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.
Written by Dick Pryor on Monday October 5, 2009
October is Energy Awareness Month. It’s an ideal time to talk about how to save energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the typical home loses more than 25% of its heat through windows. Homeowners also see energy lost through vampire power (leaving your appliances plugged in even while not in use), lack of weather stripping, excess use of water, using appliances that are not Energy Star compliant, and more. Our guests this week on Oklahoma Forum discussed ways you can reduce your energy consumption and save money. This is especially timely because of the oncoming cold, winter weather. And, by saving on energy use, we can help protect the environment.
This week’s guests are: Sean Griffin, President of Sustainable Tulsa; Lorrie Hoefling, President, Oklahoma US Green Building Council; Kelly Parker, President, Guaranteed Watt Saver (GWS); and Jason Fisher, Associate, ICF International.
There are lot of good tips and resources available from this program. It’s not a hard-hitting issue, but the information is important for all of us.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Lorrie Hoefling, Jason Fisher, Kelly Parker. Sean Griffin is not pictured.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday September 25, 2009
There are no easy answers, but plenty of tough questions. With declining state revenues, Oklahoma legislators have already slashed the FY 2010 budget and more cuts are likely. All state agencies have been forced to take a 5% across-the-board cut in monthly allotments for July and August because state revenue collections have fallen below projections. The 2010 legislative session doesn’t begin until February, but already lawmakers are starting to develop a strategy to keep the state running while short on cash.
This week, four leading legislators discuss the situation and what to do about it. Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan, D-Prague, and Senate Democratic Leader-Elect Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City offered their views on the worst state financial situation since 2003 (and one of the worst in history).
Six hundred million dollars is the key figure to remember. That’s about how much the 2010 budget was reduced from the 2009 level, the amount of federal stimulus dollars the state has had to factor in, and the amount of money in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The Rainy Day Fund is full and intact; about half of the federal stimulus dollars are still available to use in next year’s budgeting.
Legislative leaders and the governor have refrained from tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, hoping that the economy will rebound. It appears the chances of a special session are growing smaller. The leaders are hopeful that September revenue collections will show better (thanks to corporate taxes) and October will improve (due to the last of this year’s personal income tax payments). Then, with the holidays coming, an increase in sales could help tax collections in November and December. Of course, the key revenue stream is the gross production tax, and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen there.
With the prices of oil and natural gas low, production has slowed and the state treasury has taken a big hit. August gross production taxes on natural gas were 78.5% below August, 2008 and 69.9% below the estimate. State sales taxes, motor vehicle taxes, net income taxes, and investment earnings all fell below estimates. Plus, General Revenue fund collections for July and August fell 29.1% below 2008 levels, resulting in a loss of $209.7 million for the 2-month period.
It is still a strong possibility that more cuts are coming, and there is no expectation of any tax increases. That’s especially hard to do in Oklahoma due to the constraints of SQ 640, and is virtually impossible to advance in an election year. There were no specific cuts mentioned in the discussion, or bombshells dropped, but it’s a solid program with the first extended discussion of the state’s budget crisis with top legislative leaders. How they resolve the state’s financial problems will likely have a significant impact on the state’s future and the services that are offered to each Oklahoma citizen for some time to come.
Take a look and let us know what suggestions you have for weathering the budget storm. Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
(Picture above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Sen. Glenn Coffee, Sen. Andrew Rice, Rep. Danny Morgan, Rep. Chris Benge.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday September 18, 2009
New figures show that Oklahoma continues to be number one in more than football. The state is also number one in the nation in the rate of incarceration of women. Five years ago, Oklahoma’s rate of female incarceration was 131 per every 100,000 in population. Recently, that number has risen to 134. It’s a small increase to be sure, and the total is certainly a lot less than it was 10-15 years ago. But, what makes that number striking is its comparison to the national average. Oklahoma’s rate is almost double the average of all the other states. Why is it that the rest of the nation incarcerates 69 women for every 100,000 in population, while Oklahoma is at 134?
That’s the big question on this week’s Oklahoma Forum program. The bigger question is what to do about it. While only about 10% of Oklahoma’s prison population is female, the cost is considerably greater to keep a woman in prison than it does to incarcerate a man. Around $5,000 per year more. Women are more likely to come to prison in poor health, suffering from physical and mental problems more than men. Some have never been to a dentist. Some are pregnant. Many have been the victim of domestic abuse.
Remarkably, around 70% of women in prison in Oklahoma are non-violent offenders. It’s been estimated that only ahout 25% of the women in Oklahoma prisons and jails really should be there to protect public safety. A very high percentage of the women in prison in our state are there on drug offenses - possession, manufacturing and distribution. They need treatment (which works for many), but right now, in part because of Oklahoma’s habitual offender law, they are warehoused behind bars.
In addition to the cost to the state in hard dollars, there is also the cost to society and the state’s children and families. That’s a figure that is hard to calculate, and is too often ignored. The ripple effect of incarceration affects entire communities in many ways.
With that as a backdrop, this week’s program provides a glimpse into the criminal justice system and how we as a state treat women who have run afoul of the law. Our guests are Justin Jones, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections; Dr. Susan Sharp, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma; and Dr. Jean Warner, Chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition. They see that treatment programs and alternative sentencing are working, but the problem still lingers. And, with revenue shortfall-induced cuts in the budgets of state agencies a sobering reality, offender services and programs may face reductions or elimination in order for the Department of Corrections to make ends meet. The state will likely be forced into making some hard decisions about how it needs to handle the female prison population going forward.
For more information, we recommend reading the report issued by the Special Task Force for Women Incarcerated in Oklahoma, which was released on January 5, 2004. And, we sure to watch this week’s program, when the BIG TOPIC is “Women Behind Bars.” The program airs on OETA MAIN at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday and will be seen additional times on OETA OKLA, beginning at 7:30 on Sunday night. It will also be available on the Oklahoma Forum web site.
Until next time,
(Picture above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Justin Jones, Dr. Jean Warner, Dr. Susan Sharp.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Monday September 14, 2009
Some server problems prevented us from getting the Oklahoma Forum web site and The Sheet updated until now, but that’s not all bad. It’s given us time to digest the brand-new research from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The results of Pew’s poll provide sobering news for the news media: increasingly, people don’t believe us.
The poll’s headline says it: “Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low.” The poll shows that 63% of Americans surveyed think that news stories are often inaccurate. In 1985, when Pew first asked that question, only 34% believed that news stories were inaccurate. Obviously, that’s a huge shift, but there’s more. About 60% now say that news organizations are politically biased, and 74% believe stories tend to favor one side one of an issue, that’s up 8% from just two years ago.
What is not a surprise is that partisan politics strongly affect the evaluations. A significant majority of Republicans (72%) view Fox News favorably, while only 43% of Democrats feel the same way. Democrats rate CNN more favorably than Republicans, 75-44%, and Democrats also rate MSNBC much higher than Republicans do, 60-34%. Looking at print media, Democrats and Independents view the New York Times favorably (Democrats are 5 times more likely to like the Times than not), while Republicans view the Times negatively by a 2-1 margin. (The poll points out that most Americans are not familiar enough with the Times to have an opinion, which illustrates another problem that we won’t get into here.)
Republicans prefer the Wall Street Journal almost as much as Fox News, although Democrats generally have a good impression of the Journal, too. There’s good news for public broadcasting in the poll. Fully 44% of the people have a positive opinion of NPR, with only 12% having a negative opinion and 44% unable to rate or did not know. (Before you say that 44% “can’t rate” number shows that NPR is just not very well known, note that 54% could not rate the New York Times and 55% could not rate the Wall Street Journal.)
Bias issues aside, it is troubling that 70% of respondents now think that news organization cover up their mistakes, up from 63% in 2007 and 55% in 1985, and only 18% now think that news organizations deal fairly with all sides, compared to 34% in 1985. Also, increasingly, media consumers believe news organizations are not professional and are often influenced by powerful people. Republicans have these negative views much more than Democrats.
It’s because of the growing dissension over news coverage that we put together Sunday’s Oklahoma Forum program. Our guests were John Durkee, News Director of KGWS Radio in Tulsa (Public Radio at the University of Tulsa); Mark Hanebutt, Professor of Media Law and Ethics at the University of Central Oklahoma; Jerry Bohnen, News Director of KTOK Radio in Oklahoma City; and Blaise Labbe, Director of Online Content for Griffin Communications (owner of KOTV in Tulsa and KWTV in Oklahoma City). They discussed some of the issues that we in the mainstream media are concerned about in trying to report the news in a time when more and more people don’t trust us and media consumers are having a difficult time telling the difference between news and opinion (made more problematic by the proliferation of hyperbolic talk programs and bloggers).
Some common threads emerged through the course of our discussion. Each organization is trying to present facts that allow its media consumers to find the truth. As journalists our goal is to seek the truth and, as Blaise Labbe put it, give voice to the voiceless. Lively discussion goes on daily in newsrooms as news people determine how best to serve the public with reliable information. We realize we cannot satisfy everyone, especially because, as Jerry Bohnen suggested, there are no truly objective journalists. Everything media organizations report must pass through filters as we determine such things as relevance, timeliness, accuracy, legality, context, fairness, and appropriateness. Consistent with the Pew poll results, John Durkee added that viwers and listeners usually determine fairness and accuracy of news reports based on whether it squares with their own views. And, with numerous ways to write and edit a story, there is always the chance that someone will take exception. We in the media realize that doesn’t mean the report is necessarily “biased,” but just may look different than what some people wanted or expected it to look like. Our discussion showed that newsgathering and presentation is an inexact science that is constantly changing. And, as Mark Hanebutt said, we may have to re-think the entire system. There are many questions, and few answers, let alone easy answers.
Check it out and give us YOUR comment.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: John Durkee, Mark Hanebutt, Jerry Bohnen, Blaise Labbe)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday September 4, 2009
New figures released today (Sept. 4) by the U.S. Labor Department show that unemployment jumped in August to 9.7%, a 26-year high. That’s an increase from 9.4% in July. The net loss was 216,000 in the month, the fewest jobs lost in one month since August, 2008. A total of 276,000 lost their jobs in July, 2009.
In Oklahoma, the number of unemployed is about 112,000, not including those who are no longer actively looking for a job. While the Oklahoma unemployment rate of 6.5% is considerably lower than in many states, that figure is more than than double the 3.2% rate early in 2008, according to Lynn Gray, Chief Economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Gray was one of the guests on this week’s Oklahoma Forum program, airing Sunday, Sept. 6 at 1:00 p.m. on OETA. “On the job in Oklahoma” also featured Dr. Phil Berkenbile, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and Norma Noble, Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Workforce Development, Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
They discussed how Oklahoma’s economy is changing, and how displaced workers must begin retraining for the new, more diversified economy that Oklahoma is moving toward. Dr. Berkenbile said the biggest growth area he is seeing is in health care. It is also a sector where wages are expected to be high. Dr. Berkenbile also believes that Oklahomans’ diligence will serve them well coming out of the current economic recesssion, giving Oklahoma a chance to come back stronger than ever.
Norma Noble said the Department of Commerce is working to bring new businesses and jobs to the state, but is also helping employers to stabilize to keep jobs in the state. She added that the saying “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” has some relevance, in that it can lead to innovative solutions and a stronger future.
Anyone wanting to know more about the Oklahoma workforce and the changing Oklahoma job market should watch this program, and check out the resources here. Happy Labor Day!
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Dr. Phil Berkenbile, Norma Noble, Lynn Gray)Add a comment