Oklahoma Dead Canary State Campaign

image

THE CANARY IS DEAD!

Oklahomans must do something to transform the Oklahoma Legislature to bring about systemic change in our state. The Oklahoma Legislature’s underfunding of public education and other key services for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens is a moral failure. This campaign hopes to raise awareness of this moral and legislative failure while encouraging Oklahomans to take positive actions for a better future.

To support this campaign go to this link: https://www.booster.com/dead-canary-state-ok to purchase an Oklahoma Dead Canary T-shirt. Make a statement and raise awareness about the need for Oklahoma to provide quality public education and services for all Oklahomans. All proceeds will benefit public education in Oklahoma via http://www.donorschoose.org.

For some context to the Dead Canary State Campaign, read the following article that I posted after the close of the 2016 session of the Oklahoma Legislature from May 31, 2016:

Oklahoma and Kansas are dead canary states. Both have succumbed like a canary in a coal mine to the toxic air of a radically right wing, corporate controlled, fossil fuel dominated, theocratic leaning, and ALEC orchestrated republican government that has cut taxes and rolled back regulations for wealthy individuals and corporations under the distracting smokescreen of a barrage of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQI, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latino rhetoric and legislation. All the while these two states have dramatically reduced investments in public education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other basic services with disproportionately negative impact on the poor and most vulnerable citizens. In addition, Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate on the entire planet (not an exaggeration). Both states are broke and broken – failed experiments in extremism. Oklahoma and Kansas serve as a clear warning for all other states who might be considering a journey into the depths of this section of the republican coal mine where little to no resistance is given over against unregulated capitalism, and where time and time again the interests of corporations and the wealthy elite are valued over the common good.

Kansas succumbed earlier than Oklahoma as it was not buoyed in the same way as Oklahoma by years of an oil and gas boom; but even during the boom, Oklahoma cut income taxes and offered oil and gas companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks such that the state was left unprepared for the inevitable bust – it is not like Oklahoma has not seen the cycle of boom and bust before. Even during the boom, Oklahoma reduced state funded per pupil spending more than any other state in the country, cuts that are now even deeper owing to the bust. And now in the bust, Oklahoma is experiencing repeated revenue failures and $1.3 billion budget shortfall for 2016-2017.

The Oklahoma Legislature’s response to the revenue failures and the budget shortfall highlighted in bold relief the sickness unto death that the failed Kansas/Oklahoma experiment has become. In action after action and in bill after bill passed by the legislature over the past month, the burden of the cuts was placed on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable. Some rural hospitals are closing and quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) is becoming less accessible, state supplemental payments are being delayed, teachers are being laid off and many common education programs cut, higher education and environmental protection programs received disproportionately large cuts, and the working poor had cuts in their earned income tax credits. Over and over again the wealthy and the oil and gas industry were protected from harm. A grossly ill-timed state income tax cut that disproportionately favored the wealthy was not repealed, and no cuts were made to the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief given to the fossil fuel industry on gross production of oil and gas. An ideological aversion to Obamacare kept the legislature from accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid that could benefit the health of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. $29 million were taken from poor working families in the cuts to the earned income tax credit, while the wealthy and oil and gas companies were held harmless. And let’s not forget, this is the same oil and gas industry that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the world through its wastewater injection wells and externalized the cost of the damage and the cost of earthquake insurance onto private citizens.

As the New York Times Editorial Board correctly opined, Oklahoma’s response to the budget crisis was to make the poor poorer – “Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the working poor.” It is not enough that the canary has died in this failed republican experiment; the vultures have moved in to pick at the carcass. Message to the rest of the country – you have been warned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

An Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party Candidate for President of the United States

image

Dear Dr. Stein,
The platform and values of the Green Party are a witness and an inspiration for what the United States needs to become in order to become a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society. I am thankful for your unwavering commitment to these values that are so necessary in the make or break century for a livable climate and livable planet for both human and ecological communities.

Dr. Stein, as a supporter of Bernie Sanders. I am in agreement with many of the major concerns you have about Hillary Clinton – most notably her corporate connections with Wall Street, industrial agriculture, and the military industrial complex. Clinton has been much too quick to see military interventions as a solution to international relations, and she has real problems with judgment and trustworthiness. One does not have to be influenced by the right wing propaganda machine to see these major problems with Clinton. It was these concerns about Clinton combined with the positive vision put forth by Senator Sanders that led me to support him during the democratic primaries.

You and I agree that Senator Bernie Sanders was not treated fairly by the Democratic National Committee during the primaries and that there were way too many irregularities in the democratic primary voting processes, all of which need thorough investigation and remediation. Unfairness and injustice in our election processes are unacceptable and cannot stand without every effort to bring about systemic transformation for transparency, fairness, and uninhibited access to participation in the democratic process.

In spite of all of these things about which you and I agree, we are in deep disagreement about what our response should be to the current situation. You have decided that the way forward is for as many progressives as possible to cast their votes for you for the office of President of the United States. The stark reality however is that Secretary Clinton is the only candidate left who can beat Trump, and a Trump presidency is antithetical to everything for which the Green Party and you stand. There may be some truth that in some circumstances things have to get worse before they get better, but this is not one of those times. A Trump presidency would be the end of any meaningful work to address climate change. Trump’s energy policies, prepared for him by fossil fuel oligarchs, are based almost exclusively on further extraction and burning of oil, natural gas, and coal with no concern about the social and ecological costs of the methods of extraction or about the global consequences of their use. Trump would void U.S. participation in implementing the Paris Climate Accord, he would kill the Clean Power Plan, and he has already made explicit his plans to dismantle the EPA. Given that a President Trump would have the potential to shape the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation, reversing these devastating consequences for the environment and a livable climate would take much more time than we currently have to arrest and reverse climate change. A Trump presidency would be ecocide.

Dr. Stein, I am writing to ask you to please stop running for president. This is not the way to build the Green Party or the Green Movement. As much as it disappoints you and me, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who is capable of preventing a Trump presidency. Her election is the only way to keep the window open for working for a livable planet. It is also the only way to avoid a fascist, racist, misogynist, Islamophobiic, sociopathic demagogue from becoming president of the most powerful country on earth at a time when the earth most urgently needs the United States to create peace, eradicate poverty, and sustain a livable planet. A Trump presidency will bring real and lasting harm to Latinos, African Americans, Muslims, women, LGBTQ persons, and many others while destroying any opportunity we might have to arrest the Sixth Great Extinction on the planet.

It is with the urgency of now in mind that I respectfully ask you to please stop running for president and use the months before the election to promote the Green Party’s solutions for systemic transformation for a more just, peaceful, peaceful, and sustainable society. Please keep challenging Clinton and others to do more for people and the planet and to move away from placating Wall Street and corporations and to move away from over reliance on military interventions. Please call for a 50 state effort to make Ranked Choice Voting a reality across the nation, so that people can vote for their first choice candidate every time without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. This is the only way for third party candidates and ideas to gain the traction we need to transform the systems that perpetuate our toxic relationships within human and ecological communities.

I am convinced that among many other horrific consequences for the United States and the world, a Trump presidency represents ecocide, a closing of the window for any opportunity to avoid the very worst consequences of global climate change and ecological degradation. The choice between Trump and Clinton is the choice between no chance for a livable climate and some chance for a livable climate. Anything that the Green Party does right now that contributes to the “no chance” option for a livable climate is complicit participation in the ecocide that a Trump presidency will bring.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Law and Order Christians

book-of-discipline_sm

“Law and Order” was a dog whistle used by the Nixon campaign in its well documented Southern Strategy to take the White House. It was heard by many, especially in the South, as a way of putting black people back in their place. If the concepts and practice of law and order are used to provide equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law, then they are an important basis for a flourishing society, but that was not what Nixon was appealing to. He and his advisors knew the message that an emphasis on law and order would send to white conservative voters, especially in the South. It was a law that protected the interests of white male supremacy and order that kept inequality in place. Sadly, that legacy continues to this day.

“Law and Order” Christians are also using similar language to keep persons who are LGBTQIA in their place. An appeal to God’s law is made to affirm the sinfulness of LGBTQIA persons and keep them from full participation within religious communities. In my denomination, the United Methodist Church, the appeal to law is expressed in the Book of Discipline, which in matters related to sexual orientation and gender identity functions as a book of law to keep persons who are LGBTQI from participating in the full life and ministry of the church. The Book of Discipline tells people who are LGBTQI that they are not compatible with Christian teaching and that they are not worthy of being married or ordained as ministers within the church. The law keeps them “in their place” and out of full participation in community.

An appeal to order is also used within the United Methodist Church to maintain the exclusion of LGBTQI persons from marriage and ordained ministry in the church. The Order of the ordained clergy is used as a mechanism to keep ministers from fully including LGBTQI persons by enforcing adherence to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the Book of Discipline. If clergy disobey and perform same gender weddings or become open about being LGBTQI themselves, they are charged under church law and often put on trial and removed from ordained ministry for their disobedience so that the order of exclusion may be re-established. When they disobey exclusionary prescriptions, they are told that they have broken the covenant of the Order that connects us as one united Church.

Law, order, and covenant are all used to keep LGBTQIA persons in their place, but when a law is unjust, it is no law at all; when order is used to exclude, it is simply a tool of discrimination; and when covenant is used to control, it becomes an instrument of manipulation rather than an expression of committed relationship. The maintenance of unity through exclusion is actually the maintenance of discrimination. It is likely not an accident that the Law and Order Christians are most powerful in the South where law and order have been used effectively for so long to keep people in their places. Excluding persons who are LGBTQIA from the full life and ministry has become the new Southern Strategy of the United Methodist Church.

Posted in LGBTQIA, marriage equality, religion | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Just Being Faithful?

karen2

As a minister in the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is deeply divided over how we are to be in relationship with our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQI, I have on more than one occasion heard persons who are in favor of the current exclusionary language of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church say that they hold to their beliefs because they  are “just trying to be faithful.” The implication is that their faithfulness is somehow tied to their holding the belief that people who are LGBTQI are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching and that their faithfulness is somehow tied to keeping persons who are LGBTQI from participating in the full life and ministry of the church by not allowing them to be married in the church or to serve as ordained ministers.

This year multiple annual conferences decided to no longer conform to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline.  They decided to celebrate marriage equality by joyously including all persons in the gift of community by having their vows of marriage celebrated within their churches. And they decided never to use sexual orientation or gender identity as a factor in decisions about ordination of clergy. This week the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church elected and consecrated Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop. She is the first openly lesbian clergy person to be a United Methodist Bishop.

For many of the persons who see adherence to the exclusionary language and exclusionary practices in relation to persons who are LGBTQI as an expression of their faithfulness, there is a perception that the conferences and jurisdictions who are ignoring these exclusionary practices somehow are not being faithful. They are creating a crisis in the denomination, a break in the covenant that they see as binding the clergy in the church to continue to practice the exclusion that the Book of Discipline prescribes.

Bishops, clergy, and laity in the southern jurisdictions are openly admonishing these conferences and jurisdictions for not keeping the covenant, and from their perspective this is “not keeping the faith.” From their perspective the full inclusion of persons who are LGBTQI by these conferences and jurisdictions is a threat to the existence and integrity of the church, because the existence and integrity of the church from their perspective requires the continued exclusion of persons who are LGBTQI from the full life and ministry of the church. Their work to continue to this exclusion is justified with their belief that they are “just trying to be faithful.”

“When ‘just being faithful’ becomes justification for treating others unjustly, just exactly to what is one being faithful?” It seems that the “just” in the words “we are just being faithful” rarely has anything to do with justice, and too often these words are used to perpetuate injustice. As we move forward in the United Methodist Church seeking to do justly, to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, an important measure for “just being faithful” is to discern whether we are actually practicing a just faith.

As a United Methodist minister in the South Central Jurisdiction, I give thanks to the witness of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. May we all live and love into your witness of nonconformity in response to injustice against our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQIA.

Posted in LGBTQIA, marriage equality, religion | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Put Your Weapons Down

hands-up-in-the-air-clip-art_469606 (1)

This past week, the NRA and its advertising firm, Oklahoma City based Ackerman McQueen, published a video on the NRA News website that continued to stoke the fires of fear, hate, and distrust. The video displays how a terrorist, described in the video as a “radical Islamic terrorist,” would case a mall for a terrorist attack. You can view the video here: Radical Islamic Terrorists Targeting Gun-Free Malls. The mall used in the video is Penn Square Mall here in Oklahoma City, and the narrator of the film says that the reason this “radical Islamic terrorist” will attack in a place like this is because it is a gun free zone, essentially communicating to the viewer that no place is safe unless every place allows people to carry guns. The NRA wants people to believe that we are safer when everyone is armed and when they can take their guns anywhere they want. Of course, the research that the NRA tries to keep from happening, shows just the opposite, that countries with easier access and fewer regulations on firearms are actually much less safe than gun free countries or those with more strict regulations. Preferably the NRA would like all people to be able to open carry. The suggestion is that perhaps this will keep the terrorists at bay.

Imagine a country (sadly some states can imagine this already), where anyone can carry guns anywhere they want without restriction. Imagine these guns in full sight, so that you can see that people are armed. Also imagine that other persons may be carrying concealed weapons wherever they may be going. Think of the chaos and confusion that this could cause in an active shooter situation. Looking at the tragic situation in Dallas, we saw a bit of this confusion displayed on live TV as a person who was legally open carrying an assault style weapon during the march was singled out as a person of interest and even referred to as a suspect by some news outlets. His picture was broadcast for the world to see and judge. And this happened even though he immediately gave police his weapon after the shots from the gunman were fired. He was cleared of any connection to the shooting, but he has received numerous death threats owing to the confusion.

What if many more had been open or concealed carrying in the march? What if they began to shoot back in the direction where the shots were being fired at police? Likely many of those persons would not be alive today? Imagine such a scene in the mall scenario with the terrorist – dozens of armed persons firing back at the terrorists, many being mistaken as the terrorists themselves, likely shooting each other as often as they might shoot the terrorists, and likely killing or injuring others in the crossfire. I am definitely not saying we should not be diligent about protecting places like our malls, but a mall full of open and concealed carrying citizens does not seem to be the answer. The constant anxiety to workers and customers seeing people with guns going in and out of the shops is hardly life in a civilized society. Even most towns in the Wild West had people check in their guns when they came into town.

Our national obsession with guns, driven by fear and distrust and sometimes driven by racism has brought us to a place where no other industrialized democracy is – a place of constant anxiety, too many mass shootings to keep count, and daily deadly encounters with the police who are on edge knowing that anyone they encounter may be armed. When will this madness end? The NRA does not focus on ending the madness – it is good for sales.

The NRA relentlessly plays on and heightens our fears and our lack of trust in each other for the sake of selling more guns and perpetuating the political power of its allies. As a result, not only are we increasingly less safe, but the bonds of trust needed for a just and peaceful community are further eroded. A well armed citizenry that fears and distrusts each other is a formula for ever escalating violence. Gun sales are at a record high, while community is destroyed. It is a cycle of violence that will continue to spiral out of control unless we as a society intentionally break it.

As I ponder this devastating, dangerous, and violent situation, I have a simple message for the people of the United States: Put your weapons down and come out with your hands up! … Now look at your neighbors and put your hands in theirs. We are called to Beloved Community, not to armed combat. Guns will not make us safer as country. They never have, and they never will.

kids-holding-hands-clipart-MiLLBBEeT

Posted in politics, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

The 41%

41%

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the 1%, the 99%, the 98%, and even Romney’s 47%. All these numbers have made their way into our political discourse such that for the most part, we could simply say the percentage number, and a large number of people would know what we are talking about. No matter where one is on the political spectrum, these numbers have played a role in shaping political awareness and political discourse.

There may be some other lesser known percentages that have even more influence on the political landscape than those above. First up, 41%. According to a Pew Research poll in 2010, 41% is the percentage of persons in the United States who believe that Jesus Christ will return before the year 2050. 23% think this will definitely happen and 18% think that it will probably happen. For more on the numbers and the survey see Pew Research Poll.

Another significant number for the political landscape of the United States is 42%. According to a Gallop poll in 2014, this is the percentage number of persons in the United States who believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. This is a statistic that has held steady for the past three decades. For more detailed information see Gallup Poll.

41% and 42% – these are perhaps the two most important numbers in understanding politics in the United States. Views on climate change, international affairs (especially our relationship to Israel), science in general, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and long term sustainability are all influenced by where one stands in relation to the questions about the return of Christ and evolutionary theory. Why be concerned about climate change and sustainability if one truly believes that Christ will return by 2050? Why have any coherent international agenda other than supporting Israel if one truly believes Christ will return by 2050? Why develop any policies for long term sustainability if one truly believes that Christ will return by 2050? Why would persons listen to climate scientists and environmental scientists when they already have a bias against science that is telling them their views about creation are wrong? Why work for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights when the worldview that makes you believe that Christ will return by 2050 and humans have only existed for 10,000 years also tells you that women should submit and LGBTQ persons are sinners. If one believes that the earth as we know it will end by 2050 and that we have only been here for about 10,000 years, this has a profound effect on one’s worldview and political outlook.

These figures of 41% and 42% are not prominent in our public political discourse in the same way the 1%, the 99%, the 98%, or even the 47% are, but that does not make them any less important. Republican political operatives are very aware of these numbers. They count on these numbers to be the minimum floor of support for the Republican Party on the national level. In some regions of the country where the percentages are higher, the Republican Party has almost complete political hegemony. Nationally, they know they have to find a way to convince at least another 8% or 9% to move in their direction, so different messaging is used to sway that demographic. As we move into the general election of 2016, these numbers will be significant, and this is why the Trump campaign knows that it must cultivate the 41% and 42% as much as any other demographic. This is the minimum floor of support they are counting on. If Trump begins to lose votes from the 41% and 42%, he is finished.

 

Posted in politics, religion | 1 Comment

Breaking the Hegemony of the Two Party System

Ranked Choice Voting

“I don’t want to vote for either candidate.” How many times have you heard a friend or acquaintance say these words? How many times have you said these words? Whatever you may feel about the two presumptive presidential nominees of the two major political parties in 2016, there is one thing for certain; there has been no other time in recent political history when the Democratic and Republican nominees for president have been more unpopular than during this election. Yes there are many who are enthusiastic supporters of their party’s nominee, but there are millions of people who would rather not vote for either one.

The vast majority of the people who feel this way will end up voting for one of the two major parties’ nominees, but they will not be happy about it. Many will say they voted for the lesser of two evils, because, well, the lesser of two evils is by definition a “lesser” evil, and that is worth something.  Those who see themselves as voting for the lesser of two evils know that if they don’t vote, it is the equivalent of voting for the greater of two evils, so many of them, with nose held, will trudge into the voting booth and do their civic duty to avoid what they see as the worst of two possible outcomes. For the sake of the Supreme Court and for the sake of policies and causes they care about, many people will vote for a person they would actually prefer not be president.

Why does it have to be this way? Why do many of us feel we are in a position of being forced to vote for someone as our first choice when there are other candidates from other political parties whose ideas, policies, and vision align more with our own? The answer to these questions for those who lean to the left can be summarized in two words: “Ralph Nader.” After 90,000 Florida votes for Nader in the 2000 presidential election and the hanging chads and SCOTUS decision that brought the United States of America the Presidency of George W. Bush, many progressives have said to themselves, “Never again. Never again will we vote for a third party candidate when there is any chance it might allow a candidate whom we oppose strongly to win office.” Moderate to right leaning persons who voted for Ross Perot may have similar memories of 1992 when Perot likely took many more votes from then President George H.W. Bush than from Governor Bill Clinton. Persons on both sides of the political spectrum learned that if you don’t want a person in office whom you “really don’t want,” you had better not vote for a third party candidate you really like who has little chance of winning the election.

Such is the attitude about third or fourth party candidates that they are often vilified for even running because they might hurt a candidate who has a chance, and naturally this attitude makes it all but impossible for candidates who are not Democrat or Republican to gain any political traction. As a consequence, the two party hegemony of our political processes is strengthened and a diverse electorate feels compelled to find a way to express their preferences as a Democrat or a Republican. Other candidates hardly ever gain enough support to get on the stage for a debate, much less actually win an election.

This is not a healthy political situation for our country. It is likely one of the key reasons why many see the two parties as being like two different sides of the same coin. Instead of challenging the established environment, both major parties have a stake in maintaining the established environment for the sake of gaining and maintaining political power. The two party hegemony makes it difficult for a diversity of voices to find expression and access to the political process. Major party candidates can ignore the positions of candidates outside the two parties, because in the end they know that most voters will conclude that they have no choice but to vote Democrat or Republican, even if they are not enthusiastic about doing so.

Very little will change about the two party hegemony unless there is an intentional effort to break it, and protest votes that end up cutting off our noses to spite our faces are rarely helpful means to a good political end. To change the political system, we will need to change our elections systems. We cannot afford to continue the Either/Or politics of the status quo that leads us to situations where we are often choosing between two candidates who don’t represent our values or vision. We need an election system that allows us to vote our first choice every time without hurting the candidate who might be our second choice or even a third choice whom we might find acceptable. We need a movement calling for a Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting system; where in the year 2000, citizens could have selected Nader as their first choice and Gore as their second choice;  where in 1992, citizens could have voted for Perot as their first choice and Bush as their second choice. If your first choice does not gain 50% of the vote, then your vote automatically will go to your second choice. Why should voters have to be scared that by voting their conscience and values that they could be contributing to the election of their least favored candidate? It does not have to be this way.

If we truly want a peaceful and sustainable political revolution in our country, we must have a revolution in the way we select our leaders that not only brings more voices to the table, but also makes all persons at the table take each other more seriously. The creation of a Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting system, and of course a repeal of the Citizens United SCOTUS decision, are two practical and powerful ways to move the revolution for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society forward. Otherwise I am afraid we will hear more and more people keep saying “I don’t want to vote for either candidate.”

For more information about Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting, visit this site: People For Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting

Note: Ranked Choice Voting is already a reality in Australia, Ireland, and Scotland and in the cities of Berkeley, Cambridge (MA), Hendersonville (NC), London, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro (CA), Takoma Park (MD), and a number of other municipalities. See Fairvote MN FAQ. Maine will be voting on a ballot initiative in November of 2016 that if passed would make it the first state in the United States to implement Ranked Choice Voting.

Posted in politics | Tagged | 3 Comments