Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Be Careful What You Vote For: Those Who Decry Big Government May Be Its Biggest Fans



Oklahoma’s own House Representative Ralph Shortey appeared on The Daily Show on April 11, 2012. Al Madrigal, a correspondent with Comedy Central’s hit show, interviewed Mr. Shortey about the effect of legislation introduced by Senator Constance Johnson. Mr. Shortey seemed unaware of his boys-will-be-boys permissive attitude in sharp contrast to a woman’s sovereignty over her own body and thus brought comment and derision upon himself.

Mr. Shortey agreed to be interviewed in support of Oklahoma’s version of the personhood bill, SB 1433, a bill that declares that life begins at conception, effectively removing any time period in which a woman may decide to terminate a pregnancy with an abortion. Basically SB 1433 denies women the freedom to choose what they will do with and for their bodies.

Senator Johnson introduced an amendment to SB 1433, one that would prohibit “any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina” because to do so “shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.” The amendment failed, and Shortey celebrated that fact.

In fact, Shortey scoffed at the amendment because it denies men free choice. Basically,” Shortey said, “the government is telling a man what he can and cannot do with his body.”

One would hope that a reckoning would dawn upon Shortey as he spoke these words, but apparently, he was unaware of or chose to ignore the hypocrisy and irony of his own words. He seemed comfortable defending a man’s right to answer biologically driven demands anywhere, any time, from the age of young teen to older adult, and comfortable defending a paternalistic government’s right to declare what women should and should not do.

And this is the heart of the insult within so-called personhood bills: while defending the personhood of unborn fetuses, legislatures, populated by a majority of men, offend the personhood of women, stripping them of the right to self-determine, declaring that legislators have the higher moral ground and a duty to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

Without doubt, abortion is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy over which most Americans grant women sovereignty. In fact, in 2011, 54% of Americans surveyed by Pew reported that women should have a legal right to choose abortion.

Men like Shortey decry big government yet assert that government needs to be big when the life of a fetus is at stake. He and others in his camp wish to legislate morals in the belief that their faith informs them and affords them the right to dictate the faith of a woman. He and others ignore the Constitutional privilege inferred from the First and Fourteenth (among others) amendments, or perhaps, more accurately, they choose to honor privacy and personhood for some and not others; e.g, for men and not women. Such uneven application of principles is not justice.

SB 1433 was not brought to the floor for a vote. State Representative Colby Schwartz, speaking for Republicans in the OK House of Representatives, on Sunday, April 22, 2012, during a program on News9, “Your Vote Counts,” explained that Oklahomans do not need legislation advanced by out-of-state interests (ALEC) so they declined to press for personhood. In my opinion, backers of the personhood legislation were “outed” by Senator Constance Johnson’s satirical amendment, by Ralph Shortey’s laughable performance on “The Daily Show,” and by public scrutiny in general. Those backers only made half-hearted attempts for the rest of the legislative session.

May the microscope continue to focus upon patriarchal, hypocritical legislation. May the public continue to press for justice, for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. May the Ralph Shorteys of the world grow wise; their apparent inability to reflect and evaluate threatens the general welfare.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Short-sighted Ralph Shortey: A Made in OK Legislator



Ralph Shortey of the Oklahoma House of Representatives appears to be misinformed or intentionally misleading. His public statements and policies lack the empathy, knowledge, and experience that would make him a thoughtful, responsible legislator, and as a mentor for Oklahoma's youth through the State's (YMCA) Youth and Government program, he should set a better example.

One proof of my claim about Mr. Shortey is that he has taken a stern, off-putting, and hyperbolic stand on immigration. On his web site “Ralph Shortey: State Senate Republican,” (http://shortyforsenate.com/index.php? pageID=7108_2), he or one of his staff writes that illegal immigration is the “number-one issue” facing south Oklahoma City because

·      “Drug lords and gang leaders see our inability to deal with illegal immigration as an open opportunity to expand their evil doings.”
·      “The illegal immigration problem has overloaded our schools to the point of bursting and has put a burden on our teachers that no one could expect them to thrive in. There are simply too many students, most of whom are from illegal families, than we can support through taxes and physical space. The effect is that every student suffers and many drop out because they cannot become educated and they see it as a waste of time.”
·      “As more illegal immigrants flood our state they also flood the ER’s and waiting rooms of our hospitals. Because of the compassion and unwillingness to see a fellow human being suffer, our hospitals treat and absorb the cost of those treatments. This is an undue burden on the hospitals and prices for treatments skyrocket for those of us who are law abiding citizens unwilling to get something for nothing, because in order to survive the hospitals must pass those costs onto those who will pay.”

According to a January 2012 report prepared by the CDC (Center for Disease Contol and Prevention), using municipal police reports for the period 2003-2008, Oklahoma City is indeed one of the top five cities where gang related violence and death occur. Nothing in this report places blame upon illegal immigrants; in fact, the greater proportion of those involved are black, not Latino, males. Furthermore, in April 2012, Oklahoma’s Own News9 online, provided an AP report revealing that the number of illegal immigrants has declined across the United States as a result of a failing economy, not Draconian anti-immigration ideas advanced by men such as Ralph Shortey.

Perhaps Mr. Shortey was unaware that municipal police forces could provide information that would have allowed him to be more accurate about “evil doings” in our community, but I fear that his true motive may be to play down accurate information in order to create a scapegoat for South Oklahoma City’s violence and hardship deriving more from chronic poverty, limited opportunities, racial antipathies, and a failed war on drugs than from illegal immigration.

Data also do not support Mr. Shortey’s claims that schools are overcrowded and “overloaded” by illegal immigrants. The Pew Hispanic Center, using 2010 Community Survey reports for the U. S. Census Bureau, informs us that only 13% of the student population in all OK schools is Hispanic, and 63% of all Hispanics in the State are native-born; i.e., legal U. S. citizens. Thus, illegal immigrants have not crowded into OK schools or overburdened schools, and Mr. Shortey’s web site should not make such a claim. That site was updated in 2012, the same year that the Pew Hispanic Center report was made available.

The Pew report also reveals that “in 2008, ‘Children of unauthorized immigrants are 6.8 percent of students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12,’ an increase from the 5.4 percent in 2003” (http://www.ajc.com/opinion/educating-illegal-immigrants-is-594092.html). In other words, in just five years, the percentage of all children born to illegal immigrants and enrolled in public schools increased only 1.4%--except in California where the number and percentage are greater. Perhaps Mr. Shortey has used California’s plight and rhetoric to declare a position on the education of illegal immigrants.

Whatever information, if any, that Mr. Shortey accessed, he has overstated the case and ignored other real problems that Oklahoma faces: underfunded schools, especially in poorer neighborhoods and districts; cutbacks in Oklahoma’s social net, preventing many children from being successful due to hunger and sickness; and cultural biases.

Finally, Mr. Shortey claims that Oklahoma hospitals treat uninsured illegal immigrants and pass the cost on to Oklahoma citizens, a claim that smacks of the “Nanny-state” lament heard in conservative circles. To be sure, Oklahoma does not abide the “Nanny-state” philosophy; in fact, laws passed in OK (May, 2008) prevent illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits; therefore, hospitals have no access  to federal money, including Medicaid, for reimbursement. OK mired itself in trouble by passing legislation that fosters health and good will for some, but not all humanity. Such action in international circles would be condemned as acts against human rights.

More important, most illegal immigrants, while uninsured, do not seek treatment, primarily because they fear deportation. In addition, “Because most illegal immigrants are relatively young and healthy, they generally don't need as much health care treatment as U.S. citizens, studies show. . . . they account for less than 2% of national medical spending” (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-01-21-immigrant-healthcare_N.htm). It appears that once again, Mr. Shortey has overstated the problem facing Oklahomans, failed to conduct any research whatsoever, or purposefully misled his constituents.

Good fiscal planning and policy require thorough analyses based upon available information. We need politicians and elected officers who will demand all of the information, pass it along to their constituents, and guide legislation that will serve the greatest number of people at the most conservative cost without starving one segment of the population or one public institution in order to prop up another whether it is Corporate America, the Chambers of Commerce, or public benefits.

Above all, public leaders must not stand on the shoulders of others in order to help a select group rise. That is what Atticus Finch, a fictional model for good governance, would demand of us, and that is what I demand of Mr. Shortey. He should cease and desist posting on his web site generalized assertions unsupported by data, and he should avoid the dangerous whirlpool of bias that threatens to drown all of us.

Next Week: Representative Shortey's views on personhood, privacy, men and women.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who Am I? More Importantly, Who Are We?



Please allow me to share some truths about myself. First, I confess that I still fall far short of Atticus Finch, the literary icon that set the standard for this blog. I try to follow Atticus’s advice and walk in the shoes of others, but I often fail.

Second, what empathy I possess informs me that I could be one of the poor, homeless or desperate citizens just as easily as I am not. No tornado has turned my home into toothpicks. Levies did not fail in my town, drowning my neighbors, carrying my beloved pet away, and fouling my child’s school with mold and rot. I have not withstood winds that blew as hurricanes do. I have never been diagnosed with cancer.

But my father was, and my daughter, at the age of 24, was. Because of their diagnoses, I know about the financial impact of cancer. Dad had Medicare to pay for palliative treatment; my daughter did not. She and her husband put buying a home on hold. They took out student loans so that he could finish law school, and they had to put off car repairs because of the monthly debt for life-saving, life-altering medications. She had great health insurance, but still, she had to pay several thousand dollars in just twelve months.

Now Congress continues to debate whether she should have the privilege of qualifying for health insurance because she has a pre-existing condition. Nothing about her lifestyle or choices brought her to that place. She is no more personally responsible for her disease and possible setbacks than folks who live where tornadoes and hurricanes blow or where oil companies have monumental accidents or where energy companies dig and delve, fracturing rock beds below in search of natural gas.

Third, I am Caucasian. Every day of my life, I have stepped into this universe of the United States enjoying the privileges of being white, privileges that I did not earn, by the way. Those privileges have come to me by accident of birth just as sorrows have come to others by accident of being born with brown skin, in Louisiana, or Haiti. I have done nothing special to be thought of so well, and this makes me humble.

Now as United States’ citizens stand across from each other, at opposite edges of a great chasm into which the principles of this nation may disappear, each side claiming the higher moral ground, we must take stock of ourselves. Does anyone, especially whites in America, “get ahead” by sheer grit and resolve? No, they do not. Elizabeth Warren pointed this out for all of us when she said that those with wealth and power surely took advantage of the nation’s infrastructure to transport goods that allowed them to grow a business. They made use of electricity and natural gas and Detroit and Silicon Valley and so much more in their pursuit of wealth and power. Many of them, including the powerful Koch and Bush brothers, stepped into their high status as a result of being born with that proverbial spoon in their mouths.

They needed and still need what is good for the entire population. They should be grateful to the nation that swaddled them as they grew in power, and they should be humble for the circumstances that nurtured their development. They have a duty to lead the 99%, not take advantage of it. They and we must cease immediately any and all efforts to marginalize, sacrifice, and ignore the social ills that plague us and prevent many from fulfilling their promise.

Together, the 100% must reach down and lift up the least among them regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. The success of all citizens enriches the nation’s productivity, innovation, and security. More important, every person has a right to exist where opportunities to excel are equally available, and those opportunities begin with sufficient food, safe and warm shelter, health, and education.

Above all, we must revive the vision of Helen Keller who said: “The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience.” Let us find our consciences and act in the interest of the general, greater good.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Content of Our Character Must Include Good Sportsmanship


When I stepped up to high school, I also stepped up to become a member of Pep Club, responsible for creating a devoted fan base for athletic contests. We were legion for football and basketball, but few of us rallied for the lesser sports: swimming, tennis, and baseball.

Even if our dedication was inconsistent, our behavior code was not. At all events, we wore school colors and if the Cheer squad sold pennants or poster buttons for the game, we wore those, too. More important than the colors of our clothing was letting the colors of our character blaze.

We never hissed or booed the opponents’ band as it took the field. We applauded enthusiastically before and after every half-time performance.

We never cheered if an opposing player was down on the field of play. We celebrated his sportsmanship when he rose to his feet and left to recover on the sidelines.

We shouted positive words, celebrating our team without demeaning or insulting the other players.

We left the stadium or gym amicably whether playing at home or away. Our teachers taught us to respect ourselves and others so we did so even if the game had been intense, even if the rivalry older than our low double-digit years.

When I became a teacher, I heard coaches, administrators, and club sponsors make the same speeches that I listened to as a student. For the most part, our students lived up to our expectations and demonstrated good sportsmanship.

So I must ask: what’s happened since high school to those attending political rallies, debates, and stump speeches? Many in attendance seem to have forgotten the lessons of sportsmanship. They boo when their guy speaks the name of the other guy.  They cheer at the notion that some people should just be left to die if they don’t have health insurance because government is just too dang big and government should never play a role in saving lives if it must spend their tax dollars to do so. Death threats and shows of intimidation, including openly bearing arms, have become familiar to those of us who watch news feeds.

And all of this divisive noise drives us further from the real concerns we ought to consider. The media never take up the content of the crowd's character. They are, both left and right, like that dog in the animated movie, “Up,” easily distracted by bright, shiny objects: by discontent, by hints of disobedience and dissatisfaction, by squirrels running up trees to hide in the leaves. Instead of discussing the merits of health insurance and government’s role, they play and replay the lurid moment when some folks cheered for the deaths of fellow citizens. Instead of discussing ideological differences between economic paths to economic health for the nation, the media chase tales from Columbia, birth certificates in Hawaii, and dog care, both Donkey and Elephant-style.

Voters, I admonish you to return to the behaviors of high school, when someone was watching and might make a note in your permanent record. Show some class, please. Above all else, respect yourself enough not to snark, threaten, or wish for the fall of others for we are all prone to error and may need help from others, even organized as government, to pull us from the depths.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let Freedom Reign in the Peace You Make With and For Each Other


In To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert E. Lee Ewell struts about Maycomb, Alabama like a man who has earned the respect of his neighbors. He expects to be treated well because he belongs to the group held in high regard: white people during the sorrowful days of segregation.

What readers recognize is how undeserving Bob actually is. He is a chronic hanger-on, dependent upon public money. His home is quite literally the town dump where odors and vermin play, hardly the home for a large family for which he does not provide. Worse, there is no mother for the children even mentioned or missed, casting doubt upon the children’s parentage. Mayella Ewell, the oldest child, cares for her siblings and scavenges for household goods among the town’s discards. She scrapes together the resources to plant a few begonias, one futile gesture in a life devoid of beauty.

When Bob and Mayella become collateral damage in Atticus’s efforts to defend and free an innocent man, Tom Robinson, Bob takes offense, even going so far as to spit on Atticus. His son, Jem, wishes that Atticus would fight back, but Atticus explains his pacifist stand, saying, “Jem see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute.  I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.  The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.  He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that household full of children out there.”

Readers admire Atticus for his insight, his forbearance, and his empathy for poor Mayella, a liar equal to her father in condemning Tom Robinson. Atticus possesses a strength of character to which most of us aspire, and that is one reason he is so heroic and beloved.

Readers soon know, however, that Atticus underestimated Bob Ewell. He was not content just to spit and spew vitriol. In stealth, he pursued those who had participated in his shame, the judge and Atticus, even attacking Atticus’s two children, proving that words can and often do precipitate violence.

And that is what brings me to Ted Nugent and others of his ilk. They have a right to speak filth and ignorance. The Constitution guarantees them that right., and I would not wish to rewrite the Consitution, but a legal interpretation of limits upon that right include censoring those who endanger others with their words. The classic example of such censorship uses the word “Fire!” A citizen may not shout “fire” in a crowded theater because many people will panic, harming themselves and others in their desperate flight to safety.

I contend that Ted Nugent’s words, hereafter reluctantly repeated to identify what he said, are tantamount to screaming “Fire!” Speaking before a large gathering of National Rifle Association members, Nugent said: “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” perhaps hinting that someone may have to pry his cold, dead fingers from his gun because he will fight to the death if someone tries to take it from him or perhaps hinting at some revolutionary act of violence against the outcome of a legal election.

The context, a gathering of NRA members, makes Nugent’s words particularly alarming because the NRA can be directly tied to misstatements, hyperbole, Stand Your Ground laws, and outright paranoia. Thus, it follows that at least some of its membership may be misled, defensive, and paranoid. Lest you believe I am guilty of misstating the case myself, I refer you to CPAC, September 2011 and the words of NRA President Wayne LaPierre who said that the President privately plans to control and/or ban guns and warns members not to believe President Obama’s public remarks. According to LaPierre, who must be prescient, the President’s public statements about the Second Amendment and guns are a “big, fat, stinking lie.” LaPierre offers no evidence whatsoever, and neither does Nugent for his outrage.

Both men and some Tea Party affiliates seem to believe that a baseless offense is the best defense against their own fears and ignorance. Refusing even to grant our president the respect that is his due, Nugent et al refer to the president by his last name only. They fall back upon the old insults, some of which surfaced when African-Americans tried to engage in the political process by voting. Those insults included a demand for proof of the President’s birthright to serve. Even after seeing the certified legal document, they still raise the specter of the President’s illegitimacy to hold office.

Nugent and his clones question the very soul of President Obama, sowing doubt and reaping opposition as they wonder if the President is as Christian as he says he is or even Christian at all. One woman rose before Candidate Rick Santorum and professed her hatred for the President because he is a Muslim, and Santorum, supposedly because she was old, did not correct her or defend the President as was his duty as a United States citizen.

Once upon a time, no man would have dared to carry and display a weapon at a political rally. Several did during the campaign before the 2008 and 2010 elections. Once upon a time, the Ted Nugents would have had a degree of conscience and would not have uttered veiled threats against a public official, especially the official in the White House. Once upon a time, innuendo and gossip would never be held up as news, repeated hourly for the uninformed to hear and absorb, as it was when LaPierre spoke.

Once upon a time, no decent citizen would have rallied behind Rush Limbaugh as he called for sex tapes from a law student, and once upon a time, none of us would have heeded Glen Beck’s ramblings and bought gold at inflated prices from a company charged with fraud; they would have recognized both flim and flam together in a flim-flam come-on. Finally, once upon a time, citizens would have worried about the power of words to inflame the sick, weak, and unbalanced. Representative Gabby Giffords suffers because citizens did not condemn such language or seek help for a disturbed citizen.

Now Nugent spits fire, and no one objects. Nugent is not even as decent as curmudgeonly John McCain who came to Candidate Obama’s defense when Palin’s devotees cried words of death about the Democratic candidate. Nugent is more like the 2012 Republican candidates who have heard violent, hateful speech during their debates and have said nothing to restore peace. They have let the applause and hoots speak, and their silence is tacit endorsement.

Readers, citizens, listeners, Progressives, Liberals, Conservatives, Tea-Party patriots, Republicans, ditto-heads, and all: curb your vicious tongues. Let freedom reign in the peace you make with and for each other.

Oh, and don’t spend a penny on a concert where Ted Nugent will appear. Speak with your pockets; it’s a powerful voice.