MORE than 1.1 million visitors spent $17.2 million and supported 176 jobs at Oklahoma’s three national parks in 2013.
Didn’t know Oklahoma had any national parks? We don’t, at least not by that name. The above figures from the National Park Service relate to NPS-affiliated sites in Cheyenne, the Sulphur area and Oklahoma City. The first is a national battlefield historic site, the second is a national recreation area and the third is a national memorial. Only the second comes close to being a park in the traditional sense.
Every state in the nation except Delaware has an NPS-affiliated site, but only about half the states have an actual national park. Oklahoma hasn’t had one since the 1970s, when the former Platt National Park in Sulphur was folded into the management of the nearby Arbuckle National Recreation Area and renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Platt had functioned as a recreational area since five years before Oklahoma became a state.
Attendance and spending at the three sites was down last year because of the 16-day government shutdown in October. This affected most NPS sites, resulting in an overall drop in attendance and economic benefits from national parks nationwide.
An NPS-commissioned study on the economic effects of national parks seems designed to warn against future government shutdowns. The 2013 shutdown was politically tone deaf and seems pointless in retrospect, but most taxpayers understand that federal spending can’t continue growing as it has — even if it means reduced budgets for national parks.
A worthwhile talk
Returning to society after leaving prison is a major challenge for offenders. For those suffering from mental illness, the challenges are even greater. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services plans to explore some of those challenges in the first installment of its fall lecture series. The title of the lecture, by New York attorney and social worker Henry Dlugacz, is “The Offender with Mental Disabilities: Critical Issues in Correctional Mental Health and Planning for Successful Re-entry.” Dlugacz has spent most of his 30-year career in this area. He’s a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at New York Medical College and a partner in a New York law firm. His talk will be at noon Aug. 26, at the Oklahoma History Center. The issue is particularly relevant in Oklahoma given that about half of all state inmates have a history of, or now exhibit, some form of mental illness. Kudos to DHS for advancing the conversation.
Watch what you say
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy told the Tampa Tribune that if he were still in the business, he wouldn’t have drafted Missouri defender Michael Sam. Sam made it known before the draft that he’s gay. His selection by the St. Louis Rams in the waning moments of the final round became a sensation. Dungy said in the Tribune that if he were coaching today, he wouldn’t want to deal with the attendant distractions. This became a sensation of its own, with critics howling and Dungy’s remarks getting dissected every which way. And, naturally, in these uber politically correct times, Dungy felt compelled to issue a clarification — which earned further scorn from some because he didn’t change his mind. All those doing the screaming could take a lesson from Sam. “Thank God he wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach,” he said, laughing, after a practice this week. Sam also said he had “great respect” for Dungy and “like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.” But if those opinions are “wrong,” watch out.
Voters tuning out, not turning out
People may be unhappy with the direction of this country, but they’re not so upset that they’re actually voting, according to a Center for the Study of the American Electorate analysis of turnout in primary elections this year. The center found that more than half the states to hold primary elections have seen record low turnouts. Of the nearly 123 million voters eligible to cast ballots in primaries, only 18 million have done so. Participation in Democratic primaries declined 29 percent nationally compared with 2010, while Republican participation declined 15 percent. Oklahoma, however, has been an exception. The U.S. Senate primary race between former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, helped fuel record turnout in the GOP primary. Even so, that “record” involved roughly 10 percent of those eligible to vote. That’s not much to brag about.
Pumping up envy
World events have diverted Barack Obama from his income inequality tour of late, but others are happy to stand in for the president. A USA Today op-ed this week was headlined, “Jesus might not approve of a society where the top 1 percent get paychecks that dwarf others.” We’ve never quite gotten the argument that 99 percent of us would be better off if 1 percent of us was paid less. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson got a 15 percent pay bump last year to just over $40 million. This was his reward for leading the company to a $44.9 billion profit in 2012. Obviously, Tillerson’s pay dwarfs that of the average ExxonMobil employee. So let’s say he worked for free for a year and donated his pay to the other employees. Each ExxonMobil worker would get a pay bump. How much? About $488. When tax cuts save households that much money, liberals say it’s too insignificant to make it worthwhile. But tax cuts keep going, year after year. Tillerson’s hypothetical gift would be a one-time bump.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP nominee Mitt Romney took some flak for owning six homes, including a sea-view spot in La Jolla, Calif. This was alleged proof that Romney was out of touch with average Americans. But it turns out Romney lives a modest lifestyle compared with left-wing provocateur Michael Moore. Divorce papers reveal Moore owns nine properties in Michigan and New York, including a Manhattan condo that once was three apartments and a lakefront mansion. Moore, who has made an estimated $50 million, routinely bashes capitalism in his “documentaries” and portrays himself as a voice of low-income workers. Romney honestly credits his success to the benefits of free-market capitalism. Moore is just a hypocrite. He bashes the top “1 percent” while living the lifestyle of the top one-tenth of 1 percent — all thanks to the capitalist system he claims to detest.
In June, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, issued a 119-page report noting longstanding mismanagement, neglect and cover-up at the troubled federal Department of Veterans Affairs. That report also rapped the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for holding just two oversight hearings since 2010. Would additional hearings have forced improvement at the VA? It appears not, at least if U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, were involved. Braley, who is now running for U.S. Senate, served on the House committee charged with oversight of the VA. But Braley missed 75 percent of those meetings. On one occasion in 2012, Braley skipped a meeting in order to conduct three fundraisers. Braley’s lackadaisical attitude toward congressional oversight is one reason the VA has been allowed to become so dysfunctional. For oversight to work, you have to actually show up. Iowa voters should keep that in mind when they vote in November.