Friday, April 18, 2014

Oklahoma Revisited

Wolverine Sings

   Although I generally dislike musicals of any kind, but especially films (except those of Bob Fosse, who actually worked the music and dancing into his films in a realistic manner (except for the first song in “Sweet Charity,” I guess, but the adorableness of Shirley McClain as Charity Hope Valentine makes up for it), where the actors don’t just break out into song and choreographed dance numbers every time the mood strikes them, which rarely happens in real life (except here in Skid Row)), I do like the song “Oklahoma,” composed by Richard  Rodgers and lyrics provided by Oscar Hammerstein, the title song from, and the finale to, their first Broadway musical collaboration, which also happened to be titled, “Oklahoma!”
   The song has some zip to it (which is a form of energy... like dark matter), is memorable, meaning it will stick in your head if you let it, displays authentic examples of frontier gibberish, and is peppy. 
   I dearly wish California had such a song. All we’ve got is “California Dreaming,” by the Mamas and the Papas, which is nice but melancholy, and “California Girls,” from the Beach Boys, which is nice but objectifying (the same goes for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls." Ha, ha, poor Katy don’t even know how to spell).   
   We’ve also got "All of California and Everyone Who Lives There Stinks," by the The World/Inferno Friendship Society, “California,” by that French girl, Mylène Farmer, which isn’t even in English (she could be saying anything about us and we wouldn’t know), “California Here I Come,” by my favorite American contemporary singer/songwriter, Sophie B Hawkins, and “California, Here I Come,” by Al Jolson.
   There’s “Californication,” by the Red Hot Chile Peppers, which is kind of nice, but has no anthem quality to it, and who wants a state song sung by four guys who can’t even afford T-shirts? I certainly don’t.
   We have “Fuck You, I'm From California,” by Ester Drang. “Going to California,” by my favorite rock band, Zed Zeppelin, which is a great song, and I sing it all of the time, so much so that my neighbors hate me, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with California at all, being more about Joni Mitchell, who Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had a crush on, poor bastards. 
   We also have the Eagle’s "Hotel California," which the band’s members have described as their “interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles,” so it’s not really about freaking California now is it? It’s about getting strung out in L.A., which I don’t need a song to do!
   Our official state song is “I Love You, California.” The lyrics were written by Francis Bernard Silverwood in 1913, a Los Angeles clothier, and the words were subsequently put to music by Abraham Franklin Frankenstein, the conductor of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra. 
   Have you ever heard this song, or knew that it existed until this very moment? Neither did I. Listen to it at the above link and you’l probably figure out why. 
   “I love you, California, you're the greatest state of all.
     I love you in the winter, summer, spring and in the fall.
     I love your fertile valleys; your dear mountains I adore.
     I love your grand old ocean and I love her rugged shore.”
   The powers that be designated it the state song in 1951, and in 1987 it became the official state song by law. 
   Need I say the Governors of the state during those two years were Republicans (Earl Warren and George Deukmejian).
   Hey, at least it was played on the first ship to go through the Panama Canal in 1914, at least it’s got that going for it.
   Still, I think we sorely need an upgrade.
   We don’t even have a good gold rush song.
   Know what the official state song of Oklahoma is? It’s Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” of course. They knew they had a good thing going:
   “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say--Yeeow! A-yip-i-o-ee ay!
We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma--O.K.”
      Yeeow! A-yip-i-o-ee ay!
   But I digress...
   I was going through my E-mail the other day as I often do, and came across this article on the Daily Kos, written by someone who calls themselves “Bink.” The article is entitled “More on Why Oklahoma Will Always be a Poor State,” and it starts out like this: “Oklahoma ranks at the bottom of every measure. It's dirt poor. It's people have poor rates of education. Their incomes are low. It's a bad place to live.”
   Well, how rude. Here's a rebuttal.
   A lot of people live there, 3,850,568.3 as of last July, making it the 28th most populous state of the union (California has the most people, with 38,332,521.8), so it must have something going for it besides the song.
   It’s got tornados and severe thunderstorms!  It has a nice continental climate! It has 50 state parks, six national parks or protected regions, and two national protected forests or grasslands! The state is home to populations of white-tailed deer, mule deer, antelope, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, and birds such as quail, doves, cardinals, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and pheasants. American bison (as opposed to the Asian gaur and wild water buffalo), greater prairie chickens, badgers, and armadillo are common, and some of the nation's largest prairie dog towns inhabit shortgrass prairie in the state's panhandle! 
   Prairie dog towns.
   The name Oklahoma means “red people” in Choctaw!
   American Airlines likes it there. Tulsa is home to the largest airline maintenance base in the world, which serves as the global maintenance and engineering headquarters for the airline.
   The state is the top manufacturer of tires in North America, which is very important for cars and trucks and things,  and contains one of the fastest growing biotechnology industries in the nation, which means Oklahoma will most likely be the focal point of the upcoming GMO zombie apocalypse! 
   Oklahoma is the nation's third-largest producer of natural gas, fifth-largest producer of crude oil, has the second-greatest number of active drilling rigs, and ranks fifth in crude oil reserves. 
   While the state ranked eighth for installed wind energy capacity in 2011, it is at the bottom of states in usage of renewable energy, which we’ll get too in a minute, with 94 percent of its electricity being generated by non-renewable sources in 2009.
    Employees of Oklahoma oil-related companies earn an average of twice the state's typical yearly income so a lot of money can be made while polluting the planet’s atmosphere and contributing to global warming!
   Oklahoma City is the home to the largest private oil-related companies in the nation, like Devon Energy Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and Sand Ridge Energy Corporation!
   Oklahoma is one of the birth places of Koch Industries, which is the second largest privately held company in the United States (after Cargill), with an annual revenue of $115 billion, and owned by Charles and David Koch, who are each worth about $50 billion now, allowing them to buy the United States (they keep doing these anti-Obama things, like trying to get Obamacare repealed, and backing Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, even though they’re making just oodles of money with Obama in office, which is driving poor Chris Hayes of MSNBC’s “All In” (Look for "Why the Rich Never Stop Complaining") just crazy)! (“The most anti-business president in history” says Mitch McConnell about Barack Obama. Corporate leaders agree. “He’s a socialist,” they say. But corporate profits under Obama have surged to the highest share of the U.S. economy in history, and CEO pay has never been higher. The Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and other right-wing billionaires are pouring tens of millions of dollars into Senate and House races to elect Republicans. But their fortunes have grown faster under Obama and the Democratic Senate than at any time since the 1920s. Wall Street CEOs say new regulations are stifling them but bank profits and CEO pay have soared to record levels, especially now that the banks are too big to fail. The barons of the oil and gas industry complain about “excessive” regulation but oil and gas has never done as well (including their $7 billion a year in tax subsidies).
So why are they complaining? I think it’s a smokescreen designed to hide from the rest of America the reality that more income and wealth are going to the top than ever before, and corporate welfare is out of control. What’s your explanation? -Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary for Bill Clinton)
   As of last week 48 fracking related earthquakes larger than the magnitude of 2.5 have struck in Oklahoma. In the past month, there have been 157 quakes larger than magnitude 2.5!
   You can save on electrical expenses by lighting your kitchen with the flames from your tap water if you live in Oklahoma!
   They have cable!
   Yet despite all of this, Bink persists.
   “There is no real reason that Oklahoma should not compete with neighboring states for jobs, security and standard of living.
   Except that the political system there is determined to keep its people down.
   Oklahoma is just one of those places ...
   It doesn't provide for its residents.
   It doesn't invest in an infrastructure for jobs.
   It doesn't help its people get training for the jobs of the future.
   It doesn't ... do anything.
   It's a place where government thinks its duty is to punish people, rather than cultivate prosperity. And that is why it will always, always be poor.”
   Wow! This Bink certainly has it out for Oklahoma, or at least it’s government officials. 
   We’ve visited Oklahoma once before, hence the title of this post. Let me see... oh yes, here it is. 
   As stated I once drove through Oklahoma while escaping from Texas and into Kansas. I’ve seen the majestic Oklahoma City skyline. We spent exactly as much time as it takes to drive through the state south to north (230 miles). I don’t think we even stopped for gas.
   And while in the navy I knew a very nice man who came from Oklahoma. Not surprisingly he was a Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class, but nice as hell. He even invited me into his home one evening for dinner with his lovely wife.
   Very nice man. 
   During those two times I witnessed no malfeasance on the part of Oklahoman government officials. 
   However, as we indicated in the first post, some Oklahoman officials are trying to sneak creationism into their public school system, and further, usurp the entire public school system of the nation, and others are trying to make it very difficult for the ladies of the state to either aquire safe birth control products, or receive abortion services. It seems that for these officials the role of Oklahoman women is to stay pregnant as often and as long as possible. That’s their only viable role in the world, these people believe.  Women are worse off with contraception because it suppresses and disables who they are, a politically active constituent said.
   "Part of their identity is the potential to be a mother," Pedulla said. "They are being asked to suppress and radically contradict part of their own identity, and if that wasn't bad enough, they are being asked to poison their bodies."
   By extension, part of a man’s identity, I suppose, is to be a father, so it must be okay for said men to go around and screw as many women as possible, thus maximizing there reproductive chances of fatherhood, which is their divine destiny.
   It’s also rather self serving and reminiscent of some attitudes toward the roles of the sexes found in the Muslim world.
   Be that as it may... maybe since the publication of “Oklahoma and the Crusades,” back in February of last year things have changed for the better, for the better for the people who live and work there that is. Let’s take a look at some recent news reports to find out, shall we?
   First of all, the Governor of the Sooner State is one Mary Fallin, a Republican. She’s also the current Chairperson of the National Governors Association, which is kind of a big deal if you’re a governor.
   Doesn’t she have a nice smile in that picture above.
   The Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma is also a Republican. 
   Both Houses of the State Legislature are controlled by Republicans.
   Both Senators, James Mountain Inhofe and Thomas Coburn are both Republican... 
   What could possibly go wrong?
   The two Senators have nice smiles too (I guess Coburn’s trying real hard to turn a snarl into a smile up there). 
   Okay, let’s see... oh yes, it seems Governor Fallin’s been in the news recently for signing into law a bill that bars all of the states various cities from setting mandatory minimum wage, vacation or sick-day requirements.
   Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. If I’m an employer, let’s say in Tulsa, and I want to set the wage of my new hourly employees at $7.50 a hour, which is 25 cents above the state’s and federal minimum wage, I could now go to jail.
   That’s not too invasive, is it? I mean this is right in line with the Republican philosophy of small government and a free market. 
   Not to mention it’s a pretty crappy deal for the state’s workers.
   Who, it must be said, voted these... people into office. 
   So logic dictates that the people of Oklahoma are perfectly content to be stuck into low paying, poverty scale wages. Their votes say so.
   The Governor rationalizes her action by stating that raising the minimum wage is not an effective way to bring people out of poverty.
   "Most minimum-wage workers are young, single people working part-time or entry-level jobs," Fallin said. "Many are high school or college students living with their parents in middle-class families."
   Republicans say that a lot when talking about rasing the minimum wage even though there’s no truth to it at all. Let me take a minute to look on the old Internet Machine I have here... I typed this into Google “average age of workers making minimum wage.” The first thing that pops up is this: “Low-wage Workers Are Older Than You Think. 88 Percent of Workers Who Would Benefit From a Higher Minimum Wage Are Older Than 20, One Third Are Over 40.”
   Now this would seem to be in direct contradiction to what Governor Fallen purports (and yes, she didn’t bother to site any evidence to support her supposition, Republicans never do, it would hurt too much when they pull these suppositions out of their asses). 
   The second item that pops up is this from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the Federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 21 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over.”
   That would mean that about half of those making the minimum wage are over 25 years of age, which is also in contradiction of what Governor Fallen claims. 
   The non partisan Economic Policy Institute states: “By highlighting the need to increase the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address, President Obama breathed new life into a critically important issue. Wages for U.S. workers, particularly low-wage workers, have eroded not just in recent years, but over several decades. This erosion has contributed to the growth of income inequality, leaving the economy less vibrant than if incomes were distributed more evenly. Raising the minimum wage and incorporating a system for automatic adjustment over time is key to reversing this erosion of low-wage workers’ earnings, and would help combat growth of income inequality.”
   Even if this were not so, as the President said recently, and I paraphrase, “I don’t know what the Republicans have against helping young people.”
   Indeed, I believe that young people make up a significant part of the national economy. When these young people make more money do they stash it away like corporations and the ultra rich are doing now? I don’t think so. I was young at one time and don’t recall saving a large part of whatever income I made... I spent it (placing it back into the economy) as fast as I possibly could.
   So what is the net result of the Governor’s actions? She’s hurting her own constituents by insisting a large percentage work at poverty wages, she’s restricting the autonomy of the state’s employers, and she’s effectively depressing her own state’s economy.
   It seems there are some in Oklahoma who disagree with the Governor, and are taking steps to reverse some of her policies. Good. Might I suggest that voting her out of office be one of them.
   What else has this feisty lady been up to?
   Last Monday S.B. 1456 passed the Oklahoma state House 83-5 after no debate and the Governor is expected to sign it into law very soon. The measure creates a new class of energy customers: those who install their own distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their own property and sell the excess energy back to the state’s electrical grid. This  new class of customer will now be charged a monthly fee basically for getting off of fossil fuel produced energy, and onto renewable. One might say they’re being punished, and those contemplating switching to renewable, clean energy systems, now must enter this additional cost into their deliberations, thereby creating a depression effect for renewables.
   Why would the state legislature and Governor do this, you may ask? Everybody wants a clean environment, don’t they?
   The  American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) doesn’t seem to. ALEC is  a 501(c)(3) (an American tax-exempt nonprofit) organization, whose membership primarily consists of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives.  According to its web site, ALEC "works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public."
   Wikipedia tells us: “The New York Times reported that special interests have "effectively turn[ed] ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes." Bloomberg BusinessWeek stated, "Part of ALEC's mission is to present industry-backed legislation as grass-roots work." The Guardian described ALEC as "a dating agency for Republican state legislators and big corporations, bringing them together to frame right wing legislative agendas in the form of 'model bills'." Several liberal groups, including Common Cause, have challenged its tax-exempt status.
   Well so what you say? What has ALEC got to do with anything?
   Everything. ALEC might as well have written S.B. 1456 themselves... as a matter of fact they effectively did, as they have done in many other states, including my own. ALEC and it’s members are wholeheartedly engaged in an ongoing attack on the advancement of renewable and sustainable energy to the detriment of our species. 
   There is good news. Although there were lots of legislative action, over 120 bills introduced across the country, the net effect seems to have been that the states chose to strengthen or modify their Renewable Portfolio Standards, not eliminate them in even one state.
   So Oklahoma couldn’t get away with eliminating renewable energy sources altogether, they’re just figuring out ways to slow it down at much as possible. 
   Anything else?
   This week the Mustang, Oklahoma school board voted to implement a Bible course developed by the president of Hobby Lobby, a Mr.Steve Green.
   I mean there’s a place for religious training, and it’s not in our public school system. The appropriate places are called churches, and what they used to call Sunday School. But who the hell is Steve Green to be introducing anything into a public school system? He owns a freaking chain store, so that means he gets to introduce his personal idealogy into our public schools?!
   In Oklahoma, and a nation that has recently been revealed to be oligarchy (a system of government ruled by a few wealthy individuals, and for their benefit) rather than a democracy we were all taught about in school, a democracy we fought and died for in world wars, a democracy we spilled our blood for in a civil war.  
   The notion of widespread income inequality tends to reinforce the oligarchy theory. And as always, the first step in correcting a problem, in getting our nation back from the Kochs, and Exxons, is that we need to be aware that the problem exists. 

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