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 Friday July 17, 2009
This week’s Oklahoma Forum offers Supreme Court coverage you won’t see anywhere else in Oklahoma - I would put it up against much of the week’s coverage of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings that you saw on the major news networks. We gathered three legal scholars, each from Oklahoma, with unique perspectives on the newest Supreme Court nominee and the nature of the legal interpretation done on the nation’s highest court.
Joseph Thai, law professor who has clerked for two Supreme Court justices; Art LeFrancois, law professor and author who has written two books about the U.S. Supreme Court; and Robert Spoo, law professor in Tulsa who actually clerked for Judge Sotomayor in 2001-2002 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Robert Spoo provided personal insight into the nominee, telling us that what you saw on television with her is what you get: a judge dedicated to law and the facts. He said while some have attacked her as bringing her personal opinions to the court, he did not find that to be the case at all. In fact, he told us that the selection of Judge Sotomayor to replace David Souter was a courageous one by President Obama, since it really isn’t known how she will rule on the major issues of the day, including abortion.
Art LeFrancois noted that the confirmation hearings actually tell us more about the Senators doing the questioning than the nominee. I think he’s right. Since the infamous confirmation hearing of Robert Bork, judicial nominees have said very little about their philosophy and personal lives. Adhering to the “rule of law” is the common answer. Nominees have learned that to say more is to invite trouble.
LeFrancois doesn’t think that helps the process, since nominees are often people virtually devoid of personality, lest they might appear to be injecting too much of themselves into their opinions. On that, it is fair to say that televised hearings have caused this “dumbing down” of the process. In the days when the hearings were not televised, and certainly before the Internet made information and misinformation-sharing more possible, nominees could have more opinions and Senators weren’t on a national stage vying for supporting actor roles. As Professor LeFrancois pointed out, the Senators use high-profile confirmation hearings to not just vet the nominee, but to boost their own bonafides with the home folk.
Having worked for two SCOTUS justices (Byron “Whizzer” White and John Paul Stevens), Joseph Thai knows a Supreme Court justice when he sees one, and he sees Sotomayor as a leader on the court. It’s a given she will be confirmed when the U.S. Senate votes in the first week of August, and Thai thinks she will be someone who will bring the gap between the so-called liberal and conservative wings of the court. Certainly, the addition of the first hispanic and only the third woman on the court will change the dynamic.
The latest word is that Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will seek a committee vote on Tuesday, July 21, although Republicans may try to push that vote back a week. Already, it appears that in addition to the panel’s Democrats, Judge Sotomayor may get the support of three of the seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee: Orin Hatch of Utah, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. As of Friday, the New York Times was reporting that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn might actually join them. Apparently, Senator Coburn came away impressed, despite being “deeply disturbed” by some of Judge Sotomayor’s statements.
One thing you won’t hear discussed on this Oklahoma Forum program is the Judge’s “wise Latina” comments. We’ve heard enough of that already, from everybody else. Rather, we address the broader issue of just what is appropriate for a judge to say and how much their personal life and experiences should influence their work on the bench. Our goal in this program was to take the longer view of what makes a good judge, and what we can learn from the confirmation process. It’s more about judges and the court than it is about one nominee. But about her, Robert Spoo provides a valuable perspective that beats a lot of what we learned from watching four days of Senate hearings.
Until next time,
(Above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Joseph Thai, Robert Spoo, Arthur LeFrancois)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Monday July 13, 2009
Oklahoma is getting ready to take a giant leap forward in bringing film, TV and commercial productions to the state, with the passage of SB 318. Governor Henry signed the bill and it went into effect on July 1. The new law will provide up to 37% cash back on Oklahoma expenditures made by qualified production companies. This brings Oklahoma into the league with New Mexico and Louisiana, which have provided tax incentives in the 25-35% range, much higher than Oklahoma’s previous percentage of 17%.
The law also lowers the threshold for qualifying for the incentive from a minimum budget of $500,000 to $50,000. This will help smaller film-makers. With “The Killer Inside Me” just finishing shooting in Oklahoma, it is interesting to note that the focus of the Oklahoma Film and Music office is more toward small and local productions. These are the kinds of productions that can provide steady work for Oklahoma personnel, thus keeping talent in-state. Keeping that talent here, rather than forcing it to move elsewhere, is critical in developing the ready workforce that is needed to have a viable film industry in the state.
Oklahoma’s music industry is also on the rise. More than a training ground for nationally-known stars, Oklahoma is becoming known for musical events, including classical, blues, jazz, bluegrass, country and rock. The success of Tulsa’s Dfest is remarkable, with more than 150 acts scheduled to appear. Dfest COO Angie Devore-Green says recent controversy over the Flaming Lips and the conservative nature of the state have been noticed by Hollywood and the musicial community. She says, it forces Oklahoma promoters to do some damage-control with some artists who are considering coming to Oklahoma, but that the situation is not insurmountable. With about 48 film and music festivals across the state, it is clear that the industry is healthy and growing.
If you want to know more about the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, click HERE. Also on that web page is a listing of film and music festivals across the state. VIdeo of this program is available on the Oklahoma Forum web site.
Until next time,
(Above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor; Brian Hearn, Film Curator of the Noble Theater of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art; and Alan Novey, Director of Photography for Field Guide. Angie Devore-Green, Chief Operating Officer of Dfest, is not pictured.)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Friday June 26, 2009
Health care is a little bit like the weather - everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. But, that comparison may be changing.
Since President Barack Obama’s recent speech to the American Medical Association, outlining the beginnings of his plan to reform the nation’s health care system, there has been explosion of interest in health care. Currently, there are two bills making their way through the U.S. Senate, one in the U.S. House and another that is sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. It is called “Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System,” and is authored by former U.S. Senators Howard Baker, Tom Daschle and Bob Dole.
On this week’s Oklahoma Forum program we discuss portions of that plan, and various ideas on how to cut the rapidly-increasing cost of health care in the United States. The plans that call for a “public option” to compete with private insurers is drawing the most attention. The “public option” would be a government-sponsored plan that would give consumers another choice in choosing their health care plan. Insurance companies are concerned that it would have unfair advantages by virtue of being supported by the weight of the U.S. government. They also fear it would drive some private insurers out of business.
Supporters of the plan point to a projected cost savings of 3 trillion dollars over the next ten years if the plan is based on reimbursements at Medicare levels. The Commonwealth Fund did the research, and they point out that the savings will actually come from slowing the growth of health care costs - what they call “bending the cost curve.”
There are many reasons the cost of health is high…and rising. But, our guests agreed one of the top cost-drivers is the large number of uninsured. People with insurance bear the costs of the uninsured through higher premiums, and many of those without insurance over-use hospital emergency rooms where the costs are higher. With little incentive for preventive care (which saves money), people without health insurance often wait until their conditions are more advanced before going to the emergency room, which results in more expensive treatment. There are about 46 million uninsured in the U.S.; 600,000 in Oklahoma. About 25 million are under-insured, nationwide.
On the state level, Insure Oklahoma has been a successful program that subsidizes medical premiums for small busineses and their qualified employees. Expansion of Insure Oklahoma and the SoonerCare program for children is one of the five elements of the Oklahoma State Coverage Initiative Strategic Plan, released this week.
One of the Senate plans adopts some portions of the Insure Oklahoma model, and proposes to insure 96% of all Americans. The sticking point has been the cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the plan would cost $1.6 Trillion over ten years. Negotiators have been working to reduce that cost and have apparently whittled it down to about $1 Trillion. Either way, that’s real money they’re talking about. Still the sentiment is growing on both sides of the political aisle to make changes.
Currently, about 16% of America’s Gross National Product (GNP) is spent on health care and that is expected to jump to 20% by 2018 (according to the Kaiser Foundation). And, how do we compare to other countries? We pay more for health care than any other industrialized country in the world and 52% more than Switzerland, which stands in second place. While health care here is very good for those who can afford it, many Americans get little bang for their health care bucks.
So, it’s a problem that’s not going away. It’s complicated and there are no easy answers. But, we hope Sunday’s program is the beginning of more dialogue here in Oklahoma. Be sure to watch and send us your comments.
Now, about the weather….
Until next time,
Pictured (l-r): Host Dick Pryor; Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland; Ken King, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association; and Mike Fogarty, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Thursday June 18, 2009
This week on Oklahoma Forum we shift to some lighter fare, with a discussion of tourism and recreation in Oklahoma. Debuting on the first day of summer, the program is about what’s new under the sun at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (the folks who promote Oklahoma and make sure experiencing Oklahoma attractions is enjoyable for people from in-state and out-of-state).
This week’s guests are Hardy Watkins, Executive Director of the Tourism and Recreation Department; Louisa McCune-Elmore, Editor in Chief of Oklahoma Today magazine; and Ron Stahl, reporter for the Discover Oklahoma program.
Hardy Watkins explained how the department is organized, how it’s funded and what it does to get out the word about traveling in Oklahoma. Ron talked about Oklahoma’s diverse state parks (he’s visited and written about a lot of them). And, Louisa discussed the mission of the award-winning Oklahoma Today magazine (one of the best magazines of its kind, bar-none). Funding is always an issue, and despite a budget cut, Watkins does not expect services to be slashed.
The Department has been improving facilities at state parks, some of which were built by the WPA in the 1930’s. And, Watkins said the move to sell the parks and golf courses has not been an issue recently. With the economy turning downward, “stay-cations” are expected to be very popular this year.
So, enjoy the show, enjoy the summer and enjoy Oklahoma this year. And, if you want to watch the show, remember it is available on OETA Main, OETA HD and OETA OKLA. Plus, click here to watch the program on-line.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Louisa McCune Elmore, Hardy Watkins)Add a comment
Written by Dick Pryor on Tuesday June 16, 2009
Our next Oklahoma Forum program is all about Oklahoma travel and tourism. Which made us wonder: What is your favorite Oklahoma travel location?
Catch the next new Oklahoma Forum program on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. All this week, be sure to watch Stem Cells and the New Frontier in Medical Research.Add a comment