All We Are Saying . . .

Image From 2010 OKC March For Peace

It’s an encouraging sign that the local March for Peace & Life, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan military occupations, drew many younger participants Saturday.

Nathaniel Batchelder, one of the event’s organizer and director of the Oklahoma City Peace House, wrote this about the march and accompanying rally in a Facebook message:

The Oikos student-led Rally and march for Peace & Life today was the more powerful for the young activists who spoke. Emma Velez, Katie Williams, Stefan Warner, Andrew Stein, and Jessie MacArthur inspired adult listeners with hope that "the next generation" fully grasps the futility of war, and the urgent need to shift resources into life, justice, environmental, and human need priorities.

Students involved in OCU’s Oikos Scholars program, which promotes social justice, helped organized the event.

The 100 or so rally participants met outside at Oklahoma City University and held signs along 23rd Street encouraging drivers to honk for peace. They listened to speakers that also included Batchelder and Dr. David Macey, and then marched down Blackwelder to 30th Street to Classen and then back on 23rd Street to OCU.

Some speakers mentioned how the long length of the occupations—seven years in Iraq, nearly nine years in Afghanistan—has tragically normalized the idea of war and violence for many young people in the U.S. Younger people simply haven’t experienced extended years of peace in their lives. How has the sense of perpetual war influenced them?

As the speakers adamantly pointed out, war should not be normalized.

The rally’s participants also formed a line and went to a podium one-by-one to read the names of all the Oklahoma soldiers that have been killed in the two occupations.

According to The Washington Post, 4,378 American soldiers have died in the Iraq conflict and 1,033 have died in the Afghanistan conflict. Thousands more have been injured. The Post lists 94 Oklahomans who have died in the two conflicts.

Some organizations estimate that anywhere from approximately 100,00 to 1 million Iraqi civilians have been killed since the occupation began in 2003. The numbers vary greatly, but most everyone agrees there has been major casualties among the civilian population. The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan range from thousands to tens of thousands. estimates the costs of the two occupations so far has been nearly $987 billion. Oklahoma’s share of the cost is estimated at nearly $15 billion. Oklahoma City’s share of the cost is estimated at $2.3 billion. Tulsa’s share of the cost is $1.8 billion.


Health Care Hysteria

Image of Glenn Coffee

The Oklahoma Legislature should not sue in an attempt to invalidate the recently passed federal health care bill.

The whole idea is simply a political stunt, presented by House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate Pro Tem President Glenn Coffee, to unite Republicans in an election year by creating more animosity against President Barack Obama.

Nineteen states are already suing over the bill, and the outcome over that lawsuit will determine whether the new health care program is unconstitutional. Most legal experts predict the lawsuit will fail anyway. Why in the world does the Oklahoma Legislature have to get involved? It could wind up wasting taxpayers’ money during a major budget crisis.

Benge and Coffee, pictured right, announced their intentions recently after Attorney General Drew Edmondson declined to join the other states in the lawsuit. Edmondson, who is running for governor, did add a caveat. He said he would sue if the Legislature passed a bill requiring him to do so.

But that caveat wasn’t go enough for Benge or Coffee, who complained Edmondson wouldn’t be enthusiastic enough over suing, according to the Tulsa World. So they want the Legislature to go it alone.

The two Republican leaders did say they will try to get legal help for free or at little cost. In essence, it’s a political move, not a real legal move to win a lawsuit.

All this slippery-slope whining about “Obamacare” is political theater. Not one thing has changed for the vast majority of people with health insurance. Why all the anger and posturing about what might happen once major aspects of the program take place? If the new national health care program has problems, then Congress can fix them.

The GOP case against the national health care program is based on unsubstantiated claims about the future that are designed to arouse anger and instill fear.

Here’s what Republicans are really worried about: People are going to like the new health care program and the GOP is going to be revealed once again as an obstructionist party with no new ideas to move the country forward.

The health care system in this country is a real mess. Democrats are trying to do something about it. The GOP wants to file lawsuits.


Economic Upswing?

Image of Picasso painting

Statistical information put together this month by David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, shows the Oklahoma economy is on the upswing.

In his recent update of OK Policy’s “Numbers You Need,” Blatt shows initial unemployment claims dropped in February and were 12 percent lower than the previous year. Meanwhile, Blatt notes, “While participation in key work support and safety net programs continues to rise, the pace of growth may finally be slowing.”

But Blatt also cautions, “However, as an indicator that a full recovery remains in the distance, the state's unemployment rate remained unchanged in February at 6.7 percent (it has since fallen to 6.6 percent in March).

Blatt also gives a breakdown on the recent upswing in state revenues noting that both personal income and natural gas tax revenues are on the rise. These are two strong signs that the economy is improving.

Blatt also notes that personal income growth was up 1.2 percent here in the fourth quarter of 2009. Blatt writes, “This represents the strongest quarter of growth since mid-2008 and marked the third straight quarter since the worst of the downturn that personal income has risen. Oklahoma’s growth rate outpaced the national average (0.9 percent) and ranked 6th in the nation.

The “Numbers You Need” document also discusses inflation and per capita income.

Although the economy continues to improve, state agencies face severe cuts because of the major budget crisis for next fiscal year. State employees have been furloughed. Teachers could face massive layoffs, according to education officials. Mental health and social services officials have recently outlined some of the human suffering that will be caused by budgets cuts of 10 percent.

It’s a tragic picture in a relatively poor state that has systemic problems with poverty and low college graduation rates.

Blatt, a well-respected budget analyst, has also outlined some ways the state can raise revenues. You can read about his suggestions here. OK Policy is a think tank that focuses on poverty and asset building.