The Oklahoman

Bracing Dilemma

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(”My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”—U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe)

Given that The Oklahoman editorial page tells us today that we “should brace for another long, hot summer,” I think it’s only fair to call for the newspaper to provide more journalistic scrutiny of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s crusade against global-warming science.

My last post pointed out that after recalculating data national weather experts found that last summer in Oklahoma was the hottest ever recorded in the country. Ever. That hottest summer’s relationship to global warming may or may not be explicit, but rising global temperatures, the melting of the Arctic ice cap and, yes, widespread scorching weather in the United States last summer demand more local journalistic critiques of Inhofe’s claim that global warming is a hoax.

If we all have to brace ourselves, can’t The Oklahoman at least hold Inhofe accountable?

The likelihood of that happening is slim given the newspaper’s genuflecting support of the fossil fuel industry, a main source of man-made carbon emissions that has turned up the planet’s heat, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out. My argument also goes for the Tulsa World, which supported Inhofe in his last reelection bid.

A recent Salon.com article, titled “Denying global warming, despite no actual expertise,” could start as a good reference point. In the article, writer Bill McKibben points out how wacky the entire anti-global warming science movement remains, and that, of course, includes Inhofe.

McKibben writes about “Lubos Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist who has never published on climate change but nonetheless keeps up a steady stream of web assaults on scientists he calls ‘fringe kibitzers who want to become universal dictators’ who should ‘be thinking how to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will spend as little time in prison as possible.’”

McKibben also points out Motl’s recent remarks about Norwegian killer Anders Breivik:

Motl said that, while he supported many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik’s ideas, it was hard to justify gunning down all those children — still, it did demonstrate that “right-wing people… may even be more efficient while killing — and the probable reason is that Breivik may have a higher IQ than your garden variety left-wing or Islamic terrorist.”

What does this have to do with Inhofe? Well, as McKibben tells us:

If your urge is to laugh at this kind of clown show, the joke’s on you — because it’s worked. I mean, James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged victorious in every Senate fight on climate change, cites Motl regularly . . .

Later in the article, McKibben points out, “There aren’t many senators who rise with the passion or frequency of James Inhofe but to warn of the dangers of ignoring what’s really happening on our embattled planet.”

The point is simply that the Inhofe-led movement that argues global warming is some type of scientific, left-wing conspiracy has no real intellectual basis for its argument. The movement is damaging to the planet, and it hurts Oklahoma’s national and global image. Local journalists here should hold Inhofe accountable to his claims and contrast them with accepted science, especially if the state truly becomes an epicenter and major example of global warming.

This is one way a 2008 Tulsa World editorial praised Inhofe as it urged his reelection: “Over the years his constituent services efforts have drawn rave reviews from Oklahomans his staff helped navigate a too-often frustrating federal bureaucracy.”

That might be true, but Inhofe’s real legacy remains the “hoax” movement and the $491,000 he’s received since 2007 from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions that has helped create and sustain it.

What The Oklahoma Legislature Didn’t Do Matters

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At least for state progressives, when the Oklahoma Legislature adjourned Friday it made the most news for things it didn’t do, including not passing a tax cut and not passing the personhood and creationism bills.

Obviously, the failure of the legislature to pass a tax cut, which was a centerpiece of Gov. Mary Fallin’s agenda for the session, was its most significant non-action. At the beginning of the session, it seemed like an income tax cut, perhaps a large one with future triggers, was a certainty.

As I wrote in my last post, the GOP perhaps lacked what I called an “intellectual apparatus” to truly vet and sell a major tax cut. Another conjecture is that, in the end, Republican leaders just didn’t have the heart for a tax cut after years of state budget cuts.

I won’t rehash it again, but one other factor in the tax-cut debate was the editorial page of The Oklahoman, which slowly withdrew its support for a major tax cut as different plans moved forward. Various editorials announced that the income tax rate was too high at 5.25 percent, but in the end, The Oklahoman published an editorial with this title, “Republican base takes a hit with GOP-backed tax cut,” and the tax-cut game was over.

The editorial cited the analysis of the Oklahoma Policy Institute on the final GOP plan to cut the top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.8 percent, which included the loss of the personal exemption for some taxpayers. Here’s what it concluded:

Republicans wanted a tax cut to tout on the campaign trail, but flinched when it came time to reduce spending or eliminate business breaks to balance the budget. So what we have now is a shell game masquerading as a tax reduction.

The Oklahoman had it exactly right this time around, and any hope for an income tax cut, especially in an election year, was probably over at that point.

Another non-action for progressives to celebrate was when House Speaker Kris Steele and other Republican leaders refused to hear the so-called personhood bill, which would have granted civil rights to a fertilized egg in a woman’s womb. The anti-abortion bill had passed out of the Senate, but it was apparent that strong opposition to the bill had worried some legislators.

After the bill died, things got ugly in the political realm as I pointed out here, but for progressives it was a major victory. When the Oklahoma State Supreme Court later invalidated an initiative petition drive to place the issue on the ballot, the victory become even sweeter.

Finally, one of the state’s unsung heroes, Victor Hutchison, an OU professor emeritus in zoology and a founding member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, led the successful charge against the effort to bring creationism ideas into the state’s public science classrooms. The House eventually passed a bill that argued certain topics, such as biological evolution, can cause controversy and required school districts “to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies,” but the Senate Education Committee refused to hear it. This was clearly a backdoor attempt to challenge evolution theory and the scientific method.

When Republicans made a last-ditch effort to bring the bill to the Senate floor, which I wrote about here, Hutchison rallied the academic community and its supporters once again. The bill never received a Senate vote.

After the legislature adjourned, Hutchison congratulated those who helped defeat the bill in an OESE email:

. . . these organizations also sent messages and urged their members to respond [against the bill] as well: Oklahoma Academy of Science, Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, Interfaith Alliances of OKC and Tulsa, several special interest groups on Yahoo, National Association of Human Genetics, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Other organizations that wish to remain anonymous lobbied directly against the bills. The Tulsa World had a staff editorial against the bills and others wrote op-eds, letters to editors and posted on state political blogs. This was the most response we have had in the past decade!

The bottom line is that it could have been much worse for progressives here this session. The lack of a tax cut is especially significant (the other two issues, if passed, probably would have been tied up in court), and the Oklahoma Policy Institute, one of the state’s two main think tanks, should be congratulated for leading the opposition to it. I remember when the state didn’t have a think tank that supported progressive issues.

The session also shows Republicans, the party in power here, are in disarray as different factions try to seize control of the GOP agenda. What that means for next year, unless more Democrats get elected, is more Republican infighting over all three of the issues mentioned in this post. It’s only a reprieve.

Newspaper Plays Obama Card For McClendon

As we all know, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon have received an overwhelming amount of media and shareholder attention recently as the company has reported losses.

McClendon has stepped down as chairman of Chesapeake’s board of directors, though he remains CEO, and agreed to end a program that allowed him to buy a stake in each of the company’s wells. The company’s largest shareholder group has urged the Chesapeake board “to be open to any offers to acquire the whole company” and a U.S. Senator has called for a Department of Justice investigation into some of the company’s dealings.

Even Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid has called for more “disclosure” from the company, following a report from Reuters about loans made to McClendon so the CEO could participate in the well program. In the Reuters report, some analysts said the loans might represent a conflict of interest. Reuters has also reported that some analysts believe a hedge fund formerly operated by McClendon might also represent a conflict.

Given the circumstances surrounding the company and its importance to the local economy, it’s prudent at the very least to seek more openness from McClendon and the Chesapeake Board of Directors if only to determine the short-term future of the local economy. A major disruption at the company—for example, downsizing, layoffs, a sale—could negatively impact the economy and set the Oklahoma City metropolitan area back for years. It’s only reasonable to call for more openness from the company.

So how does The Oklahoman respond to McClendon’s and Chesapeake’s media woes? A call for openness? A spirited defense of McClendon and his management style? No, it plays the Obama card, according to an editorial published on NewsOK.com yesterday.

In an unsigned editorial titled “Chesapeake boss unsparing in criticism of administration,” the newspaper references a recent Wall Street Journal article in which McClendon criticizes President Barack Obama and stands up for the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which some claim can contaminate drinking water.

Of course, Obama hasn’t really come out against fracking. His administration has only pushed to have companies show what types of chemicals they use in the drilling process.

McClendon’s claims make no sense in this personal regard, too: There’s a glut of natural gas on the market primarily because of a mild winter probably caused by global warming. Natural gas prices have been plunging recently. Why keep fracking right now, anyway?

Here’s one sample of McClendon’s comments in the Wall Street Journal article:

I get mad at the New York-based environmentalists because if you were truly environmentalists you wouldn't have a storm surge system and a sanitary system hooked together here that requires you to close your beaches 10 times a year. You'd hire an army of people to pick up plastic bottles off the street and newspapers off the street and it wouldn't all go into the rivers. But you know, these are people who have a great deal of influence with the president and I think he had lost some of their confidence and he needed to do something to deliver a victory for environmentalists.

No doubt this sells well here in one of the reddest states in the country, but the larger point is that an Oklahoman editorial is apparently trying to deflect attention away from McClendon real problems right now, and Obama isn’t one of them. There’s no excuse for this. When it comes to Chesapeake and Oklahoma City, as Councilman Shadid pointed out, “Our fortunes rise and fall together.”

Gratuitous Obama-bashing won’t fix the local economy if the company truly stumbles. The outcome of the presidential election will not determine if the country experiences another mild winter, lowering natural gas prices. Clean drinking water should not be a partisan issue.

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