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The Sheet

The Blog for Oklahoma Forum

Oklahoma's weekly, statewide discussion program, Oklahoma Forum, provides civil, meaningful discussion of news and issues that impact citizens statewide. Hosted by Emmy Award-winning journalist Dick Pryor and produced by Emmy Award-winner Mickie Smith, Oklahoma Forum is more than sound bites and spin. It is purpose-driven television - seeking answers, providing insight – about life in Oklahoma and its people.

2010 Oklahoma Politics

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday November 6, 2009

This has been a busy week in politics. Among the stories in the news:

* The U.S. House of Representatives is nearing a vote on a health reform bill.
* “Tea party” protesters descended on the U.S. Capitol to oppose health reform and other government policies.
* Republicans won gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey (for the first time since 1997).
* A Democrat won the New York 23 congressional seat (for the first time since the Civil War).
* Incumbent New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, won a third term by spending $100 million and getting a surprisingly low 51% of the vote.

Here in Oklahoma:

* U.S. Senator Tom Coburn asked for support as he began the race for his “second and final term to the United States Senate.”
* The State Capitol saw protests of reduced funding for senior nutrition centers and the new Oklahoma abortion reporting requirements law (which has not yet gone into effect, pending a December 4 hearing on a temporary restraining order).
* Governor Brad Henry has hinted at a special session to address the state’s “budget crisis” (which will dominate the 2010 legislative regular legislative session.

It was a good week to talk politics on Oklahoma Forum. Our guests are Gary Jones, State Chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party; Keith Gaddie, Political Science Professor at the University of Oklahoma and prolific author, whose new book is “The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South"; and State Representative Scott Inman (D) Del City, who is the Democratic Leader-elect in the House of Representatives.

We had a wide-ranging and fast-paced discussion of the changing political tides in Oklahoma (the state is becoming more Republican in rural areas, more Democratic in the major urban areas, and independents are on the increase), the status of the party’s “brand” and early election strategy, and a little preliminary handicapping of the 2010 campaign. Republicans, alerady firmly in control of the state House and Senate and Congressional delegation, have a great opportunity to make gains in the statewide elected offices, with only four incumbents (3 Democrats, 1 Republican) standing for re-election to their current office (out of 9 seats on the ballot). The reddest of the red states seems to be going even redder. (Republicans recently took back the House Dist. 55 seat in a special election, with Todd Russ winning the seat relinquished by Democrat Ryan McMullen.) Democrats, meanwhile, face the daunting task of holding on to the statewide offices they currently control while hoping to avoid getting dragged down by the declining attitude toward Democrats on the national level.

This program will no doubt be the first of many featuring government officials and political strategists in the coming year, as OETA kicks off its coverage of the 2010 elections. Take a look and let us know what you think about what 2010 will hold in Oklahoma politics. Click HERE to see the video.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Gary Jones, Keith Gaddie, Rep. Scott Inman)

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Health Reform

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday October 30, 2009

It’s been a newsworthy week in the health reform debate. Word comes from U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that she is pushing for a public option in the House (although a “robust” public option plan may not get the 218 votes needed to pass that body). And, U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid rocked Washington with his announcement that the health care bill coming out of the Senate would have a public option component. Then, came word that Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman would join Republicans in filibustering the Senate bill promoted by Reid. And, Senator Olympia Snowe reiterated her opposition to a public option, favoring instead a “trigger” that would set a threshhold to be crossed before any kind of public option plan is enacted.

Those are the highlights out of Washington. Here in Oklahoma, there is still concern over rising co-pays, deductibles and insurance premiums, and the cost of the state’s more than 600,000 uninsured. The State Insurance Department estimates that those uninsured and underinsured cost the state and its health insurance policy-holders $954 million per year. Also, health insurance premium costs are causing the state’s business community to pay more, or drop or reduce coverage available to their employees. The effect of the rising costs is widespread.

With that as a backdrop, we tackled health reform this week on Oklahoma Forum, with our guests: Stan Hupfeld, President and CEO of Integris Health; Matt Robison, Vice President of Small Business and Workforce Development for the State Chamber; and Dr. Boyd Shook, State Director of Doctors for America.

Interestly, our guests agreed reform is needed and didn’t seem at all far apart on how to achieve the goal of increased coverage, reduced cost and fiscal responsibility. As we do on all our shows, our goal was to provide more light than heat. Ours is a discussion centering on the issues, not the politics of health care reform. There will plenty of time for the political discussion. Perhaps even next week, when our dialogue will look ahead to the 2010 elections. But, for now, we are trying to push the health care debate forward, with a bill likely to reach President Obama’s desk by the end of the year.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Stan Hupfeld, Matt Robison, Dr. Boyd Shook.)

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The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday October 23, 2009

The United States has been fighting the war in Iraq for six and a half years; in Afghanistan for just over eight years (off and on). Now, the war in Iraq is winding down, with the northern part of the country secure and American troops withdrawing from the nation’s cities and towns. How long and how strong the American presence will continue to be there is still unknown.

Afghanistan now poses the more serious threat. The government of President Hamid Karzai is unraveling into illegitimacy. The August 20th presidential election was fraught with irregularities; the fraud causing votes to be thrown out, forcing Karzai under the 50% needed for election and forcing a runoff with top challenger Abdullah Abdullah to be held on November 7. And, the Taliban are staging a resurgence that threatens the stability of the war-torn country.

Stability is a concern, too, in Pakistan, where the Taliban is posing an increased threat. Pakistani troops are now waging an offensive in South Waziristan, in the western part of Pakistan, in order to root out the Taliban and stop the insurgency. Suicide bombings are becoming more common in Pakistan (the latest one, today, killed seven) as Taliban insurgents have staged attacks across the country recently in retaliation for the military offensive against Islamic militants along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

All this, as unrest and violent protests are increasing in Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, along with the U.S., France and Russia are working on an agreement to ensure that Iran’s uranium does not become weapons-graded enriched. On Wednesday, Iran accepted a draft agreement that would transfer most of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile out of the country. The deal would reduce Iran’s enriched uranium to the extent that it would be up to a year before it would have enough to produce the weapons grade uranium needed for a nuclear weapon.

With all of this as the backdrop, our BIG TOPIC on Oklahoma was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. strategy for the region. Our guests were Dr. Don Betz, President of Northeastern State University and a former United Nations consultant concentrating in Middle East affairs; Dr. Joshua Landis, Co-Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and associate professor of International and Area Studies; and Edwin Corr, former U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Bolivia and El Salvador and former professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.

We discussed the situation in Afghanistan, including General Stanley McChrystal’s plan to add up to 40,000 American troops, and the the possible U.S. strategy to stabilize the region. This is not a military strategy discussion, but one largely about diplomacy. For, even under General McChrystal’s proposal, diplomacy is a critical part. McChrystal’s plan is three-fold: (1) to provide security to the Afghan people, (2) to rebuild the nation and its infrastructure, and (3) capture and elimination of Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents and terrorists. Our guests suggested that the Obama administration use caution and careful deliberation as it considers whether to adopt General McChrystal’s plan or develop another course of action.

It is an enlightening program, and illustrates there are no easy solutions to some intractable problems in the region. Thanks for watching, and let us know what you think.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Don Betz, Johsua Landis, Edwin Corr)

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Urban Schools

Written by Dick Pryor on Thursday October 15, 2009

About an eighth of all the students in Oklahoma Public schools attend Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools, the two “urban” districts in the state. This week’s guests on Oklahoma Forum are the two superintendents of those mega-districts, Dr. Keith Ballard (Tulsa) and Karl Springer (Oklahoma City). Springer and Ballard, together, have spent almost 70 years in public education, but have been in their demanding, new positions just about a year, give or take a few weeks.

Because they face many of the same issues, they often work together and have become close. Each district is a majority-minority district, which means that a majority of the students are from ethnic minorities, and each has more than 80% of its students who qualify for free- or reduced-cost meals. Each also has several schools on the “needs improvement” list. During the program, they discussed strategies they are implementing to improve student achievement and outcomes.

Ballard and Springer are both interested in pursuing expanded learning time initiatives that provide students more time for enrichment. They recently visited Boston to learn how Massachusetts is instituting a similar plan, which is earning strong reviews. Students perform better in school when they participate in such classes and activities, and Springer and Ballard appear eager to launch changes in their districts. It makes sense that Oklahoma’s urban district would lead the way in moving from the status-quo, since their districts are rapidly changing. And, while charter schools provide promise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, they are looking for ways to improve the educational experience for all their students.

We will follow up this program with an Oklahoma Forum in which the BIG TOPIC is rural schools. Expect that program sometime early next year. As always, we encourage your comments about the program on The Sheet. I’d like to hear from you what you think about our Oklahoma schools and how they are doing. Thanks for watching.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured: Host Dick Pryor and Karl Springer. Keith Ballard is in the monitor (he was in our Tulsa studio).

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Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday October 9, 2009

There are signs that child abuse and neglect may be dropping in Oklahoma, but the state still ranks near the bottom of all the states. In the 2009 Kids Count Data Book, Oklahoma is rated 44th in the nation in child well-being. The state is in the bottom 25% in infant mortality (#40), teen deaths (#40), and child deaths (#45). The state saw 51 deaths attributed to child abuse or neglect last year and according to Kids Count saw more than 13,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect.

The Department of Human Services has been developing new strategies to improve those figures, with some demonstrated success. However, it takes more than DHS to handle this problem. Our guests discussed the need for various services to the parents and nurturing for the children.

Fortunately, the egregious cases that are often reported by those of us in the media are rare. What is not rare is neglect. DHS reports that 83.7% of the cases it handles are for neglect. It should be no surprise that the leading type of neglect is substance abuse by a caretaker, with 19.7% of the confirmed cases. Threat of harm is second at 18.90%, and failure to protect is third at 17.7%.

Child abuse, defined as non-accidental physical injury, accounts for only 12.01% of confirmed cases, while sexual abuse is even less prevalent, at 4.26% according to the latest figures released from DHS. Interestingly, abusers are more likely to be women (presumably mothers of the children) and boys and girls are abused and neglected at an almost identical rate. Oklahoma has a high percentage of abuse and neglect in its black and American Indian communities.

A theme that emerged from our discussion was that of lack of access to services and poverty. They are key indicators of an environment that may be ripe for abuse and neglect of children. And, while behaviors may indicate abuse, the most telling signs of abuse are actually the visual signs of bruises, welts and abrasions.

Another problem that faces Oklahomans, in particular, is access to quality health services. In a new, state by state survey of health systems (including the District of Columbia), Oklahoma ranks 50th. That is next-to-last, only ahead of Mississippi. The problem is that with such a low priority on health care from Oklahoma families, the state’s children are likely to suffer, too.

I encourage you to watch the program for a lively discussion with our guests: Dr. Mark Chaffin, Director of Research for the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Annette Wisk Jacobi, Chief of Family Support and Prevention Service for the Oklahoma Department of Health; Micah Stirling, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Oklahoma; and Linda Terrell, Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families.

For more information, go to the links on the Oklahoma Forum web page. We have provided several links there that should help answer many of your questions.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Annette Wisk Jacobi, Linda Terrell, Micah Stirling, Dr. Mark Chaffin)

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