These Three Things for Oklahoma

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In conversation with hundreds of Oklahomans over the past couple of years and after years of analysis concerning systemic change in the Oklahoma context, I am convinced that Oklahoma needs three things to happen before we will be able to begin digging ourselves out of our current crisis, and these things are: 1.) the Repeal of State Question 640, 2.) the Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax on Oil and Gas, and 3.) the Implementation of Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting. All three of these together will not fully get Oklahoma where it needs to go for the creation of a flourishing human community, but without these three things, we will remain a glaring example of what happens to our social fabric when we cut taxes for the wealthy to the detriment of the common good and encourage the economic and political hegemony of the oil and gas industry.

The repeal of Oklahoma State Question 640 would allow the Oklahoma Legislature flexibility to raise state taxes to address Oklahoma’s budget crisis. State Question 640 was passed by a vote of the people in 1992 and requires a 75% vote in both the senate and the house of representatives of the Oklahoma Legislature in order to raise taxes. The effect has been multiple tax decreases over the past 25 years, mainly for the wealthy and large corporations, and no tax increases, even in times of severe revenue failure and budget crisis. Only one other state (Arkansas) has a threshold that is this high for approving tax increases. At the very least, we need to lower the threshold for approval, if not revert back to a simple majority vote. (See https://www.facebook.com/RepealOKStateQuestion640/)

Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax (GPT) rate on oil and gas is needed to save our schools and save our state from its revenue failure. Oklahoma’s effective tax rate on oil and gas production is 3.2%  and is one of the lowest in the country. Restoration of the 7% rate is essential to raising teacher pay and reversing the largest decline in general state spending on public education in the entire country since 2008. Oklahoma has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, and ranks fourth lowest in the nation in per pupil spending. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective tax  rate of 8.3%  on oil and gas production and pays its new entry-level teachers about $20,000 more than Oklahoma. Over time Oklahoma has lost billions of dollars of revenue owing to our unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. (See https://www.facebook.com/OklahomansForRestoring7PercentGrossProductionTax/)

Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting would strengthen participation in our democracy by allowing persons to vote for their candidate of choice in elections with three or more candidates without the concern that their vote would be wasted or contribute to the election of their least favorite candidates. This would allow political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican parties to gain more traction and to be taken more seriously in the political debate. It would likely also increase political participation of those citizens who do not feel represented by the two major parties. In such a system, you could give first preference to the candidate you really want elected. If he or she does not have enough votes to make the instant run-off,  your vote would go to your next preference on the ballot. (See https://www.facebook.com/RCVOklahoma/)

These three things (repeal of 640, restoration of the 7% GPT, and ranked choice voting) will at least give us a fighting chance for systemic transformation in our state, and for that very reason, those who benefit from the established environment will do almost anything to keep these three things from happening. If Oklahoma is to have a future other than becoming even more of a commodity colony than it already is, the people must take back their power through sustained participation in the political process to achieve these three things and then press on towards more systemic change for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable Oklahoma.

Once these three things happen, it will be more possible to do what is necessary to generate adequate revenue for education, infrastructure, basic services, public safety, environmental protection, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and care for the least vulnerable among us.

Once these things happen, we can begin to focus on diversifying our economy and break the dominance that the oil and gas industry has over our economic and political processes.

Once these three things happen, we can build on the increased political participation that will come when people have more political choices and are able to vote for their first choice in elections without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. Vibrant third parties will finally be able to gain traction to allow more diverse voices in our political process.

You can see why these three things will be resisted, which is the very reason we must do all we can to begin with these three things. It is possible…

 

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Love not Hate, Baseball not Bullets

Sometimes resistance to Trump can seem like an overwhelmingly daunting task. How does one resist a person who is so willing to lie, so willing to play outside of the normal rules of decent human behavior and interaction, so willing to smear the reputation of others, so willing to put millions of people in danger, so willing to use fear and hate to manipulate the public, and so willing to pursue propaganda that is most often demonstrably false yet still effective with his base?

It is a monumental task to resist Trump, but it must be done in such a way that it is grounded in the core values of love, inclusion, justice, and nonviolence.

When Trump lies, we must relentlessly illuminate his falsehoods with truth and evidence. When Trump plays outside the rules, we must use the rule of law and the justice system to block his course. When Trump attacks people’s character, we must work together and defend those who are standing for what is right. When Trump uses rhetoric and the power of his office to divide Americans and pit them against one another, we must join hands in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and protect them from harm. When Trump uses fear and hate to incite exclusion and violence, we must use love and nonviolence to cultivate a beloved community. When Trump spews propaganda, we must follow a path of unwavering pursuit of the truth to educate and persuade others with integrity.

Resisting Trump is an immense challenge, but we must not become Trump-like in our resistance. The more we become like Trump, the less likely we will ever make our way through this dark time to a flourishing future. We must resist Trump, but we cannot lose our souls in the process.

The shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice makes it crystal clear why it is so important to stay true to nonviolence in both rhetoric and action. It is the only way to a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society and world. We have before us the choice that Martin Luther King, Jr. saw many years ago: Chaos or Community?

Love not hate, nonviolence not violence, inspiration not provocation, justice not vigilantism, bridges not bombs, baseball not bullets.

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Reps. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana Democrat, and Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican

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Comey, Trump, and Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

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Looking at the discussions over the past few days concerning Comey’s actions and testimony, Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are illuminating.

I would argue that Trump is trapped somewhere between pre-conventional and conventional levels of moral development, specifically between stages 2 and 3 in which his behavior and decisions are driven by self interest and rewards (stage 2) and in which his behavior is driven by social approval (stage 3).

It was in Trump’s self interest for Comey to let go of the Flynn investigation, and he saw nothing wrong in expressing his hope to Comey that he would do so. Trump sees nothing wrong with the conflicts of interest and rewards related to his ongoing international business enterprise because it serves his self interest and the interest of his family – an extension of himself. Trump gravitates to FOX News and like-minded media outlets, and in return for their social approval, he tweets his praise for them. Trump expects his subordinates to serve his interests, express loyalty to him, and obey his authority. If they do not do these things; they are fired.

The critics of Comey who are fixated on the “impropriety” of Comey sharing portions of his memos to the press seem to be arguing at a conventional level of moral development from a stage 4 perspective that emphasizes obeying authority and confirming to social order. Some of Comey’s critics also argue from the even lower stages from which Trump himself is operating. Under normal circumstances, obeying authority and confirming to social order would entail not sharing details about a private conversation one has with the president unless given permission to do so, but Comey recognizes that these are not normal circumstances.

Comey seems to be working from a post-conventional level of morality in both stages 5 and 6 in which he is carefully considering the importance of our social contract and balancing social order and individual rights (stage 5) and acting according to a more universal ethics guided by internal principles (stage 6).

Comey did what I think any serious and thoughtful moral person in the post-conventional level of moral development would do in his situation. He knew he would receive criticism for sharing portions of his memos with the press, but he looked at the fullness of the moral situation and did what he found to be the most fitting thing to do given the gravity of the president’s actions.

Comey felt that sharing portions of his memos would help lead to the appointment of a Special Counsel, which would be in his mind the best way to get to the truth of what has happened and what is happening and do what is right for the social good. Comey was capable of doing a complex contextual moral analysis of the situation, and he acted accordingly.

The fact that Comey did something that would open himself to criticism actually strengthens the underlying morality of his choice in my understanding. He was willing to do something that he knew would bring him criticism, but he did it anyway for the sake of the greater good. Comey knows that one must be a moral realist in times like these and make decisions that are both nuanced and difficult.

There is a reason why Comey turns explicitly to people like Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr. to guide his moral thinking. There is also a reason that a person like Trump turns to people like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr Keep this theory of moral development in mind when you hear the pundits and critics debate over who is right, Comey or Trump? Almost all the Trump arguments are coming from a lower level of moral development.

Graphic from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/human-development-14/theories-of-human-development-70/kohlberg-s-stages-of-moral-development-268-12803/

 

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Things Hoped For


“Hope” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Trump presidency, but the word came up in James Comey’s testimony about his private interactions with the president. This may mark the only time when any substantive discussion about the word hope will occur during this presidency, so I won’t let the opportunity pass to join the discussion.

Comey testified that Trump cleared the room of all people other than the two of them and proceeded to tell Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go… He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey says he understood this to be a directive in that the president was communicating something that he wanted to have done. Comey was justifiably concerned by this expressed “hope,” and he decided to make a record of the conversation in a memo. This conversation, combined with Trump’s public comments about Comey’s firing, led Comey to believe that he lost his job as FBI Director for not fulfilling Trump’s hope of “letting this go.”

The White House and the president’s defenders have hence embarked on a tortured analysis of what the definition of “hope” is. Perhaps given the fact they have so little experience with the concept of hope, one should not be surprised with their difficulties in understanding its meaning in the context in which Trump used it with Comey. 

If we are to believe the Republican analysis, when Trump used the word hope, he meant something like this: “I hope you will do this, but please don’t take that as expression of my desire for you actually to do it, and if you do take it as expression of my desire for you to actually do it, I hope you will understand that I will deny that it was an expression of such desire. I hope you understand. Also, if you do not do what I hope for and what is not an actual expression of my desire for you to do, I will fire you for not doing it, but yes, I was only hoping.”

I guess it all depends on what the definition of “hope” is as opposed to what the definition of “is” is, except in this case we are talking about an investigation of Russian interference in our elections as opposed to an affair with an intern. 

I hope that what will not get lost in all of this is that we have an urgent investigation occurring about Russian interference in our election processes. I hope that Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives will take this investigation seriously and follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I hope that Special Counsel Mueller will be given every tool and resource needed to get to the truth of what has occurred and is occurring. And when I say hope, I mean that I actually want these things to happen. 

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Political Lies and the Obligation to Resist

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Politicians have a right to lie to the American people. It is protected by the First Amendment. But the people have the obligation to vote these liars out of office.

The excuse that “all politicians lie” is a shirking of our moral responsibility to work for a good society. Yes, many politicians lie, but Trump and the kakistocracy with which he has surrounded himself lie relentlessly, remorselessly, and recklessly with ruinous repercussions for both people and the planet. Each day they hold power represents a real diminishment of the well-being of present and future life on earth.

I hold almost no hope that a Republican Congress will do anything to protect us from this very real threat to our country and the world, for in fact they have been complicit and responsible for the possibility of a Trump coming to power. As long as they think his presidency contributes to their agenda, they will never hold him accountable, and they are held in place by some of the wealthiest and most formidable people and corporations on the planet, who care much more about their profit than people and who see the planet as resource for their use, control, and gain rather than as our common home.

We the people are our only hope, and even though the lines and laws and have been drawn against us by these very same formidable powers, we must avoid all distractions and temptations of apathy, we must reject all propaganda that is meant to divide and conquer us, and we must rise up and resist with levels of voter participation never before seen in the history of our country.

Human civilization depends on us. We can be the greatest generation or the generation that let it all slip away into chaos and suffering. Yes, the choice really is that stark, and yes the challenges we now face really are that fiercely urgent. We are the people, and as JFK reminded us, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

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United Methodist Church and Wespath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death!

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If we think it is morally problematic to invest in alcohol, tobacco, and gambling because of their negative effects on persons and society; but we think it is not morally problematic to invest in fossil fuel companies, then that it is a deeply flawed view of moral and social responsibility.

Only one of the above mentioned industries threatens the very future of human civilization on earth, and that industry, the fossil fuel industry, has spent billions of dollars to spread demonstrably false information about climate change and to influence politicians to keep allowing them to continue harming people and the planet.

My church, the United Methodist Church, and the company that manages its pension and benefits investments, Wespath, continue to make this grievous error in the name of keeping a seat at the table to influence the oil and gas companies. It is not working.

These same fossil fuel corporations are the ones working behind the scenes to keep us from making gains for climate justice and to keep us from moving towards clean and renewable energy. These same companies are investing in an infrastructure of pipelines and technology that will keep us dependent on fossil fuel for another generation while climate scientists are telling us that the vast majority of oil and gas must stay in the ground. Despite their public claims to the contrary, these same companies have helped bring people like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt to power, and now they have removed the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement. By continuing to invest in these fossil fuel companies, the United Methodist Church is complicit with the very entities most responsible for creating an unlivable climate for human civilization.

Time and time again the United Methodist Church’s investments in fossil fuel companies undercut our prophetic witness for the care of creation. We United Methodists stood side by side with the people of Standing Rock and wrote statements of support for the water protectors there, only to have our witness tainted by the news that our church was financially invested in the very companies that were building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Talk about an example of not putting our money where our mouth was!

Recently, Wespath has touted the fact that our engagement with Occidental and Exxon Mobil helped sway stockholder votes to make these companies take into consideration and report to the stockholders about the impact of climate change and climate change mitigation on the activities and financial value of these companies. Days later the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord based on the false science that these companies have been supporting for decades. The stockholder resolutions that Westpath is so proud of will have negligible impact, if any, on the actual extraction practices of these companies, while the United States federal government’s decision to withdraw from global cooperative action on climate change will likely bring devastating consequences to all life on earth.

What good are returns on our pension and benefits investments if we do not have a livable climate for human civilization? What good is a seat at the table of the planet destroyers if they keep on destroying the planet? While they may occasionally give us some crumbs that fall off the table to keep us satisfied that we are doing some good, they continue funding the merchants of doubt and the merchants of death that will lead to unspeakable suffering for all life on earth. It is time to stop taking seats at the tables we should be turning over and fully engage the prophetic witness for climate justice that is needed in fiercely urgent times like these.

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Oklahoma Oil and Gas and the Charade of Greed

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Harold Hamm and Larry Nichols are desperate to keep Oklahoma’s gross production tax on oil and gas at extremely low levels because they know that if they keep it low again this year, they will likely be able to keep it low for a number of years to come.

Here’s why – They know that the Saudis are cutting back on production to stabilize and increase global oil prices. They also know that the Oklahoma Legislature they own will likely pass lessened restrictions on long lateral horizontal drilling in non-shale formations. In other words, Hamm and Nichols know that a boom is likely on the horizon, and they want to enjoy that boom with the lowest GPT possible.

They also know that with a boom on the horizon there will be an increase in drilling and production and therefore an increase in revenue coming to the state from GPT even if there is not a restoration of a higher GPT. The increase in revenue will by no means cover the budget shortfall, but it will be an increase. When this happens, Hamm and Nichols will say “See, the Oklahoma Legislature did the right thing by keeping the GPT low because it led to an increase in production and therefore an increase in revenue for the state, and they will create a bunch of fancy videos with the chamber of commerce and the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board touting the return of economic prosperity to OKC and Oklahoma and highlight oil and gas as the fuel for that prosperity.

What they won’t tell you is that the increase in drilling and production that will likely occur in the next couple of years will have almost nothing to do with a low GPT rate and will have almost everything to do with global oil and gas prices, and perhaps some to do with less strict environmental regulations that will endanger our health and the climate over the long run but make it cheaper to drill wells and transport oil and gas.

They also will not tell you that in the last boom we cut education more than any other state owing to all of the tax cuts we keep giving to the wealthy and the oil and gas companies.

The oil and gas companies will have so much extra money from the coming boom that they will be able to increase their charitable giving, which will still be a tiny fraction of what they should be paying in taxes, and they will use this tax deductible giving as free advertising to claim that they are responsible corporate citizens even though many of the agencies they donate to might not need to exist if they paid in taxes here what they have to pay in other states.

The problem is that enough people keep believing this charade of greed and will thank the oil and gas companies for leading the state from a more horrible state of hell to a less horrible state of hell, and our politicians and their oil and gas patrons will pat themselves on the back for keeping the GPT low, which will mean billions to the oil and gas companies in the years ahead while our schools, hospitals, mental healthcare, and other basic services continue to languish; and we gullible Oklahomans will likely continue to reward them for this charade.

This is why it is so critical to restore the 7% GPT now, so we can enjoy a reasonable recovery towards a more flourishing state in the years ahead. Will we have the political will to make these changes, or will it continue to be the same as it ever was?

Oh. and by the way, with higher global oil and gas prices and higher production, there will be more waste water produced; so unless we figure out a way to deal with that appropriately, get ready for some more shaking, and guess who gets to pay for the earthquake damage?!

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