HOW quickly we forget. How quickly our memories could be jogged.
Gasoline prices are relatively low and were a nonissue in the presidential election. What could have been a major hurdle for Barack Obama wasn't, another election-year stroke of luck for Obama.
Yet 2012 set a record for the highest average gasoline price — $3.60 a gallon, or 9 cents higher than the previous record set the year before. Not so long ago, motorists were complaining about soaring gas prices and grumbling about Obama's connection to it. Truth is, presidents have little ability to do much about gas prices. Their energy policies can affect exploration and production of oil, but gas prices typically rise because of international conflicts, refinery problems and disruptions caused by weather.
Supply and demand also play a key role. The highest one-day price — $4.11 per gallon in July 2008 — was blamed on global demand. The subsequent recession deflated demand; prices began to fall. Last year, though, the price started edging up and stayed high enough to set a record for an average price for the year.
But that's a distant memory as 2013 begins. It may not be distant for long, but whether a record will be reached this year will relate to demand, weather and refinery issues, not to the supposed greed of Big Oil.
The new year brought new laws, and one deserving notice is a minor change at the Department of Human Services. Although voters approved major changes in the agency's administration in November, a law that took effect Jan. 1 modified how the agency investigates child abuse. In the past, DHS standards for investigating alleged abuse in foster homes or state-owned shelters weren't as stringent as in cases where parents or caretakers were accused of abusing children in private settings. That inconsistency was cited in a recent class-action lawsuit that ultimately led to last year's DHS reforms. Abuse should be thoroughly investigated wherever it occurs. If anything, standards for children in state custody should be higher, not lower, so this is welcome change. Too bad it took a lawsuit to make it happen.
Priorities in order
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis says he has important reasons to retire after this season — his sons. Lewis has been one of the NFL's biggest stars and greatest players during his 17-year career. He missed a large chunk of this season with an injury, and that allowed him to watch two of his boys play high school football. The eldest will be playing in college next season. “I knew I couldn't split my time anymore,” Lewis said this week. “When God calls, He calls. And He's calling. More importantly, He calls me to be a father.” That's an important message particularly for the black community, where too many children are raised in homes without their fathers. Lewis himself was raised that way, and “that damaged me a lot,” he said. “I didn't want my kids to relive that.” He could have returned next season for big money, but clearly Lewis has his priorities in order.
Out with the old
When it comes to technology, the private sector tends to be an early adapter of innovations that fuel greater efficiency, while government is often one of the last entities to adjust to change, at times clinging to outmoded practices years after it's become clear the costs exceed the benefits. So it's worth noting that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is now deactivating the old bulky plastic transponder units of Pikepass customers who haven't switched to the new windshield-sticker version. Deactivation occurs only after multiple notifications have been sent to Pikepass customers, giving them plenty of time to respond and swap out the old units for stickers. But even this minor change in governmental operations has been driven more by necessity than the desire to modernize practices: It seems the old transponder cases are no longer being produced.
Timing is everything
As the saying goes, timing has a lot to do with the success of a rain dance. That's especially true of tax proposals. Oklahoma County officials had planned to submit a $350 million jail proposal this spring, but decided to delay that action. Officials worried that placing the issue on the ballot at the same time as school board elections could hurt turnout for either the tax question or the board races. Regardless of timing, the half-cent sales tax increase is likely to face resistance from voters. And regardless of timing, the current jail will remain inadequate. Although officials have addressed most jail critiques raised by the federal Justice Department in 2007, the remaining problems require major structural changes. If the facility isn't replaced, it may be just a matter of time before the federal government takes it over.
It happens everywhere
Over and over again, friends and neighbors complained to the state's human services agency about the way Semeria Greene, 26, treated her five children. Indeed child welfare workers say they had tried several times in the past two years to remove the kids from Greene's care. Just last month, a court denied the agency's most recent request. A few weeks later, Greene allegedly stabbed her 8-year-old daughter to death. The woman's other four children were taken into protective custody; Greene now faces charges of murder and child abuse. All this happened recently in Michigan. Oklahoma is hardly alone when it comes to dysfunctional families and the safety nets designed to protect children.
Oklahoma, like much of the country, is still suffering the effects of one of the longest dry spells in recent memory. But most people may not want to live through what it will take to return to normal moisture levels in the next few months. Climatologists say at least 8 feet of snow (and more in some parts of the nation) would be required to return the soil to its pre-drought condition in time for spring planting. Without a sudden infusion of moisture in the next few months, the nation's farmers and ranchers face another tough year, as do countless citizens who have lived through recent wildfires, including here in Oklahoma. But as David Pearson, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Nebraska, notes, the snowfall required to improve the situation is “an amount nobody would wish on their worst enemy.”
Lead, or get out
of the way
As majority party leader in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid should be a leader. Reid seemed to be anything but that during negotiations over the fiscal cliff. Instead, reporting by The Wall Street Journal reveals, Reid did little more than ignore efforts by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to cobble together a deal to avoid the cliff. McConnell finally grew tired of Reid's slow-footing and placed a call to Vice President Joe Biden. “Does anyone down there know how to cut a deal?” McConnell asked. The Journal said the two men subsequently talked 15 times during the next day-and-a-half, ultimately producing a plan in which neither side got exactly what it wanted. Of course Reid has become rather adept at doing nothing: The Senate he controls has failed to produce a budget in more than three years.