young people.

(5) Find Your Niche. I tell every progressive I know to find what they can do to contribute no matter how small or how specific. If you can write, then write. If you have some extra money, then donate to a progressive organization. If you have the time to walk the halls of the state Capitol, then do it. Maybe you can respond to a Oklahoma populist blog, or maybe your role is simply to argue with conservative friends and family members about your beliefs. Choose your role and be consistent. Make yourself aware about the issues, and then explain these issues to those people in your life who only get their news from right-wing cable television.

Obviously, this in not an inclusive list, and I am sure I have left out some important local organization or person or some particularly important issue.

These are grave times. That is not hyperbole or overstatement. We need to come together now. I do not care if the next significant election will be the first time you have ever voted in your life or if you are a long-time Oklahoma political activist in favor of liberal causes and issues or if you are the centrist Governor Brad Henry himself. Everyone should be welcome at the progressive table in this state.

And, please, before we admonish progressives to do more, let’s pat people on the back for what they have already accomplished.

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