Barack Obama

The Oklahoma Confederacy Disconnect

President Barack Obama in Denver

The historical disconnect between Oklahoma as a legal entity granted statehood in 1907 and the Civil War makes waving the Confederate flag here as part of the state’s heritage almost as inane as the ugly racist overtones.

Note I use the word “almost.” Waving the Confederate flag in the face of the first black American president, which happened here this week, is an ugly and intentional act of racism and hatred. The Confederacy, under its flag, sent thousands of its people to their deaths in the nineteenth century to sustain the sordid and inhumane institution of slavery, which remains a blight on the nation’s historical record. American slavery still remains foundational to any discussion about racism in this country.

Let me be clear: Waving the Confederate flag in honor is a blatant act of racism or might represent a lack of basic historical knowledge. Waving it in the face of an African American in a taunting manner might even rise to the status of a crime given specific circumstances.

President Barack Obama visited Oklahoma on Wednesday and Thursday, speaking in Durant about expanding rural Internet access and then about corrections reform at the federal prison in El Reno. He stayed overnight at an Oklahoma City hotel. In Durant and Oklahoma City, he was met with extremely small groups of people waving Confederate flags, which made world news and embarrassed or should have embarrassed people in the state.

Even some Oklahoma Republicans were actually shocked. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, for example, condemned the flag wavers in no uncertain terms. A statement by Cole on the issue begins like this:

I was shocked and disappointed by those who showed up to wave Confederate flags soon after President Obama arrived in Oklahoma. Their actions were not only disappointing but incredibly disrespectful, insensitive and embarrassing to the entire state.

The Confederate flag has been in the news recently following the shooting death of nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, has been associated with the flag in images and media stories. South Carolina just recently removed a Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds.

The flag wavers in Oklahoma were miniscule, but they were there, and they received broad, worldwide coverage. Yet it should be simply noted that Oklahoma didn’t even become a state until 1907, more than 40 years after the South lost the Civil War. Of course, people live here who might have grown up in the seven initial Confederate states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, but it’s a reach in terms of symbolism to directly connect “Oklahoma” (note the quotes) to what gets called “the old South.”

My point here is any historical or heritage argument made in favor of waving the Confederate flag in Oklahoma just doesn’t fit neatly with the state’s history. It’s a skewed and complicated connection. Ironically, “Oklahoma,” the legal entity, got some really bad press out of a historical symbol it really has no right to claim in the first place. There IS the fact that some members of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations primarily fought with the Confederates in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, but some members of these nations were pro-Union. Again, it’s complicated, and worth studying, but it’s obvious Oklahoma doesn’t have an old-South plantation heritage, say, like Mississippi or Georgia. Again, Oklahoma wasn’t a federally recognized state during a war between federally recognized states.

This doesn’t mean Oklahoma doesn’t have its own history of racism and hatred in which a predominately white power structure limits the civil rights of people belonging to minority groups, but as much as linking this to the Confederate flag might make perfect sense the state just wasn’t a state when the plantation owners sent their sons to die for a lost and dishonorable cause.


No U.S. Military Strikes Against Syria

Image of Barack Obama

It’s as if some of our political leaders, including President Barack Obama, have lived in a different universe over the last decade.

Didn’t our so-called “war” (or, in real terms, a military occupation) in Iraq, which the U.S. began in 2003, result in the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians?. Isn’t the cost of the Iraq war approaching $900 billion dollars? Haven’t a majority of Americans been very clear in recent years our country got into the war based on misinformation and that it wasn’t worth it in the end?

Yet here we go again. On Tuesday, Obama is supposed to speak to the American people and make the case for a military strike against Syria. Obama and his administration claim that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack on his own people, and this justifies American intervention.

Obama, it was reported, only wants a “limited” attack and will not send troops into the country, but this country has a terrible history of post-World War II escalating military actions. Does anyone remember the Vietnam War? What if the American action draws nearby Iran into the conflict? What will the U.S. do then? Just continue with its “limited” attack?

The entire question of whether chemical weapons are so much worse than conventional weapons becomes a ghoulish case of existential philosophy. Would you rather die from sarin gas or get blown to bits by a bomb? Both ways of dying are horrific and give evidence to mankind’s propensity for killing and cruelty. Either way is darkness. What’s so difficult to understand about that?

And, just like in 2003, there are international disputes over whether Assad ordered the gas attacks that apparently killed 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb? It’s a direct reminder of the failure of the American government to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after some experts and reporters disputed the claims. Have we not learned anything?

The support for bombing Syria and intervening in that country’s civil war has been tepid in the Congress. With historic hypocrisy, even some hawkish Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, seem reluctant to sign off on the president’s plan, and progressive groups have already mobilized efforts to oppose it.

There’s no question that Syria is an important country simply because of its geographic position on the world map. Its close proximity to Iraq, Iran and Israel make it a country that deserves our attention and scrutiny. There could come a time when European countries, such as France and England, along with the U.S., might need to intervene in that country’s civil war, but the risks of our involvement now far outweigh any perceived benefit for the world community.

I was one of those people who publicly opposed the war in Iraq at the beginning, and I noted firsthand through the years the shift in mood by what I saw as a bloodthirsty American public seeking revenge for the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. What I argued even before 2003—the war was strategically unnecessary, world sanctions would have worked, there were no WMDs—became a conventional response among Democrats and many Republicans alike. It’s surreal to me that this is happening again with a different country only 10 years later. Will I, again, be considered the outlier? I don't think so.

By all means, let’s be ready to take out military targets in Syria and protect the interests of our allies in the area, including, of course, Israel. But let’s act with restraint and prudence this time. It would be a mistake for the U.S. to proceed with any military strikes against Syria right now.


But Insurance Prices Went Down In New York

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Hardly a week goes by without at least one editorial appearing in The Oklahoman that rails against the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The editorials are filled with half truths, sweeping generalizations and predictions over what MIGHT happen, not what IS happening. Their overall purpose seems more about demonizing President Barack Obama, now in his second term, than providing rational arguments against the legislation, which was signed into law in 2010. I remain unsure how demonizing a second-term Democratic president is going to help Republicans in the next presidential election, especially since many voters have become so desensitized to the constant criticism, but there’s no doubt that remains one of the major focuses of The Oklahoman editorial page and GOP political strategy.

On Saturday, in its weekly Scissor Tales editorial column, The Oklahoman railed against the amount of money, $1.7 million, the federal government is spending in Oklahoma to help people find an individual health insurance plan. The mini-editorial also declares decisively, “Under Obamacare, health insurance prices are increasing dramatically in the individual market” and “It's telling that Obamacare is so expensive and complicated that even its backers believe that people without insurance will choose not to get any — unless some federal worker prods them along.”

Well, like most anything published on the editorial page in The Oklahoman, such sweeping conclusions need vetting and context.

In fact, last week New York state officials announced that health insurance premiums this year for individuals will drop by 50 percent and some health experts credited the new health insurance exchange in that state created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

To be fair, which is something The Oklahoman editorial writers choose never to be, New York had some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country so the drop can’t necessarily be considered a nationwide phenomenon. But it’s also quite clear that the editorial’s sweeping statement about rising health insurance prices needs some clarification and context. The point is that we’re just now learning how new competition in the health insurance market will affect pricing throughout the country. Even if some markets end up with higher prices it doesn’t mean they will stay that way.

By resorting to snarky generalizations, The Oklahoman does a disservice to its readers, who, whether conservative or not, deserve truthful information and not just right-wing propaganda when it comes to medical issues. In the case of health matters, it could literally be a life or death situation for some people, but The Oklahoman editorial page lacks this basic, humane moral commitment to its readers.

Here’s a bit of information that I wrote about back in 2010 that proves that last point is more than hyperbole: The Oklahoma Publishing Company, or OPUBCO, which publishes The Oklahoman, actually participated in an early retiree health insurance program created by the ACA. I wrote about it here. In other words, it’s okay for the newspaper to take advantage of Obamacare while it claims—to use its own rhetorical tone—that the world is coming to an end because more people will have health insurance and access to medical care.

Too often, the Republican debate over Obamacare leaves out the moral component and only focuses on costs. In the contemporary world, all people should have a basic right to health care. The Oklahoman editorial page, judging from its growing anti-Obamacare canon, stands against that basic idea. It wants winners and losers, some who suffer, some who don’t, some who die, some who live. That’s how the free market works, right? Let’s argue about that issue, which is the one that really matters.