The Oklahoman

The Dust Bowl: History Lesson For Inhofe, The Oklahoman

Image of family in dust storm from Library of Congress

Ken Burns’ documentary The Dust Bowl is based on the terrifying dust storms and extended drought in the 1930s in areas centered around Boise City in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The weather conditions devastated the area, impoverished many people and created an exodus to California. It’s a story embedded in our state’s psyche.

Burns' brilliant film rightly focuses on the human side of the tragedy, but the documentary makes it clear that the real culprit wasn’t some temporary weather aberration. Droughts were common to the prairie. The main problem was that land was getting farmed that should have never been farmed but left as grassland, once grazed by buffalo, to prevent soil from blowing. Another problem was the common technique used to plow the farm fields, which left the soil susceptible to erosion.

Behind the ecological problems were the greedy land speculators, who bought tracts of land near railroad lines in the area and sold them relatively cheaply to farmers under suspect hucksterism. For years, however, farmers were successful growing wheat in the area, but then the drought hit, the dust storms rolled, the crops were ruined and people lost everything. The disaster, then, was man-made.

Burns spends some time focusing on the larger implications of the drought on farming in the 1930s, which covered several states and especially hurt tenement farmers, and he cites John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I have taught and written about. But, for the most part, the focus remains on a four-state area around Boise City.

Viewers must draw their own parallels between the unscientific and wishful thinking of the Dust Bowl farmers as their lives crumbled in clouds of dusts and today’s anti-science crusaders, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, but it’s not difficult to draw the comparison. The greatest distinction, however, is that the farmers were simply trying to save their way of life while Inhofe, who claims global warming is a liberal hoax, is trying to support the financial interests of the oil and gas industry.

But the larger point is that humans can and do create ecological disasters, and that we have much to learn about the past. Recent severe weather events, including Hurricane Sandy, the lingering Midwest drought and the summer wildfires, have been tied to the systemic causation of global warming, but our country still does little to reduce carbon emissions or tackle the problem in other ways.

This act of ignorance to fail to learn from the past is based on the prevailing right-wing ideology to deny science in general and, judging by the recent election results, even mathematics itself. Back in 2006, I wrote a series of posts titled Okie Rebels With A Cause, one of which dealt with The Grapes of Wrath and by extension the drought in the 1930s. Here’s an excerpt from the post, “Tom Joad and the Progressive Oklahoma Tradition”:

. . . Shortly after the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, a Daily Oklahoman editorial writer, who admitted he had not read the novel, accused Steinbeck of “complete and absurd” untruthfulness. “Goldfish swallowing critics know nothing about the region or people pictured in a novel accept at face value even the most inaccurate depiction." (Berry Tramel, “April 1939 Steinbeck Pains State Image,” The Daily Oklahoman, April 18, 1999.)

I’m unsure just how much coverage The Oklahoman gave to the Burns’ documentary (I found one short piece), but I think it’s fair to say it didn’t dominate its news columns when the film aired last Sunday and Monday on OETA. That’s a shame because the droughts of the 1930s and the accompanying federal assistance helped shaped the state of Oklahoma—the lakes, dams, work programs—more than anything else in the state’s short history.

The Oklahoman, which also doesn’t accept climate-change science and is now owned by a right-wing oilman, and Inhofe can deny facts and history, but the Dust Bowl is part of an established record. The concerned inhabitants of our warming world, with all its recent weather disasters caused by global warming, are now carefully sorting things out. The lessons of man-made ecological disasters will not go forgotten nor will the self-serving obstinance of The Oklahoman and Inhofe.

Enviers Of The World, Unite!

Image of Picasso work

Sometimes an unsigned, in-house editorial in The Oklahoman serves as such a glaring example of sophomoric, nonsensical argumentation that it’s difficult to believe it actually appeared in a daily, metropolitan newspaper.

It raises questions like these: Does someone really get paid for writing this nonsense? Does the writer really believe in the “argument” or is it a case of just following orders? Does The Oklahoman really think its readers are that stupid?

On Friday, an editorial appeared on the newspaper’s NewsOK.com site that, without one shred of evidence, reached this unremarkable and completely untrue conclusion: Those people who want wealthy people to pay more in taxes base their desire on envy. Oh, that’s the main problem with the universe these days, isn’t it? Envy. One of the deadly sins.

Titled appropriately enough, “One constant in push to raise taxes on the wealthy: envy,” the editorial is a meandering, senseless exercise in defending regressive, unfair taxation and widening wealth disparity in this country, nothing new for The Oklahoman. But what it absolutely doesn’t do is provide one iota of evidence that those who want to roll back the Bush-era tax cuts on millionaires do so because they’re sick with envy.

The editorial makes the argument that the rich pay the most in taxes, arguing, “. . . if more people were in the 1 percent class despised by the class-envy crowd, more money would be flowing to Washington to fund government programs desired by that crowd.”

Note the clichéd, GOP slogan “class-envy crowd” and the word “despise.” In what universe does the writer of this hackneyed, mediocre mush live? Who makes up this class-envy crowd? Who exactly do they despise? And, of course, the rich pay more in taxes. They have all the money.

After citing some statistics about how much rich folks pay in taxes, glossing over their reduced rate from earlier time periods and completely ignoring growing wealth disparity, the editorial reaches its foregone conclusion: “So what's left in the tax-hike justification arsenal? Nothing but this: Envy of the very small group of people paying a very large share of the taxes.”

Oh yeah, that terrible envy, envy, envy. Run for your lives. Take cover.

What sheer nonsense.

The main problem here is not just the way The Oklahoman lovingly depicts the Benevolent American Aristocracy, which it has always argued should be worshipped for being so generous and kind with its vast treasures, it’s also that, again, the editorial doesn’t provide any empirical reasoning for the envy argument.

Is there really a group that defines itself as the class-envy crowd? Are there books and articles that discuss the current class-envy levels as a problematic or critical issue in terms of taxation? Are there statistical data and studies on the issue? Has envy been studied in a neurological sense and can those studies be applied to class issues? How does envy manifest itself in childhood development and how does that later become part of class-oriented awareness and lead to taxation beliefs?

In other words, where’s the evidence? The editorial doesn’t provide any at all.

How does one go about defining envy, anyway? Is it envy if a single mother trying to feed and clothe her children sees a wealthy person and wishes she were rich, too, and didn’t have financial worries? Is it envy if an unemployed 50-year-old man drives past a large, expensive home and wishes he could own one just like it? Is it envy if a young couple wishes they could afford to take a long vacation just like the wealthy often do?

The editorial, of course, doesn’t even try to define it.

What the editorial also doesn’t do is cite the empirical evidence that shows how much rich people have increased their wealth in recent decades even as their tax rates have gone down. One study shows that from 1992 to 2007, the country’s richest 400 households experienced an income growth of 392 percent and saw their tax liability fall by 37 percent. That’s just one study.

It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the wealthiest among us currently have skyrocketing incomes and pay less in taxes on a percentage basis than everyone else. How in the world does preparing such studies that show wealthy disparity or speaking about the issue in terms of taxation translate into envy? There are sound, credible arguments for a fair and progressive taxation system, and there are sound and credible arguments for creating wealth. What does envy have to do with it? Nothing.

Here’s the deal: The Oklahoman, now owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anshutz, has no real argument for providing cover for the 1-percent crowd, and a video clip of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has shown that it’s the 1 percent who are doing all the despising, not anyone else. There’s the real class warfare as rational people knew all along.

All this GOP hackneyed and archaic “class envy” reductionist argumentation has been completely exposed again this election season as fraudulent remnants of a dead, trickle-down fiscal ideology. Unfortunately, there are Oklahomans who will be manipulated by senseless and unproven claims about class envy and even repeat those claims as their incomes remain stagnant or even drop. I’m not envious of those people either.

Romney Won’t Worry

“And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."—Mitt Romney talking to rich donors about people who will vote for President Barack Obama

The video clip showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney making a pledge “not to worry” about almost half of the American people, many of them in red states, should doom his election chances and result in a landslide for President Barack Obama.

It plays into every disparaging stereotype and expectation one might have about the Republican Party, and it’s a personal indictment against a man who portrays himself as a compassionate, former religious leader, who once took care of less-fortunate members of the Mormon church.

But will it really cost him the election?

Here’s the quote played around the country in recent days as the video clip surfaced:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.... These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

The only truthful parts of this statement are that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax and that Romney will apparently not worry about them. The lies are apparent: (1) Many red-state voters who will probably vote for Romney, including a majority of the elderly, don’t pay federal income tax. (2) People who pay no federal income tax include those working at low-paying jobs. They are not dependent on the government, and they pay other taxes.

Obviously, Romney is merely giving voice to the fictional trope of the American aristocracy about the lowly masses, but it’s so brazen and crass that surely some bigwig GOP operatives are worried some red-staters might feel duped and unloved, especially in the swing state of Florida.

In fact, Romney’s entire campaign may have brought the GOP to a huge crossroads when it comes to obsessively supporting the interests of the wealthy. A GOP loss in this presidential election will force an internal discussion about the party’s future; a landslide loss could finally create the permanent schism between the wealthy Republican aristocracy and their useful tools (especially the ones that don’t pay income taxes) that might begin a much-needed reversal of extreme wealth disparity in this country. Or is that too hopeful?

The GOP still has its huge propaganda machine, of course, including the editorial page of The Oklahoman, in one of the most conservative states in the country. The Oklahoman has also never met a rich person it didn’t like.

This is really a headline of an editorial that appeared Monday on NewsOK.com, the web site of The Oklahoman:

“Plan to further tax the rich would leave less for the wealthy to give away”.

It doesn’t get more obvious than that. The entire editorial constructs a narrative of a benevolent American aristocracy that, well, needs even more money to help the less fortunate. The aristocracy, not voters, knows best who deserves help and who doesn’t, and the rest of us should embrace it. I’m sure Romney would agree with the newspaper’s position.

According to the editorial:

. . . Obama demonizes the wealthy and holds them up as villains who ought to be paying their “fair share” of taxes. Rather than scorn, they deserve their fair share of credit.

Note Obama’s demonization is urging a system of “fair share” taxes. Why are fair taxes so terrible? Does The Oklahoman not believe in the concept of “fair”? Of course, it doesn’t, and neither does Romney.

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