The $7.1 billion “standstill” Oklahoma budget for the upcoming fiscal year could actually require budget cuts across state government because of rising prices and skyrocketing gasoline costs.
How rising prices will affect individual agencies will depend on what they need to purchase in order to function and how much traveling they require of their employees. If the economy continues to decline here and across the country and if prices continue to rise, the budget cuts could be quite substantial. Under a worst-case scenario, these “unspoken” budget cuts could stop new hiring among some agencies and have the potential to lead to layoffs.
In addition, the budget contains no new raises for teachers. This breaks the promise from some state leaders to raise their salaries to the regional average. Some people, like the editorial writers at The Daily Oklahoman, might shrug this off as no big deal, but the action, or rather non-action, again tells educators that they are not valued here by the state’s leaders. It gives them yet another compelling reason to seek jobs in other states.
The lack of raises for teachers and other state employees is actually a salary cut because of rising food and energy prices.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma continues to pay its teachers some of the lowest salaries in the nation. The Department of Human Services faces a major lawsuit demanding it invest more in its child welfare programs by, among other things, hiring more social workers. The state has high rates of uninsured people, and it recently led the nation in the number of hungry families.
The main issue here is the tax cuts implemented by the state legislature in recent years. These tax cuts, which lowered the income tax rate from 6.25 to 5.5, will eventually cost the state $2 billion in lost revenue, according to state Treasurer Scott Meacham. The tax cuts were part of the same tired, right-wing ideology embraced by many Republicans and Democrats alike in the legislature these days. This ideology says tax cuts grow the economy, producing new revenues. Obviously, that is not happening here.
The tax cuts can also be framed by right-wing “starve the beast” strategy, which tries to reduce the size of government by starving it through tax cuts.
But the bottom line is the tax cuts increasingly seem irresponsible because there was no effort to find replacement revenue and no real foresight about what would happen in an economic downturn. Other states are facing expected budget shortfalls for this same reason.
Restructuring the state’s tax system to eliminate the income tax altogether has always been a worthy idea, and it deserves consideration, but there can be no debate when legislators are tripping over themselves to make conservative political points.
What is most distressing is the use of the word “standstill” to describe this budget. It seems disingenuous. When you basically have the same amount of money you had last year to buy products that are rising astronomically in price, then you, in fact, face a budget shortfall.
Let us hope Oklahoma can escape the major economic distress in other areas of the country.
Liberal commentators employed by the national corporate media are again falling into the right-wing narrative frames and discourses that have damaged this country’s democratic institutions and brought us perpetual war and economic disaster.
In essence, they are engaging and thus qualifying the bizarre drivel created by supposed unbiased political reporters, who focus on trivial nuances and “mistakes” of campaigns and are apparently bored by the Iraq occupation, the distressed economy and the loss of basic civil liberties. By engaging this drivel, these liberal commentators support established conservative frames about current political conditions no matter which Democratic candidate they support for president.
If John McCain, the Imperial George Bush redux, gets elected in November, then the mainstream media, already under fire by liberals in this country, will slide even deeper into financial chaos. Newspaper circulation continues to decline. Mainstream media revenues continue to sink. One must ask the question repeatedly: Why alienate people who actually read?
Some liberal commentators, such as Frank Rich of the The New York Times can see the larger picture about this election, but many liberal columnists, such as Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert and Maureen Dowd of The Times, and E.J. Dionne Jr. and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, are hurting Democrats when they turn their columns into attacks against presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton or when they parse and wallow in the ridiculous right-wing frames about the candidates. Have they been intellectually and financially compromised by their corporations? Certainly, this is true: People who want change in this country—and the numbers are growing astronomically—need to look elsewhere for a different dialogue about the nation’s problems.
The country has entered its sixth year of a costly and gruesome military occupation, people are losing their jobs and houses as the economy tanks and the current American presidential administration sanctions torture, the suspension of habeas corpus and military propaganda. Americans are fed up, angry and want change. The polls show it. The overwhelming adoring response to the Democratic Party presidential contenders show it. The huge increase in new Democratic Party voter registrations shows it. The anecdotal street evidence shows it. This is the story in the 2008 election so why won’t the liberal pundits engage it on a regular basis when writing about it? Why are they lost in right-wing lala land, in the Limbaughesque distortions, in the nauseating trivia?
One argument is simply they are absorbed by the larger corporate views of their employers. Their employers pay them well to engage the inane political reporting that fills their newspapers and newscasts. These columnists must write about “bitter” and bowling and Bill Clinton’s speeches and Hillary’s supposed campaign staff gaffes in order to support the corporate system that pays them. Whether it is conscious or not, whether they will be honest about it or not, these columnists must honor the exaggerated, hyperventilating media frames—Obama cannot bowl so he will now certainly lose! Hillary shed a tear so she will now certainly lose!—the corporations use each day to turn profits. They want to involve you in their immediate soap opera-like fictional dramas and make-believe nonsense to do one thing and one thing only: Make money.
Here is a piece of the latest snark from legendary Clinton hater Dowd:
Maybe I’ve been reading too many stories about the fad of teenage vampire chick lit, worlds filled with parasitic aliens and demi-human creatures, but there’s something eerie going on in this race.
Hillary grows more and more glowy as Obama grows more and more wan.
Is she draining him of his precious bodily fluids? Leeching his magic? Siphoning off his aura?
Dowd is obviously obsessed and distressed with Clinton, and it is a real shame her editors have allowed her to publish column after column vilifying the candidate. Her last column, though, was a classic Dowd “clever writing” rant on both Clinton and Obama. So Clinton is the emasculator and Obama is the “wan” effeminate. This is from the playbook of the Republican Party. One wonders if Dowd should make her tax returns public so we can see if she is on the GOP dole. (Then again, maybe Dowd does not even qualify as a liberal columnist anymore and should not even be a part of this argument.)
A Krugman column last week argued John McCain’s recent campaign point that Barack Obama is out of touch with working class people:
From the beginning, I wondered what Mr. Obama’s soaring rhetoric, his talk of a new politics and declarations that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” (waiting for to do what, exactly?) would mean to families troubled by lagging wages, insecure jobs and fear of losing health coverage. The answer, from Ohio and Pennsylvania, seems pretty clear: not much. Mrs. Clinton has been able to stay in the race, against heavy odds, largely because her no-nonsense style, her obvious interest in the wonkish details of policy, resonate with many voters in a way that Mr. Obama’s eloquence does not.
Krugman apparently supports Clinton; he certainly likes her health care policy proposals better than those given by Obama’s camp. But to argue a nonsensical GOP-talking point or to actually create it—now, folks, does Obama really really care about people with “lagging wages”?—only supports the elitist frame Republicans have used on every Democratic presidential contender since at least George McGovern. Krugman, an academic, often qualifies his arguments, and I have a great deal of respect for his work, but recently he has gone on the attack against Obama using right-wing frames. What about McCain’s lack of any coherent proposals about the economy? That is the real story this election year.
Here is Herbert about the long-lost Obama phenomenon and Clinton's "death-ray machine" from a recent column:
You can almost feel the air seeping out of the Obama phenomenon. The candidate and his aides are brainstorming ways to counter the Clinton death-ray machine and regain the momentum. They need to generate some new excitement and enthusiasm, and they need to do it soon.
It is difficult to understand this argument. All the available evidence, from polls to recorded votes to the adoring crowds, show Obama still incites a political enthusiasm we have not seen in a generation. (Clinton attracts large crowds, has good polling numbers as well, and she is not far behind in votes and delegates to Obama.) Herbert is at least implicitly admitting the right-wing frames against Obama have worked. I see no evidence that is the case. This might just be a case in which a liberal pundit has been hoodwinked by the terrible trivialization of political coverage conducted by, among others, his own newspaper’s reporters. Herbert, who has spoken out for the downtrodden in our culture for years, suddenly has lost his edge when it comes to matters that are important when he writes about the presidential election. The "death-ray machine" term supports prevailing right-wing stereotypes about Clinton as well. Why not consistently speak out against McCain’s lack of any economic or health care proposals. Why not write about that week after week? That is the real story.
Here is Robinson’s rant against Clinton last week:
Actually, the better film analogy may be "The Terminator." (Anything but "Rocky" -- or, in the popular Internet video, "Baracky.") Yes, I know it's inappropriate to compare a talented and accomplished woman such as Hillary Clinton with a homicidal cyborg from the future. But it's hard to come up with a better image for the woman's sheer relentlessness. If she ever says "I'll be back" while I'm within earshot, I'm getting out of Dodge.
Clinton has every reason to continue her campaign at this point so why feed into the right-wing stereotypes of her? What purpose is there to do so, except to weaken Democrats in general? What if she gets the nomination? Robinson qualifies his comparison, for sure, but he turns Clinton into just exactly what the right-wing wants you to think about her. The right-wingers love it. Robinson even gives Republicans their specific analogy. They can even say it came from a left-wing media pundit. Why not write about McCain's lack of any real proposal to solve the health care crisis in this country? I guess "homicidal cyborg" Clinton will trump that any day. But still people suffer in this country because of lousy health care.
Here is Dionne recently parsing Obama:
But when Obama falls into the long pauses he is sometimes given to in debate, the wordy answers he periodically offers to questions, or the visible impatience he exhibits toward the less-elevating aspects of politics, he seems far more the law review editor, the professor, the classic good-government guy whose reach to society's hard-pressed is limited.
Once again, Obama is the elitist, the aloof law review editor, who simply cannot relate to real people. Obama, well, he falls into long pauses and, well, he is "wordy." This is from the Karl Rove playbook, the first lesson in GOP 101 ("this country 'don't need no' wordy people as president"), and still Dionne, a seasoned journalist, falls for it. Does Dionne really not see how he is promoting a right-wing view of Obama and Democratic presidential contenders in general?
These are just a few examples, but they are indicative of a consistent, growing pattern. All these liberal writers are publishing columns rooted in right-wing attacks on Democrats. All the above quotes could easily end up on GOP attack material now and after the conventions. This is tragic for our country, which faces serious problems on a historic level. The country's large media outlets should employ liberal columnists who will frame the current political debate in real terms outside the GOP talking points. Perhaps that is impossible because of the complicity between our current corrupt government and the mainstream media.
This will be considered one of the most historic American presidential elections for many obvious reasons. It is a national tragedy and disgrace these famous liberal columnists cannot or will not consistently write about that fact.
Let us be clear here. If Oklahoma residents eventually vote to approve an English-only amendment to the state constitution, the state will deservedly be known as a place intolerant to other cultures and languages.
This intolerance, which some people will term racist and xenophobic, could cost the state in economic development, lower international college student enrollment and prevent the state’s population from growing at national averages. All these potential consequences will isolate the state just as the country faces dire economic problems.
An English-only bill has been circulating in the Oklahoma Legislature this session. It has passed overwhelmingly in the House and is now pending in the Senate. It would make state voters decide in November if English should be the official state language. (English, of course, is the defacto official language already.) The constitutional amendment would require all state business be conducted in English. One of the co-sponsors of the legislation and its main public spokesman is state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore), who authored the draconian state anti-illegal immigration laws approved last year.
If approved, the bill would primarily prevent the state from offering any state services or documents—such as driver’s license tests—in Spanish and other non-English languages unless federal law supersedes the state requirement. Make no mistake about it. The amendment, just like Terrill’s anti-illegal immigration bill, is targeted at Hispanic people here.
This continued targeting or scapegoating of Hispanic people, followed by the hollow denials of this insidious intent among some state leaders, is despicable, but the amendment, if approved by voters, will send another terrible message about this state. It will tell the world that Oklahoma is a backwards, bigoted place. This could obviously inhibit Hispanic people and many businesses from locating here. Universities will be duty bound to tell potential international students the state has strict anti-immigration and English-only laws. The state will then struggle, as it often has, to attract people to live here and the quality of life and income levels will decline.
No one denies that immigrants to this country should learn English. Immigrants know that more than anyone else. English is the worldwide language of money, at least for now. But there are obviously circumstances where new immigrants need time to learn the language or when visitors need help. There are also emergency health care and legal situations in which translators are required. Oklahoma, of all places, should be accepting of new people who want to work, live and visit here. The English-only bill does not even give them a chance or make them feel welcome.
There are larger, philosophical issues related to this amendment as well. Americans should learn different languages given globalization and the world economy. Promoting language studies should be a large ongoing initiative in our country right now given current world politics. We should be promoting language studies in our schools here. Instead, in Oklahoma, we isolate ourselves and withdraw from the modern world. This bill tells people from other countries they are not welcome here. It tells our children here that they do not need to learn another language.