Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I've come to the conclusion there are two kinds of drivers in Oklahoma: courteous drivers and scoundrels.

My drive home from work today took thirty minutes longer than usual because of construction on Broadway Extension. I appreciate that the lanes need to be narrowed so construction can proceed. What irks me are the drivers who either don't know or don't care about merging into traffic.

One school of thought - and I think this is what they teach in driver's education classes - is that a responsible driver should merge into traffic as soon as they see a "Lane Closed Ahead" sign. Sounds like a good idea. But the scoundrels zoom past dozens of cars only to cut in line at the last possible moment, leapfrogging past all the responsible drivers waiting patiently in line.

We've all seen this happen. And there's nothing we can do about it.

Some scoundrels seem to take great pleasure in cutting in line as fast as possible. They probably were the bad kids in grade school who cut in lines. Now there's no teacher to put them back in their place; they can get away with it.

Other scoundrels inch along, five or ten miles an hour faster than the responsible drivers, with their turn signal on. They're still leapfrogging, but they seem apologetic about it. OK, just stop until a nice responsible driver lets you merge. Don't continue taking advantage of the situation.

In my side mirror this evening I saw one such kind person waiting for an opportunity to merge. Behind them was an impatient scoundrel who drove onto the shoulder to get around them so they could jet down the lane in front of them. They just couldn't wait patiently for their turn in line.

Another sore spot is Broadway southbound approaching 63rd Street, where the right lane merges. I've seen scoundrels move over onto the shoulder in order to pass traffic and get as far ahead as possible. Maybe they're late for work, but I always understood you weren't supposed to drive on the shoulder. And certainly not at 60 miles an hour!

Occasionally I've toyed with straddling the stripes, hoping to discourage a scoundrel from leapfrogging me. I know, that's against the rules too, but hopefully I won't get hit in the rear or sideswiped. I've had a few near misses, I must admit. Maybe there's magic in numbers - maybe if all the good drivers straddled the stripes and we worked in unison, we could curb the illicit behavior. But then they wouldn't be good drivers themselves, and it would run against their nature. So much for mob mentality, I suppose.

What really aggravates me is the scoundrel who cuts between me and the car in front of me. I leave a little room so I won't hit the car in front of me if they slam on their brakes. But the scoundrels apparently have amazing parallel parking skills. One car I've seen, on several occasions, cut from the disappearing right hand lane across my center lane to the left lane, all with no signal light! No telling how many hundreds of cars they bypassed.

Everyone wants to get to work as fast as possible, and get home again at the end of the day. With no rapid transit in Oklahoma, we're dependent on the highways. And, while I see an occasional motorcycle cop on Sunday afternoons, they all seem to disappear during rush hour. Maybe if they rode three abreast down Broadway Extension, like pace cars in the Indy 500, they would deter scoundrelous behavior. I'm sure the State or city could use the extra money from fines. Maybe the job is just too much for them, much as Mexico can't control the drug lords.

I consider myself a pretty conservative driver. I haven't had a speeding ticket since 1979, and I'd like to keep that record intact. But unless there's a little more law enforcement presence on the highways, there's nothing to discourage the scoundrels from their nefarious activity. The good guys, waiting patiently in line, don't stand a chance.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring planting

I got my hands dirty today. I worked in my garden.

I brought in six bags of fresh topsoil, because I think my raised beds had too much organic matter in them last year. After working in the topsoil, I planted five rows of onions as well as peas, cucumbers and beans. I won't put out my tomatoes until later in the spring, and I have room for potatoes and carrots as well. I need to refresh my herb garden, because it looks like the chives are the only thing that survived the winter. Looks like I also have a good start of strawberries from last year.

There's something special about the feel of garden soil. After everything that's happened in the past year - losing both my mother and my father, being in the hospital four times myself, and my lingering physical problems - digging in the dirt in the springtime is a nice change of pace. It's a reminder of the circle of life, that after we bury things there's always a rebirth just around the corner for the next generation. Maybe that's the medicine I needed on this day, my birthday.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Sovereign State of Oklahoma

It's been a long time since I've posted, for which I apologize. It's been a busy few months, and I'm behind on the things I like to do besides the ones I need to do. But, I'm back!

The latest curiosity to come out of the Oklahoma legislature is the "attempt" to assert Oklahoma's sovereignty. Hmmm. Most people probably thought that war was fought, oh, about 150 years ago. Can a state secede from the Union? Can they thumb their nose at a federal government that adopts objectionable laws, like the freedom of slaves?

The controversy actually swirls around the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights. It reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Sounds simple enough. Actually it added nothing to the Constitution; it simply stated the obvious, that if the federal government hasn't been given a power, it rests with the states and the people.

But the federal government isn't trying to seize more power, as House Republicans and other right-wing blathering idiots would have you believe. There are two ways the federal government attains comprehensive compliance. First, the federal program carries with it significant matching funds. If you don't comply with minimum federal requirements - say, a 55 mph speed limit, or .08 blood alcohol content, or a 21-year-old minimum drinking age - then the state government will lose federal highway funding. A good primer on that is South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987). Or, if states don't fall in line with a federal education program like IDEA or No Child Left Behind, federal education funds can be at risk.

There's nothing to stop a state like Oklahoma from saying "no" to these federal initiatives. But try telling the Oklahoma Department of Transportation that they're not going to receive $340 million in stimulus money to be used for road and bridge projects. That makes up the largest chunk of the $465 million the state is expected to receive.

State Transportation Director Gary Ridley was quoted this winter as saying, "My boss expects me to secure all federal funds that are available to us, and I'd sure hate to have to go to him and tell him we lost some money."

Industry experts estimate that for every $1 billion in transportation project value, about 32,000 jobs are created.

The second method of encouraging states to implement federal programs is to take over a field at the national level unless the state itself implements its own program of regulation that meets the minimum federal standards. See New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992). In Oklahoma, a good example is consumer credit. Reg Z is regulated by the State of Oklahoma because we adopted the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, and federal law allows us to govern that field of law as long as our regulations meet or exceed federal regulations. Other examples are the Clean Water Act and OSHA. In all those areas, Conress had the power to regulate the subject matter under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The law recognizes that the federal government's power is not absolute. In the case of Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997) the Supreme Court held that the national government could not directly require state law enforcement officers to conduct background checks under the Brady firearms legislation. It held, "(T)his Court never has sanctioned explicitly a federal command to the States to promulgate and enforce laws and regulations."

Ironically, this concept of cooperative federalism is a good way to minimize the size of the federal government. It's better for us to take care of things on a local level instead of having all decisions made in far-away Foggy Bottom.

For Oklahoma legislators to rattle sabers and refuse to accept federal economic stimulus money only worsens our reputation in the country. While we've been fortunately buffered from the worst effects of this recession, we now have an opportunity to spring forward with economic development while other states struggle to survive.

And, while the amount of borrowing in the stimulus plan is nauseating, something's got to be done to fix the problems created by overzealous corporations in an underregulated economy. Hopefully the economy will grow enough that we'll have enough tax revenue in future generations to pay off the debt. That's the saddest part of all - corporate greed is the real culprit that will be imposing this legacy on our children and grandchildren.