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.

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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 🙂 

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Special Prosecutor Right Now!

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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!

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#RunningForGovernorTogether2018

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I have tremendous respect for the three declared Democratic candidates for Governor in Oklahoma: Drew Edmondson, Scott Inman, and Connie Johnson. I wish I could vote for all three of them, and I will definitely be voting for the Democratic nominee for governor.

Given my respect for all three Democratic candidates and my awareness that none of them is what has come to be known as a typical politician, I would like to make a suggestion about how the Democratic Primary Campaign for Governor could be conducted going forward. We need Democrats to be as united as is possible when one of these three candidates wins the primary. They all have tremendous ideas and gifts to share, and I believe all three of them are running for the state, not for themselves.

Therefore, I am asking the three candidates to consider participating together in a series of town hall forums (not so much debates) as an opportunity for all three of them to hash out together the ideas that are needed for our state to move forward for all people. I am confident that these candidates can show the state that the Democratic Party is the party of vision, ideas, and pragmatism to take us in a new direction so desperately needed, and in these forums they could model what good politics is meant to be – the art of developing a good and just society in and through community.

Maybe they could even have a bus tour around the state for these forums – maybe even ride together in the same bus, seriously, working as colleagues together to help each other be the best candidate for governor, whoever may win the primary election. Maybe even have a big watch party together the night of the primary election standing side by side with whomever is given the mantle of moving to the general election and show the people of Oklahoma what politics can be when done by responsible adults. I know, it is unconventional, but I truly hope they will consider it. Our state needs something different. We need these three excellent candidates to model what collegiality and good and decent politics can do for our state. We certainly have seen what the opposite has done to our state and nation.

 

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No Such Law

She persisted

I am so tired of groups of people telling other groups of people who are not like them that they are somehow less worthy or not to be treated equally. The Romans did this to the conquered in their empire – including Jesus’ people. The Europeans did this to indigenous people across the planet. European Americans did this and continue to do this to African Americans and Native Americans and Latino and Latina Americans and frankly anyone who is not European American. Men have done this to women. The rich have done this to the poor. The healthy have done this to the sick. Christians have done this to Jews and Muslims and others who are not Christian. Heterosexuals have done this to persons who are LGBTQ.

Yesterday, with its decision that the consecration of same gender loving bishops is against “church law,” the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church reaffirmed that the United Methodist Church continues in this long and sinful tradition of excluding and mistreating those they perceive to be not like them. The only proper response is repentance and radical inclusion and a recognition that there is #NoSuchLaw that calls us to exclude and to harm those who do no harm to us.

There is no such law that calls us to exclude anyone from the human community. There is no such law that makes a bishop who happens to be other gender loving to be more worthy than a bishop who happens to be same gender loving. There is no such law, nor will there ever be, that justifies practices of discrimination and injustice towards persons who do no harm. There is no such law because as St. Augustine and Martin Luther King, Jr. remind us, “An unjust law is no law at all.” It is not antinomian to disobey unjust laws.

When will we learn that we are all in this together and stop trying to exclude or mistreat others because of their differences that cause no harm? Will we ever learn, or will it continue to be the same as it ever was? We are living in a time that cannot afford this “same at it ever was” mentality.

I am so tired of groups of people telling other groups of people who are not like them that they are somehow less worthy or not to be treated equally, and I am especially tired of groups of people using religious justification for this behavior. It is bad enough that we continue to treat each other so poorly – let’s at least stop pretending that there is some divine entity that approves of us treating each other like crap.

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First 100 Days

I agree with the president that in many ways he has accomplished more than any other president in his first 100 days…

He has accomplished more rounds of golf than most other presidents in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished spending more tax payer money on himself and his family than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has created more conflicts of interest in relation to his and his family’s global business interests in his first 100 days than all presidents combined in the entire history of the United States.

He has accomplished hiring and firing more persons who were foreign agents than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more weekend trips to Florida than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more nepotism in the White House in his first 100 days than any other president in the entire history of the United States.

He has accomplished creating the need for more investigations into the possible collusion of a presidential campaign with a foreign government than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more cringe-worthy and embarrassing moments in his first 100 days than in the entire history of the presidency.

He has accomplished getting more white nationalists into high levels of his administration in the first 100 days than any other president.

He has accomplished putting into office the most racist and xenophobic United States Attorney General in memory in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished creating the most wealthy and arguably least experienced cabinet in the history of the United States in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished creating higher ratings for Saturday Night Live than any other president in his first 100 days. He has accomplished making Saturday Night Live Great Again in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished inspiring more satire and ridicule from countries around the world than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished openly insulting the press and referring to the press as the enemy more than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished ignoring science more than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more tweeting in his first 100 days than any other president.

He has accomplished insulting and alienating the United States intelligence community more than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more lying in his first 100 days than perhaps in the entire history of the presidency. That is a whopper of an accomplishment.

He has accomplished getting the United States closer to war with North Korea in his first 100 days than any other president since the Korean War.

He has accomplished insulting numerous allies and world leaders while refusing to criticize vicious autocrats like Vladimir Putin more than any other president in his first 100 days.

He accomplished in his first 100 days congratulating the autocratic leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on being successful at weakening his country’s democracy and tightening his authoritarian grip on power. Perhaps that is the president’s vision of making Turkey Great Again.

He has met with far right opposition leaders and  far right candidates for office in Europe more than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished writing more bigoted and Islamaphobic executive orders in his first 100 days than any other president.

He has accomplished terrifying the most vulnerable among us more than any other president since Andrew Jackson, and he has accomplished praising Andrew Jackson more in his first 100 days than any other president.

He has accomplished creating more anxiety and fear among persons who do not want to lose their health insurance in his first 100 days than any other president.

He has accomplished destroying the reputation and standing of the United States in the world in his first 100 days more than any other president.

He has accomplished contributing more to exacerbate climate change and create an unlivable climate that will result in horrific human and ecological suffering than any other president in his first 100 days.

He has accomplished more to demean the Office of the Presidency in his first 100 days than any other president.

He has also accomplished giving rise to a resistance movement to all of his horrible accomplishments more than any other president in his first 100 days, and one can only hope that with this sustained resistance that his last 100 days will come before his first term as president has ended. Perhaps he will become the first president to accomplish being convicted in a trial in the Senate after an impeachment in the House. That would be an accomplishment that would at least give us a chance to Make America Great Again.

#First100Days

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“We Resist” – An Anthem for Our Time

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Movements call forth music. I have been searching for an anthem for our time, and I think I found it. “We Resist” by the incomparable Mark Miller expresses in simplicity, humility, and power what is needed for such a time as this.

“We resist. We refuse to let hatred in. We rise up. We won’t back down. We’re in this til the end. Pray for your enemies. Welcome the stranger. Show love to your neighbor. We’re in this til the end.”  – Mark Miller

UPDATE: The words and music for this song are now available for purchase at this link:  WE RESIST

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