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. 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Political Lies and the Obligation to Resist

no-lies

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?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

Web

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Oklahoma Oil and Gas and the Charade of Greed

in_greed

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?!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oklahoma: A State of Codependency

capitol oil

For most of its existence as a state, Oklahoma has been dependent on the fossil fuel industry as the driving force of its economy. There have been ups and downs, booms and busts, but Oklahoma’s history is a history that was fueled by oil and then by both oil and natural gas. It is not surprising that in a state so dependent on oil and gas for its economic fortunes that the fossil fuel industry in Oklahoma has possessed and continues to possess tremendous political clout.

Speaking critically of the oil and gas industry or resisting its will is the closest thing to the kiss of death in Oklahoma politics. The fossil fuel industry knows this and so do the politicians. Oil and gas executives don’t try to hide this fact. They don’t have to. Historically what is good for oil and gas has been seen as what is good for Oklahoma. A politician following the will of the oil and gas industry was viewed simply as being a good Oklahoman.

Until very recently this political and economic hegemony of oil and gas went unquestioned and was both respected and feared by Republicans and Democrats alike. It is extremely difficult to succeed in Oklahoma, politically or economically, without good relations with and support from the industry that fuels the economic engines of our state. And this goes for persons in and out of political office. Speaking ill of oil and gas has been the third rail of Oklahoma politics and social survival – you just don’t go there.

Virtually no sector of Oklahoma society is untouched by the power of the fossil fuel industry, and all sectors are in some way dependent on it. Higher education, the arts, non-profit social service agencies, college and professional sports, entertainment venues, and even churches all find fiscal support from oil and gas companies, either directly or indirectly. They fund our plays, concerts, and musicals. They own and sponsor our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. They are leading givers to charity (albeit their tax-deductible gifts are far less than the tax breaks they are given). The fossil fuel industry has established itself as the indispensable Oklahoma industry.

Oklahoma has come a long way with oil and gas, but there are significant signs that the relationship has evolved in ways that are no longer contributing to the overall flourishing of our state. The natural cycles of boom and bust are to be expected. That cannot be laid at the feet of the oil and gas companies, nor is it the underlying systemic problem of the relationship. Yet for systemic reasons, what was once an Oklahoma given, that the oil and gas industry is good for the state, has now become an extremely debatable assertion.

Perhaps the most significant problem with the industry that has made our state what it is today is that the production and use of its primary product pollutes our air and water and is quickly creating an unlivable climate. These are all assertions that the most prominent Oklahoma politicians refute because if they didn’t, they would no longer be among the most prominent Oklahoma politicians; but science is, well, science, and the evidence points strongly in the opposite direction of their denials. The recent experience of thousands of oil and gas wastewater injection induced earthquakes has made it more difficult to deny the negative environmental impacts of the industry as the Oklahoma earth literally shakes our consciousness and in some cases our conscience into new awareness.

Even if you take away most or all of the worst and very real environmental problems of oil and gas, there remain systemic factors in the state’s relationship to fossil fuel that are contributing to a less healthy relationship than what was experienced in the past. One of these factors is the importance of economic diversification. We have become so dependent on oil and gas that we fail time and time again to adequately diversify our economy to weather the times of bust in the boom/bust cycle. During every bust we promise ourselves that we will diversity, but when boom times come, we seem to contract a statewide collective amnesia.

Other forms of energy are becoming highly competitive with fossil fuel, and instead of embracing a multi-faceted energy economy with a broad mix of renewable energy sources, the fossil fuel industry uses its political clout to protect its interests over its competitors. This has played out in this year’s Oklahoma legislative session as incentives for renewable energy have been cut and electric cars taxed while Oklahoma Legislature Republicans seem resolute to keep hundreds of millions of dollars of annual tax breaks in place for oil and gas.

Fossil fuel executives lament that the industry is providing approximately 25% of the state government’s revenue, but what can we expect when we continue to fail to diversify? It should also be noted that we have made significant cuts to the budget over the past few years, so 25% today is less actual money than it was before the latest bust, and the state was already making budget cuts even during the boom cycle owing to a series of tax cuts, especially for the most wealthy and the fossil fuel industry. Compared to our peer oil and gas states, the fossil fuel industry in Oklahoma enjoys the lowest tax burden, with an effective gross production tax (GPT) rate of 3.2%. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective rate of 8.3%

Faced with public pressure to restore the gross production tax rate to 7%, oil and gas executives and lobbyists argue that this will have a significant negative effect on oil and gas production in Oklahoma even though the rate will still be lower than most other states. However, a small number of vocal leaders in the industry, like George Kaiser and Dewey Bartlett Jr., are in favor of an increase in the rate and argue that a return to a 7% GPT will have a negligible impact on production, but it will have a significant positive impact on the state’s budget.

But most fossil fuel industry leaders want even more profit, and they are using their considerable political clout to pressure the politicians they have supported financially through the years for such a time as this. Schools are closing and moving more and more to 4-day school weeks across the state, teachers are paid abysmally and are leaving to other states where they can get paid $20,000 or more per year than in Oklahoma, hospitals are closing, mental health care is grossly underfunded, persons with special needs go underserved, and our incarceration rates are at record highs. Our state is failing, and as a third generation Oklahoman, I can already see my teenage daughters eying more flourishing communities beyond our state lines. Many people, especially young people, want out, and who can blame them? In the mean time, Oklahoma oil man Harold Hamm, the 32nd richest person in the United States and 87th richest person in the world, with a wealth estimated at $12.3 billion, is arguing that it would be “unconscionable” to raise GPT rates. The evidence of revenue failure in our state, I think, shows that it would be unconscionable not to raise them.

Oklahoma is experiencing a life threatening level of codependency on the oil and gas industry as the industry acts out its addiction to political and economic power at the expense of the overall health of the Oklahoma family and the well-being of our human and ecological communities. We have become a state of codependency, and any time we strive for more autonomy and independence from the fossil fuel industry or just simply ask oil and gas to pay its fair share, we are warned that disaster awaits us if we don’t stay the course, if we don’t stay in line.

What would we do without oil and gas, without the charitable giving, without the plays, without the concerts, without our beloved OKC Thunder? Just look at the majestic Devon Tower! See how far we have come! We are warned that we have to keep things just as they are, or we just won’t be able to make it. Yet behind the shiny tower, the professional sports, and the arts and entertainment (all of which are good within a flourishing community), we see a state that is languishing, a state that is failing, and a state that is codependent on the industry that may have made the state what it is, but is now keeping the state from becoming what it can be, both now and in the future.

The first step to recovery is to admit to one another that we have a problem. Without this first step, be prepared to remain high on the lists we don’t want to be high on and low on the lists we don’t want to be low on. Those lists are abstractions, but they represent real suffering of our neighbors and friends, suffering that will continue unless we break our current state of codependency.

Let’s come together as Oklahomans and take this step of recovery towards a more flourishing state, and our first step includes demanding that members of the Oklahoma Legislature restore the 7% gross production tax on oil and gas to save our state. Oil and gas companies won’t like that, but they do not own us. Healthy states and healthy people are not owned by anyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Impeachment

impeachment

Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced today that Articles of Impeachment are being brought against the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. At a press conference to announce the decision, Speaker Ryan made it clear that the decision was not based on concerns about Trump or members of his campaign colluding with the Russian government. Ryan stated that the decision was also not related to evidence that President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, whose agency was conducting investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential elections.

Speaker Ryan stated, “Let me be crystal clear, today’s decision to bring articles of impeachment has nothing to do with Russia, Trump’s ties to Russia, or the relation of any member of the Trump Campaign or any official of the Trump Administration with Russia. However, I regret to inform the American people that in the course of the investigations it became clear that President Trump had an affair with one of the White House Interns and then proceeded to lie to Congress about the affair. When this information became undeniable, it was clear that the House of Representatives, and I as its leader, had no other choice but to proceed with impeachment. There is clear precedent for the House moving forward in this manner, and I know that my colleagues in the House and Senator McConnell and our colleagues in the Senate will proceed with their solemn moral obligation to never allow a president lie about an affair. The last time this happened, we said ‘never again,’ and our actions today show that we meant it.”

When asked whether the investigation would continue into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and into the allegations that highly classified information was given to Russian diplomats by the president, thus putting sources and methods of intelligence at risk, Speaker Ryan responded, “My colleagues and I feel strongly that there is no need to further waste tax payer money on these investigations. We know that Trump had an affair with an intern. We know that he lied about it. What else is there to investigate? We need to get on with the important work of the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare, privatize social security, provide Americans with school choice, reduce corporate taxes, eliminate the inheritance tax, and cut regulations for the fossil fuel companies and the financial sector. This is a dark time for America,” Ryan declared, “but I know that we as a people will make it through the days ahead, and I have complete confidence in Vice President Pence to lead us forward as a nation. God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America.” 

When pressed on whether he thought Vice President Pence might get caught up in the scandal, Speaker Ryan replied, “That all would depend on whether Vice President Pence knew about the affair and also lied about it. We will cross that bridge when we come to it, but if that is the case, fortunately the Constitution of the United States has provisions for how we handle that. No further questions at this time.”*

*yes, it is satire 🙂 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Special Prosecutor Right Now!

trump_nixon-800x430

Hearing the word yesterday that Trump fired FBI Director Comey immediately brought to mind the last president who fired people who were responsible for investigating him. President Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre was a turning point and accelerated the demise of the Nixon Presidency. Trump fired Mr. Comey in the most disrespectful manner, with Comey learning of his dismissal via TV coverage while speaking to a group of FBI agents. Trump apparently has more respect for losers on The Apprentice than he does for the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who agreed before the United States Senate to recuse himself from anything related to the Trump/Russia investigation, recommended by official letter that the president fire the FBI Director who is leading the Trump/Russia investigation. This is yet more evidence in a long train of evidence that this administration will never play by the rules unless someone finally has the courage to enforce the rules.

After Trump fired Comey, his spokespersons were making the rounds on FOX News publicly calling for an end of the Trump/Russia investigations. Today we know that now former Director Comey asked for more resources for the ongoing inquiry into Russian interference in the election just days before being fired. If you don’t think firing Comey was related to the Trump/Russia investigations, then I guess Trump and Putin have you right where they want you.

It is clear that whomever Trump appoints to be FBI Director sure as hell cannot oversee the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign’s connection to Russia, so the time for a special prosecutor is right now!

My take is that Trump thinks he is ultimately safe from action against him by the Senate and House of Representatives because of McConnell’s and Ryan’s unwillingness to pursue him, and he is probably right – they have proven to both be gutless opportunists. The only currently existing, semi-apolitical Trump/Russia investigation occurring at this time is/was the FBI investigation. Firing Comey weakens and slows down that investigation and allows Trump to appoint a director that is friendly to him. All this buys him more time to consolidate more and more power to make him less and less vulnerable to prosecution, If there is not an appointment of a special prosecutor right now, we are in deep trouble and will be facing a constitutional crisis.

The people must demand that members of Congress hold themselves true to their oath of office that includes: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” – foreign AND domestic. There needs to be hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of D.C. and protesting at representatives’ and senators’ offices across the country until a special prosecutor is appointed. Every day that goes by fuels the engine of Trump’s growing stranglehold on power and diminishes the hope of learning the truth about Trump’s ties with Russia and of holding Trump and members of his campaign and administration accountable for their actions.

This is not a drill. Our democracy is under direct threat, and the President of the United States is the threat. Take courage. Come together. Be non-violent. But take to the streets to demand a #SpecialProsecutorRightNow!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment